sip happiness

"You've gotten awfully brave, awfully suddenly," his wife said contemptuously, but her contempt was not secure. She was very afraid of something.

Macomber laughed, a very natural hearty laugh. "You know I have," he said. "I really have."

"Isn't it sort of late?" Margot said bitterly. Because she had done the best she could for many years back and the way they were together now was no one person's fault.

"Not for me," said Macomber.

— from 'The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber'

Wish you were here — Norman, Oklahoma

Money isn't the only thing that I took from my father's study room when I left home. I also took his butterfly knife with a really sharp blade—it was custom made for my father, gold with a detailed dragon design engraved on the handle. The blade was about five inches. I knew that it was something he bought on one of his trips abroad, something that he deeply treasured, but something I figured I needed more, just in case.

I thought about taking my father's new favorite Rolex Oyster as well. Like most of the jewelry my father owned, it was gold and a beautiful watch at that, but I figured it'd be too flashy for me to be lugging around. I didn't want to get robbed, after all. I figured, my cheap plastic watch would have to do. With regret, I put the Rolex back to it's previous place before moving onto the next draw.

When I looked inside, I let out a small gasp as I took out an old photo of my older brother and I when we were little. The two of us were at the beach, me in a small pink one-piece, him in the usual baggy red trunks, and the both of us had large grins plastered on our faces. My brother's face was looking off to the side so half of his face was covered by a shadow and his handsome cool smirk was neatly cut in half. Light and dark. Hope and despair. Happiness and sadness. For my part, I was staring ahead, smiling so broadly that my teeth were in view, my pink lips seemed stretched out and my dark large eyes looked like they were bulging, straight at the camera. I was holding a yellow bucket in my hand and white foam from the sea covered our feet.

Who took this, when and where, I had no recollection. And how could I have looked so happy? And why did my father keep just this one picture? The whole thing was a mystery. I must've been four, my brother—being fourteen years older—seventeen going on eighteen. Did we really get along so well? I hardly had any memory of going out as a family of four, let alone going to the beach with my brother. All I really knew about him, the only concrete information I had, was that he was adopted by my parents when he was about nine and then, disowned after some incident that got out of hand and that I was almost always following behind him. My mother said I was smitten with him. Not that I remembered, but was told none the less. I took the photo and put it in my wallet, there was no way I was going to leave it with my parents. It was a pleasant surprise to find the photo of my older brother, I thought my father had thrown them all away.

Just the bare necessities, that was all I needed. Choosing which clothes to take was, of course, the hardest thing. I would need a couple of underwear. But what about shirts and shorts? Gloves, shoes, hats, a coat? There seemed to be no end to it. One thing I did know, however. I didn't want to wander around with too much stuff in a book bag that someone would scream out, Hey, everybody check out that runaway! Do that and someone was sure to sit up and notice. Next thing you knew, the police would haul me straight into juvenile detention. If I didn't end up raped first.

Being that it was spring time, I knew that it would be mostly warm in New York. Easy enough, I decide to take a couple of panties, a pair of shorts, warm pants, two warm shirts, and some pair of sunglasses that I collected (and just couldn't leave behind) that would help disguise my age. I folded them neatly, before stuffing them into the bag. I also packed a three-season sleeping bag, the kind that rolled up nice and tight, my diary and a pen, my iPOD—hey, I had to have my music—as well as my charger. That was good enough, I decided. No need for cooking gear, it was too heavy and took up too much room anyway. Plus, I could always buy something to eat from a convenience store.

It took a while, but I was able to subtract a lot of things off my list. Then I added them back, crossed them off again, added a whole other bunch and crossed them out too.

My sixteenth birthday was the ideal time to run away from home. Any time earlier and it would've been too soon, any time later and it would've been too late.

For the last full year, I'd been training myself for this day. Other than the home-school teacher who came to my house on Monday to Friday, and my mother and father I barely talked to anyone. I wasn't allowed out after the big scandal caused by my brother, they were afraid that I'd end up like him—a young parent, after having sex with a beautiful Cuban neighbor next door. So naturally I had zero friends. Not that it mattered anyway, for the last year I'd built a somewhat sturdy wall outside myself just to make sure I was tough enough to venture out.

I also always paid attention to what my teacher had taught me. I had to remember that I was running away from home, I probably wouldn't have any chance to go to school, so I decided to absorb information while I still had the chance. My brain like a sponge, I focused much more intently than I'd ever done in my life, and committed everything to memory.

I grew more withdrawn and quiet. I tried hard to keep my emotions normal so that no one—mother, father and teacher alike—had any clue about what I was thinking of doing. Soon, I'd be launched into the rough adult outside world and I knew I'd have to be tougher than most sixteen year olds if I wanted to survive.

Though my eyes in the mirror still held that childlike warmth to it no matter how hard I tried to fix my expression to become unreadable. However, I'd been so miserable copped inside this house all my life that I can't remember the last time I'd really laughed or showed a hint of a genuine smile. Even to myself.

I wasn't trying to say that I am a silent, cold-hearted child. That was very much the opposite—I was raised by loving parents, and besides that one falling-out that occurred between my brother and father, I'd never really had a dramatic story to tell about them. They bought me whatever I wanted, spent time with me, fed me, cared for me, they even endured hours of watching the old classic movies—to which I absolutely loved and became inspired to live my life like—numerous amount of times without complaint. They just refused to let me out, pure and simple, and I knew that they wouldn't budge, so I never bothered to try to talk them out of it. It would only be a waste of my time.

So I planned every little detail on running away. Paid extra attention to when my mother left to hang out with her fellow housewives, and what time she usually came back. Paid attention to my father's work schedule, looked up bus schedules to New York and thought what would fit best in the short time that left me alone. It was one of the hardest things I had done.

Before leaving home, I washed my hands and face. When I was done, I gazed carefully at myself in the mirror. I took in the round shape of my face, looked straight at large almond-shaped dark-brown eyes staring back at me and bit at my full, bottom lip nervously. There were small freckles placed in random spots near the bridge of my nose and high cheekbones—a trait that came from the Vietnamese in me—and my thick, straight, naturally brown hair was let loose and parted in the middle, stopping at the middle of my back. I looked at this person in the mirror—me—for a long time before thinking, am I really going to go through with this? I was starting to feel incredibly antsy, and that wasn't a good sign.

It was time to leave before I chickened out.

I switched off the light and left the bathroom. I went to my room, put on my light jean-jacket before heading back out into the living room to the front door. When my hand touched the doorknob, I stopped and turned around to take one last look at my home. A heavy, damp stillness lied over the house. I looked around, standing stock-still, and breathed in deeply. The wall clock read three p.m., the two hands cold and distant. It was time for me to say good-bye. I picked up my backpack and slipped it over my shoulders. I'd held it a number of times, but it felt so much heavier now. Ignoring my apprehension, I'd opened the door and climbed into the cab that I had called minutes before.

New York City, I decided. That was where I would go. There was no particular reason it had to be New York, only that for some odd reason, I had got a feeling that that was where I should head towards. I'd never been there before, I had no friends or relatives there, so when my parents started looking for me New York would be the last place they'd think of.

I picked up the ticket I reserved at the counter and climbed into the night bus. This was the cheapest way to get to New York—just a shade over ninety bucks. Nobody paid me any attention, asked how old I was, or had given me a second look. The bus driver mechanically checked my ticket.

Only a third of the seats were taken. Most passengers were traveling alone, like me, and the bus was covered in a loud silence. It would be a while till New York, but I didn't mind. I had plenty of time. The bus pulled out of the station at seven, and I pushed my seat back. No sooner after I settled down that my consciousness started to fade away and I fell asleep.

Sometime in the middle of the night, a hard rain began to fall and I woke up every now and then to the sound of the drops hitting the roof of the bus hard. I looked out the window and gazed at the wet, dark highway buzzing by. Raindrops beat against the window and blurred the streetlights alongside the road. Letting out a small sigh, I turned my head away and looked at my watch to check if it was past midnight. Automatically shoved to the front, my sixteenth birthday made it's appearance.

"Happy birthday, Lux," I whispered to myself.

I laid back down, looking up at the hood of the bus. Well, there's no going back now. The wheels are already in motion, I thought with a heavy heart, before closing my eyes and falling into another deep slumber.