No. 19 – Forged Freedom

No. 19 – Forged Freedom

Freedom is not about the size of your cage or power of your wings or non-attachment to a person or thing. Freedom is about being so truly, madly and deeply attached to your own soul that you can’t bear – if only for a moment – a life that doesn’t honor it. – Andrea Balt

July 4, 2014 – a day that started no different than any other the past few weeks. Even though it was a holiday, Crow’s was still open for lunch. So I got ready for work and welcomed the escape from the house, however brief. On top of the small window of freedom, I enjoyed waitressing because it allowed me to interact with people who knew nothing of my current situation.

For a couple hours a day, I could take on the role of Sarah, the waitress. Exhaling kindness to strangers and more often than not, inhaling it back. A shift from the pollution I was forced to breath in my parents’ house. I didn’t feel looked down upon. In fact, people were grateful for my presence. Regardless of how surface-level my feelings of purpose were, I soaked them in nonetheless. Storing them away to sustain me through the trenches.

Quite a few people came to dine for lunch at Crow’s. I was appreciative of the amount of people because it helped the time pass smoothly and kept me busy. Focused solely on serving my guests. I wished we were open for dinner, because I’d rather be at work than stuck at home pretending not to be decaying away on the inside.

As I walked out from the kitchen and into the dining area…

“Sarah, phone for you,” my boss, Lee, shouted across the restaurant.

I blinked. “For me?” I questioned, confused why anyone would call me at work. Or who knew that I was working for that matter.

“Yes. Phone call for you!” he declared a little louder and with a hint of irritation as he crossed the dining room floor on his way to the back. Mostly likely headed to wash dishes.

“Okay,” I responded as I briskly stepped across the backside of the restaurant to the phone behind the bar.

“Hello, this is Sarah speaking,” I stated in my most professional tone.

“Hey man, it’s Cassey. I called your dad to ask if you could come over and hang out at my Mom’s house with us tonight for the Fourth. We’ll shoot off some fireworks and chill by the pool. He said you could, so you can just head over once you get off work.”

It was all I could do to keep my jaw from dropping. Besides the initial shock that the prisoner was allowed to leave the premises, this girl had called her 22-year-old friend’s father to ask if she could hang out. When I say that Cassey is a real friend, I mean it. Hell, she had my back more than my own family members did.

“What?” I said in surprise, “My dad is cool with me leaving the house?”

“Yeah man, so just grab your suit and head over later.”

I reassured her that I would, hung up the phone and went back to taking care of my tables. After my shift at work, I went home, changed out of my uniform, grabbed my swim suit and made the trip to Cassey’s mom’s house. This was the first speck of good luck I’d stumbled into all summer. My father had always been a fan of Cassey; he appreciated her bluntness and transparency. Ironic, because these were traits he didn’t appreciate in his own daughter. So I wasn’t completely surprised that he’d agreed to let me spend time with her. But then considering my current situation, I learned to eradicate any expectations for my family.

On the fifteen-minute drive from my parents’ house to Cassey’s mom’s I couldn’t help but feel my spirits lifted. I had forgotten how good the freedom I had been longing for felt. Even if my sense of freedom had a time frame, I embraced every second of it. I rolled down all the windows of my 2009 Honda Accord and savored the fresh air. No music, just the gushes of the wind in my hair and ears. I viewed this slice of freedom as the foreshadowing of what was to come in my near future. Maybe I was making something out of nothing. But in times of desperation, all you have to cling to is hope. Hope that what you’re enduring is temporary. Hope that you’ll emerge through the other side stronger, wiser and ready to thrive.

My time with Cassey and her family was just what my battered and worn out spirit needed. To be around a family that enjoyed each other. They laughed, teased and interacted with one another in love. I sat back observing that families could be warm and supportive and tender. This wasn’t to say that I had never experienced these same feelings with my own family, but I certainly hadn’t recently. I so desperately needed reminding that my new normal didn’t have to be this way forever.

We swam, ate, and set off fireworks. Simple and spectacular simultaneously. After the festivities, Cassey and I found ourselves relaxing in her room. Cassey’s mom joined us and asked how I had been doing. I was honest with her. Not well: I was hurt, confused and unsure. I was a captive in my parents’ house. I couldn’t trust anyone. And I missed Kendrae desperately. She may have been the first adult I felt comfortable around the past few months.

Her mom listened and responded in a way that I will never forget. She explained that as a mother, it was difficult to imagine what I was going through with my family. She comforted me with her kindness.  She went on to talk about her relationship with her three daughters and how she may not always agree with all their choices, but that she would much rather them be open and honest with one another. This two-way communication allowed her to share her mistakes with her daughters in hopes of preventing them from having to learn those same lessons. But it also allowed her daughters to come to her without fear of rejection when they did mess up. And rather than navigating their messes on their own, they could sort things out knowing that they had the undying support of their mom.

Cassy’s mom’s words felt like salve to my wounded heart. For once I didn’t feel judged and criticized. I wasn’t lectured or shamed for not thinking a particular way. The conversation was just that – a conversation. She listened to what I said and responded in a way that let me know she not only heard me, but sympathized with my pain. A reaction opposite of what I had been experiencing lately. Further confirmation that my situation was visible to those not a part of the nightmare.

I left their house that night appreciating the support from Cassey’s mom. I’m not sure she had any idea what an impact her kindness had on me. The taste of freedom left me salivating for more. I was determined to get out, sooner rather than later. I didn’t care if I had to sleep on the floor and eat 25 cent ramen noodles. I was willing to sacrifice minor comforts for my overall well-being. My freedom was worth fighting for.

No. 12 – My Twilight Zone

No. 12 – My Twilight Zone

Twilight Zone:

(n). A state of surrealism, where things that should not make sense seem to do so.

No other word could better suit the house I was confined to. Upon entrance of the house’s threshold, what seemed right was now wrong. What was once wrong was now right. Up was down. Left was right. And I was left tumbling around in the spin-cycle of miasma. Never have I experienced a more palpable feeling of downheartedness. It was as if the house was its own entity. Breathing confusion gas to all who inhabited it. Perpetuating the lack of clarity. Watching my every move. Hearing my every thought. Most of which were incomplete, because I couldn’t get a true sense of who I was in this labyrinth.

My only sense of liberation came from the runs I forced myself to take. My parents allowed me to step off the premises so long as I was going for a run along the winding country road the house was set off on. From the first step over the cattle guard I could taste the freshness in the air. I could breathe deeper. Think clearer. And feel the cloud lift from off my shoulders, and I embraced the sunshine. Each step on the gravel road assured me that I was still alive, and I could find a way out. The strength in my legs wouldn’t allow weakness in my thoughts. No tears or negativity allowed.

With the road at my feet and the wind at my back, the possibilities were endless. It was as if my mind opened up and allowed only positive thoughts to enter in. On the road, I believed that I could get out and that Kendrae would still be waiting for me. I was sure that I would be able to find a job that would lead me far away from my parents’ house. And I was hopeful that the growing strength in my body would translate to inner fortitude that would propel me to freedom. Each run brought me one step closer to anywhere but here.

But as soon as I crossed back over the cattle guard after one of my runs, a powerful haze clouded all sense of clarity I had found on the road. My hopes of escape all fled upon crossing the threshold that led into the 20-acre property. My despair, always awaiting me at the property’s gate, without fail. He had no problems with letting me leave, so long as he could greet me right where we left off once I returned. He’d lead me back down the long gravel driveway. And hold the front door wide open to ensure my entrance back into the house.

The air inside was stale and prevented me from ever receiving a full breath. Perhaps this element is what perpetuated the fog that never ceased to linger and stirred such turbidity. I was forbidden to have any contact with the outside world. My phone was held hostage by my father. My car was useless unless I was driving to work. I was a captive. All I knew was the longer I was kept prisoner in that house, the lower my chances of ever escaping became. As a result, I spent most of my time in solitude outside where the air didn’t seem quite so choking. Anything I could do to stay out of the house that seemed to slowly be killing any shred of me that remained.

My parents had decided that I was to be shipped off to Ohio for two weeks so that I could have a “fresh start.” They felt it would be in my best interest if I spent some time away. My best guess is that they worried if I stayed there too much longer I would either run away or try to meet up with Kendrae. By sending me off to Ohio, I could be better supervised and 1,123 miles away from Kendrae. But the distance in miles had no effect on me. At the moment, it seemed as if Kendrae and I lived in two different worlds.

Initially, the idea of putting a thousand miles between me and my parents was incredibly appealing. My battered heart could use some relief from the constant barrage of questions and pointless conversations that never ended well. Until I learned that my mother had discussed my current situation in detail with her parents, brother and sister-in-law. Now, rather than two people dissecting my private business and discussing it with me to no end, I would get to have the brutal discussions with four more people. Although, discussion is perhaps much too strong of a word. Lecture, guilt manipulation, sermon or reprimand are all much better suited to what was to come my way. And suddenly, my two-week Ohio retreat seemed much more like a punishment than a break.

Sure, I may have been getting some relief from my mother and father, but now the heat was going to be turned up tenfold. This was not my idea of an improvement to my current situation, but maybe the change of scenery could be beneficial. Neither situation was ideal, but there was nothing I could do either way. At least my Ohio trip would have a time frame. My stay here, had no end in sight. Before my brain took a trip down the rabbit hole of self-despair, I remembered something. I hadn’t checked my Facebook to see if Kendrae had written me back. A glimmer of hope broken through the abyss.

Again, I waited for the all too familiar feelings of guilt to seep in. But much to my surprise, I felt nothing. Nothing but excitement about the possibility that the love of my life had replied to my heartfelt and desperate plea.

Perhaps my lack of remorse stemmed from spending the entirety of my life unable to perfect the role of the perfect daughter. I had portrayed her so convincingly, that I even fooled myself for a while into believing that I could actually please my parents. But I couldn’t. My enough never matched their standards. So both my parents and myself were left discontented. Stuck in this perpetual cycle of unhappiness. I was tired of tumbling around exhausted from futile efforts that brought me no personal satisfaction and had clearly not appeased my parents either. If I could make decisions based off what would bring me joy, at least one of us would be satisfied. A seemingly better alternative than three unfulfilled participants in this losing game.

My decision was clear. No more imperfect “perfect daughter.” I was just going to be Sarah. So I anxiously waited until after 10:00 when most of the household was sleeping, or at least in their rooms. Biding my time in the downstairs living room, waiting for an opportunity so I could sneak into the office, grab my computer, and creep into the bathroom unnoticed. I turned on the shower and let the water run. With no intent of going in for several minutes. I opened up my laptop, logged into Facebook, and held my breath as I waited for the screen to load.

And then I saw it. A beautiful, little red circle with a white number one in the middle of it, hovering above the message icon. Kendrae had written me back! I exploded through the bathroom ceiling and through the second floor of the house and soared into the dark night air. The love of my life had seen my message and was willing to wait on our love.

But then, the house realized that I was flying above it. This could not be. So it launched an arrow, aimed directly for my heart. What if Kendrae doesn’t want to wait for you? What if his message is just telling you to leave him alone? Or, what if that message notification is not from Kendrae at all? I was hit. Wounded and unable to fly, I spiraled down towards the house. All the way back down to the bathroom floor. I found it hard to breathe again. My hands trembled as I moved the cursor over the little red circle.

I gingerly pressed on the red icon and held my breath as the screen loaded the new page. I closed my eyes in anticipation. I couldn’t watch the screen load. The whole day, the thought never occurred to me that Kendrae might not want to wait. That he may want to just cut his ties with me and move on with his life. And as devastated as I would be, I would understand. I knew I was asking for a lot. Eyes closed, I took a deep breath in and let it out. My eyes peeled open and focused on the name of the first message.

Kendrae Carter. My heart was racing. I clicked on the message. My eyes absorbed his words so quickly that my brain could scarcely digest it. I swallowed. Leaned my head back. Closed my eyes and let the tears stream down my face. Through the trail of tears, my lips spread and a smile overtook my entire face. Kendrae was willing to wait on us. He didn’t want to be with anyone else, and he knew that our love could carry us through to the other side of the pain.

I quickly undressed and stepped into the shower. I wanted to savor every drop of Kendrae’s message before crafting my response. With jewels few and far between these days, I was determined to make the most of this one. The water washed over my body and rinsed off the stench of the house. My issues would still be there tomorrow. The Ohio trip, the job search, the family dynamic, my fight for freedom. They would all be there tomorrow. But so would Kendrae.

*New Feature* Audio file of this post. 

No. 11 – Porcelain Thoughts

No. 11 – Porcelain Thoughts

I sat hunched on the lid of the toilet in the downstairs bathroom. It was somewhere around 4:00 AM. The door was locked and the lights were off. The only trace of light came from the glowing computer screen on my lap. I turned the brightness down as low as I could. So much so that I had to squint to make out the screen. My senses were heightened as I listened to every creak and moan of the old log house. Every decibel of noise would catch my breath in my chest. My brain hustled tirelessly to catch up with my senses, and to reassure me that creak was just a creak. And that moan was just a moan.

I was intent on typing a message to Kendrae. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to write, but I knew I couldn’t leave things as they were. I hadn’t been able to explain what had happened on our phone call. In part because I was wracked with heartbreak and because I still wasn’t clear on those details myself. My mind was still reeling from the series of unfortunate events just a few hours ago. The one thing I was sure of was that Kendrae must be just as confused and hurt as I was.

The cold porcelain of the base of the toilet chilled the skin on my calves. Goosebumps creeped up my skin, slowly, then all at once. The hair on the back of my neck stood at attention maintaining a sense of alertness that coursed through my entire body. I couldn’t get caught. My breath was slow and steady as I attempted to quiet the sound of my rapidly beating heart. The warmth of the laptop radiated through the tops of my thighs, drizzling beads of warmth past my kneecaps and down to my toes. The ebbs and flows of the coolness and warmth synced up with the cyclical thoughts in my head. What once seemed so clear to me would grow hazy within seconds. Only to return into focus moments after the haze.

How on earth could I find the words to explain to the man of my dreams that my family didn’t approve of him and our relationship? That I was given no option and was being forced to end things against my own will. How would I be able to accurately explain that none of what transpired the night before had changed any of my feelings towards him? That even after being dragged through what must have been hell on earth, I was surer of my decision of wanting to build a life with Kendrae.

I couldn’t think straight with my thoughts and emotions so scattered. I closed the lid of the laptop, gingerly set it on the sink and fixed my eyes on the space where I knew the wooden bathroom door set. The trace amounts of light were quickly sucked from the room. I allowed my eyes to adjust to the total darkness. So thick and overpowering that I could taste it. I was in the bottom of the pit. I looked up and saw nothing but darkness. To my left absolute darkness. To my right, more of the same.  I drew both of my legs up onto the toilet lid and pulled them tightly into my chest. As I hugged my own legs, I tried to deepen my breath in attempt at releasing the slightest bit of tension and uneasiness.

The longer I sat in the stillness of the dark, the more real it became. I’m not sure if I left my eyes open or closed, because the blackness was the same. Cloaked over my body like a damp and heavy blanket. Compressing on my skin and lungs making it hard to breathe. The sensation I felt wasn’t as if I was falling, but rather I remained grounded while the walls of the pit shot up higher and higher around me. I sensed I was trapped in the chasms of my own heart: dark, cold and empty.

The night before had been so loud; my ears were still ringing from it. There was so much noise in my head, but none of it came from my own voice. Where are you?I wondered, eager to learn what my own truth had to tell me. So I steeled myself and listened.

With no recollection of time in the pit of despair, I’m not sure how long I sat in wait. My heart rested while my mind roamed aimlessly, so exhausted from the tireless circles it had been running. Then, a soft mummer, like a whisper, spoke to my spirit. Wait.I focused my thoughts on the split second of clarity I had just encountered. What a notion. Just wait.

Just as quickly as my glimmer of hope had peeked through the veil of darkness, my mind quickly pounced atop the light. Could I just ask Kendrae to wait for me? For something that was not guaranteed?  Kendrae had shown me nothing but loyalty, support, transparency and love. Was that fair of me to ask of him?Fair or not, I had to ask. I had to fight for our love the only way I knew how in this moment. By buckling down and waiting out the storm. This would be the kind of waiting with no end in sight. The kind of waiting that would shake and rattle, while we would have to remain unmoved. This kind of waiting came with no security or precedence. It was the kind of waiting that would drive you mad, if you gave him the keys to the car.

I inhaled deeply, then grasped into the darkness for my laptop. The smoothness and warmth of it soothed my trembling fingers. Not quite sure how to begin, I lay my fingers on the keys and let the words flow out of me without thinking or restraint. I typed out a message explaining everything as best as I could. How my parents had seemingly exploded without any warning or provocation. How I was hurting and heartbroken.  How I wanted nothing more than to be in his reassuring arms. I made certain to express that none of my feelings for him had shifted. That I was not going anywhere. That we may have to operate under some new rules for the time being until I was able to get out. That I loved him and that I couldn’t be sorrier for how my parents had treated him. And then I asked him something absurd. I asked him to wait for me. To wait on our love.

I gave a once over to the Facebook message I had written in one foul swoop. The manifestation of my beating heart bled onto my computer screen. I took one final slow breath and hit send. I logged out of my Facebook account, cleared the computer’s browser history, and shut the computer off. I had to be sure that I left no trail, or all my efforts would be in vain. I was never one to disobey my parents. As an avid rule follower, I anticipated feelings of guilt for straying from the path that was so forcefully laid out for me. But there were none. In fact, after hitting send, I felt a slight ease of pressure on my chest for a moment. Yet still, the darkness lingered.

Our love had just begun to blossom. The roots still thirsty and seeking sustenance. Could our love grow through an extended period of waiting without nourishment and light?I thought questions the darkness seemed to have no answers to. So, I sat on the porcelain toilet and allowed fresh tears to warm my face.

No. 10 – Sticks and Stones

No. 10 – Sticks and Stones

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

I used to think this was a funny saying because it seemed so obviously overstated. Of course, sticks and stones being thrown at you could break your bones. And how could words hurt someone? They were just words…

I’ve come to radically change my opinion on this topic because of this very situation. I’ve experienced hurtful words before, but none that have pierced through my very skin and punctured my heart. Words that are branded into my brain that even to this day still ache. Words that are so saturated with emotion and so intent on drawing blood that I can still feel their impact. Words that can still bring me to tears. Words that to this day continue to make me sick to my stomach. Words that bring me back to the exact moment in time again and again and again. Words I will never be able to forget.

I remember everything about this day. I remember the warm Texas sun beaming through the open windows. I remember my forest green Crow’s Country Café t-shirt that I was wearing because I had just gotten off working the lunch shift. I remember that my sister had been exceptionally withdrawn that afternoon and seemed anything but interested in how amazing my weekend had been. I remember thinking how incredible my life was and how lucky I am. And then, I remember everything changing.

Kendrae and I were starting to get this long-distance thing down better. No, it wasn’t ideal, but it would do for the time being. We were going to be spending the entire weekend together. Kendrae didn’t have to work and we had actual couple-esqe plans. Friday evening, we decided upon the traditional date night and went to the movies. When I tell you I cannot remember what we saw, I truly can’t remember! I couldn’t concentrate on anything else but the skin of his hand intertwined with mine. Was my hand sweating? Oh God, please don’t let my hand start sweating!

All nervous hand sweat aside, I had never experienced the sheer romance that is holding hands. Perhaps because in a room full of people, your emotional bond with the person with whose hand you’re holding is expressed in the most organic of form. No words, no movement, just pure and utter stillness. That felt anything but still. Electric pulses were shooting up my veins and into my head. First the tingling started in my fingertips. Then it navigated ever so sweetly up my hand and through my arm. Before long, my entire body was intoxicated with the gentle warmth of Kendrae’s hand holding mine. The rest of the night was a blur, but that moment in the darkness of the movie theatre, surrounded by other people was one of the most intimate moments we shared.

The next day, Kendrae and I attended a wedding of one of his high school teammates. Besides the fact that the ceremony was outside in the dead of a Texas summer, I was excited to share a new experience together. Getting to meet some of Kendrae’s friends from high school would be a nice treat. Or maybe the heart of my excitement stemmed from getting to see my man all dressed up. But the other stuff was nice too.

The ceremony was heartfelt, the venue was breathtaking and the atmosphere was playful. The love in the place was palpable, and it was the first time I had been around sheer joy and felt that we existed on the same planet. I had met the kindred spirit I had waited in anticipation for my whole life – joy. A joy that was deeper than happiness that gave me a glimpse of what my future with Kendrae might look like. A wedding surrounded with friends and family that loved us. And a love for one another that was real enough as guest at the wedding.

I ended the weekend with Kendrae feeling better and happier than I could remember in a long time. Nothing remarkable had happened or changed, but his presence made me feel like I could just be Sarah. If I was feeling goofy, I could be goofy. When I was feeling unsure, he reassured me without even realizing that’s what I needed. I felt beautiful all the time around him, whether I was dressed in my wedding best or in a big t-shirt and no make-up with a messy bun on top of my head; it was all the same to him. I could see myself come alive in his eyes. Most of all, I felt safe. Safe to be myself, safe to be vulnerable, safe to fall deeper in love.

My fairytale weekend came to a close and my work week began. After my lunch shift at Crow’s, I came home to find my sister sitting in the family room watching television. We chatted sparsely. In fact, she didn’t say much at all. She didn’t make much eye contact with me either. This wasn’t necessarily unusual behavior for my sister, because she can be a reserved and shy creature. Exceptionally tender-hearted and only spoke when she deemed it absolutely necessary. However, most of this didn’t apply to me lately. Being home for the summer had really given us a chance to bond, and she had opened up to me more than ever. I found myself not thinking of her as my younger sister, but as my true friend. So, I found it odd that the conversation seemed so one sided and didn’t feign her interest in the slightest.

Then my parents both walked into the house at the same time. Not a few minutes apart, not one after the other, simultaneously. My mother sat down on the opposite end of the couch I was on, and my father sat in the big chair directly diagonal of me. Unusual behavior as my father usually went straight upstairs to his bedroom and my mother usually went straight for the kitchen. My sister immediately went upstairs without a word or prompting. I looked after her and wondered why she had left so quickly. As I turned my gaze back towards the direction of my parents…

“Sarah, we need to talk,” my mother declared. Perhaps the most loaded phrase in the English language.

I looked at both my mother and my father and blinked, waiting for what I was sure wouldn’t be a pleasant conversation. Here comes the job search talk…again, I thought.

“How serious is this, Sarah? Are you two talking about marriage?” my father barked.

“With Kendrae? Yes, we’ve talked about…”

“You told me you hadn’t! You lied to us. Why didn’t you tell us how serious this was?” my father continued, disapproval oozing out of his voice.

“You asked me when we had been together for like three weeks. Marriage hadn’t come up yet.” I stated defensively, confused why I was on trial for actually enjoying being with the person I was dating. I had no idea planning a future together would be an issue, I thought this would be good news.

My mother and father were both physically upset. Arms crossed. Stern mouths. Flushed faces.

I was getting increasingly more uncomfortable with each passing millisecond. I could feel that my face was flushed as well. I was completely ambushed by this double-team barrage of questions that seemed to have no correct answer.

Then as if I wasn’t caught off-guard enough, my father aimed his verbal AK-47 right at my heart and pulled the trigger.

“What makes you think he hasn’t cheated on you? You know he’s a player.”

Hit. The first draw of blood.

“Has he hit you yet?”

Hit. I was now stumbling backwards on the battlefield.

“He doesn’t want to marry you, he’s just telling you what you want to hear. You’re going to end up knocked up with a bunch of nappy-headed little kids running around, and then he’s going to leave you, just like they all do.”

Hit. I collapsed on the ground and gazed up at my father who now towered over me with the barrel of his gun pressed directly against my rapidly beating heart.

“He doesn’t love you, Sarah.”

Direct hit.

Each bullet had hit me harder than the last. What started as a beating heart full of love and promise was now a battered and empty shell. I could feel myself bleeding and had difficulty gasping for breath.

Completely speechless and stunned, my body was entirely frozen. Not even my thoughts could move.

I was absolutely frozen.

My state of shock quickly turned to intense pain. I was just regaining my eyesight as the smoke from the bullets settled. My eyes began to focus, just as I realized there was a grenade hurtling toward me.

“You either break up with him, or get out of the house.”

I had seen it coming and managed to duck for cover, but the aftershock still reverberated. The explosion left the air ringing.

My face was flushed and my body tense. I looked into my mother’s eyes and saw something I’ve never seen there before. I couldn’t place it, but something in me realized I didn’t want to stick around to find out what it was. Leave.My body was screaming at me. Get. Out. Now.

I stood up. “Fine. Then I’m leaving.”

I walked out of the living room and up the stairs to my room at the end of the hall. I opened my closet door. My whole body was shaking. I grabbed my belongings as quickly as I could, not bothering to even remove my clothing from their hangers. I took the first load downstairs and began a pile in the middle of the living room.

“You can’t take your car. If you leave with your car, we’ll call the police and report that its stolen.”

I turned my head and locked eyes with my mother. “Fine.”

“You can’t take you cell phone either. It’s on our plan.”

I ignored her response and made another trip upstairs to gather more of my belongings. I’ve never felt so many emotions at once. Confusion. Sadness. Anger. Uncertainty. Brokenness. Confusion.I felt as if I was watching this scene take place rather than acting as a participant in it. Maybe participant wasn’t the correct word, I didn’t choose this. I was dragged into it.

Three loads later, I was still confident in my choice to leave. My father called my best friend, Cassey, from my cell phone. “Come and pick up your friend. She can’t stay here,” he stated so matter-of-factly. The three of us sat in silence in the living room as we awaited Cassey’s arrival.

Cassey couldn’t have arrived quickly enough. My father explained to Cassey what a “slut” his daughter was and that she could not stay in the house so long as she continued to date Kendrae. Cassey, obviously caught off guard, tried to ease the situation. “Now sir,” she said in her most polite tone, “I think this seems worse than what it is, and is something we’re all going to be able to laugh about later.”

My parents were not convinced, and I certainly wasn’t laughing. I grabbed a handful of my clothes. “Alright, Cassey, let’s go. I’m not staying here,” I stated as dryly as I could, hoping my voice didn’t tremble as much as my insides were.

The next moments were a blur because what started out with my attempted leaving transformed into a crumpled shell of what once was Sarah on the couch sobbing uncontrollably.

I was not allowed to leave. I was given two options, and when I chose to leave, my choice was not accepted. Upon realizing that I called their bluff, my parents panicked and would not let Cassey and I leave the house. Two hours of mind-manipulation later, and I was worse off than ever.

Apparently, as I was hurriedly packing, my mother took it upon herself to send Kendrae a sharply barbed text message. “Don’t ever talk to my daughter, or anyone in our family ever again,” she sent him. She read me the text message and convinced me that even if I left, he wouldn’t want to be with me now. She had broken up with him for me. “What did you think you were going to do, Sarah? Go live with him happily ever after? He works at Kroger and you don’t even have a real job.”

The room started spinning again and I sunk deeper and deeper into myself. Mortified and heartbroken, both vast understatements.  I didn’t know what to do. But I begged for my phone back so that I could talk to Kendrae. He did nothing to deserve the rash and sudden break-up text that my mother sent him. I just needed to hear his voice.

As I dialed Kendrae’s phone number, I couldn’t suppress the tears. The pain in his “hello” ripped my heart to shreds. So deflated and lifeless, a side of Kendrae never revealed to me before. I was shaking so deeply from my sobs, that I could barely hold the phone up to my face. “I love you somuch Kendrae, and I’m sosorry.” I must have said those words fifty times. Our conversation consisted of little else, because I could not tame my sobbing. I couldn’t breathe it was so intense. “I love you too, Sarah,” Kendrae told me. Then he hung up the phone.

I collapsed completely and wept. Heartbreak wholly overtook my body to its core. As I laid there in anguish, Cassey stroked my hair. After what seemed like an eternity, I must have cried all the liquids out of my body, because my tears stopped flowing. Cassey left. My parents went upstairs to bed. And I couldn’t move.

The ferocity of the pain had numbed my entire body. Worn out from the most intense fight for my life, I drifted into what felt like unconsciousness. I don’t know if it was sleep, because when I awoke at four something in the morning, I felt anything but rested.

Then, as all survivors do, I had an idea.

No. 8 – Crickets

No. 8 – Crickets

I was so anxious that I couldn’t sleep. My thoughts were in a perpetual state of chaos. What jobs are open? Where should I be applying? What do I want to do?What about Kendrae…? The past few weeks had been a whirlwind of emotions. I felt as if my world was spinning, but somehow, I was moving nowhere. I had sent out hundreds of job applications ranging from teaching positions to bank tellers to any position with an opening. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to get out of my parent’s house.

I applied for jobs in Sherman, 30 minutes North. I applied for jobs in McKinney, 30 minutes South. I applied for jobs in Allen, Dallas, Frisco and Plano, up to an hour away. At this point the job description was less of a concern than anything else. I just knew that I had to move out. Cassey and I had looked at a few apartments in the area, but had yet to find anything suitable for our budget. I even considered moving to Austin, with a college friend, Ali. She had just moved into a house and extended the offer that I could move in with her. So, I sent out applications in Austin, too. And out of the hundreds of applications I sent out, I heard back zero times.

For the time being, I was waitressing which enabled me to save up, slowly. Every day after my shift, I would place a $20 bill in my wallet and put the rest of the cash in a heart shaped tin I hid in the downstairs bathroom cupboard. If I still had my $20 from the previous day, then that was $20 more dollars that went into my tin. I had never been good at saving, but I was motivated now more than I had ever been.

I couldn’t understand why the household attitude towards my job hunt was shrouded in such negativity. Being at home around my parents had become borderline unbearable. It seemed as if each day I was interrogated about why I hadn’t found a job yet. Did I apply to this school district? Did I send out any more applications? Did I follow up? Had I signed up for my certification class? Did I send out that email? As if I didn’t have enough pressure on myself, they had to double up on it too? I was putting in the legwork. I checked all the job sites daily, critiqued my resume, spoke with a recruiter, and applied to any job I felt I was remotely qualified for. But all I heard were crickets.

All these expectations, well founded or not, transformed into such a source of tension in my life. Stressed was an understatement. No one talks about the struggles a college graduate can be up against. You think, go to college, get a degree and you’re set. Employers will be knocking down your door to hire you, right? Once you have a degree doors will be opened for you. Wrong. You have to have experience. But, if no one will hire you, how can you ever gain experience? Did I mention I was stressed out? And I tried not to let on to Kendrae about the depth of my concerns. When we spent time together, the last thing I wanted to discuss was how concerned I was about my lack of a career. I wanted to make the most of what little time we had, not shade it with my cloud of despair. Because at the moment, my prospects seemed hopeless.

This particular day, I was dog sitting for my uncle who lived in the Dallas area. I was thrilled when he asked if I was available. I didn’t care if I had to drive 45 minutes to go to work. Staying at his place meant some relief from my parents. I imagined that it was my apartment and that I lived in this sophisticated loft as a writer. Far removed from the truth or not, it was a daydream that gave me hope that one day my situation could change for the better.

I had just gotten back to his apartment from working my lunch shift at Crow’s. Paula, my uncle’s dog, was energetic and required a vigorous walking regimen. So, I grabbed her leash and headed towards the nearest dog park a few blocks down the road. I sat on the park bench and threw the tennis ball as far as I could. Paula watched the ball land at the other end, but was not impressed. Instead, she sniffed around the perimeter of the park and created her own entertainment.

The sunshine warmed my back as I breathed in the fresh, summer air. Just as I started to relax, my cell phone rang. It was my mother. Utter dread consumed my spirit as I had a pretty strong prediction of how this conversation was going to go. Conversation may have been an overstatement. I’m not sure if one person talking while the other counts the milliseconds until it’s over qualifies as a conversation. But I picked up the phone.

The pleasantries were brief and she dove right on in. Had I had any leads on a job?

I sighed, perhaps too loudly, and responded that no, I hadn’t heard back. Most schools weren’t even sure what positions were open until mid-July. Plus, I hadn’t received my alternative certification yet, so schools wouldn’t consider me in my current state. As usual, my response was bulldozed over and she went in on the lecture. I had heard this same speech so many times I could almost quote it. I would’ve wasted my breath by responding to anything she said. So, I sat there and feigned interest. After about 20 minutes she came up for breath and I interjected that I had to go. That I couldn’t talk on the phone and walk Paula due to her rudimentary leash-walking skills.

As I leashed up Paula, I felt a tinge of understanding for her. I didn’t care to be kept on a leash either. I wanted to explore and take in the scents. To have the freedom to change directions. To walk or run at my own choosing, not to be tied down on a tightly kept leash. Or maybe mine was more along the lines of a shock collar. I don’t know if it was for Paula or for my own sake, but we ran back the whole way to my uncle’s loft. My thoughts rattled around in my head, but one settled on top. I wouldn’t be under their reigns forever. Eventually, something would shake, and I would gain my freedom, right?

But all I could hear were crickets.