The phone rang.
Seconds later, I hear my mom at the top of the stairs. "Mandie, it's your dad!" She hollers down.
My ears are ringing and I'm nauseous. This was the call I'd been dreading.
I pick up the phone receiver downstairs. "Hello?"
"Hey..." Usually his deep southern drawl is comforting. Not today. "You wannna explain what that was about?"
---- Twenty hours earlier. ----
It was 10 or 11 pm when I decided that my plan was good enough to go through with. The walls of my life were closing in on me and there was no escaping it except to kick out a window and make my own escape route, setting off the alarms as I went.
I waited until close to 2 am before stealing the keys from the hook beside the garage door, and slipping out the backdoor. The Geo Prism's engine didn't make much noise in the stillness. At least, not enough to alert anyone of my getaway. Just the sound of gravel crunching beneath the tires as I carefully rolled out of the driveway.
On the way out of town, I coasted to a stop beside my best friend's driveway and waited for her to run the distance to the car, so as not to wake anyone.
She tossed her bag into the backseat and looked at me. "I never knew you were this crazy."
Brittany was the kind of friend who would follow you to hell, the kind of fearless that I wasn't.
"Neither did I."
Barely fifteen, we were two of a kind; different sides of the same coin, in co-dependent relationships with our moms, with step-fathers we loathed, and telephone relationships with our dads we saw once or twice a year, via airplane tickets.
This was as good a plan as any. We were going to drive as far away as we could get, and make up the rest as we went.
There was so much adrenaline pumping through my veins that I found myself stopping at green lights and running a few red ones. We lived in a mountain town at the base of Pike's Peak, and after navigating our way down the mountain, we made another stop in Colorado Springs to buy an atlas. With no plan, we decided to head East.
Somewhere between the Springs and the Kansas/Colorado line, Brittany fell asleep. Alone with my thoughts and nothing but the road and the radio, I found myself wondering what I was doing. My life was a mess. I was failing half my classes. There was nothing driving me to reach for that diploma. I came from a disturbing home, with a mother in denial so deep she would've drown by now had it been water. I'd lived the majority of my life thousands of miles away from my dad, family, and hometown; and had seen the inside of more airports and planes than most people do in their entire lives.
My step-father was already estranged from one of his children and quickly losing ground with the other. He was a perverted creep, with a sharp tongue and a sense of humor that was only funny at someone else expense. From the moment I laid eyes on him, at four years old, I'd hated him. Instead of trusting a child's intuition, my mother had claimed mine and my sister's aversion to him was the direct result of my dad's brainwashing.
I had taken to wearing baggy clothes as a kid to hide from his disgusting stare. And even though he found ways to touch or brush against me, he did the same to any women who were friends with him and my mom. Or any woman in general. The way he looked at anything with a vagina made me sick.
Lately, he'd started drinking more often than not. Screaming was and had always been the primary language in our house.
My little sister had decided to leave. After swallowing a bottle of sleeping pills, and having her stomach pumped, it was a turning point. After turning thirteen, deemed old enough by the courts to choose which parent to live with, she was on the next plane to Georgia. To a life far removed from this one.
My grip on the steering wheel was hurting my hands. After turning thirteen, the only reason I'd stayed was for my sister. And the day my sister left, the only reason I'd stayed was for my mom.
The thought of saying goodbye to my mom was the only thing keeping me from making that phone call to my dad. I wanted to slap her in the face with the reality that she had never seen, but even when I had tried to tell her, she'd never heard me. Over and over making excuses for that damn man.
But I couldn't leave her.
Somehow this was the answer, leaving in the night, with no goodbyes.
But in that silent car, as the sun began to rise before me on a two lane highway, there was a twist in my stomach. The thought of my mom opening the door of my bedroom to wake me for school and finding me gone, brought with it so much guilt that I couldn't breathe.
Crying, I quickly shook Brittany awake and explained the predicament. We were almost to the state line.
Once she saw my tears and I told her I couldn't go any further, she asked no questions and we were turning around headed back to the nearest town to find a phone. Limon, Colorado was the closest town. The parking lot I pulled into led to an office building.
With a shaking breath, I headed to the door and into a lobby where a receptionist sat behind a counter. I asked to borrow the phone. With a quizzical look, she handed me a corded receiver and asked for the number and punched it in for me.
Expecting to hear my mother's voice, I was jolted when instead it was my step-father, demanding to know exactly where I was. I had to ask the lady behind the desk, who was also offering me a box of tissue.
He told me to go back to the car and to not move, that the police would be along to get me and Brittany soon.
My shakes turned into full body tremors at the mention of the police.
Not five minutes later, the Limon police showed up to take us to the station in two different cruisers.
At the station, all of our belongings were taken from us and we were placed in a holding cell. My hunger could've explained the emptiness I felt, but it was more encompassing than that. I was empty. A shell of the person I should've been at fifteen.
And when taken to a tiny room with nothing but a table, two chairs, an overhead light, and a small square window at the top of the single door, I was afraid that I'd just wrecked whatever future I'd had left. And the questions started coming:
"Trouble at home?"
I looked between the police officer and social worker. I went for a joyride, I told them. For fun. Not that my life was slowly disintegrating, and that if they sent me home, and by some chance my step-father didn't murder me for this, that I would end up back here eventually.
After that, Brittany must've told the social worker what she'd wanted to hear too, because we were told we would be released to our parents when they got there. The room we were placed in had glass walls, where people walking up and down the halls on either side could look in at us, like hamsters in a cage. I laid on one of the couches while Brittany tried to occupy her anxiety with a coloring book. For 7 hours.
We were offered popcorn, but my stomach was sour and cramping, and not just for lack of food. There would be hell to pay for this.
Luckily, only three people showed up to get us, our moms and my older brother.
I'll spare you the lecture I got from my brother, and the tears our moms cried before yelling at us, and then crying again.
At this point, you may be thinking that my mom didn't love me. That's not true. While she was as oblivious to things as she could possibly be, she loved me. She just wasn't always good at it. I knew this. And this is why I stayed with her.
Turns out, my step-father was eerily calm about my taking his car for a joyride. It was the calm before the storm, as the summer, which was almost upon us, was already over before it'd begun. Except for summer school, I wouldn't be stepping foot outside the house. A house that made me want to swallow pills just to end the anxiety. And flying to Georgia to see my dad like every summer, wasn't going to happen. And all three of my parents' cars were to be washed, dried, and waxed by me, every weekend, come hell or high water.
I really had not thought this plan through.
Dad wasn't happy. I could hear him straining to come up with the right words. He wouldn't ask me to come home, even though he knew that's where I belonged.
"You know you can always come home, right?"
"Yeah, dad. I know."
He sighed, "Save yourself some trouble next time and call me. I'll send a plane ticket."