The Escape

By: Soo Hyun Park

Heart beating nonstop…Hands trembling…Fast, heavy breathing…Clenching onto things – the apprehension of pain and danger – a desire – to either flee or fight; for several years this has been my dilemma.

The day my mom walked out the door and out of my life is the beginning of all my nightmares. Bad dreams are supposed to appear once people close their eyes and drift off. But in my case, it does not matter whether I’m awake or asleep. When people enter the realm of a frightening dream, one way or another they will find a way out. I am not so sure about mine.

It was the summer of the 90s when my mother and I together with my brother moved up to the mountains to flee from the atrocities of the city life. We thought that starting a new life in the country would make the situation better for us. Little did I know that it is just the beginning of a relentless ordeal.

Every morning, my brother and I would jump out of our beds and run to the streets and play especially on a summer day. Save for days when our mom is at home and catches us running to the door. “Hold it you two!” my mom yelled hotly from the kitchen. “Where do you think you’re going?” Isn’t it too early for you to be scampering about? “Come now, sit with me and have your breakfast.” At this, my brother and I looked at each other disappointedly and slowly walked towards the dining table. This was an unusual day for us because we hardly see our mom in the mornings. She leaves early and comes home late at night when we are both in our own dreamlands. However, on this particular day, she surprisingly roused the kitchen and cooked up a storm. Suddenly, my curiosity kicked in. “Hmmm…..Mom, is something wrong?” I asked her in between gulps. As if to avoid my question, she threw a question at me, “Why? Does it look like there’s something wrong because your mother is home today?” I never had conversations like these with my mom so when it all started, I was beside myself. “Not really mom. I’m just glad you’re here.” I heard myself say unexpectedly. “So mom,” interrupted my brother. “Can we come out and play after breakfast?” “Sure Ben, as long as you’re done with your chores.” There are times that I forget that we’re not the only ones who live in this apartment. We rented one of the rooms in this Communal Residence where people share a common kitchen, living room, toilet and bath. I could say that we practically live with strangers until such time that we become familiar with them and they are regarded as family members. Well, this is what I thought. My brother and I were born two years apart, during this time, I was six and he was four. On my 7th birthday, there was no huge celebration. It was just a simple meal that my mother prepared. What surprised me though on this day was my present. I did not expect to receive any since our mom, being a single parent, saves most of her salary on our education. The gift was covered in pink wrapper that says, “Happy birthday.” I know I was seven but it didn’t bother me because I’ve always wanted to have my own doll. To my surprise, it was a “Coraline” doll. It’s what I’ve always wished for. I never thought my mom knew just what I want despite the fact that she’s almost always gone and leaves me and my brother to fend for ourselves. Being the older child, she made me responsible enough for my brother; making sure that he’s home before dinner and that he’s tucked up in bed before nine o’clock. This was our usual routine before mom finally decided to stay home for some time and look after us. Before summer was over, my brother and I got involved in a quarrel. I was quietly playing with my doll when I heard a loud uproar coming from the open window on the second floor where our room was. When I looked out from the window, I saw my brother being kicked from behind by an overweight girl. With clenching fist and gritting teeth, I quickly stormed out of the house yelling at the top of my lungs for the girl to stop beating my brother. I managed to get there on time but underestimated the fact that the girl was far too big and too armed for me to face her. My brother and I went home weeping. Not to mention the bruises and cuts that we obtained from fighting. When we got home, I was hoping that mom would take us into her arms and make us feel better but I was wrong. Instead, she reprimanded us and demanded an explanation. Looking over at our wounds, mom raised an eyebrow and started her inquiry. “Well, who started it?” I was at a complete loss for words that my brother was the one who answered. “Mom, it wasn’t me,” replied my brother trembling. “It was Lardy Sadie who did it first.” My brother would have wanted to say more until mom hushed him. Awaiting my judgment, mom finally took a look at me and said, “You should have known better Anna.” “Why didn’t you stop it?” Fighting back the tears, almost to a whisper, I responded, “I’m really sorry mom. I promise to do better next time and not get into any more trouble. I know protecting my brother would have meant taking him out of that tangle and bringing him home.” After this incident, I learned my lesson.

Soon, summer was over. The thing that we dread the most was drawing near. School, exams and most of all, bullies. As inevitable as it was, the next day, mom woke us up real early. “Ben, Anna, get up!” “You still have some preparations to make.” “You’d better hurry or you’ll be late for school.” At this, my younger brother complained, “But mom, can’t we have five more minutes?” She only has to give us that look that we both scrambled to our things and ran downstairs to prepare. School starts at 6 o’clock in the morning for the mountain people. This does not exclude us on our first day of school.

It was an interesting day for me when I got to school. I was on my third grade and felt more comfortable moving to a different section and meeting new friends. It felt adult-like. But nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to go through. Due to my stellar grades in the second grade, I was transferred to the pilot section; where the brightest and wealthiest kids are. I started dreading each day that I would spend with them. True enough, I became an outcast, an invisible girl – who was rejected by every student in the class. It was awful enough that no one would take me into their group when it comes to class groupings. I was treated like a leper. As if this wasn’t enough, our mom didn’t come home for two days. My brother and I had to miss school two days in a row. The next day, it didn’t occur to me that my real nightmare was soon to surface. We woke up with loud screams and banging sound emerging from the hallway. The moment I stirred, I raced hurriedly after hearing mom’s anguished cry. To my horror, I witnessed the landlady slap her on the face and push her on the floor. I ran towards the battle in the hope of saving my mom but a strong hand prevented me from doing so. With tears in my eyes, I held my brother tightly who was standing near unable to make a move, much less a sound for he was too stunned. We watched helplessly as mom pleaded with them to let us stay one more day. That day, I found out that mom lost her job and was not able to pay the rent for some time now. There was no way for mom to return what she owes to the landlady. I was not aware of what’s coming until the next morning.

When I opened my eyes, our room was almost empty. A dark cloud loomed over me, overwhelming me with panic. I stood up and ran downstairs only to find out that my mom and my brother were leaving without me. No words escaped my mouth, except a flood of tears and questioning eyes full of pain and hurt. Mom couldn’t look at me straight in the eyes as she quickly walked away bidding my brother to come. Being the petite and fragile kid that I was, I couldn’t catch up with them until they vanished out of sight. My whole body trembled and became too weak to say anything. I hugged myself and sobbed till there was no more.

The people in the apartment walked by, shook their heads and exclaimed, “Tsk! Tsk! Tsk! “How can your mother leave you here like this?” “Will she ever come back for you?” These words floated in the air like bubbles and eventually popped. I sat there motionless, not knowing what to do and who to run to. Because now, I thought, I’m all alone. I braced myself for the looming darkness………..

Brrrrriiiinng!!!!!! It was the school bell. The class was over and it was time to go home. Since mom and Ben left, things in the house started to change. So I could still continue attending school, I had to do all the work around the house. It was rough learning new things like cooking because I would accidentally burn the food and get sent to bed on an empty stomach and bear with the beatings. Before, I could still wake up until five in the morning, but now, I had to be up at three so I could get things done and be allowed to go to school. Despite the bullying, I find myself liking school each day. Learning gives me the will to go on. Or at least, this is what I thought.

The worst nightmare (or day mare) in my life, came with the arrival of an uncle in the house who would eventually become the darkness, the creep who will haunt me all through the nights and even days in what now I consider – a haunted residence. The ghastly uncle visits and steals my innocence, humanity and whatever’s left when everyone in the house is deep in his and her sleep that even the dogs slept comfortably in their kennels. I became the insomniac, vigilant of the hours, fearful that he might come creeping in. When I thought that all I had was fear in this place, it turned out, I could also have anger. I came home from school one day, hoping to see Coraline waiting for me in my room. To my dismay, she wasn’t where I left her. I looked everywhere in my room but couldn’t find her. Suddenly, I noticed the five year old girl hugging a doll who looks exactly like Coraline. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I realized that it was really her. I strode towards her then tried to grab the doll. Knowing how spoiled she is, she started screaming and crying as if I did the most horrible thing to her. This stunt quickly drew the attention of her family members who came together and rallied around her. They have determined and decided that I was the villain and vehemently accused me of hurting the poor child. I tried to defend myself by saying that the doll belongs to me and that she took it. I was at the losing end when no one else in the house backed me out at this that they made me look like a liar and a bully. This was the day that I lost Coraline to a child.

After spending my time moping at what I do not have like school lunch and money, the sunny days came to a close. Lunch is supposedly a nice time to fill one’s stomach with all the yummy things found in the school cafeteria but not for me. When lunch came, everyone in the class seated themselves at the lunch tables and opened their bags. The aromas of their meals made my stomach churned and growled all the more, wanting to have at least a bite. I sat still on my chair and pretended to be busy studying. Just when I thought that all the good in the world has gone down the drain, I was wrong. Two of my classmates approached my table carrying with them their lunches. Lisa, the pig-tailed girl and Mona the curly-haired sat beside me. “Hey, Anna, we noticed that you’ve been sitting here all by yourself. Are you on a diet or something?” asked Lisa. “No, I don’t think so.”, Mona butted in. “You know what I think?” “I believe she’s too embarrass to ask us for a meal.” At this, I started getting up thinking of an excuse to leave. Just then, Lisa pulled me back. “Not so fast, Anna, we’re not here to belittle you or anything.” We’re just here to share what we have.” said Lisa. “That’s right Anna, added Mona.” Hiding my tears, I quietly accepted the meal and started telling them jokes.

The sunny days did come to a close. With the passing days, came the howling of the wind, the crackling of lightning and the outpouring of the rain. For some days, classes were cancelled because of floods. We stayed in our homes trying to stay dry and warm during these storms. The rains washed away many things and carried with it even my constant dread of the ghastly uncle as he was gone from the house temporarily. The rain didn’t stop until the house became a floating vessel that we had to jump overboard and abandon ship. The thunderstorms have caused such damage and destruction that we had to leave the house and move to another. Ever since I was adopted by the Zilch family, I looked up to older brother Zane as my guardian and parent since his parents are working aboard. I felt relieved knowing that we’re finally leaving the place that so haunted me for a long time. I thought that I’m finally parting with my nightmares but I didn’t know that it will follow me; so much for relocating.

New house, new place, new faces…….these are the things that I came to look forward to when we left. Just when I thought that I knew my adopted brother well, I was wrong again. His sensitivity over trivial matters I can never contend with. When I got settled in the new apartment, another creepy character emerged. Though not as creepy as the ghastly uncle, is still alarming. With me around, my older brother Zane didn’t have to worry himself with anything because after three years of practice, I felt I have become an expert in the kitchen until one day. I was happily washing the dishes when Zane’s favorite glass slipped through my fingers and got chipped. He was furious about it and demanded I confess to breaking it intentionally because I do all the work in the house. Of course, I never intended to produce a chip on it that I never owned to my fault. With this, he dragged me into the bedroom and beat me to a pulp, even busting my lips, sparing my tongue. I fell asleep crying and hurting. I had them both – physical and mental agony. I thought it was my end. My world came crashing down on me when news about the ghastly uncle reached me. He was coming; he was coming to stay with us. This was too much for me. I reckoned my suffering was enough but soon realized that it wasn’t. I woke up that afternoon all bruised. When I was quite sure that Zane wasn’t there and won’t be coming home soon, I dropped on my knees, looked up and asked, “Why am I here?” and even pleaded, “Please, if I would suffer much more, can you take this life from me?” After pouring my heart out to an unknown deity, I went outside thinking that maybe my friends could help. From a distance, my friends immediately caught sight of me. They came running. When they finally got to me, they asked in unison, “What has happened to you? Who did this?” I couldn’t help but break down in front of them. When I knew that we were out of earshot from the neighbors, I told them everything. They were distressed over my situation that they lost no time asking help from their trusted aunts. It so happened that a well-to-do family came for a vacation and was looking for house help that they can bring with them to the city. I was instantly brought and introduced to them and informed me that they were planning to go back to the city the next day. With this, we planned my escape. As if by some miracle, Zane had to join a group of engineers to check out a site two miles from where we live; which explains his absence. That night, I packed my things. To elude detection from our housemates and neighbors, I was only allowed to carry a small bundle of clothes and some valuable things. As I was about to leave the house to bring the bundle to my friend’s house, I was noticed by our landlady asking, “Hey, Anna, what is that and where are you taking it at this time of night?” Fearing that I was discovered, I tried to calm down and answered, “Oh, this, it’s my brother’s underwear and I was just bringing it to the laundry. I never thought that my lame excuse would work but I’m glad it did. The next morning, Zane didn’t come home yet. I clearly remember that it was a Sunday morning. When I was asked by the neighbors where I was going, I told them I was going to church. I lied. I had to. I didn’t have to worry about my little bundle because it was now being taken to the bus station by my friend’s aunt. I only have to carry myself. When I got to the Avery’s residence, I hurriedly boarded their van which will take us right to the bus station. At last, I could breathe…….my nightmares will finally be over soon. When I thought that there was no way out of this, I’m glad I was wrong. As the bus leaves the mountains, I could only anticipate what the near future holds…………