Eighth grade was a low point in my life but like most of the things I’ve been through it seemed worse than it actually was. My family moved around when I was growing up. Halfway through my first semester of eighth grade my parents moved us again. I should mention that we were moving because my father was going to go back to school. It was a life altering decision for him but it affected the rest of my family as well. Growing up money was every other word I heard. Since my dad no longer had a job my mom was going to go back to work. I can’t say that my father doesn’t respect women in general but I remember him bitching about the food she made and criticizing her for the way she ran our household. Everything was her fault according to him. Growing up I believed that. Our situation was bad and that was my mother’s fault.
School was relatively easy for me that semester as far as the actual work went. The school I transferred to was small so instead of sitting on the bench I was able to play volleyball and basketball. Cross country wasn’t my idea but I didn’t dare tell my dad I wasn’t going running with him first thing every morning. I hated running but it paid off that spring when I hit my first homerun. I am a powerful hitter but fielding errors were responsible for my homerun. The pitcher should have stopped my line drive. The ball went past her and the girl at second. By the time the centerfielder got to the ball I was almost to third and I beat the ball home but just barely. Playing softball was something I was good at. I could hit. I could field and I took all of my pent up aggressions out on that ball. My dad played with me whenever he could. School took up a lot of his time but it was important to him that his girls were given the same athletic opportunities his son had.
Growing up I didn’t want to be a girl. Girls were weak. They cried and they couldn’t do anything right. I hung around with the guys in my class during recess. It didn't matter that I was a girl when we played football. I had a good arm and as long as the ball was small enough for me to get my hand around I could get it where I needed it to go. I hardly ever got to be the quarterback but when I did it was a position I took seriously. When you play football you have to have a head for strategy. You have to know how to get around guys who are bigger, stronger and faster than you are. Traps are all around you. Getting down the field is fraught with danger and even more so when your playground is covered with ice and snow. My dad taught me what he knew about getting around others. Your escape route was critical. You needed to plan in advance. It meant keeping an eye on other people and it meant trying to outthink them if you couldn’t outrun them.
Christmas has always been a turbulent time in my family. The money problem manifests itself in various ways. When you can’t afford necessities luxury items are out of the question. I knew that so I didn’t ask for anything. Whatever money I earned I saved because I was never going to end up like my parents: always at the mercy of a paycheck that couldn’t be stretched thin enough to cover our basic living expenses. Before Christmas my dad suprised me with a new dress to wear to the Christmas Eve service. I took one look at the tiny flowers and I told my dad that I wasn’t going to wear a dress he had bought for me. I had dress pants and if I had to take those in my bag and change in the bathroom at church that’s what I was going to do. At some point my mom entered the argument which was originally between me and my dad. Both of us looked at her with contempt. Neither of us could stand her.
My dad was the only parent who mattered to me at that point in my life. Fighting with him was tough because he expected me to be just as tough as he was. When the argument escalated we moved from my room to the living room. The house that we lived in was small. My sisters and brother were listening to me argue with my parents but they weren’t going to say anything. In my family you fight your own battles. My back was to the bookcase when inspiration struck. I told my parents that I would kill myself if they made me wear a dress. A couple months earlier I had cut my wrist just to see what would happen. It wasn’t a deep cut. I never would have died from it but it sparked a curious reaction from some of the teachers at school.
Both of my parents have bad tempers. I get that from them. Murderous rage boils up inside of you. Control snaps and you say and do things that no sane person should. After my announcement that I would rather die than wear a flowered dress my dad shoved me into the bookcase. The boom box sitting on top of the bookcase fell. My dad has superb reflexes. He reached out to catch the falling radio. My dad stepped back. He threw the radio at me. I ducked to dodge it and that’s when I saw the gap between my parents. I ran to the left side of my mom because I knew my dad would try to reach out and stop me if I ran between them. I took the long way around the table in the kitchen. I held onto the railing and jumped down the stairs that led to our back door. It was below zero outside but my jacket stayed on my hook because every second counts when someone is pursuing you.
Wide open spaces mean that people can see you. I turned right and cut across our next door neighbor’s lawn. He was a bastard to all of us kids who occasionally trampled his flower beds. Fortunately he didn’t see me but now I had a new problem. It was late at night. I was freezing and I didn’t have any money. There was a restaurant not far from where we lived. The library was just down the street and the people who worked there knew me as the girl who took home books in a brown paper bag. If I could get into the library I could spend the night there. It would be warm and I would be safe. That’s the only thing I was thinking about when I opened the door that cold December night. I wanted to be safe. I wanted to be warm and I wanted a way out of the life that I had.
My heart was pounding and I was still breathing heavily when I opened the door to the library. A blast of warm air hit me in the face. I walked past the front desk. In the bathroom I dabbed at my eyes to see if I could clean up my face. Being a regular patron meant the librarian was willing to overlook my tear stained face and the absence of my library card. I picked my books up. I tried to smile at the girl behind the desk and as soon as she walked away from her post I ran back to hide in the bathroom. An overnight stay in the library probably doesn’t sound like much to you but that night was a victory for me. I had won a race I hadn’t even planned on running. I had found an escape route and utilized it. I didn’t starve or freeze to death and I had some good books to help pass the time. There were no windows in the library bathroom which is where I spent the night.
I stayed up reading some of my favorite books and I was darn lucky that I lived in a small town where the library was housed in an old Victorian home with no formal security system other than a stout lock on a good door. I foraged for food but didn’t find much. The hours passed with me sitting up against the cold hard tile of the bathroom wall. For the time being I was safe. I wasn’t exactly warm but I wasn’t as cold as I would have been had I spent the night outside. I didn’t go to sleep that night. Adrenaline and the fear of being discovered kept me going. The next morning I went back home. No one apologized to me but nothing was said about me having to wear a dress ever again.