All I said was, “It’s actually not that bad here.” It was a very tiny telephone, so maybe you didn’t quite understand: all I meant was that I liked the hot food, the central heating, and the luxury of a lumpy bed that wasn’t by the side of the road. I meant, “Don’t worry, Dad, it’s not like the movies.” I wanted you to know that I wasn’t about to be shanked. But I guess you heard “I like being in juvie,” so you went nuts.
Dad, if you had asked me over the phone why I did it, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I didn’t know how to explain the hole inside me. Why did I steal that car and put two thousand miles on it? Well, why do people swim? Because we love the water? No. Because we don’t want to drown. And in our hometown, I was drowning, Dad.
It was never about the car, really. The car was just–there. A convenience. And I never really cared about where I was going. All directions were away.
When you flew two thousand miles to retrieve me from juvenile detention, you were worried that this was the start of the end. That some integral part of me had been knocked askew–that next it would be drugs, or older men, or stripping. And I don’t blame you. What were you supposed to think? Your respectful, obedient, introverted, straight-A daughter, who was a virgin and had never tried drugs in her life, who did the dishes every night without complaint, had become a felon literally overnight. Christ, you probably thought I’d gotten brain damage!
In retrospect, hey, maybe I was a little brain damaged. Dad, do you know what my greatest worry was that day? My hair. Juvenile detention doesn’t allow hair dryers, you see, and if I don’t blow dry my hair it gets frizzy. While you worried that I was going to start a career in prostitution, I worried that the other inmates thought I was ugly.
Consider all I have done since. I graduated high school as a valedictorian. I have a full ride in college. I still get straight A’s. I’m graduating without debt. I’ve won a prestigious internship. But I am afraid that when you look at me, all you see is a teenager in an ugly orange uniform and frizzy, frizzy hair.