Running Away at 36
by Grace C. Joyner
Can you bloom at the age of 36? Like being sheltered on an island, making a fire without sticks. I like living with mother and father. The only one of their brood still at home. Good atmosphere here, when the teapot has finished whistling and the t.v. gets turned off for the remaining night. It's comfortable inside when storm sounds beat against the glass window, keeping the unpleasant out. Family. They paid for my college degree. Then I went to work and learned things they don't teach in the classrooms. I've been told that my eyes lower whenever anyone raises their voice at me. Mother said that that makes people not trust you. I bet she's right. Bad habits. At the office, I do my work gossiping among a few selected friends. Then nearing the final hour, I keep looking at the clock, and on the dot I quickly get myself outta there and home again.
I tell mother, "Did you know that Energy equals Mass times Celsius squared."
Whatever she's doing, she looks up, "Fine thing college did for you, did you get promoted yet?"
She asks why.
"I got great grades in college, mother."
"Put in more overtime," she advises.
I tell her that I don't care if I stay in the same office for the next ten years and "I don't want to be CEO of the downtown district." That I just wanted my little raise and I'll be happy.
Mother gets her exasperated look, "What did the principal in high school say about you, brilliant but no motivation."
My eyebrows furrow, "I went to college for you all. I always worked. I always gave you money."
"We're taking care of you," that is mother's reply. "You went to school for yourself, you are working for yourself. That's a good amount you give your father and I but it's not enough to take care of you if you were living on your own."
My shoulders drop, "But I like living with you. Okay. I'll give you and father more money then."
"You don't understand," mother said.
I remember when I was seventeen years old, mother came from the kitchen and hollered upstairs for me to throw the Ajax cleanser down to her. So I got it, stood at the top of the stairs, and let it go.
"Aaah!" she screamed, "there's powder all over my staircase."
A cloud of white dust lay across the wood grain.
"But you said to throw it down, mother. Pi is 3.14 which should explain."
"Explain, explain, you should have brought the Ajax down the steps and handed it to me. Book knowledge but no common sense."
"I'm sorry," I said. Then got the mop and swished it down the stairs.
Maybe sometimes I don't have common sense. But back to being 36. One day I come through the door and greet mother and father. They took early retirement and stayed at home. Up the staircase in my quaint little room, it's nice. Walls painted peach and two wooden mirrors. Yellow curtains turning brown because I took too long to wash them. I'm settled for the day and go down to the kitchen. Wasn't too long and dinner was ready. I do the cooking most times because after all, mother and father are older now. And I guess there is some responsibility in me.
"This is delicious," father saids.
I twirl the blue and white porcelain sugar bowl, told him I agree. If I had known I could cook tasty meals like that, I would have been cooking for many years before that. I used to make cakes and cookies from scratch when I was a teenager. Desserts just because I wanted to cook. Then in my twenties I got lazy and started making recipes from the box. But there is this need for me to please mother and father.
Saturday comes quickly and mother gets a call from one of her oldest friends. They grew up together and I call her Aunt. Mother in her pastel print dress, nods as Aunt Mary speaks. I learn all about it later. Seems Aunt Mary's son and his wife had a falling out. The wife, in her early thirties, walked out leaving my cousin with two small kids to take care of. The political thought among academics in the books and movies, was that women can take a stance and leave home. Even women with children. Maybe she was fed up, everyone knew the husband played. We weren't sure of anything except that she had run away and nobody knew where she was. The rest of the week was pretty ordinary until the next Saturday when the vanishing wife returned.
Now me, I never ran away from home, except once or twice when I was a child but I always came back the same day. I wasn't very street smart. Still not to this day. Besides, mother and father told me I wouldn't know where to go if I ran away from home. Could I even be on my own. I pondered this and would look through newspaper ads on days I wanted to prove a few things to myself. I would see that a certain house is so much. Now if I saved, and cashed in my bonds, cut down on the frivolous novels I bought.... And would look at this apartment over there which goes for this much. Hmmmh, it would say. "busy, near transportation," what does that mean? And then I saw it, "Luck Hotel." Peanuts for a night, just a few more dollars for a week, rate not bad for a month. I had done this activity of roaming the ads for years. Even once, I had the gall to apply for a low-income mortgage, FOR WHICH I WAS TURNED DOWN. I thought mother and father would be proud of me, but I was turned down.
Not long after, I woke up one day not wanting to go to work.
"Why are you here," father said.
"I don't want to go to work today, I'm tired, I'm not up to it. I hate that job."
Mother and father were mad. Maybe they thought I took too many days off from work. That job put stress on me. But yes, they did give me that raise I moaned about. That particular day I wasn't going to work. I was still there and wanted to hide like a mouse in a desert hole. We had a spiff, mother and father and me.
I had my pocketbook, I had my coat, and I had my credit cards...I left the house.
I got on a train to downtown. What would I do! In the back of my mind I knew what I'd probably do. "Luck Hotel" pushed ahead in my thoughts.
Should I go to work, should I not, I kept thinking,
Outside of McDonald's which was a block away from my job, there was a payphone. I called Luck Hotel and asked if they would accept my credit card. They affirmed that they would.
When I got there to the building, which was just a smidgen away from the main downtown area, I looked up, so many floors. Once a grand hotel I imagined, stone, brick, and a crooked sign with one letter missing. It would be the first time I spent the night in a hotel apart from mother and father and my two brothers when we all would go for family vacations. But I'm a big girl now.
I went to the information desk and asked again if they would take my credit card. The clerk looked at me, then quickly looked down with a nod yes.
Now I said, "I'll take the cheapest room rate."
The middle-aged to approaching old-aged man looked again. "Now let's see, I bet you want a room with a bathroom included. This way you won't have to go down the hall to the community bathroom."
I said, "Certainly," just like Curly, one of the Three Stooges would say...
Now in case I changed my mind, I noticed a sign placed clearly on the desk:
'Hourly Rates are $12.' Also was posted what they charged for an overnight stay, and what they charged for a weekly stay. Hourly rates! Could they be inviting prostitution, I wondered. Oh my! I saw some of the guest in the lobby, most were dressed casual. They looked like what they used to call ‘hippies,' a lot of jeans, loosely hung down like derelicts come in for the night. But nobody made fun of each other or looked to see what I was doing there. Okay, my final decision, I would make my stay here for tonight,
The man behind the desk pointed to another man by the elevator, "he'll take you to your room."
Should I say Egor to tell you what the elevator guy reminded me of. And hmmm, the elevator opened and the elevator floor didn't meet at level with the lobby floor. Actually like you needed a footstool to climb into the elevator. I actually had to step up about a foot to get on the elevator.
Then we were there in front of my room. Then finally handing over the keys to me.
Nothing but relief when I stepped inside. I thought I could sleep for a couple of hours in my own space. I adjusted my combination tv/radio with a set of instructions taped on it's side. Then I just laid back on the single bed. It did look like there was a little stain the size of a quarter on the sheet, but never mind, the sheets on the bed looked like they had had a basic washing. Gee, was the room only 3 x 4 inches big. It had one narrow window looking down into the back alley sections of the downtown streets below. One catch to this situation, I would have to go out for food, no cooking here. I went and bought back a big pack of cinnamon buns and a jar of apple juice from a local store. I could drink apple juice cold or warm, didn't matter. Two hours later I thought, I couldn't bear any more of the sweet, sugary taste of another cinnamon bun. I thought I was going to vomit. I should of bought something besides sweet stuff. But I didn't have that much money. Yes, I needed to be thrifty. Despite all my immaturity, and I'll admit it: my immaturity, I did tend to be thrifty. I would try not to borrow money from mother and father though sometimes I would have to. They had even borrowed several hundred dollars from me a couple of times. So it seems the price of love isn't inside a measuring cup.
There was no love here at Luck Hotel, even a bit lonely. Nothing but a tv, radio, bed and bathroom in this room. For goodness sake, I looked through my handbag for some reading material: pamphlets, brochures, anything! I had had enough tv. I was bored. I lay back and slept and slept.
I woke up, it was 11:30 at night. Oh, I must call mother and father and tell them that I'm alright. I couldn't get the phone in my room to work. I took the elevator down to the lobby and used the payphone there.
Mother was glad to hear from me, "Where are you at," she asked. I could hear her shouting to father that it was me.
"I just didn't want you to worry, I'm at Luck Hotel," I told her to comfort her, "I'll be home tomorrow."
I then went back to the room and lay in bed. Talking to them made me feel better. As I continued to lay there, I heard a disturbing sound that I had heard earlier. It sounded like a wooden leg slowly coming down the hall, the kind the old movie pirates used to have. It was coming closer, then passed by my room, da-domp-da-domp, then went further down the hall. It gave me the creeps for some reason, like I was in a spooky movie. The night got worse, I heard two men arguing down the hall near the elevators. If I needed to go to the lobby for anything, I would have to go past them. I prayed to God, and put the pillow over my head.
Was I glad when morning came. I felt a little better after my excursion out for the night. I wanted to see mother and father and tell them everything was okay.
I was on one of the top floors. Here I was about to leave the room for good. There was my final walk down that hallway. When the elevator opened up, several people were on it. I sort of looked around inconspicuously. I'd say they were in their late twenties, thirties and forties. I hardly looked any of them in the eye. They looked at me though. This place scared me and the people in it scared me. The elevator made a couple of more stops before the lobby. I made another quick glance around and noticed something that I had noticed before. Half of the people on the elevator looked like they had the herpes. A lot of them had cold sores on their lips. I didn't. They looked at me so as to determine my reason for coming there. Maybe this was their home, the hotel had monthly room rates. Down at the lobby, the elevator door opens, I step down about 10 inches to the lobby floor. Go through check-out and out through the revolving doors.
I'm back walking center city streets among the more familiar hustle and bustle insanity. Then take a train back to my parent's house and do this gladly in a busy world.
At the house they greet me, like parents who have put up with an errant child come home for forgiveness. Mother hugs me and father puts his arms around my shoulders. I am one of their own, the prodigal daughter. I love these two. I may have grown up slowly but I had a growth spurt just yesterday at 36.