I pressed the button on the side of my wristwatch the moment it began sounding it’s alarm. I was already awake. Had never fallen asleep in fact. I’d kept the digital Timex clutched in my palm, my hand buried under several layers of blankets in order to muffle the sound.
The darkness felt heavy, as if trying to weigh me down, preventing me from slipping out of bed. I pushed the display light on my watch. 3:02 a.m. I had twenty-eight minutes.
Slipping out from under my covers, I gently eased my feet onto the wooden floor. I’d kept my socks on. My undershirt too. Along with my boxer shorts, that was all the clothing I would take with me. Timothy told me not to take anything else; he goes by Tim now. He’d bring along some pants for me. We wore the same size anyway. He promised to help me take care of everything.
Using a sliver of light through my bedroom window from the moon’s thin crescent, I crept to my doorway. Even in the dark, I knew where to step in order to prevent the aging planks under my feet from creaking and awakening my parents. For in a house without the steady hum from a refrigerator or washing machine, the simplest shift of one’s weight in an elderly home can echo like the eery yelp of a lone coyote if one’s not careful.
I shimmied along the hall to the top of the stairwell, where I hesitated just long enough to hear a chorus of steady breathing from my parent’s bedroom before beginning my cautious descent.
With every step I remained along either side of the naked staircase, as if fearfully avoiding a threatening fissure, slowly splitting open the ash planks down the middle. I’d learned over time that far less noise was created along the sides of the stairwell where fewer pairs of feet had been supported over the decades.
I made it to the first floor before again checking my watch. 3:17. I’d have to hurry.
Avoiding the front door, I made my way through the darkened living room to the unlocked window peeking out from behind the couch. I quietly slid the glass pane up far enough to squeeze my body through.
One leg at a time, straddling the window sill, I slid awkwardly through the opening. As I braced myself for the fall onto the soft ground below, the heel of my foot banged into the aluminum siding. It wasn’t very loud, but I cringed none the less. There was no time to dwell on it though.
Dashing around the side of the house, I stopped and reached under the front porch, groping blindly along the damp earth until at last feeling the soft leather of the Adidas running shoes I’d stashed there the night before. Only Timothy knew I’d bought them.
I quickly slipped them on over my damp socks, a cushiony embrace over my feet, unlike any shoes I’d ever worn before.
I glanced at my watch one last time. 3:26. I had four minutes. Gritting my teeth, I spun my body toward the distant corn field and started running.
At the edge of the yard, I turned and looked one last time at the old farmhouse I’d grown up in, knowing that I could never return. It stood out from a stand of mature pines, practically glowing under the cloudless moonlight. For just a moment I considered going back.
A chilly Ohio breeze kissed my cheeks and whispered the sounds of freedom into my ear. Freedom. So long I’d waited. I turned and stepped into the cornfield which met the lawn’s edge.
Cutting through narrow rows of chest-high corn stalks, their sharp leaves whipping against my face and threatening to leave my flesh covered in red welts from the contact, I could’ve sworn I’d heard the front door opening with it’s customary squeal of rusty hinges from behind me. Undeterred, I ran on blindly through the stalks, flicking corn silk out of my face, to the awaiting roadside.
Moments later I burst through the field, landing upon solid pavement. Brushing leafy debris from my hair, I turned my attention to the abandoned road, searching. A few hundred feet from where I stood, and parked along the berm, I spotted Timothy’s car. He’d kept his promise. My heart thudding with apprehension, I began walking toward him. He stepped out of the car. I could see him smiling under the moonlight as I drew nearer.
No more chores. No more homespun pants held up by suspenders. I wanted a chance to buy my own car. A home with electricity. A life with opportunity. It meant leaving the church though. Leaving my family. Just like Timothy had done.
Wearing only a t-shirt, a pair of boxers, and my tennis shoes over black socks, I made my way toward my older brother, who anxiously awaited.
I jumped at the sound of my name and turned to find my father standing amongst the stalks of corn. He’d followed me. I could see his mid-section rising and falling as he fought to catch his breath. Silky strands of corn silk had tangled themselves into his graying beard from his run through the leafy corn. In his haste, he’d failed to pull his suspenders onto his shoulders. His pants continued to droop below his waist. His eyes were moist.
"You’re leaving then," he said at last.
I nodded, saddened by his expression. I knew I’d let him down.
I glanced at Timothy, who remained next to his car, refusing to come any closer. He’d already been shunned years earlier.
I turned back to my father and found him to be at my side. In my seventeen years I’d never seen him cry. As tears began welling up in his eyes on this night though, he suddenly reached out to me, wrapping his burly arms around my shaking frame. I hugged him back, myself unable to keep from crying.
We clung to each other as another early morning gust of wind caused the hair on the back of my neck to rise. Was it ever warm in Ohio?
The many thousands of corn leaves rustled against each other throughout the hillside, as if chatting quietly amongst themselves. Bearing witness to an event they’d seen before.
"Go in peace then," he mumbled into my ear. "And take care of your brother."
"Will you...what about Mom?" I choked. Finding my voice had become difficult.
"I’ll speak with her," he said. "In time she’ll understand."
He turned then and quietly left, leaving me alone in the middle of the deserted road. I watched him return to his corn field, his head bowed, his dark silhouette disappearing between the rows, unsure if I’d ever see him again. The thought left a stabbing pain in my side. But I understood. Some rules simply couldn't be broken.
"Samuel, are you ready?" Timothy called.
I turned and slowly nodded. "I’m ready," I said, wiping away the tears with the back of my hand.
"It’s going to be okay," Tim said as I approached. "You’ll see."
"Alright then," I said. "Let’s go."
I walked toward my older brother’s rumbling Camaro, and to the beginning of my new life.