Fiction Teens & Young Adult

This story contains sensitive content

Trigger warning: This story contains mentions of physical abuse and self harm.

Running is a poor man’s exercise. So why am I even doing it? Oh, yeah. Because I’m poor now. These sneakers are tight but my budget is tighter. Dad bought me these shoes before he cut me off. I mean, Dad also used to hit me before he cut me off. Sneakers for some bruises. It was a fair trade, I guess? We don’t need to think about that anymore, though. I’m free now. And broke. No gym. Just running. At least this neighborhood is safe.  

Well, technically, I cut myself off. I didn’t do anything wrong, right? I just moved out like adults do. I’m an adult. Financially independent. 

Am I just going to ignore that Mom has cancer? Yeah, I’m trying not to think about it. That’s why I’m even running in the first place. Exercise relieves stress...and prevents cancer, which is what Mom has. I have to go back home. I’m her only child. Her baby. Mom used to call me that all the time. Her only baby. I cried in her arms countless times. Soon those arms will be lifeless. I miss her. It’s so hard to say it out loud to her face. Words of affirmation don’t come naturally to us. We’re more of a read-between-the-lines kind of family. In our case, the lines are ultra-thin. 

Oh, yeah. Mom’s cancer. Sure, she looked okay on video call, but did she, though? She lost so much weight. I could literally see all her bones. She looks like a cancer patient. She used to be so beautiful. She still is. It’s just that she aged thirty years in three months. 

But she was energetic! And smiling!

Of course she was. I’m her daughter. I know her. As always, she’s putting on her best performance. For me. 

She’d rather die pretending than let me see her crack. That’s why I can’t go back. I’ll take up all her energy. 

Or rather I can’t go back because I’m not like Mom. There’s only so much I can fake. If I break, I’ll have to stay in that house forever. With Dad who’s only hanging on by a thread. He loves Mom so much. Mom is dying. He’ll kill himself if she goes. He wouldn’t stay for me. I know that. 

Remember when I failed that math test? He got so angry, he went to the garage and got a pistol and unlocked the trigger and aimed it at me then pointed it at his own head yelling, “I regret having a daughter like you! You useless piece of shit!” He said that a lot. I thought I was going to die. I thought he was going to die. All because of a math test. Our lives were worth less than a math test.  

“It’s because he loves you.” Mom said that a lot. In our house, love is learning every expression of anger on Dad’s face so that I know when to expect a blow up. Love is accepting that I deserved it. Because he wouldn’t hurt me if he didn’t care. Love is pain. I felt a lot of it. Dad only knew how to express love with anger and money. 

That’s why I’m recovering three-thousand miles away from him. And running in the shoes he bought for me. Maybe I am a useless piece of shit. Just running, running, running. It’s all I’m good for. Running away from all my problems. What else can I do?

What’s wrong with me? I should care so much more, shouldn’t I? That my family is falling apart? I should be crippled with grief but my legs won’t stop moving. I haven’t called or texted in half a month. That’s not normal, is it? 

Well, it wasn’t normal going to school with wounds all over my body. Or lying to my teachers about it. It wasn’t normal when Dad socked me so hard in the stomach, I couldn’t breathe. Folded on the floor and sobbing. Or when he locked me in the garage for a week. I slept on the cement floor, listening to rats scurry around at midnight. I was eight. 

Moving out is a rite of passage for most eighteen-year-olds. But for me, it felt like a long-awaited escape plan. It’s not normal to be afraid of your father. But I don’t think “normal” is our style. 

And what about Mom? Strong-headed, quick-witted Mom who always knew how to make me feel comforted and ashamed at the same time. The effects of her words have lasted longer than any of Dad’s bruises. 

“You know you had it coming. You just make him so angry.

He can’t help himself when you provoke him. It’s your fault." 

I believed her and sometimes still do. But I don’t want to anymore. It just makes me tired. So, so, so tired. Yet I can’t stop thinking she's right, especially now. Mom has cancer and I’m making it all about me. My pain, my grief, my guilt. It’s hard not to agree that I’m terrible. 

Mom, Dad and I had good times, after all. Watching movies together, eating dinner, joking. But even the good times were riddled with anxiety. One second we could be laughing and the next second a fist would hit my face because something I said was out of line. And there were so many lines. It was hard to keep track. It was so much easier to just expect violence at all times. No matter how good things were. Happiness and anxiety are a package deal. Anxiety keeps me safe. It’s family. 

I’m running but I can’t escape it. Family. The only one I know. It’s broken and it's mine. 

Mom in the hospital. Once regal, now frail. 

Dad beside her. Once feared, now hopeless. 

And me. Once trapped, now lost. 

We’re drowning, but at least we’re drowning together. I've tried to hate them but I can’t. They’re all I’ve ever known.

So, after this run, I’ll call them. Tell them I love them. I miss them. I can’t imagine life without them.

But I’m not going back. 

I can’t. 

For my own sanity, I need to keep running.

Full speed ahead. 

January 28, 2024 06:10

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Hannah Lynn
17:03 Feb 03, 2024

I’m so sorry for this poor girl always running. I hope one day she realizes none of those things were her fault!!!! She did nothing wrong.


Angela M
14:15 Feb 06, 2024

Thanks so much for reading, Hannah. You're comment truly means a lot to the girl who is still running <3


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Karen Hope
11:21 Feb 01, 2024

Powerful essay. This paragraph really resonated with me. it’s so painfully true, especially about mothers: “She’d rather die pretending than let me see her crack. That’s why I can’t go back. I’ll take up all her energy.”


Angela M
14:17 Feb 06, 2024

Hi Karen! Thanks for taking the time to read my story. I think that mothers really need to be given credit for how emotionally resilient they have to be at all times.


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Jack Kimball
18:32 Jan 31, 2024

So Mom's the worse problem. What is it with people hurting each other and making people feel ashamed? 'It’s because he loves you.” Mom said that a lot.' '...who always knew how to make me feel comforted and ashamed at the same time. The effects of her words have lasted longer than any of Dad’s bruises.' Best lines: Mom in the hospital. Once regal, now frail. Dad beside her. Once feared, now hopeless. And me. Once trapped, now lost. Great job Angela. Keep the MC running... and away from her parents!


Angela M
14:22 Feb 06, 2024

Thanks so much, Jack! It can be so hard to tell objectively who is worse when pain is subjective (especially from abusive loved ones) but emotional pain does last forever.


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Alexis Araneta
12:43 Jan 29, 2024

Wow ! Once again, you made me feel for your main character. Brilliant job ! "Or, MC, you could not call them. A family that does that to you is not a family. The more you distance yourself, the more peace you have eventually. Your choice, though." This is what I wish I could tell your main character.


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Joe Smallwood
23:08 Jan 28, 2024

Wow! I hope that more people read this. Soon.


Angela M
14:34 Feb 06, 2024

Thanks, Joe!!!


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