Sunday Prose: The Walk Away

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The Walk Away
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Even a casual observer watching me on that last day of high school in 1972, might have easily surmised from my body language alone as I hid in the shadows on that bright sunny morning, awkwardly standing there feeling insecure and listening to classmates talk about their college plans, plans I didn’t have, that my journey from that day forward was going to be a difficult one.

I lingered well after most everyone else left, so I doubt anyone noticed my hippy hating English teacher grabbing my yearbook and flashing me an evil, little double eyed wink after she scribbled ‘good luck’ under the ‘least likely to succeed’ heading.

That was my final high school memory and as
little enthusiasm as I had walking into that
dreary building during those four years,
I wasn’t in much of a hurry to leave either.
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Bushwick High School and The Public Library
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That long, slow walk home was nothing more than a detour to somehow delay the inevitable, an aimless but purposeful distraction from the yawning unknown. I do remember tossing the cap and scratchy maroon gown in a corner trash can somewhere along the way but not much else, not the route or what time it was when I finally looked up and saw the familiar Roman font, the peeling, two thirty two handpainted in faux gold leaf and outlined in black on the inside of the thick leaded glass above the entry doors.

The graduation ceremony ended around 11am and it was dark when I finally, reluctantly put my key in the glitchy lock of the heavy oak door to our four story, walkup tenement building that breezeless summer night, standing there motionless, not really wanting to turn the key.

I was a 17 year old, long haired, half stoned hippy who wanted nothing more than to be an artist, trying to survive in a nowheresville neighborhood buried somewhere deep in the bowels of Brooklyn with no prospects, no plans, no money and not much of an education either.

Opening that door was the last thing I wanted to do.

I wasn’t given much to work with as a kid, on Welfare after a traumatic divorce when I was twelve and as hungry as we were the last week of every month, survival until the next check arrived was our sudden priority.

A decent student before my parents divorced, I never really recovered, not from the shocking move from our tidy, two cars in the driveway middle class life on Long Island and not from the shame that we were now on Public Assistance, which was polite talk for Welfare then. Trauma and hunger are a toxic burden for a kid, a terrible way to begin class in a brand new school in a neighborhood that bore absolutely no resemblance to anything I’d known.
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Everything around me, the dirty, dilapidated neighborhood, the drugs, the alchohol and violence I and everyone else lived with, only confirmed a life most likely destined for failure. No one who knew me then at 17, my parents, classmates, friends or my English teacher would have been at all surprised if I joined most of my neighborhood friends who were either drug dealers, street addicts, in jail or dead by the end of that first summer following graduation.

Even Lola who was the valedictorian of our class and my loving soulsister during that last year, even Lola, the poet priestess who I wrote about in summer of sorrow, who recieved a full scholarship to Vassar took up with an alchoholic and never did attend Vassar or any college, breaking my heart twice by summer’s end.

There was not a single reason to,
but I had dreams of better days even then. Why?

I can’t explain why there was a spark, any spark at all in a soul that absorbed and witnessed as much I did or why I dared to believe my life might possibly be any different than anyone else I knew. Maybe it was the artist in me who dwelled in the imaginary, maybe it was the hallucenogins still in my system or maybe it was just plain fear seeding visions in my head after spending six years with a half empty belly, the fear of watching so many people with so much promise disappear into the muck.

People I knew daydreamed about becoming rich, I just wanted to escape my neighborhood alive.

Of course, this would have been a perfect time for a serious sitdown with a caring father, for a heart to heart talk between a dad and his son to pass on some wisdom, maybe some advice to put his rudderless kid on the right path. But I was already one year removed from deciding in court,not to ever see my father again.

He was happily, already long gone by graduation day.

The year prior, the Family Court judge mandated I spend a summer vacation with him in the house that still contained all our furniture he wouldn’t send us, the house he could somehow afford yet could never pay child support, the house we had to escape his death threats from, the house that reminded me of everything I never wanted to remember. I spent the entire summer walking as far away as possible from that house from the moment I woke up until late at night, when I would tiptoe back to my old bedroom.

He noticed my boots were completely worn out,
the soles had come loose so we went to a
local shoe store and he bought me a new pair,
and he complained about how expensive they
were as we drove home in his blue Cadillac
Coupe with them still in the box on my lap,
as I sank deeper into the white leather seat
with every word.
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When I left quietly the next morning, the unopened box and my old boots were next to each other on the floor beside my bed. I walked barefoot that day, my first act of defiance in a life of submission and constant fear.

My father wasn’t educated but he was perceptive, perceptive enough to know when he turned on the flourescent light in the kitchen that night as I tried to slip into my bedroom unnoticed, as his veins began their slow bulge in his forehead. He knew when he looked at me with those raging eyes, as I held his gaze like I never did before unflinching as I stood my ground in my bare feet on the cool linoleum floor. He knew in that stare that seemed to last forever, that this encounter would alter the trajectory of our lives, that whatever was before was not to be again.

I was prepared to get pounded, he saw the determination in my eyes and that I was absolutely going to get back up and get back up again, if that’s what it took. How ever this was going to end, it was going to end that night with me being free from his tyranny, one way or another.

There was a tranquility that washed through me as l let go of the fear, I was there but not quite and I’m not sure if I would have felt pain in the state I was in, a lightness that I had never experienced before and it was evident, evident in my eyes and his that he knew I was already free.

He turned, flipped off the light and left me standing there in the dark as he walked away.