Maria White (21)
Connecticut – Hartford
It was mid-October by the time I arrived in Connecticut, I had just been through New York and was heading up into New England for the winter. My car was packed with all my supplies and when I couldn’t find a hotel last minute I ended up sleeping on the backseat. Connecticut, also known as The Constitution State or The Nutmeg State has one of the largest rivers in the USA, the Connecticut River which cuts the state in half. It’s famous, like the rest of New England, for its autumn leaves which were in their full glory when I arrived, and this led me to meeting Maria. I had been sat on a bench gazing at a large oak which swayed in the wind.
“It’s pretty isn’t it?”
“Beautiful,” I muttered almost not acknowledging the voice; the stranger sat beside me and crossed her legs.
“There’s a legend about it from like 1687, but that tree blew down in 1856 and then they replanted an oak in about 1960 and here it is,”
“What’s the legend?”
“On Halloween in 1687 the British wanted to centralise control over New England under a single government in Boston. This guy called Robert Treat refused and so Sir Edmund Andros; an Englishman came to Hartford with British troops and demanded control. It was late at night and suddenly all the candles were blown out which gave Robert time to hide in the great oak. The treaty wasn’t signed and the British didn’t get their way.” The girl smiled sheepishly and looked down at her feet, “I can’t believe I just told that to a complete stranger,”
“It was interesting,” I said, my English accent resounding loud and clear,
“You’re British too, great,” she grinned,
“I’m not offended; we British are famous for trying to take control,”
“I’m Maria; I know a whole lot about nothing,”
“I’m Cinderella and I’m touring alone through America,”
“Cinderella, cool name – I had a friend called Cindy once… Touring America, that’s awesome; I’ve not even been out of Connecticut, how lame is that? Any reason for this exciting, lonesome road trip?”
“America is interesting,” I muttered,
“You’re right, it is, but that’s not the reason…” Maria seemed to know me too well already. I ended up explaining my rollercoaster of a year, she nodded and asked questions in the right places and I didn’t know why I had managed to open up to a perfect stranger. “So you’ve come to effectively escape from your old life?”
“Anything is better than being at home at the moment,”
“Does it remind you of her?”
“I feel like there’s this blanket over me and it’s suffocating, I can’t breathe properly and escaping was the only way to take that deep breath which I’ve been longing for.”
“You can’t run away forever,”
“I know. I would if I could,”
“It’s going to catch up with you and it will bite at your ankles and trip you up flat on your face,”
“I’ll run faster,”
“It will always be that much quicker,” Maria spoke calmly and with a tone which made me trust her. I could tell that somewhere inside her she could match my emotions with her own and she was speaking from experience.
“I want to start afresh, get over what happened and move on,”
“I don’t think you need to be in America to do that,” Maria smiled slowly,
“It helps, distance helps and it keeps my mind off…other things,” Maria nodded slowly and smiled.
“Hey it’s getting late and I’ve got a spare room in my apartment, fancy a bed tonight?” I smiled and followed Maria to her flat. “Ignore the mess,” she muttered as we walked in. She brought me through into her lounge and left me sitting as she got me a drink. On her mantle piece was a family photograph, she looked about my age and she was grinning with her parents and two siblings – a brother and sister.
“They were going into New York and a suicide bomber got onto the same train,” I spun round and watched as Maria crossed the room. “They wouldn’t have been on that train if I hadn’t of borrowed the car the previous evening, I stayed over at my boyfriends and my parents had made it clear that I needed to be back by ten. I got back at eleven and they’d already gone. I could tell they were angry even before opening the door because there, sat on the porch was a letter. It said something like ‘As soon as we get home, you’ll be grounded for the month. We’re so disappointed in you, never doing as we ask and disobeying us and…’”Maria’s eyes began to leak tears and she took a deep breath, “’and we’re ashamed you’re our daughter.’”
“I’m so sorry,” I swallowed and Maria sniffed, “How long ago?”
“Three years. They were strict catholic and staying at my boyfriends was something they disapproved off, I had told them I would be back that evening but they had made it clear they needed the car at ten the next day because they knew I wouldn’t come back that night. If I’d honoured my parent’s request, they’d be alive right now, my little brother and sister – all dead because of me. At least your mother died from natural causes, I’m not saying her death is any less sad but at least you don’t feel guilty every moment of everyday. I’ve immersed myself in studies to take my mind off things but it doesn’t help.”
“You’re just as messed up as me,” I smiled and she sat next to me on the sofa,
“I was never tactical enough to leave the country though,” she sighed.