For once in my life, I didn’t feel safe with my father.
As I sat in an uncomfortable, musty-smelling apartment that appeared to be half booby-trapped, I wondered why this happened. All I could think about was how soon Mom would find out about this. It wouldn’t be long, that’s for sure. At that moment, my dreams of going to UCLA and become an optometrist were already in jeopardy. I didn’t know what he would do to me! Dad has changed since the divorce, in quite drastic ways that could harm me. I was sure he couldn’t be trusted anymore.
Only a few hours earlier, everything was normal. I carefully studied my calculus notes in my favorite chair in the living room in front of the enormous picture window. Mom usually worked an hour over her normal shift at the office, so I had the house to myself. Ever since Mom and Dad split up five years ago, Mom has worked extra hours that turn into more money for rent and my college education. I never see her sometimes! Suddenly, the silence broke as I heard pounding on the door, and I found myself crouched behind the chair. After a half a minute of silence, the door handle jingled repeatedly. Whoever it was, he or she was trying to get in and had a key. Only one person came to mind: Dad. It was the first time I’d seen him since he was released from jail for burglary charges. How did he still have a key to the house?
It didn’t take him long to find my distraught self. “You’re coming with me, Michelle!” He growled as he forced me outside into the moist atmosphere and into his truck. Without a chance to grab any important personal items, including my cell phone, I obeyed his orders and buckled up for a high speed trip into an unknown future.
What would he do to me? It certainly was not my fault he didn’t pay child support for three years, and I knew that he wouldn’t pay a dime into my college fund. Before the divorce and their scary arguments, he helped me practice for basketball encouraged me to practice enough to receive a basketball scholarship. My work ethic definitely improved because of him. We had daddy-daughter dates that included playing mini golf and going out for movies and ice cream. Simple things like that. We were close. Once the split was settled, it was as if he forgot everything we did together. I don’t know what happened, but I know I shouldn’t expect anything from a deadbeat. I honestly didn’t know what made him choose this lifestyle, other than the divorce treated him horribly.
“Go ahead, sit down,” he ordered after a long, quiet car ride. His living room smelled like weed and other suspicious substances, and the chair felt like it wouldn’t hold me for much longer. Half of the blinds that were meant to for the front window were missing, and empty beer cans trashed the floor in random areas of the apartment. I’m pretty sure the plastic bags in the living room were filled with illegal substances, too. Gross! Clearly, I needed to escape. The only option that ran through my mind was to jump out the bathroom window and locate for the nearest subway station until the stop for Union City and flag down a taxi until it arrived at my house. I twisted my blonde curly hair around my index finger and tried to think about my plan more in depth.
“Want some hot chocolate?” he kindly asked as if all of this never happened. I’ve never seen a grin on his face as huge as his. His kindness confused me. Maybe he was really trying to be nice.
“S…Sure.” How do I know he hasn’t poisoned it? A small, boiling hot coffee mug is handed to me and I thank him nervously. I thought I would wait until it cooled for a taste, or maybe I wouldn’t drink it at all.
“How’s my little girl?” he asked innocently. I sensed that a shallow conversation shall ensue. The grin was still glued to his face, as if nothing out of the ordinary has just happened. His beard was the longest I’ve ever seen it, and his hair wasn’t too far behind. It was as if he tried to become a homeless person—on purpose. He dressed himself in sweatpants, a stained over-sized t-shirt and holey sneakers. Is that all he wears nowadays? His green eyes looked lost, and his salt and pepper hair had no order. The more I stayed, the more I found it hard to believe that the man in front of me was indeed my father.
“…I’m fine, I guess,” I replied with hesitation. I had a feeling that Dad was scheming something.
“Fine? You don’t sound like you’re fine.”
Apparently, he couldn’t distinguish my tone of voice .
“Dad, what happened to you? Why did you let yourself go like this? This isn’t the real you.”
He didn’t reply. He just stared at me, as if he were in a trance. I don’t think he wanted to talk about that. Unfortunately for him, “quality time” with his daughter was going to be cut short. Five minutes of pause passed before I excused myself to the restroom.
With the door locked behind me, I analyzed the environment. The view from outside the window, at first, made the apartment seem higher off the ground, but a closer look confirmed that in reality, the distance from the bathroom window to the ground reached about four and a half feet. I could jump. Perhaps the grassy landing spot wouldn’t be as cushioned as I would have liked it, but it was definitely worth a try. I sat on the window ledge and made sure that I really wanted to try this. I wasn’t sure my small frame could handle this.
Knock. Knock. knock. All three sounded similar to the “knocking” at Mom’s house before I was taken. Dad must’ve had separation anxiety or perhaps he was just high. Before he had a chance to say anything or break down the door, I took a deep breath and jumped, hoping to land on both feet safely.
Amazingly, I landed as if I were a cat. I ran toward the lights that came from behind his apartment. Luckily, no fences blocked my path. Now I knew how it felt to run a one-hundred meter race out of shape! Hurriedly, I found a street, followed it to its intersection, and found myself in the heart of San Francisco. For not knowing San Francisco very well, I managed to discover various paths that could aid me in my escape as I wandered around the city for a half an hour or so. I discovered an entrance to the subway station. I could finally get away!
Soon enough, I realized that I may not have enough money to escape. My pockets felt empty, but with a second check, I collected eight dollars in George Washingtons. With just my luck, Union City was one of the stops on the route. I boarded the train with no regrets. It was crowded, but I managed to squeeze in somehow. As the train took off, I swayed and lost my balance and accidently stepped on a few toes that belonged to annoyed faces as we went as fast as the speed of light. When I managed to look around, I saw rather exhausted expressions as everyone was ready get off the dirty subway train and to go home after a long day. At last, I am free.
“Upcoming stops ahead include Noe Valley, Bernal Heights, and Union City”, the train conductor announced over a mediocre speaker system.
Briefly, I felt someone’s eyes staring at me from behind. I looked, but saw no culprit. Surely, I was probably still paranoid after seeing Dad in his depressed and mischievous state. Minutes later, I had the same sensation, and turn to see that someone was truly staring at me now. Another homeless figure refrained from looking away as we exchanged gazes for only a few seconds. The train stopped, and I stepped off with several others hurriedly. I didn’t understand as to why he decided to follow me.
I realized that I missed my stop as I headed up the stairs to the world above. Crap. The world that awaited me was much worse than the downtown area. I couldn’t help but walk slowly and hope that gun shots don’t ring out somewhere close. For three blocks I walked in the suspicious neighborhood in the early morning, until I have the same eerie feeling that I had on the subway train. All around, it seemed like someone would pop out from behind a corner and kidnap me again, because that’s just what I needed. Slowly, I turned, to see that the same homeless guy was following me just a block behind. I ran, trying not to look back. I had never been this scared in my life. In a few blocks, the environment looked more welcoming, and I continued to run despite my coughing spell from the cold air taking over my lungs.
Fortunately, I saw taxis sitting alongside the street ahead. The homeless guy’s footsteps behind me sounded louder than before, and I sprinted to find a taxi that could take me home. Desperately, I jumped into one, to find a Chinese driver asleep at the wheel.
I shook him furiously. “Wake up!” I couldn’t wait any longer. I thought I lost the homeless guy.
He awoke slowly. “Where to?”
The taxi begins to take off. I prayed that he would know how to get to Union City. I would have to convince Mom to move to a different suburb to prevent another occurrence like this. But to where? I was pretty sure Dad knew my neighborhood and the area too well, even when he’s high. I don’t know. I further directed the driver when familiar landscape came into sight, like the park I used to play in, my high school, and other memorable places along the way.
The image of Dad couldn’t leave my mind. And it probably wouldn’t leave. I did have some hope that Dad and I would reconcile some, but that never happened. I remembered the good times we had, and I mourned as if Dad had died. In reality, a part of him did.
After fifteen minutes of travel, the taxi driver arrived at my residence. Mom happened to be home, too. She seemed like she had been awake for awhile, to see if I would come home soon or not. I could only imagine how she felt.
I leaped out of the taxi to greet her at the door with an embrace. The taxi didn’t move, but I knew why.
“Thank God you came back!” she exclaimed. Her sobs grew louder and louder as she held me longer. “I thought you wouldn’t come back! I called you, but-”
“I didn’t run away, if that’s what you thought, “I explained. “It’s a long story, really.” Let’s be honest, where would I begin? Even though it was quite the adventure, I learned that I could take care of myself, and that Dad couldn’t be trusted any longer.
“I’ll tell you in a little bit, but can you pay the taxi driver first?”