Girl Talk: After 30 Years On The Run, I Finally Learned How To Stay Still

I was 5 years old the first time I threw on a pair of heels, packed a suitcase and informed my mother that I was moving out. At age 10, I boarded a plane to swim camp and never looked back. My father, worried, followed me on board to make sure I was fine—I was horrified by his intrusion. By the time I reached 12, I’d begun fantasizing about boarding school and begged my parents to send me away soon after. At age 15, I volunteered in Venezuela for the entire summer—I left a few days after the school year ended and returned home a mere week before classes began again.

The summer of 1998 is rarely mentioned. That was the summer my parents parted ways and I flew between Tennessee and California roughly a dozen times in three months.

I discovered that if you ran following a bad decision, if you waited long enough before returning, the incident could be ignored or at the very least smoothed over. This was the zeitgeist for my travels through most of my twenties.

In an abusive relationship at the time, I gallivanted between violence in the south and escaping to the uncertainty of Southern California. This wild whirlwind ended with me “permanently in Tennessee.” Until a few months later, when I attempted to drive across the country during the Ice Storm of 2000 after a brutal breakup.

Speeding through Little Rock, Arkansas, on Route 40, breathless with fear, I knew I was driving too fast for the conditions of the road. My reasoning was the faster I went, the sooner I’d escape the weather. The night before, I had I slid off the road into a snow-filled ravine, where I sat for close to an hour. Discovered by police officers, who checked me into a hotel and then went to retrieve my vehicle, I knew there was danger in my recklessness, but I ignored it and plowed ahead full bore. On the road again, I glimpsed a snow bank in the fast lane, which I was rapidly approaching, I slowed to switch lanes and began to slide. Bearing down on me from the left was a semi truck; I slammed on the brakes and lost control of the car. I slid under the big rig. Miraculously, I was uninjured. My first thought was to test the car and see whether it was still drivable. It was missing the passenger door, both passenger side tires and the entire center console was crushed. When the tow truck driver arrived, he asked the police which hospital the driver had been taken to and could not believe his eyes when he saw me seated in the police cruiser idly watching the traffic fly by.

I called home to relay the news and my father said, “Well, someone must have a plan for you.” My parents arranged for me to fly home a couple of hours later and I had the unhappy task of choosing from all of my belongings that filled the car which I would take and which I would throw away.

Upon my arrival, I was greeted with a very new circumstance. I had grown up sheltered, with strict curfews and a busy schedule of sports and music lessons. My parents were young and had had strict upbringings themselves, so they continued with what they knew. But now my parents were separated and had reached their limits with me. The home that I had tried to escape for so long now no longer existed. I experimented with drugs and tagged along with my sister’s friends, since mine were off at college. My father grew tired of my costly addictions and in a thinly veiled kick-out, suggested I go live with my aunt and uncle. I was granted permission to run again.

A few months later, I had burned my bridges. I hit a slot machine jackpot in Atlantic City and decided to use my winnings to attend missionary school in Oahu. After three months in Hawaii, I flew to Kyrgyzstan. Living in the capitol city of Bishkek, I had little to no contact with anyone I had known and was able to reinvent myself, which by this time I had come to realize was my modus operandi.

Midway through high school, I had discovered alcohol and the amazing transformative effects of inebriation. I was ill-equipped, however, to know my limits and found that, more often than not, drinking led to blackouts that led to bizarre behavior.

I discovered that if you ran following a bad decision, if you waited long enough before returning, the incident could be ignored or at the very least smoothed over. This was the zeitgeist for my travels through most of my twenties.

I returned home from my missionary work and found myself a fish out of water. I had not gone to college and home was not as exciting as the life I had led up to this point.

I took a job a couple of hours north at a Christian camp and spent my summer cleaning cabins and serving food. I grew tired of this and when I was given a volunteer opportunity to travel, this time to Romania, I quickly leapt. The excitement lasted for only a couple of months and then I returned home. I decided to return to school and get my life in order.

I bounced from home to home and found myself another abusive relationship much like the one that unhinged me in my early 20s. At age 25, I had a bit more of a backbone and joined my father’s firm on the rising ebb of the financial wave. I acquired a new addiction: money. I spent recklessly and traveled constantly. Unable to handle our fighting any longer, I broke up with my boyfriend and moved back in with my father. We had been broken up for nearly two months when I received a frantic call from his mother. He had suffered a massive brain hemorrhage and was in a coma. I dropped everything and spent the next four months by his side, from the hospital, to rehab and then to his parents’ home. I began to feel trapped and started to shirk my duties with him and his family, one by one, until I was living in my car and partying every night with anyone who had something going on. We finally broke up for good in August 2006 and when my father offered me a job opportunity, 3,000 miles away in New York, I said the obvious: “Yes.”

I flew back and forth regularly, but felt a stirring within at the sheer size of the behemoth city. I had finally found a place big enough to hold me. I did not have to run every time I made a drunken mistake. People were gritty, real and raw; everyone had horror stories. I was no longer entrenched in the fake surface life I had learned in Southern California. I did not have to hide who I was; I had the freedom to decide who that was going to be. My relationship grew strained with my father as the housing market crashed and our business was no longer thriving. He asked me to return to San Diego as we could no longer afford my New York stipend. When I got into the cab to leave the city, I felt heartbreak for the first time. It was as though a part of me had been torn away.

When I returned to the west coast, I grew increasingly bored and uninspired. I had outgrown the place that once was my safety net, my return land. I lasted a mere two months and one day threw an assortment of clothes in my SUV and hit the road for a solo trip that lasted two and a half weeks. I drove from one end of the country to the other and then back again. I stopped to visit friends and family and spent many nights in random backwoods hotels. I realized that I wanted to live in New York. It was time to stop moving back and leap forward.

I sold all of my belongings and packed my car. I drove across the country for a third time in two months and landed at my grandparents’ house in New Jersey. I took a job in the city working as at architecture firm. I moved into the village and hired a trainer. I met Alex, my soccer coach and coworker.

I did not feel trapped by our casual relationship. I felt safe, warm and tired, extremely tired. Our bond grew and after we were laid off, I got kicky legs and begged him to take a road trip with me. Though it was my fourth time traversing the continent that year, it was the first time I saw the scenery. We drove and talked. The whole trip was slower. The breakneck lens I had always viewed the world through was no longer in my arsenal.

We returned from our two-week road trip and moved in together. For the first time since I left Coronado, I began to feel at home. I suffered from excessive bouts of rage, directed at Alex. I screamed, cried and threw things; I was destructive and abusive. I did not know how to behave or how to trust anyone. I had never really learned to connect with anyone. My psyche was trying its hardest to push him away before he had a chance to hurt me, to leave me, to let me down. There had always been a wall up with my parents and I had never felt at home with them. For the first time I had found something, someone whom I did not want to escape, whom I did not want to feel the air against my skin without. I was vulnerable.

Love is inexplicable and somehow against all odds: It chose to unite a spoiled So Cal Wasp and a hardworking immigrant from Odessa. We came together in the recession and have grown closer as we have struggled and persevered while the economy crumbled around us. Alex is a straight shooter—he tells it like it is, at all times and he never stops talking. My mother jokes that this is the reason I am so tired. I have finally found someone whom I cannot keep up with.

I have settled into the realization that I no longer have the urge to run. And yet, I have never been as tired as I have been the past two years. Alex has grown concerned, at times worried that I am suffering from depression, and I’ve assured him repeatedly that this is the first real rest I have enjoyed in at least a decade. He doesn’t understand and I can’t say that I do either. I sleep through the night which I have not done since grade school and I have discovered that I paint, draw and write. Our apartment is filled with my artwork and I have returned to school. I have been in New York full-time for just over a year. I feel a peace I have never known.

This April, at the fountain in Lincoln Center, Alex proposed to me and as I pulled him to his feet and melted into his embrace, I felt that I had crossed the finish line. Exhausted and thankful the marathon is over.

Photo: iStockphoto