Melissa Matthewson



The man we called Jim with long red hair and faded Bruce Springsteen t-shirts had sex with Tiffany in the bedroom next to where I lay on his shitty couch. We'd run away from home to Jim's house—I don't know where he lived or where we were, but a few facts orient me: I was twelve. Tiffany was twelve. Jim was eighteen. 

I watched the Tuesday morning game shows: The Price is Right and Wheel of Fortune—"Come on down," and strike your luck on bids for cash, or spin the wheel for prizes, the Showcase Showdown persuading me to want things I didn't need or couldn't have, flush with Bob Barker sparkling in his suits and Vanna White in glitter and gold. Refrigerators. Ovens. Cars. Sofas. Earrings. Stereos. Taxes not included. It's never the thing you think you'll remember, but always the unconventional detail lodged in memory: game shows and the polyester/wool blend sweater I wore in blue and yellow fractal patterns, purchased at Nordstrom's on a Sunday, not quite thick enough for winter on the first day of a southern California year. 

We took a cab from the neighborhood plaza to a distant suburb where Jim paid the taxi driver the nineteen dollars we owed him. The cabbie asked, "You girls are a little young to be out this late, aren't you?" Maybe, but when you're twelve, you'll do anything for your best friend—lie, dare, prank. This Tiffany, my Tiffany, was a rebel girl with wild hair who rode horses on weekends. "Run away with me?" she asked. And I did. 

To run is to leave your home in order to establish a relationship with someone else. I don't think he assaulted her, but I can't know what force he used, perhaps willing her to do things she might not at twelve, exerting his strength, pushing open the buttons of her top, Make her feel like a woman, he might have thought. The night before, I had lay next to them staring at the sockets on the wall as I heard her moan under the blankets, "No, Jim. No." 

Jim wouldn't let us stay in the house, so it's the Ford truck I remember—the cold shell of steel in disrepair and collapse. We talked to waste the hours—of where we'd go and how we'd get there. We never wondered if our parents would be sad. "We can get jobs in LA. An apartment!" Tiffany said. We wrestled with sleep. The moon was there, eclipsed by the clouds, and southern California slept around us—my mother, did she? 

To run is to avoid acknowledging an unpleasant or difficult situation. It was her idea, Tiffany I hold accountable—she wanted escape from a home she didn't love and a father she said abused her, though she assured me that Bryan Adams was her boyfriend when we listened to the "Summer of 69" on the tape deck, both of us screaming to the kitchen air, "Standin' on your mama's porch/You told me that it'd last forever." I wanted to believe everything she told me. I didn't think she was asking for help.

In that truck, I wasn't sure what I was running away from, or running toward, just that I wanted Tiffany to love me, that I wanted to be like the girls in the movie, Foxes, a film Tiffany and I watched over and over on slow afternoons. Jodie Foster and her friends wandered through the industrial asphalt of LA's San Fernando Valley with feathered hair and bell bottoms, smoking cigarettes and chasing boys. I wanted to be as beautiful as they were. As free as they were, on the precipice of something great or prime, dreaming adult dreams, of living in the hills in homes surrounded by avocado trees and windows on either side—"We could paint the walls purple," they envisioned. "We could have a real sexual time." That's what Tiffany and I were: little adults, but not yet, pain was just an illusion. "Nobody feels pain anymore," until my father found us at the Taco Bell, the morning sun bleaching the pavement and the birds picking at the sidewalk leftovers, a new year, a new school, a new life unfolding before our girlish eyes: we'd soon learn to sew in home economics, steal cigarettes from our mothers' purses after school, and lament down by the creek near the bridge and sagebrush: Remember how we once almost made it?




Influences for the writing of this came from the music and film referenced in the essay as well as the OED's many definitions and historical uses of the verb "run." I sometimes wish I knew where Tiffany was now, but mostly, I'm happy just to wonder.