Blacktop

We’ve been fighting again. I call it “fighting” but a fight is less one sided. It’s more a pummeling. He may not have touched me, but I am bruised. My evening hijacked yet again, I have spent it standing carefully, arms at my sides, but shoulders attentive, not resentful or rebellious; eyes carefully down as if deep in contemplation of his truths, not wandering, making eye contact at appropriate times to show I’m invested and hearing; breathing steady, non-committal consonants of “mmm” and “hmm” that to me mean No and to him mean Yes—the only way I can leave such interactions not feeling dirty. I’ve had plenty of practice to perfect this. I always wonder if I’m doing it right—how can my actual feelings not be radiating out too clearly to miss? But his self-absorption is so thorough he seems not to bother reading me, so my practiced stance works.  My true responses are in my head only: well thought out, articulate, point for point, silent. Over and over I examine the potential of giving myself voice. Time to time I experiment. By now I know it will always be worse if I speak. He will always say what he plans to say, all the way to the end, voice rising and falling in righteous indignation and holy anger. Any diversion offered by me is a prolonging, as well as a nakedness I refuse to offer him. My thoughts are my own. If I voice them he snatches them away, claiming right of possession, sharpens them and throws them back at me. If he gets his hands on my thoughts I end up bloody and broken, and even worse, void. So I steady my breath, and read my future in the fibers of the carpet.

It has been over an hour, and slowly he is running out of steam. We’ve been there and back again as layer upon layer he builds his straw house of proof that he is the only Right, and all others hate him because they hate Truth. For every assertion he builds in an unarguable “proof:” the Bible says those in darkness hate the light– if anyone disagrees, it is because they hate God for he speaks for God. But I know he is wrong. I know it. The world cannot be this full of fear and tight boundaries. The world is vast and round and full of Others. Others who live every day unlike us and somehow get by. Somehow live and die in their time. And God is with them too– I know this because I know God. And God is not all mine or all ours or all his.

My head is full of my unused voice, shouting Shouting SHOUTING truths that are SO obvious they are written in the sky. How does he live day to day not seeing them? I am 17 and already I am one step ahead. Maybe more. I am running. Running as fast as I can and he is rooted so deeply no light can reach him. He has stopped growing and now only fights to make the whole world smaller than he. He grows only by comparison.

I need Truth. I know where to find it–Orion, my anchor, shines in the night sky. I love the country air, the vast open sky, the tree lines I have known every single day of my entire life. I was born on this land, I love it. My feet know every crunch and catch as, finally dismissed, I leave the porch light behind and head for the road. Front yard: safe. Driveway: safe. Gravel road: safe. Asphalt: … I freeze. One more step and my feet will leave gravel for a lighter crunch on the well-worn blacktop.

This blacktop too is mine. It has been my home forever and always. “At the end of the blacktop,” I always say when describing my home. This very blacktop, where I rode a little red wagon, teeth chattering with the roughness, voice loud and laughing, Mom’s smile turned back toward my irrepressible joy; where I pulled that same wagon with my baby sister and brother, Mom happy to have free hands and let me do the work; this blacktop where my Father took me for midnight walks to create lightning in the sky with the dramatic flinging of his hands; this blacktop I crossed, hand in hand with my oldest sister, on our way to “minister to” our shut-in neighbor. I have lived many adventures on this road.

But tonight I am alone.

This walk is not sanctioned. It is after dark and no one knows I’m gone. One more step and I will be In Rebellion. I will be breaking a rule. No, not a rule. An assumption. We have few rules, really. Who needs rules when every statement from the mouth of the Ruler comes with the assumption of strict adherence? One more step and I will be thinking for myself. No, I will be acting on my own faith, and according to my loud and unquenchable Truth. I have always known this: I am created to take risks, and I will always be exactly as safe as I am meant to be.

His voice in my head says You are being foolish and if anything happens you had it coming. His voice says thousands of women and children are kidnapped because they are alone. They are taken even from their very living rooms. Nowhere is safe. Rape. Murder. Bad men. Boys with sex drives. Secular music. Family Services. Desensitization. Bad theology. Beware. Watch. Fear. His voice says.

But, I counter, if even my living room is unsafe then there is no real safety in the world. I am as safe on this road as I am in my living room. My voice says the blacktop is my home too. He is not here, so in this moment the blacktop is safer than my home. One small step for womankind, one giant leap for faith.

Step after step I am walking. I am free. Hello pond! Hello woods! Hello familiar and lovely weeds and grass. Hello hay barn and fence. I am brave. I am strong. I am choosing my path. I am taking a risk knowing the consequences. I am… TERRIFIED. My heart starts racing as I near the bend in the road. My breath comes quick. I am approaching the traditional Family Stroll Turn-Around Point, but I’m not done. I cannot stop where we always stop. I falter and trip over nothing, feet trying to obey tradition. But I go farther. One, two, three steps. Four. I am around the bend, porch light blotted. I am alone in the world and I shout out my thoughts. I argue, my voice unfettered. In this moment I am where I know I have to be. I’m venturing. But I am only so brave: in an unplanned instant I turn and run. I run all the way to the end of the blacktop where feet touch gravel and I slow, taking a sobbing breath. I have never been so scared. Or so vindicated.

I walk slowly and collect myself before I re-enter the house. No one sees me, no one comments. I’ve been gone ten minutes but I will never, ever be the same. As I enter my room I blink, then laugh out loud to myself at this thought: I am seventeen and my great and daring feat was to walk a 1/4 mile after dark? The absolute absurdity of it all floods through me and the freedom of the open road takes up residence in my soul. As Orion is my witness, that walk saved my life.

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My car is almost full. I won’t be able to see out the back—I hope cops think I’m awesome and don’t ticket me. I shuffle things around one more time, sure I can make just one more inch of room. I am 28 and it’s time to act on my faith. Again. I am excited, sad, confident and unsure, all the feelings that belong with packing up everything you own and driving all the way to the coast to start over for no explicable reason and with no acceptable plan. My feet trip on nothing and I hear his voice in my head, as I always do. You are being foolish. If anything happens, you had it coming. Terrible things happen to women alone. Standing next to my car, hand holding a box in place, my voice comes unbidden and aloud to the whole world I say, “I choose to be foolish. I am created for this and I will always be exactly as safe as I am meant to be.”

Note: If read alone this may seem a simple “coming of age” story, or a “my parents just don’t get me” rant. Or it may resonate with your experiences (though I hope you had none like mine) of forced intellectual submission, of control by fear, of a weak person’s self-inflation by creating a world where only in their presence will you be safe. I know for a time my dad truly wanted us safe, and for a time the things he taught us to fear were faithful to his worldview. For a time he meant well. That time has long since past. 

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