Today I returned to the place where it all began – walking down that strange, yet familiar dirt road for the first time in what seemed like an eternity ago. I had forgotten how lonely the street felt before that road. The asphalt was tattered with age and the paint no longer showed; driving here was not safe by any means, it never had been. The same eight trees still stood tall, filling the street with a sense of foreboding, their gnarled branches hanging low to the ground, dotted with a few leaves – most of them long since dead. I passed the Miller house on my way down the street, there wasn’t much left of it. The ceiling was caved in and huge chunks of a tree were strewn across the lawn, which had grown wild and untamable, with vines creeping up the remaining walls of the house. There was another house that used to be here… but I can’t for the life of me remember who had lived there, and anyways, it seemed as if that house had been torn down, only a large patch of lifeless dirt remained where that house had once stood. I looked down to see where the pavement ended, and the dirt began, and knew I was almost there. I started down that dirt road, just like I had so many times before. Before I knew it, I saw the house.
Rays of sunshine crept into my room, slowly filling it with light. I knew it was time to get up. It was morning. Sure enough, momma came up to pound on the door, yelling at me to wake up. I was already awake. I got out of the cot and went into the house to eat what was left of breakfast. I was lucky to get a piece of toast today, and a small apple. Dad ate most of it already, of course. “Boy, get yer ass movin’ yer gonna be late for school, don’t let me catch you being late to school, or I’m gonna give you a wompin’,” I knew he would say… I got my book bag and ran out of the house and down the dirt road, dust flying in my wake.
When I got to the street, I stopped running. The Millers’ car wasn’t in their driveway, so they must have already left, and neither was the Andersons’ car. Their houses looked so pristine and refined, a sparkling image in the morning sun. I looked back up the dirt road, seeing nothing worth liking, then back to the other houses. I felt envious for only a moment before it was snuffed out like a secret flame. I had better get to school, so I started to run. I ran as fast as I could for as long as my feet would carry me, way down the street, more than a mile long until I reached the town. Another mile later and I finally reached the school, my forehead dripping with sweat and my shoes covered with dirt. I was late.
The ruler didn’t really hurt me anymore; I think I have developed some kind of immunity to it all. I had long ago stopped questioning what it was about me that made me different, why my tardiness gave rise to beatings, and the other children were merely scolded. I figured it was the way the world worked; in a way that was true more than I could ever know. The other children laughed at my old clothes and dirty shoes. Their clothes were new and fashionable, their hair gelled and curled, and their shoes… their shoes shone brightly and smelled new.
I spent my lunch sitting alone, my nose buried in my notebook, scribbling little notes to myself, imagining stories. Dragons and wizards were fighting, trying to find the secret treasure; a golden chalice that would bring happiness and eternal life. But they fought so much and so brutally, they couldn’t even notice that all along the chalice was before their very eyes, waiting to be discovered. I smiled at the humming bird perched in the bushes beside me, searching for food amongst the flowers. The air smelled beautiful, and the sky was warm, there were no clouds today.
When I was walking home from school, something amazing happened. I was practicing my multiplication tables, which we had learned earlier that day, it came easily to me. I was walking in town, just past Gerald’s Barber Shop, when I noticed something glimmer briefly in the sunlight in the corner of my eye. I looked down and saw it – two nickels and a crumpled two dollar bill. I grabbed the coins and eagerly put them in my socks, then slowly reached down and picked up the two dollar bill. I smoothed it out and stared at it. I had never seen so much money before. I was so excited I didn’t know what to do with myself, my hands were almost shaking. I clutched the bill as tightly as I had ever held on to anything, and I ran all the way home, nothing could bother me.
That night, there was no food for me, but I didn’t mind. I had buried the two dollar bill outside my room, along with the nickels I had found, and the other two dollars in coins I had accumulated the past several years. I had built myself a small fortune. Almost five dollars. No amount of yelling from my father and mother could dampen my spirits. I practiced my arithmetic and learned my vocabulary words amid a torrent of raging fury that was whirling all around me; the walls themselves shuddered in discomfort, but I was heedless of the fury around me.
I reached the house. At first, I really didn’t know what to expect. The exterior was decrepit, the paint had faded and in most places was chipped; the wood foundations looked harrowed and old, seemingly bending under its own weight. The door stood tall, still monumental and imposing; there was a long cobweb between the doorknob and the door. I noticed that the upstairs windows were all broken, and in fact, the downstairs windows were as well. I took a deep breath, paused for a few very long moments and opened the door, stepping inside the house for what could very well be the last time. I looked down at my shoes, pristine and stylish. I wiped the dirt off them. The other house… it was the Andersons’.
My notebook was filled with scribbles. I can’t even count the number of stories I have written in here, random thoughts, and poems – hundreds upon hundreds of them. Sometimes I just get an urge to write, even if I end up writing nothing at all, just strings and connections of letters and words in no discernable order. It was a large notebook. I was walking home from school and suddenly lurched forward unexpectedly, falling to the ground. I had been shoved. I turned around and saw him, Chris Anderson and his group of friends, all smirking uncontrollably. I got up and tried to just continue, maybe it had been an accident; even though I knew it wasn’t. Soon enough they had me cornered, right around the same barber shop I had found two dollars five years ago. I really can’t remember much of the sequence of events that happened next. Everything was a blur in my memory. I remember being yelled at, being taunted, being hit; over and over. I remember trembling in fear, but not crying. I remember my notebook… they took it. They burned it. Chris Anderson lit it on fire.
My entire life turned into ash. When that flame extinguished, a piece of my soul went with it. I remember… years of rage and anger unleashed. I don’t remember exactly what happened or how. I fought, I cried, I screamed. I do remember being dragged home, bloody, dirty, and exhausted. Tears mixed with blood covered my face, but that wasn’t the end of it. I remember Dad taking off his belt, I remember Dad throwing me across the room, I remember glass breaking, and bones shattering. I remember being sent out into my room, getting nothing but water and bread to eat for a week. Finally, I remember the bones that never quite healed, and the scars that would never go away.
It had been more than a week, but finally I felt strong enough to get up and move. I snuck down the road and into town, I needed food. I had lost weight, I could tell; I looked horrible, like a train wreck. I took some of the fortune I had built up over the years. Money I had found, money I had made doing chores for the Millers’ when my parents wouldn’t notice, and money I had made doing other people’s homework. I had collected almost fifty dollars. If Dad knew, he would beat me and then take it, but he doesn’t know, he’ll never know. I took some of the money for the first time to go buy food.
I felt strange walking around town. Normally I would get strange looks, but for the first time in my life, I thought that they were justified. I went to a hamburger stand and bought my very first hamburger. I ate ravenously, and then got another, and another. Afterwards I got a chocolate milkshake, also for the first time ever. I looked around at everyone else there, everyone seemed so happy. I saw families sitting together, eating and laughing. I saw couples exchanging glances, I saw children playing. Envy welled up inside me, and almost escaped in my tears; I snuffed it out like a secret flame. I vowed to return to this place one day, to eat a hamburger again, to be one of those people laughing and smiling, without a care in the world.
I was walking up the dirt road when I heard a shout, someone calling my name from the street. It was Chris Anderson, and he was holding a gun. He screamed at me, saying we had unfinished business, that nobody would get away with bruising his face. I refused to move, I remained defiant. He dashed into the street to get a closer shot, but then the Miller’s car came hurtling by; he never got a chance to shoot. I always knew that driving here was never safe… The chaos that resulted was too much to bear, and most of it slipped my mind.
I explored the whole house – every nook and crevice. The spacious living room, now empty; I could picture the Victorian curtains, the expensive yet haggard couch and chairs that reminded my parents of a time of wealth that had long since vanished down that dirt road. I walked to the fire place and looked inside; it was still filled with ashes. There were a few scraps of pictures and some papers that had not been completely burnt. That was all that was left of them. The upstairs bedrooms were barren and empty, a hollow shell of what once was. Although, I hadn’t been up there that much during my childhood, I still remembered their rooms in vague detail. In my mother’s room there was still her large mirror along the far wall. It was splintered and cracked, but it still hung, a reminder of her broken life. I left the house and went to the backyard, not knowing fully what to expect.
I’ve spent nearly all the money I have earned over the past ten years, over three hundred dollars, on my college applications. I found a hiding place for the suit I bought for my interviews, in the large oak tree above my room. It took awhile for me to get it out each time I needed it, but it was well worth it. Dad would kill me if he knew I was applying to colleges. One day he’ll wake up and not see me looking for the remains of breakfast. He’ll yell at momma to go outside and check on me. She’ll pound on the door and start screaming, but I won’t come out. She’ll go back into the house and get Dad. He will grab his two by four and see what all the fuss is about. He’ll yell at me to open the door. This time, I won’t be there to take his beatings. My door will be kicked open, but my room will be empty. There will be no trace of me, almost as if I had never existed.
Focus… life never was the same after that accident. The Andersons’ moved, but the Millers chose not to. Chris died after two weeks of being in intensive care. I felt nothing. Not because he would have killed me himself, but I just felt nothing. My spirit I guess has been hardened, I feel callous, almost empty. What’s left is a singular purpose, a burning desire to leave this place. Chris’s friends never let me be. The school officials would never stick their necks out to protect someone like me, I had to fend for myself. I couldn’t stand up to them all though. I’ve been living in hell.
When I was walking home from school something amazing happened. I haven’t been so happy since I was eight years old and found that two dollar bill. I took it out and gazed at it with wonder, my eyes probably still twinkling just as much as they had all those years ago. Something amazing has happened. I opened the letter before walking up the dirt road, outside the house’s view. I have been accepted into Georgetown, and they were offering me a full scholarship. I’ve never felt what I am now feeling; a new life is filling itself throughout my body. Tears… tears of joy, for the first time in my life, I have done it, I’ll be able to leave this place and never come back. Eighteen years it has taken, everything has been worth it, because now I have a way out. Where I’m going they can’t get me.
The shed was even more run down now than it had been all those years ago, when it had been my “room”. Ever since I could remember, I had lived there. The metal was rusted and the room itself was cramped. It was barely five feet tall; after the age of thirteen, I couldn’t even stand upright inside of it. I had to sleep in a fetal position most of the time. It feels so strange to be back here. It was quite a journey I went on. I escaped my prison, I thank God every day, if there even is one, that I was able to do the impossible, I just wish I could stop anyone from having to live such a hellish childhood… if only I could.
As his fingers traced the rusted metal walls of his room, the sounds and smells of his childhood came flooding back to him. The years of torment, pain, and suffering at the hands of his parents, the other boys, seemingly everyone, welled up inside his thoughts. He let out a huge sigh, as if releasing all the pain in one fell swoop. He looked up towards the sun, which was shining brightly, and smiled. “If only they could see me now, and what I’ve become, I wonder if they would finally be proud?” he wondered. He left the shed, walked back through the house and out the road, never to return. Giving one last look at the house, which was now bathed in sunlight, he turned around and walked down the long dirt road, back to his new life, ready to build a happy future.