When I Run Away

My mind always drifted at the worst of times. I was always staring beyond reality, allowing the words around me to distort into sounds I could not understand. I’d been told to get my head out of the clouds, and other cliches that never seemed to work. I always chopped off my hair until I felt the cool blades brush against my neck in the bathroom, and never minded my mother’s yells echoing through the house.

I got married in seventh grade to a boy named Tulip. He had golden curls that brushed against his shoulders and brown eyes the color of damp soil. His parents were gardeners. He always gave me exquisite flowers because it was all he could get his hands on. When he drew, his shaky black lines created life, and together, we spoke to his drawings. Tulip and I danced behind school grounds and slipped pictures of renaissance babies into each other's lockers.

I told Tulip I was going to run away. Seventh grade was not working for me, and I was going to take a bus to Arizona and live out on my own. He said he would come with me; he said he had always wanted to see Arizona. He was a bad liar.

I packed my bag with all my necessities:
- an empty journal to fill with memories and Arizona dirt
- a hairbrush, because my hair was constantly a tangled mess
- a seashell so I could listen to the coast if I ever got homesick
- & the first flower Tulip gave me, a wilting poppy.

Tulip told me his mom said he couldn’t go to Arizona. I told him I would write him letters and send postcards that had The Grand Canyon on them. He said he would post them up on his wall and send back flowers that were not local there. I said I would like that very much.

When I died, I grew back all my hair. I stayed in California and kept all the flowers Tulip gave me over the years. I began to wear cardigans and shoes, and even learned to braid my own hair. I didn’t speak to Tulip anymore. Instead, I met Mary Sue, who I kissed behind rose bushes and took pictures of with my father’s polaroid while she posed. She collected gemstones, and told me my eyes looked like the aquamarine gem she found in Brazil. I told her I wanted to move to Brazil with her. She laughed softly, and opened her book. I watched her, yellow topaz eyes behind dark locks of hair drifting into a fantasy world. When I died, I was a flower that hardened into stone. My heart which once played games of “he loves me, he loves me not,” matured into novels and applying to Stanford. I was accepted.

My college dorm was a dull grey, nothing like the shimmer of Tulip’s hair, or sparkle of Mary Sue’s eyes behind thick lenses. I hung up a cork bulletin board. On it, I glued dried wildflowers Tulip once put in my hair. I pinned love letters from seventh grade, and a postcard with the Grand Canyon on it. I even taped a picture of a renaissance baby. I added polaroids of model Mary Sue, and wrote quotes from her favorite books on sticky notes and posted them on. I hung an aquamarine necklace she gave me on a thumbtack, and a white rose petal with her red lip print on it.

Mary Sue and I traveled to Brazil once we both finished college. She showed me where to find gems and we searched for each other’s eyes until the sun set behind the ocean. She told me she was going to stay and live in Brazil to write a book. I asked her if she could send me a copy of her story when she finished. She said of course she would, and will give my copy a kiss with her red lipstick so I knew it was for me.

When I was 27, I went to Arizona. I collected dirt and sprinkled it onto a postcard from a gift shop. On the back, I taped a blue milkwort; it was a flower I found growing in the Arizona soil. I began to write. Things I had wanted to say for so long leaked from the pen. I wondered what Tulip would look like now. I imagined his hands to be hardened from working in his own garden, and his hair in a braid down his back. I told him it felt nice to finally walk barefoot among the flowers again. I wrote all about Mary Sue and how she would write a book. I wrote that I wanted to see him again. I hoped with all my heart that he hadn’t moved out of his home, and would remember me when he saw my name and that awful handwriting.

It took a month of sitting in diners, chatting with the workers until they closed, and cupping soil in my palms until he replied. My hands shook as I opened the envelope and pulled out a poppy which was only beginning to wilt. I read his letter over and over again, until I could recite it from memory.

I haven’t seen my childhood sweetheart in the longest time. It rang through my mind as I sat in the bumpy bus ride back. I whispered it to myself when I walked down the familiar streets. I practically announced it to the white picket fence and peach roses outside his home filled with memories of seventh grade. I worried that my stone heart would not soften back into petals. As soon as he opened the front door, the stone fell to my stomach and I lunged at him, my chest fluttering with all the flowers he once gave me. His smile was no longer crooked. He was much taller than I, and his hair was freshly buzzed. As I entered his home, I felt myself turn twelve again, but did not wish to run away this time. When I ran away, the flowers wilted into stone.

By Emily Kozhina