The voices from the other room carry through the wall and I cringe at my father’s raised voice. My momma is crying, and I’m upset because she shouldn’t be shedding tears for me or this situation.
“She will marry like her older sister, and there is no arguing with me. The dowry has already been paid and accepted.” Papa’s voice rattles throughout the trailer. Coming from a devout Greek Orthodox family means my father’s word is law, but I’ve been fighting him since I watched him marry off my sister at the age of eighteen.
I look across the room I used to share with my sister until she married and moved out. She was engaged at sixteen. She never kissed her betrothed or held his hand until the day they got married. Now she lives a couple trailers down with her husband and three kids. She’s only twenty-four and her kids are all under five. I don’t want that life for myself.
As the elder and head of the family, my father has taken the teachings of our religion and tweaked it to what he wants, and what he wants is all of us close by doing exactly as he says for the rest of our lives. My five siblings, who are all married but one, and my six uncles and their families all live on the same property—a trailer park just for us. My brothers all work at the masonry company Papa runs. We attend the local Orthodox chapel like other families, but once we are home, my father is in charge.
I’ve always known my life was going to be different than my momma’s and sister’s. I was destined for more than being married to a man I don’t love. I want to go to college and have a career. I want to pursue a degree in social work and work with families. Maybe even help people like me someday.
“Papa, have you looked into this Waldemar man?” My brother Stavros’ voice carries. He still lives at home because he hasn’t found a bride yet. He is only two years older than me and, like me, doesn’t want to have the life our father has deemed we must have.
“Stavros, do not argue with me unless you want to leave.” My father doesn’t mean leave the house, he means leave the family permanently.
I look over at the backpack I have packed already. I want to leave, and I plan to do so tonight. I was accepted to a community college in Texas and I’m going to go.
“Father, Waldemar is part of the mafia in Texas.”
“He is not. Your brother Alexei and he are friends.”
I cringe at those words because Alexei is not as devout as my father thinks. He likes to gamble, and he cheats on his wife. I’ve seen some of his girlfriends. His wife just stays home with their two children. She ignores the rumors and looks. I couldn’t do that. I won’t do that. I’ve met Wald and he doesn’t stir my blood like the romance novels I secretly read say a man should. He makes my skin crawl. He’s older than Cristo, who is ten years older than me.
Doors slam in the distance and then a pounding on my door startles me.
“Come in.” Not that Papa needs my permission, he’ll come in no matter what I say.
“Calysta, we will be meeting with Waldemar tomorrow to discuss your wedding plans.” His voice booms through the small room.
“Yes, Papa.” I keep my head down so he can’t see the lie I’m telling.
He slams the door behind him and then I hear the lock at the top of the door engage. Six months ago, after I ran away to the local library to study for the ACT college admissions test, he started locking me in my room. There are bars on my window too, but he doesn’t know that I’ve worked the bars loose and can climb out the window.
I sit on my bed in my long pajama pants and heavy sweatshirt that cover up the street clothes I have on underneath. I wait until I can faintly hear my father snoring through the trailer. Slipping off the bed, I make my way to the window where I pull out the screen. I twist the bars and work them loose, then place them quietly on the floor next to the wall. My father tried to keep me a prisoner, but I’ve been planning my escape for years and he can’t stop me. I know I’ll never be able to return, I will be dead to them. I continue removing the bars until the opening is big enough for me to slip out.
On the way home from the store earlier, I had moved a barrel from near the shop to my window. Thankfully my room is in the back of the trailer and no one saw me. I toss out my backpack and then the large duffel that was hidden in the closet. It contains my clothes and belongings I can’t live without. I take one final look at my room. The sparseness of it should cause me to cringe but it doesn’t. This was never really my home. Only my momma and Stavros understand me. My momma is going to miss me, but I will figure out a way to keep in contact with her. The family picture on my dresser catches my eye. It was taken at Cristo’s wedding. I reach for it needing to take it with me; it will be all I have left of them.
I step up on my desk chair and climb out the window. As I drop down, the picture falls to the ground and the glass cracks. I freeze praying that no one heard. No one comes running right away so I reach down and grab the picture, leaving the broken frame behind. I grab my bags and take off into the night, never looking back. The money I’ve saved for the last couple of years from babysitting and doing odd jobs helps with my bus ticket from Texarkana, Arkansas to Killeen, Texas, home of Central Texas College.