The year that my mother died was one of the hardest years of my life. So much changed in such a small amount of time that when I think back on it, much of what happened is fairly blurry. I was 16, and my biggest worries up until then were what I was doing with my boyfriend this weekend, or what I was going to wear to school the next day. The course of my life was suddenly and swiftly altered, and I felt fairly out of control. Things seemed to be happening around me without my permission. It was during this hectic year, however, that I first took a stand for myself, and made a bold move that I have never regretted.
For the first couple of months after my mother died, my family tried to go back to "normal," at least as normal as we possibly could be. Despite my family's pleas that I move to Washington to live with my grandmother, I stayed in our home in Michigan with my little brother and my stepdad. Things were tense, but bearable. My stepfather could be a very volatile person; for much of my life I had been very afraid of him. It was easy to send him in to a tirade, and the stress of our current situation did not help him at all.
To say I was frightened of my stepdad would be an understatement. I was terrified to be left in the same room alone with him. He had never physically hurt me, although I had seen the bruises he left on my sister. I was always scared that I was going to make him angry. For much of my life, I had relied on my mom and my big sister to "protect" me from his tirades--he would get angry for the smallest things, and his fury could last quite a long while. With my mom gone and my sister away at college, there was now no "buffer" to protect me from him. I lived every day in fear that I would make him angry, make him scream and call me horrible names and possibly hurt me.
One day, my sister was visiting my brother and I and she took us to the movies. We left a note for my stepfather telling him when we would return. Unfortunately, the movie we went to see was sold out, so we went to a later showing. We returned home half an hour later than we intended. My stepfather greeted us with a screaming match. How inconsiderate of us to be late! Why didn't we call? He couldn't believe how we could do this to him! As usual, my sister took the brunt of his anger--for every scream he threw at her, she yelled back, doing her best to keep his attention on herself and away from me and my little brother. She stormed out of the house, him following after, screaming at her. She asked me to come with her, but I said no. I couldn't imagine how angry that would make him, but I didn't want to find out. Instead, I sulked away and hid in my room. He stopped yelling after my sister left, and he also stopped speaking to me.
About a week later, after a week of silence from my stepdad, I came home from school just like any other day. By this point, I had stopped trying to speak to him, since the only response I got was a cold shoulder and silence. He was sitting in the living room, and I walked past and went to my bedroom, where I had been spending the majority of my time lately. A few minutes passed when my bedroom door burst open, and my stepdad stood there, his eyes bulging out of his head and his face bright red with fury.
"You come home and you don't even bother to say HELLO?" He roared at me.
I looked at him blankly, my heart starting to race. I had no idea how to respond, so I tried to be honest.
"You haven't spoken to me for a week. Why would I say hello to you?"
Unfortunately, this only managed to anger him further.
"You ungrateful bitch. You never even said sorry for being late on Sunday. It's like you don't even love me anymore..."
Typically, this kind of language from my stepdad, and the lengthy tirade that followed it, would do nothing but reduce me to tears. I would cry and curl up in a ball until he was done, and hope that he would calm down. But today was different. I'm still not sure why it was different--maybe because it was the first time I'd really faced him completely on my own. This day, I didn't stand down and wait for the storm to pass. This day, I decided to fight back.
I gave my stepfather a tirade of my own. I told him how terrified he had made me for the last 13 years of my life. I told him how there was never a day that I wasn't afraid to be left alone with him. And I told him he was right, that I had no love left in my heart, no patience left to deal with his tyranny.
My words took the wind out of my stepfather's sails. He left my room, still angry, but no longer screaming. I sat on my bed staring at the door, in shock. I wasn't certain what to do next, but something told me I didn't have much time to decide. I thought of going to him and apologizing, trying to make everything better. But I also knew if I did that, we would have to go through this same thing another day, for some different silly reason that made him angry. At that moment, I made one of the craziest decisions of my life. I decided to walk away.
I quickly packed everything that I could fit in a suitcase and my backpack. I had no idea where I was going to go, but I knew that it was the right time to leave. As I was walking out of my bedroom, my stepfather was walking back down the hall, starting to scream at me again. I gave him one last goodbye, as calmly as I could muster, and told him I wouldn't be back. I walked out my front door, dragging a suitcase behind me, and headed down the road.
Part of me said I should turn back, but most of me felt like this was the bravest decision I could have made. I walked down the road, not sure of what I would do next, but certain I had done what was right for me. Even though I was technically "running away," I felt like I was running toward a better future--one where I didn't have to be afraid all the time.
I left that house and I have never looked back. I stayed with friends until my sister and I could get an apartment together. I managed to finish my last two years of high school in relative normalcy. Although I still struggle with it, that fateful day I learned that I can stand up for myself. It was like fighting a battle with my arch nemesis and winning. I was free in more ways than one that day that I walked down a busy highway dragging a suitcase behind me. I was free to live my life without fear.