With burning lungs I push forward, my legs pumping ever faster. My throat is dry, my breath ragged from the exertion of running. C’mon, run, run, faster, you’re almost there! Just ahead I can see the neighbor’s front door. I can make it, just a few more steps. Oh God, I can feel his breath on my neck. He’s so close. Please God, please. Help me! My torn, bleeding feet sting as I run barefoot across the neighbor’s lawn, but I daren’t stop, Harry is right on my tail. Stumbling, heart racing, head pounding, I run harder, pushing my lungs to the max. “Help! Help me!” I scream between gasps, my voice barely a croak. Stumbling, heart racing, head pounding, I force each searing step, coaxing my body to push on, one more step, another, I can see the neighbor’s door, yet the door isn’t getting any closer. I pound across the endless lawn. I can see the light outside the door, yet I can’t reach it. I run even faster, harder, my lungs are going to explode, my head is going to burst. Dear God, help me pleeeeeease!
I woke from the nightmare with a start, and the knife rolled away from my chest to the floor of the tent. My breath came in short rasps. The tent swirled around me, nausea sat in my chest. Uh-oh, I’m going to puke, I thought as I tried to focus my eyes in the strange half-light. Where am I? What was that noise? Where is that light coming from? I removed the earplugs and shielded my eyes with the back of my hand as the half-light became blinding. Car headlights, set on high beam, shone directly onto my tent penetrating the flimsy nylon as though it wasn’t there. That’s what the noise was, car tires. Oh no, why are the lights pointing at my tent? Please dear God, please, please don’t let it be Harry.
My stomach lurched again and I gagged, but all that came up was the taste of digested baked beans. The noise of the purring engine grew into a roar in my overtaxed mind. In a panic I searched among the blankets, the knife was there somewhere. Cold steel met sweaty flesh and I grasped the knife and held it tightly in my quivering hand. Then memories of the nightmare came flooding back, only it hadn’t been just a nightmare. It had actually happened. I remembered how on that particular night early in our relationship Harry had beaten me. I recalled how quick he was with the hammer as he smashed up my belongings. Did I really want to try to use a knife against Harry? He would snatch it from my grasp before I could blink. I shuddered to think what the outcome of that scenario could be.
I was shaken from my disturbing memories by the sound of tires rolling on gravel again. The car headlights swung around the walls of my tent, slowing diminishing to tiny spots and vanishing. The car had moved on. I heard no engine purring, no car door closing. Maybe it hadn’t been Harry. Oh, thank goodness. Carefully I slid the tent zipper down, just enough to peek out, but saw nothing. I eased the zipper open more and put my head and shoulders out. The cold night air hit me with the force of a slap as I stepped out and my bare feet touched cold gravel, grass, and dirt. I peered around the campground, ears straining to pick up any sound, but all was dark and quiet. It was just someone leaving early, or maybe arriving late. I wonder what the time is? My watch showed 12:30 AM. Quickly I retreated into the tent and snuggled under the covers. My toes soon warmed against the fleece, and despite being conscious of the slight, nighttime noises, I drifted into sleep once more. A sleep brought on by mental fatigue–deep and restful.
Despite the fearful events of the night before, I woke feeling refreshed and eager to greet the new day. I rubbed my eyes and wiped some sleep away from the corners. With a blanket wrapped around my shoulders, I crawled out of the tent and scanned the surrounding campsites for any sign of Harry, but saw none.
The coals in the fire pit were cold and looked like the hunks of charcoal they were. I rummaged around in the car and found a few more scraps of paper that no longer served a purpose. I was getting good at throwing things away. I carefully formed a little chimney around the paper with tiny bits of twigs and struck a match. The paper flared then burned down rapidly–not one twig had caught. Here we go again. But this time I bent close and blew on the paper while feeding it small handfuls of dry grass from around the fire. A tiny flame caught the grass, then a twig, and soon I had a pile of kindling going with the three pieces of wood balanced against each other over the top. Flames licked up their sides and wound their way under the bark, causing the bark to explode with the sudden heat.
When the wood was burning well, I rearranged the pieces to form a little triangle, ensuring they touched each other so the flames would continue to feed each piece. I then balanced my copper kettle on the triangle of wood and before long, I had hot water and could make a cup of instant coffee. I had to use my sleeve to grab the kettle, as I had no leather gloves or oven mitts, not even a rag was to be found. As the warm liquid began to warm my insides and the heat of the mug warmed my hands, my stomach started to complain. I found two pieces of flattened bread and a scraping of peanut butter in the car, which I couldn’t remember grabbing during my escape. The bread was stale and dry, the peanut butter was questionable, but I was too hungry to care. I had a second cup of coffee before the wood was exhausted, then wondered what to do next.
The sun was now peeking over the tops of the bushes, and casting long shadows on the gently rolling meadow behind the camp. The air was crisp and invigorating. I felt good. Life was good. May as well have another shower then get some groceries.
With the blankets folded neatly inside the tent and fresh, smoke-free clothes on my back, I drove to town and bought more baked beans, peanut butter and bread. Can man live on this alone? I wondered. Nothing in the endless food aisles looked appealing and I was concerned about money. I wasn’t exactly desolate, but I had no job, no home, no idea where I was going, and no one to help me. I had managed to save up $1,000 in a checking account, and I had $200 in cash, but it wasn’t a lot of money to start a new life on.
I bought more firewood and a two-ounce snifter of scotch to enjoy by the fire that night. I spent the day driving around the park and sorting through my car again. I got stuck on the small, detailed items: finding places for paperclips and tossing rusty nails from my toolkit. It just felt good to toss things out. I had plenty of time to think as I walked and drove aimlessly around the park. I felt light-headed and strangely detached like everything had happened to someone else in another lifetime, and not to me.
I knew I couldn’t stay here, eventually, someone would see me and tell Harry, and he might figure out where I was staying on his own. The thought chilled me. A cloud passed in front of the sun, turning the air several degrees cooler and making my surroundings seem foreboding. Why would I want to stay here anyway? I hate it here. Indiana is flat and I hate flat. It is boring, there’s nowhere to hike, and it’s too darned hot and humid. I don’t have a single reason to stay here. Not one!
The day passed quickly, despite my having very little to do. It was wonderful to just relax and focus on the landscape. The wood I’d bought earlier ensured a nice fire that evening and by the time Wednesday morning arrived, I was feeling refreshed and ready to face the day.
On Wednesday’s I usually worked for a lady who needed help organizing her many ornament collections and cleaning her house. Shelby was in Italy at this time, and I knew she expected to come home to a clean home that coming weekend. I had to clean her house that day, I couldn’t just leave without doing that much for her. Besides, I needed every penny possible.
I parked the car in her driveway and then worried that Harry would drive by to see if I was working there. He knew where I would normally be on Wednesdays and I doubted he would forget this time. With this in mind, I parked my car in the garage then worried he might look in through the garage window and see the car. I felt as though I were being ridiculous, but the only way I could be sure was to cover the glass windows with paper, making sure there was not even a tiny sliver he could peer through. I then went around the house and closed all the blinds, but many of the windows had no blinds on them, so I spent the day hiding behind countertops and furniture at the sound of every car I heard on the street. I cleaned the house without turning on the lights, and when vacuuming I kept turning off the vacuum to listen, repeatedly thinking I heard a sound outside. My fear was not unwarranted because all throughout the day the phone rang, and the caller always hung up before the answering machine came on.
When I was done with the cleaning, I spent some more time sorting through my car in the garage. Shelby had a box full of things she was getting rid of, and in the box was a couple of airplane carry on bags she’d received on previous trips. I knew she wouldn’t mind my having them, so I used them to store underwear in and some other knickknacks. My clothes were now all in suitcases on the back seat.
I had worked for Shelby for about ten years, just a handful of hours a week. She had become a friend and I felt terrible about leaving without seeing her first. She had left me some signed checks to pay myself with, and I knew she’d insist I make myself some dinner. By the time I was done eating, I didn’t feel like driving back to the campground and setting up a tent and I had things to take care of in town the next day, so I decided to spend the night at her house. I wasn’t sure how she’d feel about that but knew I wasn’t hurting anything. I spent the evening in the den, down in the basement where there were no windows for Harry to see me through. I kept the volume on the TV down low and sneaked around in the dark like a thief.
The phone had continued to ring throughout the day, the frequency growing less as the day grew older, and by 7:00 PM, the calls stopped. It worried me that Harry was upset enough to spend a whole day calling, it was obsessive, and I feared that I had pushed him over the edge. It had been three days now and I felt that he should have calmed down at least a little.
I stayed up till late in the evening watching movies and trying vainly to take my mind off Harry. When my eyelids grew heavy, I curled up on the couch and slept fitfully, tossing constantly and waking to every little creak and sound the house made. In the morning, I set the house key and garage door opener on the kitchen counter along with a note explaining what had happened, and to say goodbye. Before driving away I scouted the neighborhood carefully for Harry’s car.
It was now Thursday, September 26 and I drove into Elkhart to clear up some things at the bank. While in town, I took my unwanted clothes to the resale shop and gave them Mary’s address to send the check to. I got my hair cut short so it would be easier to care for while camping and traveling, parking my vehicle around the back of the strip mall and between two dumpsters where it wouldn’t be seen. Then I went to the bank and got my passport, green card, and other paperwork out of the safe deposit box. Also hidden in this box was my mother’s silver charm bracelet, and a silver brooch my Granddad had made during WWI. I retrieved these family heirlooms then closed the account on the box. This had been the only way I could think of to protect these items from Harry. He had no idea this box existed.
I didn’t like running these errands in town, but the visit to the bank was necessary and a part of me seemed reluctant to actually leave the town. I drove around one more time to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything, and to say goodbye. As I drove by my insurance agent’s office, I decided to drop in and talk to them. I wanted to be sure they understood that no changes were to be made to the policy without my approval, and I refused to leave the office until they swore that nothing would be changed relating to my car. Instinct told me that Harry might try to change the policy and get some money back if he could, as the insurance on my car was paid through the end of November. I was trying to protect myself wherever possible.
While driving around I felt like my car was a huge beacon inviting all of Harry’s friends to see me, or worse still, the man himself. I drove side roads I’d never been on before, peering down every road before making the turn, and constantly scanning every parking lot and road. Fear knotted in my stomach like a black, evil growth spreading its tentacles into my intestines and my bowels. My hands shook on the steering wheel, my stomach churned. When I tried to adjust the rear-view mirror to see the cars behind me I couldn’t steady it with my trembling fingers. It was a relief to get out of that place, and onto the rural roads leading out-of-town. Here, though, I was even more alone, and every car I saw in the distance was a threat to my well-being. By the time I got to Mary’s house in Union, Michigan, I was a nervous wreck.
Mary’s face reflected surprise, happiness, and fear all at once when she saw me at the door. I calmed her by telling her this was only a quick visit, and I wasn’t staying. She glanced out the window nervously, no doubt expecting a very angry Harry to come screeching into the driveway any second.
She explained that Harry had been calling constantly. She’d told him I wasn’t here, but he insisted he knew better, and still kept calling. Her distress was evident in the dark circles around her eyes and her obvious concern for me. I hugged her and asked her and Ray what they thought I should do.
“Get the hell as far away from here as you can,” said Ray, never one to mince words, “And as quickly as possible.”
This confirmed my own belief, but first I wanted to try to pull together a few more bucks. I used their phone to call a record collector and see if he would be interested in buying an old Elvis record I’d treasured since I was 14. He was interested and gave me directions. Then I called some pawn shops. It broke my heart, but I decided to sell my Wedgwood tea set. I could also sell the VCR I’d grabbed when I left.
Mary and Ray offered me a $150.00 for the computer, which I accepted gratefully. I knew they were only buying it to help me out and I appreciated it very much. Down in the basement, Mary found an old Army camp cot and gave it to me. She also gave me some instant rice and other food items, then gently steered me towards the door.
“Best be goin’ honey,” she said. “Where will you go?”
“I’ve no idea, maybe Colorado, the mountains. I heard Boulder is nice, right in the foothills of the Rockies.”
“Well, you’d best get on with it if you plan to go up into the mountains, winter’s a comin, the roads will get bad soon. It’ll get really cold, plus it’ll take a few days to get there”
With tears in our eyes, we hugged ferociously, a hug intended to last forever. Mary and Ray both stood in the garage waving goodbye. Tears coursed like rivers down my cheek and dripped off my chin. I drove away quickly, watching their stocky forms getting smaller and smaller in my rear-view mirror.
Huge black clouds formed in the distance as I drove west toward South Bend again. A bolt of lightning lit up the sky and sent fingers of electricity crackling through the thunderheads. I was heading right into the storm.
I found the record collector, and he gave me $10 for the Elvis album I’d treasured most of my life. I learned that it wasn’t really worth much as it had been made in England, but I think they grasped my situation and gave me the $10 out of kindness.
As I drove into South Bend to visit the pawn shop, the heavens opened and I drove up and down the rundown streets trying to read my map while peering blindly through the smeared and misty windshield. The wipers tried in vain to keep the glass free of the torrential rain which was now pounding down. I found the pawn shop but didn’t feel comfortable in this part of town, so I took the time to put the steering wheel lock on.
Inside I noticed the downpour had not put anyone else off shopping and selling. I set my box and the VCR down on top of the scarred glass top, my coat cuff caught on a piece of trim sticking out of the side of the countertop. I wrapped my arm around my purse and held it close to my body, but still kept my other hand on the box. The place was full of men. Two Hispanics were arguing loudly with a big beefy white guy behind the counter. His huge beer belly bumped the counter top as he leaned forward to point at something the group was haggling over. A black guy stood to my right staring at me distastefully. Two skinny white guys were averting their gaze by staring at their shoes. They had long greasy hair and gaunt faces, their dirty clothes hung limply from their bodies, nicotine-stained fingers played nervously with a piece of paper. I felt uncomfortable, what had I been thinking of coming here?
Finally, a sweaty-looking woman looked at me. She too was a big woman, I guessed Hispanic with a touch of Asian maybe? I’ve never been good at guessing ethnic backgrounds.
“I’m the girl who called earlier today, about the VCR and the Wedgwood tea set.”
“Show us,” she said, with a blank expression on her face. I pushed the VCR over to her. “Where’s the remote?”
“Oh no! I forgot it.”
“Well, I can only give you $25 without the remote or $50 with it.”
“Yep.” What’s the rest of this stuff you have? Get it out of the box, but keep a close eye on it.” Her eyes scanned the room suspiciously.
Carefully, I unpacked the tea set. Lovingly I set a few pieces down on the scratched glass and ran a thumb over the elegant pattern on it. The pieces were covered with beautiful, colorful hummingbirds in flight. Now they twinkled in the dull room, the light from the bare bulb overhead bouncing back starkly. When I had all the pieces laid out – 6 cups and saucers, a sugar bowl, creamer, teapot and a platter, she came back to look.
“How much do you want?”
“Seven-fifty?” I stammered, looking at her hopefully “It’s worth around twelve hundred.”
Startled, her head came up quickly. “Oh, we don’t deal in those kinds of prices. I would never sell it. Look around, who in here would buy that?” She waved her arm around to indicate her point.
“But I called. You said you were interested. I told you the price on the phone.”
“I don’t remember that. Look, take twenty-five for the VCR and pack this stuff away.” She then slapped a piece of paper on the countertop. “Fill in here and here, and I need to see your driver’s license and get your fingerprints.”
I looked up horrified, “Fingerprints!”
I felt stupid as I packed away my stuff and filled out the form, then collected my money and hurried to the car where I wiped the black ink off my fingers feeling violated. I was also disgruntled and disillusioned. I came all this way and drove up those god-awful streets for an hour, all that for measly twenty-five bucks. Miffed, I pulled away from the curb with a spin of tires and headed south-west on highway 24. Finally, the graffiti-covered walls and old abandoned cars were well behind, replaced instead with endless cornfields. Thunder and lightning coursed around me and the torrential rain sounded like a waterfall hammering on my rooftop. The heavy rain and black skies did nothing to improve my mood and the road ahead seemed endless, a straight arrow pointing the way out of this hell-hole. I drove a little faster than I should have, given the road conditions, pissed off at the world and mad at myself for being such an idiot. It wasn’t long before I arrived at the small town of Knox, Indiana. I’d hoped to leave Indiana behind that day, but peering through the slashing rain was making my eyes blurry and I decided it was safer to stop.
Up ahead I could just make out a blue neon sign that read “MOEL” the T flashing on and off hesitantly. I pulled in the lot and made a dash for the office door. On opening it my nostrils were hit with the scent of burger and fries causing my stomach to growl. The cheapest room they had was $35.
“Would you rent me a room for twenty-five?
“No can do.”
“Okay, how about thirty bucks then, in cash? I won’t use the sheets. I’ll use my own sheets and sleep on top of the quilt?” They nodded at this, seeing the desperation in my eyes.
In the room, I tested the lock and drew the curtains closed, wrapping them around each other where they didn’t meet in the middle. The paper wrapped around the toilet seat quoted, “Disinfected for your protection.” On the underside of the lid and in the bowl were spatters of brown stuff. “What a joke,” I mumbled while tearing up the paper so they couldn’t use the same piece again. However, the shower was hot and the rough towel was invigorating.
I laid my sheets out over the comforter and checked under the bed for roaches. Finding only some old underwear, I decided to ignore them and head out to satisfy the grumbling in my stomach. There was a bar on the other side of the highway, and I chose burger and fries from the menu and treated myself to a glass of wine while I waited. I savored its fruity taste despite it being served from a box. This was after all a celebration of my independence. Surely things will get better. It would be hard for them to get worse. No, that’s not true, having Harry here would be worse. Be grateful love, it may be raining outside, but inside your heart, the sun is shining. Cheer up!
It seemed appropriate to have a little ritual with my glass of wine. I was ready to put Elkhart behind me for good so I took out my electronic organizer. In the address section, I slowly and methodically viewed each contact then ignored or deleted it. I deleted the hairdressers, the doctor, the dentist, the thrift store, the library and so on, keeping only my dearest friends and Harry’s family. I wanted to delete them too but realized I would have to get in touch with them eventually. I hesitated before deleting the doctor and dentist, thinking I may need information from them one day, then decided I would never call them because getting in touch with them could endanger my privacy, especially if they acquired my address and innocently passed it on to Harry. I closed the lid with a sigh. I had just deleted 10 years of relationships at the touch of a button. I’d reduced my contacts from 85 to 26, leaving plenty of room for new friends.
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