Think back to when you were 15 and foolish. Multiply that foolhardiness by 20, add eye-bleeding levels of awkward, subtract probably a foot of height and fifty pounds… meet 15 year old me: Skye the runaway. My parents at this time had decided the best way to keep me from talking to atheists, running away and getting into any form of teenage mischief would be to pull me from school and keep me in my room with a stack of home school books. I was permitted no other books, no phone calls to anyone that may have cared to wonder where I may have vanished to, no walking around the yard unsupervised, no remotely boyish clothes or anything with my previous school’s insignia on it; the list was not only indefinite but it changed hourly. After months of isolation and abuse, I didn’t just go loony; I totally lost my tar.
One day near the end of June, my little sister (who had been moved into my room to supervise me) and I were preparing for bed. I was nearly sixteen and had big practical plans of becoming legally emancipated as soon as my birthday hit. My sister and I settled into bed in an unusually civil tone. The summer solstice was the net day and for once we had agreed on something: we had decided it would somehow be both fitting and brilliant to starve our brains of sleep for thirty-six hours, starting the next morning, just for the heck of it. My father had entered the room and laughed at us, offering to bet the largest ice cream from the local creamery on our failure. We went to sleep and that was that; so I thought.
Around 0400, Jim woke me up with a sense of urgency. He said something about my aunt, who was in remission from breast cancer, needing help and that we had to go see her. This lady was my hero; an engineer who knew how to laugh and hold her own. She lived in the Carolinas and we lived in Michigan, but I was too tired to think too much about it. I pulled on a pair of cargo pants that I knew would infuriate my mother and put my shirt on as I stumbled down the hall. My mother was waiting upstairs with a couple of backpacks as well as my father, in his puffy, faded red coat. It was June but again, I didn’t wonder what occasion could possibly call for a coat in the Michigan summer. My mother explained to me that my aunt wasn’t actually ill and that I was, in fact, going to Chicago with my father. She explained that since my family had gone on a memorable trip the previous fall while I was locked up, they were going to do another….right then. I nodded sleepily. It wasn’t that I bought the story; it was our relationship. We were made out of lies and craziness and hate and hurt. This was normal and I was tired of constantly being afraid of what they were going to do with me; I wasn’t even going to try figuring it out this time.
The three of us packed into the car as my mother explained: my father and I would fly into Chicago while she and my siblings made the six-hour drive to meet us there. I specifically remember the urge crossing my mind to look back at their hated estate as we drove away, but I angrily threw out the idea; I would be trapped in its walls again soon enough. Little did I know that it would be years before I ever crossed the threshold again.
The ride to the airport was completely silent. I was annoyed when my mother gave me a tight, teary eyed hug. Her hugs were never for me; not any form of love. In some twisted way we both knew the hug was for her. The week before I had refused to hug her and she had become irate, calling my father into the room to hold me down so she could properly hug me. I shrugged her off and walked into the airport ahead of my father.
We didn’t have checked bags and arrived shortly before it was time to board, so in just a few minutes we were whistling down the runway while I clutched the armrests with white knuckles, wondering who in their right mind would discontinue supplying barf bags on planes. My father was quiet, his casual demeanor punctuated with an usual tension; he was reading a book as if he was just sitting down to breakfast. Something was horribly wrong and I knew it. Another sign something was amiss was that we were flying first class. My father was the stingiest person I have ever met; unless it involved his business or sailing, nothing could get him to pay for anything above dirt cheap. I knew my father, and I knew this was big.
We screeched to a halt in Chicago and he insisted we wait inside the terminal for a ‘friend’ to come pick us up. He casually pulled a movie up on his laptop. Another flag popped up in my mind; If there was one thing my father didn’t do, it was provide entertainment. Or conversation, for that matter. The movie was one a corny love films that my mother quoted regularly and made my siblings and I watch more times than I can in good conscience admit, so I opted to sleep on the floor. My father still had the two backpacks with him: one was his usual travel backpack and the other was a simple black bag I’d never seen before. I reached out to grab it for a makeshift pillow and heard my his puffy red coat rustle suddenly before he ripped it out of my hands.
My father: Don’t touch that.
Me: Chill out. I need a pillow.
My father: Use your hair. This is my bag.
Me: Whatever. (Clearly I have always had creative wit)
This was yet another flag: Whenever strange belongings appeared in my father’s possession or disappeared from mine, something was afoot. I had learned to be terrified whenever I caught my parents whispering. ‘Surely,’ I’d tell myself, ‘I’m paranoid and irrational like they say I am’, but without fail, whispers inevitably meant my life was about to get worse.
After a couple hours of sleeping with my face in the filthy airport carpet, Jim suddenly stood up and shoved his laptop into his usual bag.
Jim: Let’s go to the bathroom.
It was a declaration. He announced it as if he was proposing we stop a mad conspiracy; I shuffled off with him to the bathroom. As I tossed my crumpled paper towel in the hopelessly spilling-over trash, I met my father outside the bathroom. He suddenly snaked an arm tightly around me, clamping me to his side. He half-led, half dragged me to what I thought was a random gate that happened to be almost done boarding. Pulling two tickets from his coat, he asked the attendants if they were still boarding to Boise. They tore the tickets and stepped out of the way.
PANIC. Mad, red panic. Boise was very far away and I didn’t know what he was going to do to me. If he lied to get me this far, it couldn’t be good. I started screaming and struggling against his vice-like grip as he started dragging me down the jetway. The attendants, suddenly wide eyed and alarmed, began to close in on my father and I. Realizing, I’m sure, that he was about to get accused of kidnapping, he urgently whispered down at me to stop.
Of course I didn’t.
My father: Stop making a scene! I’m taking you to a search and rescue camp in Boise for your early sixteenth birthday. Just….stop!
His words silenced me abruptly. Could it be that my dad, who left me behind for everything when he took my siblings out, who told me so many times I was evil, who medicated me and spent hours telling me I was criminally insane, who locked me in my room for months, telling me I didn’t deserve any better, who I had completely given up on being loved by, wanted to spend time with ME?! He wanted to go do something with ME, alone, without my siblings? Quite literally, I was speechless. He continued to clamp me to his side, leading me down the jet-way. Right before we boarded, he handed me a ticket and told me he couldn’t get our seats together and sat down in first class.
When I arrived at my seat near the back of the plane, I waited to see which passenger would be seated next to me. I examined the face of each person working their way down the aisle. Before I knew it, the plan was moving and the safety instructions were blaring in that pleasant but obnoxiously loud tone. The center and aisle seats beside my window perch were still empty. I wondered if my father would like to come back and sit with me, but just as quickly remembered how fragile his moods could be and decided not to press my luck.
I had nothing to do, but the flight was much longer than anything I’d sat through before. I wondered what a search and rescue camp was; I’d never heard of such a thing before. Still firm in my decision to believe my father, I wiggled around and asked the couple sitting behind me if they knew of a search and rescue camp in Boise. They gave me confused looks, a couple irrelevant guesses and stammered. I told them firmly; CONFIDENTLY, that my dad was taking me to a camp and they must not know of it. I turned around…and sat for hours…
We touched down in Boise 20 years later. I didn’t have a baggage; not even a book. I hustled as much as I could up the aisle before the slow de-boarding process began. I pushed through the aisles, down the jetway and into the terminal, where my father was waiting. He standing beside two elderly people who had my name emblazoned across a handheld dry-erase board. Screaming
SKYE WE HAVE YOU
It was over. I knew I’d been scammed. I fought every bit of me to put the disappointment, betrayal and anger on the backburner of my mind and deal with the situation at hand. My father crouched down in front of me and looked me in the eyes for only a split second; he pulled his gaze away when he saw my heart shatter in the back of my eyes. He spoke loudly; deliberately so that the elderly couple could hear:
My father: I am sending you somewhere to fix your broken heart.
He rose, handed the mysterious black bag to the couple and strode away. With each of his steps I noticed more bounce, more confidence, and then he was gone. Finally he was rid of me. I stood, hands open and to my sides, watching him leave as the couple approached me. Finally, I had been fully discarded.
I had been kidnapped by my father and an elderly couple I’d never seen in my life. I had no idea what was going to happen to me and I couldn’t think around the shock. As the fogginess began to clear from my filling eyes, I felt my broken heart take its last breath. I had believed him.
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