The Way Home
Bicycling South Africa|September/October 2020
Home was not a place I wanted to be. My dad had an unpredictable rage that often exploded at my older brother. Anytime he got hit, I felt it too. I was terrified, never knowing when the grenade might blow. I escaped by exploring the woods and creating imaginary worlds down by a slow-flowing stream. Inside, I felt treated differently as the only girl, made to clear supper dishes while my brothers played video games. Outside, I could be anything. Nature is a level playing field.
Chris H. Hadgis

At eight years old, I sported a shaggy, uneven pudding bowl haircut, courtesy of my mom. I wore clear, pink-rimmed glasses with little blue Smurfs on the sides, hand-me-down tropical-print board shorts, and a turquoise T-shirt. Always curious to explore, I grabbed my little brother’s hand and we headed down the beach from my grandmother’s house. We clambered up through beach grass into the sand dunes, sifted through discarded, rusty beer cans and collected seashells and pebbles and dried seaweed in our pockets. I lost track of time – or rather, time didn’t matter. Exploring mattered. Searching for shells along the water, I noticed a message with my name written in the sand: “Chrissie COME HOME.”

Only then did fear strike. Not a fear of losing my way, or of being alone on the beach, but fear of returning home and facing my father’s wrath. My stomach sank. I hadn’t mentioned my plan to anyone other than my little brother. I later found out that my mom had called the police, and my older brother was searching the beach and writing messages to me in the sand.

Eventually, I had to detach from my father, and from my family. It would have been easy to crumble under the guilt that I felt for not protecting my brother and the disdain I had for the terror my dad’s rage instilled in me. So, I left.

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