Runaway Love Part III
I made it into Americus and instinctually I almost turned off highway 49 to go to my sister’s house. But I couldn’t, not when we weren’t on speaking terms. She was so dry with me that I just avoided talking to her altogether. I think she’d be proud of how long I stayed in Tennessee and that I had no intention of leaving until Tay decided to flip out on me. The fact that I was on the run yet again frustrated me. I drove past her house and went to the Hampton Inn. This would give me a chance to come up with a plan of action.
I got checked in, showered, and after the events of the day and the long drive, I was drained. Before going to sleep, I made sure to block Tay’s number.
I woke up the next morning with inbox messages and messenger calls from Tay. I completely forgot to block him on social media. I refused to call him back and I didn’t read all of his messages. The last one was enough to freak me out all over again.
Tay’Yon Stevens: Yo! I ain’t gonna keep playing with you. You played with me for months and you think that shit is gonna fly? Nah…bitches get fucked up for much less. Unblock me and answer the got damn phone!
I have never been scared of anyone’s words before. I have never been threatened by keyboard warriors.
Until right now.
I wanted to block him. That’s what I should have done. But instead, I tapped on the phone icon to call him.
If I kept blocking him, I could just make him more irate. I needed to try to reason with him to calm him down.
“Why the fuck are you playing with me, Saige?” Tay answered the call foregoing a greeting.
“Tay,” I exhaled, “can you please calm down? We can’t have a conversation like this.”
“The only conversation we need to have is why you were fucking with me.”
“This doesn’t have to be an argument,” I explained. “We want different things. And if I led you on, I apologize. I am truly sorry. I thought we were on the same page about what we wanted.”
I hope I spoke with enough sincerity to calm him down so we could end on better terms. He could still be upset with me; he just didn’t have to threaten me or call me names. He didn’t have to agree or understand, but he did have to respect what I wanted.
“I just don’t get why you’d prefer a life of moving every few months instead of letting me take care of you,” Tay sulked. He didn’t buy my reasoning, but at least he was calm.
“I don’t need to be taken care of. And I’m not the relationship type. I just want to be free, to come and go as I please.” I was being brutally honest and that could tip him off, but I wasn’t going to lie to him to appease him. I was 250 miles away from him, so being this honest didn’t invoke the fear it did yesterday when he could get his hands on me.
“It’s because you are scared. I can show you why those other niggas couldn’t keep you around.”
“Nah, hear me out,” he interrupted. His voice dropped to a level of sincerity that I was not expecting. “You don’t have to be stuck in that bullshit with your mom. Let me take care of you and you will forget all about that.”
He was so confident, I think he believed him. I, on the other hand, did not. And I regretted opening up to him about that part of my life. I wasn’t sure why he thought paying bills and having children of my own would make me forget about my mama and Carlene. His logic made no sense.
“Tay for the millionth time, I do not need you to take care of me!”
“That’s what’s wrong with women today. Ya’ll are too damn independent. Learn how to humble yourselves and be submissive and the right man will-“
“You’re not listening to me,” I interjected shaking my head. “I don’t need to be saved. I am not looking for a man to take care of me. I am not looking for a relationship. I’ve been holding me down for years and I’ve been doing just fine. I think the problem with too many men is that they want to come in with these archaic stereotypes that the man is the head of the house and what he says goes. If I wanted a relationship, I’d never be with anyone like that. I need a partner, not someone who believes his gender grants him authority.”
Just because I didn’t do relationships didn’t mean I didn’t envision what a happy, healthy relationship would look like for me. The problem is, I didn’t think the man of my thoughts existed outside of my brain. Tay came pretty close, but now he was ruining it for me.
“I was raised to be a provider and that’s exactly what I would do for you. I would provide everything you needed; you wouldn’t want for a damn thing.”
I exhaled loudly. “I am not lacking anything now. I am content with my life and the decisions I make.”
Tay was quiet on the phone and I thought I was finally getting through to him.
“I don’t know how I missed all the signs of you being a selfish bitch,” he spat angrily.
So much for him understanding…
“Name-calling is not necessary,” I sighed. “And yes, I am selfish, because I can be. And if you want to call me selfish for choosing me over you, then I’ll be that. But it’s unfair for you to try to force what you want on me. It’s almost like you don’t believe I am worthy or even capable of making a decision that makes me happy. Like the only acceptable choice is giving in to you.”
“It’s not the only option, but you’re out here living reckless, and for what? You got a man right here that can take care of you, give you an easier life and you’re choosing this? To move every few months? I can give you a stable life, Saige.”
This conversation was going nowhere. I sat down on the bed, resting my head in my hands. He sounded like my sister, preaching stability. “If you want stability and someone to share it with, please go find her. Because it’s not me. The only constant in my life is change and that’s what I prefer.”
“But…” Tay let his voice trail off and I prayed again what I was saying was registering with him. “Where you at?”
“Doesn’t matter. But I have to go. It was nice getting to know you, but I am going to have to ask you not to contact me anymore. I’m-“
“Nah. You don’t get to call the shots like that. It’s over when I say it’s over. And it’s not over. Not until you stop being immature.”
“Uggghhh!” I groaned in frustration. “There are plenty of women who want someone like you. Go find her. Please don’t message me again.”
I disconnected the call and before I had a chance to navigate to the settings to block him, he called me back. It took me 10 minutes to be able to block him because he wouldn’t stop calling me.
I threw my phone on the bed and took a few deep breaths. This had never happened to me before.
I moved a lot. Ended friendships and situationships before, sometimes before I left, sometimes after. Sometimes I ghosted people. I got some snarky messages, but I never had anyone work so hard to keep me around. It wasn’t as flattering as I think he thought it was. As much as he irritated me, he did make me think.
I was a runner. It’s what I did. I liked the freedom to make my own choices about where I lived. I didn’t let anyone force me to live a life that I didn’t want to live. I marched to the beat of my own drum, but I was not healing like I thought I was. I was choosing not to think about it which was not the same thing as healing from it. Chronologically, I was getting older, but sometimes I felt like I was still 15, stuck in that moment my life got flipped upside down.
I laid down on the bed, curling up with the pillows. For the past six months, I thought I was healing, growing, putting all that behind me. But I really wasn’t. I hadn’t apologized. I didn’t talk to my sister or my daddy regularly. I wasn’t open to reconciliation with my daddy’s wife. There was no situation I could envision where I would talk to my mama again. After Tay’s reaction to me not wanting to submit to him, being with him was out of the question. I’d live in fear that his outbursts could turn violent. But…I avoided relationships like they were some kind of incurable disease. I trusted no one, not even my family.
A tear fell from my eyes and I tried to stop it from falling. But it was no use. Out of nowhere, I started bawling. I cried for me. Not 28-year-old Saige who thought her coping mechanism was harmless, but for 15-year-old Saige who didn’t really understand her mama’s addiction, but completely overstood her sister’s mama not wanting her. That Saige built a ten-foot wall to keep everyone out, family included. Teenage me was trying to protect the adult me. And we were both failing.
I stayed in bed for the rest of the day. Simple tasks were a chore today. I couldn’t take a shower. I didn’t eat. I did no work. I just lay in bed, lamenting the person I became.
The next few days, my energy was still low, and it was a struggle to force myself to shower or even eat. But I couldn’t keep going like this; I had a company to run. I wasn’t up to being social but I needed to eat and Ruby Tuesday was the closest to me. I placed an online order, took a shower, and then drove over to pick it up. It was relatively early so I was able to go in and out without having to talk to anyone.
Back in my room, I ate my salmon and double broccoli. That gave me energy and I was able to do a few hours of work. When I put my work up for the day, all those thoughts came rushing back and I didn’t want to go back down that road again. I opened my laptop again and started looking for my next location. But even that frustrated me.
Nowhere I looked appealed to me. Dallas, Shreveport, Destin, Charleston, Oklahoma City…nothing caught my eye. I never had this much trouble deciding where to move. I knew staying here would get expensive quickly so I needed to try to make a decision soon, or move to a cheaper hotel in Americus, but I didn’t want to do that either. I was stuck.
I’ve never been stuck before. Usually, my gut would lead me. And nine times out of ten, my gut was never wrong. Kentucky was my one anomaly. But now, I couldn’t decide on a place. Even when I narrowed it down to Texas, I was struggling to decide between Dallas, Houston, or Austin. Defeated, I closed my laptop, did 30 minutes of yoga, and took a nap. When I woke up, it was almost 9:30. I didn’t intend to sleep that long and I woke up hungry. I ordered from Ruby Tuesday again, and instead of driving to get it, I decided to walk. I needed to move to get my energy up. It was dark so there was less of a chance of me being seen. I haven’t reached out to my sister or my daddy, yet and I had no plans to. I just needed to not be seen.
As I neared the restaurant, three men were standing near the door. They were so engrossed in their conversation, they didn’t notice me, and for that I was grateful. I got my late dinner, opting for a burger this time. When I stepped out of the door, the men had moved their conversation to the parking lot. I rounded the building to walk back to my hotel.
“Yo!” I heard behind me. There was a tightness in my chest as I considered everything that could go wrong. Again, too many episodes of crime shows.
Here I was, walking back to a hotel alone. I was still in a well-lit area, but I had second thoughts about stopping to talk. Some men didn’t take well to being ignored so instead of continuing to walk, I turned towards whoever was calling me. I grew accustomed to lying or telling half-truths as I liked to call them, to protect myself.
I was relieved and surprised to see Deck jogging towards me. He looked as good as I remembered when I saw him in Zaxby’s that day. He was dressed casually in a pair of jeans and a red Polo shirt and even though it was simple, I liked the way the shirt fit his chest and arms. I never got into shoes so I couldn’t tell what kind they were, but the black and red high tops were dope. I was so caught up a stranger wasn’t trying to holler at me, I almost missed the irritation on Deck’s face. Almost six months ago I ghosted him and left my sister to make excuses for me. I’m sure she didn’t even try to sugar coat it and now, Deck thought I was a shitty person. And maybe I was.
“Saige, I thought that was you.”
“Oh hey.” I knew I sounded dry like I didn’t want to be bothered, but it’s exactly how I felt.
“You good? Are you staying in a hotel? You’re not staying with your sister?” Being from Americus, there was no other reason for me to be walking in the direction I was walking in if I wasn’t staying in a hotel. There was nothing else over here. I couldn’t lie if I wanted to.
I shook my head. “No. I’m staying at the Hampton.”
His face formed into a frown. “Is everything ok?”
That’s as far as I got. My body had an adverse reaction to the lie, like it was tired of carrying the ‘I’m ok’ baggage around. I tried to wipe away my tears before Deck knew I was crying, but it was too late.
Deck took two steps towards me, the irritation on his face fading away into concern. “What’s wrong? Did something happen?”
That was such a loaded question. So much has happened. Been happening since I was 15.
I had every intention of saying no, thank him for checking in with me, but I was fine. But that’s not what came out of my mouth. “I don’t know how to stop running.”
“Care to elaborate on that?”
I quickly came back to my senses. I shook my head vigorously. “No. I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to say that. I gotta go. I’m…I gotta go.”
I walked away but Deck was on my heels. “Sorry if I upset you. Wasn’t my intention. But at least let me walk you to your room.”
I didn’t object to him walking with me. I wanted to be alone, but common sense overrode me. I really should have driven because walking over here was not my best decision. Just one more example of how I don’t always think before I act.
At my room door, I slid the key in and stepped inside, leaving Deck on the outside. “Thank you for walking with me.”
There was an odd, lingering silence. I avoided looking at him because I didn’t want to feel compelled to share what was on my mind. I’d already said enough.
“Look,” he finally said, “I know I don’t know you like that, but if you need to talk, I’ll listen. I can tell you’re carrying something heavy.”
I narrowed my eyes. “Is it that obvious?” It was a rhetorical question because I already knew I looked a hot bubbling mess.
Deck smiled slightly. “You really want me to answer that?”
I don’t know what it was about him, but he made me comfortable. So comfortable, I invited him into my room so we could talk.
I put my food in the microwave, my appetite gone. Deck sat in the chair at the desk, leaning back, his fingers interlocked and resting on his abdomen. I put the bed pillows against the headboard and rested against it. “So, tell me what you meant by you don’t know how to stop running.”
“Some people eat, some people drink, some people shop…I run. That’s my coping mechanism of choice,” I shrugged.
“What are you avoiding?”
“Be more specific.”
“Relationships. Connections. Settling down. Complacency. I feel like I need to be somewhere new every so often. So I move whenever I want to. Or have to.”
“What does a new city offer you?”
“A change of scenery. A chance to be a stranger. The chance to live my life without having to answer to anyone.”
“What do you have to answer for?”
I let out a deep breath. “Why I live my life the way I do. Why I move whenever the spirit hits me. Why I dye my hair pink. Or green. Or purple. Why I have so many tattoos. Why I am almost 30 years old and I’ve never been in a serious relationship.”
“And all that matters to you?”
His question threw me off. I was prepared for the lecture everyone gave me, whether they knew me or not. My life was not traditional. I didn’t want what every other woman on the planet wanted and that made me an anomaly.
“No,” I shook my head. “It matters to everyone else.”
“Why does it matter what they want, think, or say?”
I stared at him blankly, unaccustomed to his line of questioning. “Because…I have to hear it all the time. ‘Saige, when are you going to settle down?’ and ‘When are you going to put down roots?’ It’s so draining.”
Deck nodded his head, but he didn’t say anything. I waited patiently for his silence to end with him judging the decisions I made and the way I’ve lived my life. He could join the club. I’m sure they had jackets and snacks at the meeting.
“So, you’re running from…your family and their expectations of you. Has that solved your problem?”
“Nope.” I answered it so quickly, I didn’t even have time to lie. I couldn’t even explain why I was sharing so freely with Deck, especially considering telling Tay turned him into some kind of hood knight in shining armor.
“I’m not saying you shouldn’t move or live where you want if that’s what you want to do, but what good is running if you aren’t going to deal with the root issue? Cause that just perpetuates the cycle.”
I made the mistake of looking at Deck and it was only for a second. But in that second when we made eye contact, I didn’t see the judgment I expected. He was actually listening to me, offering advice, not berating me. I wasn’t used to this.
And because I wasn’t used to being listened to, I started talking. I told him everything. About my mama and my daddy’s wife. The strained relationship I had with my daddy. The way I hadn’t really talked to my sister. The nephew who I was missing grow up. Deck was patient with me, didn’t rush me, and asked me questions.
“Answer me this…who are you mad at? Really?”
“Carlene.” I didn’t even have to think about it.
Deck nodded his head and looked down at the ground. “I can see why you would be mad at her. But I think she’s the recipient of your anger, but not the cause of it.”
Deck lifted his eyes and we locked eyes. I knew where he was going with this, and I didn’t want to go there.
“Where’s your mom?”
I stayed silent as long as I could. Deck didn’t repeat his question, just held his gaze, telling me he would wait as long as he needed to for me to answer.
“Last I knew she was working at some addiction recovery place. Heard her and her new family were living in Plains.”
My admission lingered in the air for a moment before falling on me. It was too heavy for me to handle, and I couldn’t hold it. One tear became a million and the next thing I know, I am out the bed, doubled over, my heart almost bursting out of my chest.
Deck came to me, helping me down to the ground when my legs gave out on me. He was holding me, telling me to let it out.
I cried and cried and cried. Cried for the woman who abandoned me and went on to raise two other children, completely forgetting about me. I hadn’t seen my mama in close to ten years. After she showed up to my high school graduation party high as a kite, I was embarrassed by her. But she got herself together, got clean, and acted like I didn’t exist. I didn’t even know my two brothers, nor did I want to. She was happy with her life now, not realizing the tortured existence she created for me.
I cried so much my head hurt. Deck helped me off the ground and helped me back in the bed. He took off my shoes and tucked me in before going to the bathroom to get a washcloth to dry my eyes. Deck slipped off his shoes and climbed in the bed with me. He pulled me into him, wrapping his arms around me. We didn’t talk. He didn’t give me platitudes, telling me it would be alright. He just held me, protected me, until I fell asleep.