Sunday seemed to go by quite slowly. I tried my hardest to put myself in the state of mind that I was not leaving. I didn’t want to give any hints or clues as to what was to come Monday. I had to pretend everything was as it had been. I had to not pretend, but believe it to be so. It was very very hard!
I got dressed, had a quick breakfast as I usually do and checked the time. Things would be different this time.
My bookbag was fairly empty. No stuffing in extra clothes or items I may want to take with me. Long ago I had snuck out of the house my diaries and had given them to my best friend to hold onto. That was all I cared to have with me. Other than that, the clothes on my back and what ‘school’ books I had in my backpack was all I was able to safely take. I knew if I had filled it with anything extra my mother would notice. She was suspicious every time I left, so I couldn’t change anything.
I did not leave my house keys and beeper or letters on my bed. I put myself in the mindset that I was going to campus as I had been and will be returning home. Nothing different.
I did not wake up early to say goodbye to my father.
I did nothing different.
But, my friend was waiting for me at my train stop. We figured if my mother did have a feeling and did come storming to the train station, I would have a friend to help me run to the next station, so I would not be caught this time around. I was determined not to get caught. I knew if I had been, I would surely be sent away. There would be no escaping the inevitable if I were caught. Knowing now that I had gone into a panic attack the first time around causing me to not be able to think properly and react, I wanted to make sure I had someone with me who would know the plan and be able to help me if I needed it.
But I must have done all the right things. Everything went so smoothly. I met my friend at the train station. We got on the right train. I watched my block go by… I felt my stomach start to ache. My friend placed her hand on my shoulder and I turned around and gave her a weak smile.
So far so good.
We made it to campus. My friend went to her class. I had an hour to kill. I called the family I was going to stay with and told them everything was going well. I also called my mother and told her I had made it to campus and would call her again later.
I felt so sick to my stomach. I should have gotten some food for the trip but the way I was feeling, I didn’t. I hated lying. I hated how I was feeling, so I told myself to just stop thinking and just do.
My friend finished her class and she got me some food for the trip. I met up with my second friend, the one we had gotten together with the other day, and we headed out.
First stop was to my friend’s house, the one that was not Jewish.
We took a couple of different buses in case I was being followed. Overly paranoid, I know.
I got to the friend’s house, put on my first ever pair of jeans, a baggy sweatshirt and a baseball cap. I felt better in a disguise of sorts. In case I was being followed, I had hoped they wouldn’t realize it was me dressed this way. Again, overly paranoid, I know, but it made me feel better.
I had purchased the jeans a couple of weeks before my first attempt at leaving and left it at my non-Jewish friend’s house. I had looked forward to wearing my jeans for so long now but now that the time had come, all I could feel was really sick to my stomach with anxiety.
We headed out to the train station and headed to Grand Central Station. There I purchased my one way ticket to my new home, many many miles away from NY.
I handed my friend the beeper after taking the batteries out. I told her to keep it.
I was shaking with fear at what I was about to do. I couldn’t believe that I had made it this far! It felt so surreal, like I was dreaming!!
The fear, the stomach ache, the anxiety of what I was about to do.. it would have been way too much if not for the friends I had there supporting me.
I boarded the bus and set my backpack down. I looked out the window and saw my friends waving. I ran off the bus and straight to my friends.
“I can’t do this!”
“Yes, you can!”
My other friend asked, “Did you change your mind? It’s ok if you don’t feel this is what you want to do.”
“It is what I want to do… I’m.. just .. so scared.”
My best friend drew me into a hug and told me to be strong. She said, “Do this for you. It’s what you’ve wanted for so very long. Do this for me, too! For those of us not strong enough to stand up for what we believe and for those of us that cannot find our voices and state that we want to live our life the way we want! But above all else, do this for you. This is what you want, right?”
“Then do this! And hopefully others will feel inspired to follow in your footsteps and realize they have the choice and ability to make their life their own.”
And then she added, “And if you don’t get back on that bus, I’ll take off my shoe and throw it at you!” She grinned and I chuckled.
I got back on the bus.
I looked out the window and saw my friends wave. The bus was getting ready to head out. Doors closed. Tears were streaming down my face. My friend took off her shoe and was waving it at me. I smiled weakly and waved my final good bye as the bus drove out of the terminal.
I sat down in my seat, so incredibly aware of how painful my stomach ache was. I brushed away tears and bit my lip. I was actually doing it! I thought to myself. I am actually truly on the bus now heading out of NY! I kept my thoughts away from my family, knowing fully well if I thought of them I would scream to be let off the bus. I kept my thoughts on the future, on my future.
We pulled in to the next stop. I looked up and noticed we were only in Jersey. Next to the bus was another bus going back into NY.
I could so easily hop onto that bus…. go back, change my mind.
I cannot tell you how incredibly hard that was. I cannot stress enough how gut wrenchingly difficult this whole thing was. I kept pushing the thoughts away… the words of my father rang in my ear. “You are burying your family… you’re destroying us… ” I felt sick.
A young girl stepped onto the bus and of all the empty seats, she asked if the seat next to mine was taken. I shook my head and she smiled and sat down next to me. She was at least 2-3 years younger. She was very young but very tough looking. She introduced herself as Kat and I told her my name. If not for her engaging me in conversation, perhaps I would have hopped on the other bus. Perhaps not. But I am so incredibly grateful to that young girl named Kat.
I don’t know what possessed me to tell her my story, but I did. She was quite impressed and happy for me and my new life. She told me about herself and how she was headed even farther than me. She had me listen to her CD’s, she talked to me. She seemed to realize that keeping my mind off of what might be happening back home was important. I wish I had kept in touch with her but alas we did not.
When we made a midnight stop in a city that wasn’t quite safe looking, she told me to stick with her and not wander off. This young kid was going to look out for me! A naive me. I made a call to the family and let them know I was alright and should be there sometime in the morning. Kat kept me company and chatted away while we were unable to board the bus and told to stay at the station.
I can’t remember if I slept that night at all. I want to say that I didn’t. I know I was so tired, mentally drained and utterly exhausted but ever so grateful for the company.
We did finally part ways when we each had to take a transfer bus elsewhere. I thanked her profusely and said our goodbyes and well wishes.
I got on my final bus.
When I arrived at my final destination, I immediately recognized my friend, Sam. He always reminds me of how I looked getting off of that bus. He describes it as deer in the headlight look. I must have been quite a sight. We hugged and he helped put my bags in the truck and we headed to my new home. It was drizzling that morning.
I remember the drive home. Beautiful rural country side. Nothing like the skyscrapers and tall buildings I was used to! Gorgeous landscapes, beautiful trees and lots of greenery. I immediately fell in love with the rural country even though it was a gloomy, cloudy day!
We pulled into the driveway and then headed inside. Sam showed me my room and told me there was an empty dresser for me to put my stuff in. Granted, I had only the clothes on my back but he told me he had stopped at Goodwill and picked up some clothes for me. What a sweet gesture! Even so, I didn’t want to unpack anything. I was quite adamant about that, as I recall. I guess I felt like I wasn’t really going to stay here long. Like they would inevitably find me. That I really couldn’t run far enough away without being found.
Perhaps those fears weren’t so unfounded…. as I later learned they were searching for me. And how.