It was less than four years ago that she had fled her father’s tumble-down mobile home in the middle of the night. For years, since the death of her mother, she had endured the escalating abuse of the angry, bitter man who had once been the center of her world. It had begun with cruel insults, chipping away at her self-confidence, but with time turned into slaps, then punches and shoves.1 As his drinking worsened, so did the severity of his violent outbursts. To hide the bruises, Alicia had worn jeans and long-sleeved shirts-even in the hot Chattanooga summers. To avoid embarrassment, she had isolated herself from friends to the degree that, by the time she left home, she was alone and desperately lonely, feeling that there was no one anywhere to whom she could turn for help.2
Over time, Alicia had learned to duck and weave to avoid the worst of his blows, but on that muggy July night-the night she had left-he had struck her with such force she knew the next time could prove fatal. When at last he passed out on the living room sofa, she slipped out of the house, threw her few possessions in her old clunker and drove south, never to this day looking back.3
The old Escort burned as much oil as gas, and, by Atlanta, had drunk most of her cash. At an Exxon station just south of I-285, she used her last fifteen dollars for gas, a quart of oil and a package of dry mini-donuts. With barely a rein on her mounting sense of terror, she willed herself to look forward-never back toward where she feared her father might be pursuing her. "Keep driving south," she commanded herself. And then the noise began-at first, a dull knocking that, by Forsythe, was a loud clanking coming from the engine. "Please, please don’t die on me."
But farther on, near the center of Macon, the old car gave out, a thick cloud of oily smoke billowing from under the hood. Rallying the tired old vehicle for one final lurch, Alicia managed to pull off the interstate and coast into the parking lot of a Waffle House. Only when the car rolled to a final stop did she realize the full weight of her situation-alone, penniless, with nothing to eat, nowhere to stay, no way to go further, and the crushing fear that her father might be following her.4 Only then, in the near-empty parking lot of the Waffle House, did Alicia allow herself to cry.
Wiping her face and mustering what little determination she held in reserve, Alicia stepped through the door of the restaurant. The place was empty except for a young woman behind the counter. Alicia sat on a stool at the counter with her head in her hands. Before she could stop her, the waitress poured a cup of coffee and sat it before her.
"Oh, no. I’m sorry. I don’t have any money and my car just broke down in your parking lot. I can’t even pay for a cup of coffee."
"Then you need more than a cup of coffee."
The young waitress, who looked to be only a few years older than Alicia, introduced herself as Beth, a junior at Macon State. She brought Alicia a bowl of cereal, an English muffin, and a small glass of orange juice and insisted that she eat. Alicia attacked the food as though she had not eaten in weeks.5 As they talked into the early hours of morning, Alicia told Beth her history and of her flight from her violent father. For her part, Beth told her that she was a history major working three part-time jobs to save money for the fall semester.