I ran away at seventeen.  Me and my baby.  I could never go back.
I worked three shifts.  The warm breast milk dribbled through my coarse linen uniform.
Somewhere, my baby was crying.
After the shift I’d drive home, kill the engine.  I turned the key, quietly.  Tip-toed up the stairs, more quietly.
Before a brief respite on my unmade bed, I leaned over her crib and took in her warm violet breath and cashmere caress on my cheek.
She whimpered and turned over.
My baby.
Once on a Saturday, years later when I worked just two shifts, I watched her ride her bike.
Up and down, down and up the street she soared, head back and legs sprawled wide as if soaking in every morsel of the sun’s rays.
“Baby, eyes on the road,” I murmured, enraptured by her strange dance.
It happened before I realized I was running.  I ran.  I ran down the street with every sinew my body had.  My lungs screamed; my legs pumped up and down, down and up, feeling like dead weights.  I reached her and picked up the limp body.  Her face had never looked so pale, so transparent.  Her eyes opened in brief recognition, faltered, then closed forever.
I ran away at twenty-four.  I left again, and never went back.
For months, I made my life among artists and transvestites – people with stories more twisted and somber than my own. Grouped together like penguins for warmth and comfort.
Once, after a trivial fender bender and minor whiplash, I went to the ER.  “Just in case,” said the paramedic with his white smile and starched coat.  I waited for my results, popping M&Ms as I sat in the family waiting room.
An older lady walked in, slightly overweight, wearing a pink sari and a long black braid.  She was weeping, blubbering – the only way a child knows how to do.  Her hands clawed at her hair as her face bled with agony; her wails were wails of despair.  She moaned in Hindi as her family tried to console her.
I did not understand the words, but I spoke the language.
I knew.

Stephanie Toth, Class of 2011