June 21, 2001

I left school in the beginning of eighth period; we had a sub and I wasn’t about to spend any more time with the punks who occupied my junior high school. I was sick of being picked on for not wearing the right sneakers or how my wild locks pushed my hair-tie to its absolute limit. I had just wanted to leave an hour early—you know, to beat the afterschool rush of bullies who had the same walk home as I did.

I remember escaping the oversized metal doors and walking out toward Castleton Avenue. I hurried past the line of yellow buses that were waiting for the herd of animals to stampede behind me.

Once at the top of the slight hill, I hesitated momentarily. Did I really just cut school? Was it a big deal? I went to the majority of those pest-infested classes, and what was I really going to learn with a sub who would surely be disrespected for the next forty minutes?

My mind kept racing and I remember thinking about the pizzeria across the street—being able to run in without the embarrassment of ordering a grease-soaked cheesy slice with a Snapple Iced Tea. I knew I had to move fast, I was sure to stick out on the avenue if I contemplated any longer.

Pizza it was.

I ran haphazardly at the cross-walk.

The other side of the street was much different. In that quick switch of scenery, I was removed from the negative energy associated with that school and brought to the sultry scent of freedom and mozzarella cheese.

I took a few steps in the direction of the quiet pizzeria and let out a sigh. That place would be filled with loudmouth junior high-schoolers in a matter of minutes, all yelling out their orders at the top of their lungs, trying to shout over the other punk kids while plotting against the innocent ones.

I felt fortunate to have been able to see my favorite pizzeria in such a state of magnificence. It was untouched and glorious as it sat waiting for me to donate my three dollars at the counter.

I couldn’t even make it to the door.

My stupid imagination had stolen three minutes.

Three minutes which would’ve left me feeling full and satisfied. Full satisfied and free. I imagine I could’ve made it home and had another few hours to myself. Hours without being miserable. Maybe, just maybe, I would have enjoyed my rebellious break from my typical goody-two-shoe ways. Maybe I should’ve just stayed in class and experienced the hell like any other afternoon.

Anything was better than what was about to happen.

I had recognized the car pull up to the light at the intersection where my feet were somehow glued. I guess I couldn’t move because it was my father and my brother staring at me.

Every curse rushed through my head and I felt the wave of disappointment hit me like I sort of wish that car would have done.

What the hell were they going to say to me?

How long would I be punished? Was I going to survive this stupid choice I had made, a week before I would turn thirteen? And more importantly, where the hell were they going anyway?

It all had happened so fast and I wished I had just stayed in school. I wasn’t ready to hear it. I wasn’t ready for any of it. The bullying I survived on a daily basis would’ve been fine enough.

The voice radiated from the window, “Get in,” and I just about fainted.

I jumped in with my mouth shut and hoped the yelling wouldn’t be too loud. The light changed and we sped off. I didn’t know what shortcut they were taking but it was the complete opposite of our house.

“Where are we going?” I finally built up the nerve to ask. Even the radio was off.

Behind the immense silence I heard a throaty fragment of a sentence, “Mama and Papa’s house.”

It didn’t make sense. It was such a random time to go there. And if that were true, then where was my mother? And why was my dad driving like a lunatic? And why was he even driving my brother’s car? Nothing made sense. And when was I going to get it for skipping class?

My head was spinning and I kept staring from the backseat window, watching as the houses along Castleton Avenue appeared like blobs of paint splashed onto a canvas.

Every noise was amplified against the completely muted car—the loud sirens blaring around us, the car horns demanding attention, the tires screeching against the road—it all seemed too intense. My delicate ears were begging for the noises to stop, or for the unspoken words to be said within that tiny car.

We kept driving.

The ten minute drive to their house seemed to take hours, even with the car taking corners like we were in Grand Theft Auto.

Finally, my dad pulled over and before he could even put the car in park, I was outside at the gate.

This part gets blurry but I remember someone saying words that weren’t registering with me. I wish I could remember that day clearer.

It always gets fuzzy at that moment: just as I get to the end of the long walkway—standing by the bricked wall, the one that held up their mailbox, the one I would climb like I was Spiderman on the edge of a building trying to save someone from the tippy-top.

“Papa had a massive heart attack,” is all I can remember from standing there at the gate.

Maybe my father told me. Maybe my brother was the one who hovered over me to break the horrifying news. He was the one to tell me about my parents splitting up, and to think of it, he told me in that same car.

It’s weird how we remember heavy moments in sporadic flashes. I know I ran up that long walkway. I know I didn’t see their dog, Bo, run up to me. I know I didn’t see the hammock by the kitchen door. My mother was there but I don’t remember where she was. I can picture my grandmother by the piano in the dining room. But that’s it.

I miss my Papa everyday.

Today makes seventeen years since he left us. It’s not easy, I never got to ask him the questions I have as an adult. We never got to hold those deep coming of age conversations. The strongest memory besides this one was watching My Girl in the living room with him. I can still hear the squeak of his chair when he got up or sat down.

RIP to an amazing grandfather who I know is by my side everyday. I hope I make you proud! 😘

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