Lisa sat on the newly painted green bench, using her jacket as an umbrella and watching as the families dashed to their cars, rain coming down in buckets around them. Steam was rising from the blacktop parking lot and Lisa watched as it dissipated, the convoy of mini vans lining up and inching their way out of the park. She remembered reading somewhere that steam cleansed toxins from the body and she felt pretty strongly that there were toxins here that needed cleansing.
She was already soaked to the skin so the rain didn’t bother her much although the cold was beginning to seep in, making her yearn for a warm blanket. Shivering, she lowered the jacket and raised her face to the sky, letting the rain wash over her. Her eyes were closed but she felt the warm sting of tears sprout from the corners and mingle on her cheeks with the cold rain.
This wasn’t her favorite park, just the closest one to her house. The children here played in white shorts and never got dirty and the parents spent just the right amount of quality time with them before sitting down and pulling out their IPhones and laptops. The men wore polo shirts and khaki shorts with loafers and no socks and the women wore knit tennis skirts and sleeveless tops in primary colors.
They were all gone now and the park was empty as far as she could tell. She lifted her legs up straight in front of her looking at the chipped black polish on her toes wondering what it would be like to be part of their world. She knew she didn’t fit in here and she certainly hadn’t needed the surreptitious looks of the fathers to remind her of that as she sat solemnly watching their children at play.
She lowered her head and took a breath, chin to chest, arms akimbo, shoulders raised to ear level. She gave a shiver as she heard thunder clap and saw a flash of lightening behind her eyelids almost simultaneously. She turned her head quickly to look east, her black hair slapping the left side of her face. Fully expecting to see a tree in flames she was mildly surprised and a little disappointed that nothing seemed amiss.
She ran her hands down the front of her wet jeans wringing water down her thighs. Her hands had become numb with the cold. She stood up with a shiver stretching her limbs and moving toward the pathway leading home.
It didn’t matter how old she got, it never changed. Her step-father was always angry and drunk and her mother was always sad. She had no reason to believe it would be any different this time. Her mother was quiet and unassuming around Ricky but as soon as he left for work or “boy’s night” she would turn on her only daughter. Somehow her mother’s unhappy life was her fault although she could never quite figure out how that could be.
The pathway from the park to her street was made of dirt so it was a small river of mud now. Lisa took off her battered sandals and trudged through the wet mud feeling it squish between her toes and cover the tops of her feet. The closer she got to the end of the tree-line the more slowly she moved slogging through the mud and shivering in her soaking wet clothes.
She saw the light go on in the small shed behind her house where her step-father spent a lot of his off work time, piddling with some machinery or other. It was the only time she’d ever seen him truly relaxed. She had spied on him through the side window as a young girl. Had he known she was there she is sure he would have put on his customary scowl.
Lisa had come back home last Thursday night escorted by a woman who had found her on the streets. She had taken Lisa back with her to a halfway house for runaway teens. Lisa had been happy just to have a pillow that smelled like laundry detergent and three squares. She had spent almost a month letting this woman convince her that she belonged at home before finally giving into her and allowing her to drive her back. Every time she ran away she hoped that this would be the time that her mother would learn and get better. It never worked.
This time had been her longest time away, she had been gone for seven months and two weeks. When Naomi, the lady from the youth counseling center, had pulled into the gravel driveway Lisa had hoped that her mother would come running out of the house crying and wringing her hands in her apron, hugging her and scolding her lovingly. That hadn’t happened, her mother didn’t even own an apron. No one came running out of the damaged screen door although she had seen movement in the darkened living room and the television was on.
Naomi had insisted on accompanying her into the house which Lisa knew she would pay for later but she had just wanted to sleep in her own bed so she’d let herself get talked into it. As they’d walked into the living room her mother had entered from the kitchen. She looked at Lisa with her dull unhappy eyes squinting past the cigarette in her mouth and asked “Run out of people to mooch off of?” as she’d handed her step-father a beer. Naomi had started to speak but stopped with a look from Lisa. Her mother had left the room trailing a stream of cigarette smoke behind her. Lisa had stood staring at the worn carpeting not moving from the spot where she’d stopped when she’d walked in the door. A moment later she had heard the screen door close quietly behind her and realized that Naomi had made her escape.
That had been almost two weeks ago and her mother was still not speaking to her. Life had just gotten back to normal for everyone. Lisa hadn’t gone back to school yet because she needed a signature and she was hoping that if enough time elapsed her mother would have to talk to her if only to ask her what her plans were.
Lisa had stopped next to the shed and was staring at the back of her home. It had stopped raining but the air was still heavy with moisture and it was clear it was not over. Looking down she realized that she could not walk into the house covered in mud or her mother would come unglued. She walked over to the hose hooked up to the side of the house and rinsed the mud from the bottoms of her jeans and feet. Finally as clean as she could be, she made her way into the house through the kitchen and into the bathroom where she stripped off her wet clothing and stood in the hot shower.
As the warm water prickled against her ice cold skin she cried silently. She wanted to run away again but knew there was nowhere to go. She could live on the streets but it would always lead right back here. There was no way out. She started as there was a pounding on the door. “Lisa don’t use up all the hot water!” her mother yelled on the other side of the door. “You don’t pay the bills around her” Lisa heard her mumble as she walked down the hall to her bedroom.
Sighing heavily Lisa turned off the shower and pulling a towel around her walked from the bathroom to her bedroom. She changed into sweat pants and a t-shirt collapsing onto the edge of her bed. One leg tucked beneath her and the other dangling over the side she pulled her journal from under her pillow.
She began to write in her flowing girlish hand-writing with the pink fuzzy pen she had found on the ground outside Murphy’s Drug downtown. “Dear diary” she wrote “today was my thirteenth birthday…”