The house wasn’t on fire, but a massive amount of smoke was billowing from the floors and walls. My former stepfather, Jerry, who had just returned from a night of liquor-fueled debauchery, decided to build a fire, but in true “Jerry style,” forgot to open the chimney flute. The hallway leading into my bedroom was so smokey, I could barely see in front of me. I managed to open the door, get down on my knees and crawl to my closet.
A few moments earlier, my mother had hasitly handed me a trash bag and instructed me to quickly fill it with my most precious belongings and meet her and my brother back in the hallway. It was a tricky request, though, considering I was only eleven years old. I grabbed my top three stuffed animals, a few dollies and threw in a few t-shirts and jeans for good measure.
When the three of us reconvened, she instructed us to sneak quietly down the stairs, make our way to the side breezeway door (which was the easiest place to exit the house without being seen) and run to the bottom of the hill (where we would wait for her.) With no time to spare, my brother quickly grabbed my hand and off we went – running into the cold, wintery darkness. I cried quietly at the thought of leaving my mother behind. I had good reason to be scared, too.
The night before, Jerry had come home drunk yet again, deciding (at three in the morning) we needed to have a family dinner together. So he dragged my brother and I out of bed (me by my hair, my brother by his shirt) and took us into the kitchen, where my mother was already reheating a pot of leftover spaghetti she had made earlier that evening. Jerry screamed at my brother and I to sit at the small dinette table and put our napkins on our laps. As my brother and I did what we were told, we wept openly and clung to one another in fear.
Terrified by his behavior, my mother asked Jerry to stop yelling at us and insisted he sit down so she could serve him his meal. The simple request, which was obviously made to protect her children, threw him into a wild, angry rage. He became so mean and so aggressive, it was like nothing I had ever seen before (and thank God, have never seen since.)
Yelling, Jerry grabbed the pot of hot spaghetti from the stove and flung it to the floor. It cracked into big, red-streaked, chunky pieces. He then grabbed my mother by her hair, kicked her to her knees and demanded she eat the spaghetti off the floor. She did as she was told without question or hesitation. Needless to say, my brother and I cried in horror watching her. It was a really long, sad, horrible night that eventually gave way to Jerry passing out on the living room floor. I’ll never forget the look in my mother’s eyes when the violent episode ended. It changed her forever.
The next night, while Jerry tinkered with the fireplace, the residue of smoke he created when he failed to open the chimney flute gave us the perfect opportunity to escape him and my mother seized the moment as if her very life depended on it and (well, it did.) Just as she promised, she met my brother and I at the bottom of that hill and despite only being married to Jerry a short amount of time, we ran away and never looked back. She was officially “The Run(a)Way Bride.”
That night we made our way across three cornfields, walked up a steep hill and crossed a deserted road to get to our neighborhood post office. It was there that we hid in a small patch of pine trees. I still remember the way the sap smelled on my mittens and how the pine needles painfully wedged their way into my light brown corduroys, as I lay on the ground praying Jerry wouldn’t find us (to this day, the smell of pine reminds me of fear.)
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