Chapter One: The Great Escape
I ran away at two and a half. I only found out -- or I should say remembered -- this fact of my life after many years of therapy and rebirths and any other measure I could take to get myself up and out of the insanity I was living in until...well, until not so long ago. I'm now thirty-one, turning thirty-two on May 25. I'm a Gemini, but it was not my birth sign that made me the way I was. I wasn't born with it either. I had to learn to be crazy.
"Mom?" I said into the phone while sitting at my kitchen table years after I ran. I was in my midtwenties and feeling heartsick over having to forgive her again. I had already done it so many times. "Mom?"
She spoke in an octave that made me cringe. The tone of her voice had raised over the years with guilt, I imagine. The closer I got to the truth, the higher the octave got in her voice.
"Just so you know, before I tell you what I'm about to tell you, I don't blame you for any of it."
I thought I heard a high-octave squeak on the other end of the line, but that may have been a projection or a mouse in the wall. I didn't have mice.
I had chewed off the already-chewed nails on my fingers and they were most likely starting to bleed. I had a "problem," which she used to scold me for.
"Nail biting is not a very ladylike thing to do, Anne. It's unattractive."
I always wondered why people didn't look beyond the spotted bloody clumps to think that there was something hidden there, perhaps family secrets, perhaps pain.
"Are you biting your nails, young lady?"
"Of course not, Mom. You heard me, right? I don't blame you for any of this?"
"Any of what, honey?"
I was beginning to think I had made the wrong decision by picking up the phone. Maybe I needed eight more years of therapy before I could make this call.
"Well -- " I stammered, "I want to ask you a couple of questions about my childhood."
This was not a subject we liked to talk about and it usually led to a fight.
"As you know, I don't really remember much, but I'll tell you what I do."
"Great. Thanks. That's all I want. Did I say I already forgive you for everything and I don't blame you?"
"What was that, honey?"
I thought she had probably put down the phone to check her hair or look out the window or anything to avoid what I was about to ask.
"Did I by any chance..." Oh, God. All of a sudden all over my body I had the creepy feeling that everything I had spent the last eight years remembering was a lie. I had heard rumors that kids had been influenced by their therapists to remember bad things so that they stayed in therapy longer and hated their parents and attached to the people they paid to listen to their problems. Anyway, if I was crazy and had remembered all wrong, she wouldn't confirm my first memory. "Did I...ever...run away?"
I couldn't stop now. The words were already out of my mouth. "When I was two and a half. There was a fire in the house when I got home or when I was found. Was there a fire? Was I gone? Do you remember?"
We had lived in a town house in a place in Ohio that I remembered as Something-or-other Heights but could remember nothing else about it. When I mentioned it to other people throughout my life, some would suggest, "Cedar Heights?" or "Shaker Heights?" I decided it was Shaker Heights. We were very religious and I connected religion with the Shakers. I don't even know if the Shakers are religious, but they sure have nice furniture. Shaker Heights was also supposedly a very nice area of Ohio outside Cleveland, and I knew that my parents always liked to say that we lived someplace that was expensive to the ear.
I thought my eardrums would burst.
"How on earth do you remember that? I haven't thought of that in ages."
When she said ages I thought of a song my mother used to always sing around the house. Rock of ages, cleft for me...let me hide myself in thee...I never did know what cleft meant, but we were the absolute best at hiding behind or in anything, especially Jesus or Jesus' rock or just simply behind a rock -- any rock.
"So I did?"
I couldn't believe it. If this was true, then most likely it would all be true. The running away was the most obscure of memories and the oldest. "So it's true? The running away and the fire?"
"Well, I don't know if I would have called it running away. You were missing," she clarified.
"And the fire? Was there a fire by the time I showed up again?"
"There was a fire that day. Yes, I remember a fire. What's this about?"
We lived in a row of town houses as I remembered it. Ours was at one end. I had snuck out and down the row to another two-story structure where a friend or playmate of mine lived. I don't remember what I was feeling as I did it. I don't recall if I walked or crawled or if I was crying or screaming or if I had already learned that that got me nowhere. By the time I returned, or was brought home or found, who knows which, the house was burning down.
"Dad set that fire, Mom."
She would want to put the phone down again. She would want the call to have been about a role I had gotten, or a boy I was seeing or a piece of furniture I had found at a swap meet or a new lipstick color...
"I wouldn't be surprised by anything your father did at this point. How do you know?" She couldn't help but ask. Her fear and curiosity blended in a scorching aroma. Her daughter was asking yes-or-no questions that she didn't want to answer. She knew that I had had little memory of my childhood in the past and that things had clearly changed.
"I know a lot of things." She had already admitted years earlier that I always knew things before anyone else in the family.
"Why did you remember this, Anne?"
The town house burned down. Or at least it burned enough that we would have to move. Why did he do it? This man? This father? There could have been so many reasons. The thing each had in common was that he wanted to hide. Which thing in particular on this day probably even he didn't know. I was learning to talk. He didn't have any money.
Insurance companies bought his lies because there was no reason not to. He was the choir director of a church he had started with another man who was the preacher. He was blond-haired and blue-eyed and fair-skinned and certainly looked the part of a man who would tell the truth. He was dynamic and charming and everyone liked him.
We packed our charred belongings and moved on, away from what we didn't want to know and didn't take the time to discover. This would be the pattern of our lives until he died.
Copyright © 2001 by Celestia Films, Inc.