I was never sure how to tell anyone. I never knew what to say about what I went through. I tried my best to keep all the secrets locked up inside.
Of course, they were dark secrets, they were cold ones—they were near-frozen beer cans thrown at my mother when she didn’t have dinner ready—and I ran out of room for them when I was about thirteen.
And that’s when I started riding my bike as far from that house in the woods as I possibly could. I would ride my bike alone at first, an incredibly stupid prospect for a girl born in the backwoods of Northern California. Okay, it wasn’t Deliverance, but there were plenty of sickos out there.
But my bike and I, we knew things none of the other girls did, we knew escape paths and secret places, we knew where to find the path to the other side of the world.
* * * * * * * * *
I was born in January, my least favorite month of the year. It’s always that time of year when the levees start to break, and the good folks in Sacramento decide that we can do with more water when we’re already up to our knees in sand bags.
It’s also the time my father got injured, nearly three years ago. He was on a job on a farm down the river, and he fell off of a ladder from nearly fifty feet upward. He fell backwards and cracked his skull against one of the trees. He’s lucky he didn’t break his neck, as the story always goes in our house. Thank the Lord, praise Jesus that daddy didn’t break his neck. Thank God for that tree, right where the good Lord intended it.
* * * * * * * * *
January also happens to be the worst time to ride a bike in this terrain. Muddy back roads, rain all the time, and poor visibility. And if you fall in the river, God help you to swim your way back to shore. I may be able to ride my bike like the wind, but I can’t swim to save my life. I guess that’s another reason I hate this place.
But my bike and I have other months we can ride, but staying home is impossible some days. Daddy isn’t what he used to be. I can’t even remember anymore what he used to be. I just know he’s what he is now, and it makes my legs twitch to run away as far as I can. I have been hoping for a clear day this month so I can run my bike along the levee road. I am hoping it doesn’t flood this year, not in our little house or anywhere else. That would mean school would be shut down.
Then where would I go?
* * * * * * * * *
I am the black sheep of the family in many ways. I prefer to spend my time alone with a book than watching tv, and I definitely don’t like to spend any more time listening to Daddy’s Eagles records. That’s all he ever listens to since he fell. When he’s in a good mood, he sings along at the top of his lungs: Take it easy! Take it EEEEEEEAAAA-SAY! Don’t let the sound of your own WHEELS make you CRAZY!
I have my own wheels, and they make me feel free on the days when I can use them like wings to fly away from that. Because Daddy doesn’t just sing loudly, but he “talks” loudly, demands loudly, screams at my mom and all of us loudly. There is no quiet with him—no whisper, no moderation in pitch, volume—and it makes everything in my house feel high pitched like nails on a chalkboard.
Sometimes I wonder how Mom deals with it. Her eyes are growing dimmer day by day. He yells at her for everything, and she has slowly stopped yelling back. So there are two waves, two tides at work in this house—the wave of violent noise and the wave of absolute silence.
Sometimes I scream back at him, not like my siblings, who both look at me like I’ve brandished a stick at the lion. They both have kept it quietly inside of them, and I can’t understand how they do it. I know that Jeannie keeps a diary, and Greg has his sports, but I only have my bike, and the few ideas of brave heroines from my books that tell me, “Yell back, baby girl. Don’t let him get away with it.”
* * * * * * * * *
One night, I came home from school and he was in a mood again. He was screaming at Mom, but the screams were different this time. This time, she had a knife in her hand, and Daddy was screaming at her to put the damn thing down, and Mom was simply holding it, crying. I could tell by how she was shaking that she wasn’t holding it tightly enough.
I came in and screamed at him—not words, just the high pitched scream of a little girl who was afraid—and both of them looked at me. Both now had eyes wider than the hole in the sky during a hurricane. My mother dropped the knife, and my dad dropped his jaw.
I wouldn’t stop screaming. I couldn’t stop screaming. All of it had to come out. None of it could stay in anymore. What were they doing? What was wrong with them? What was wrong with us? Did they even know how many times I lied to my teachers about them? How many essays I wrote saying we were all fine, just fine, right as rain?
“I hate you! I hate you, daddy! I hate you!”
He looked as though he was going to speak, but I turned tail and ran as fast as I could, tears running with me. My backpack was heavy, so I dropped it in the January mud of that near rainy day. I didn’t care about anything but getting my bike to the levee road, getting onto it, riding it as far as I could from the tiny, scary, loud, broken house I called my home.
I hate you! I hate you, daddy! I hate you!
No more bullshit, I told myself. No more lies. I am running away, changing my name, going somewhere where you never have to hear yelling, somewhere that they don’t let the Eagles play day and night. Somewhere better than here. Maybe San Francisco.
I got on my bike, I put it in gear, and I didn’t hear them behind me. Good. Let them kill each other. It’s not my problem anymore.
At thirteen years old, I ran away from home. I had been running away in all kinds of ways for a very long time, but this time it was for real. This time, I would never come back. I wouldn’t ever go home. There was no home to go back to.
So I drove my bike to a place she and I called “The Other Side of the Galaxy.” It was nothing more than a glorified shed that someone had left abandoned ages ago. I had cleaned it up, made it my reading space, and the only place worth going to that didn’t require that I listen to anyone else.
No one would ever bother me again.
I was determined never to come back home. No one could make me. I would even sell my bike if it meant I would never go back. I am never going to be a mouse in that house ever again.
I was meant to roar.