It was oddly familiar, as though I was watching the same movie, but I was the main character this time. They were watching me. I was the one entering into the tunnel, smelling the shit, about to be covered in it and crawling to what I hoped, was freedom.
The goodbyes were what they always were: quick, sad, to the point, and exciting. Little did I know how exciting, from that vantage point, up to that instant. It already seemed like a success just to experience the freedom of deciding to pursue freedom.
I dropped into the darkness and stood there for a moment, trying to gain my composure without being able to see anything to help me. The toilet was placed in its spot above me. I heard the bolts attach again. I imagined them all leaving the room, headed back toward their cells.
Much to my surprise, the smells weren't nearly as bad as I had imagined. Maybe, even, non-existent. The streams of waste that I had imagined weren't there either. The metal felt much smoother, even, as I moved my hands and knees across it as fast as I could, desperate to swim in more liberation.
Freedom is its own drug and one worth taking hits off of.
The distance went much faster than I had imagined. I could see the light ahead, creeping in around the cinder blocks that someone had removed for us years earlier, at least according to the stories. They fell out with just a slight touch and revealing the open field in front of me. Wide open. Wild. Unconfined. Freedom. Whether it was adrenaline or peace, I don’t know, but I felt eerily calm, and powerful. Fear vanished. I imagined the eyes watching through their cells above me, probably wondering why I was taking too long. Below, though, I wasn't sure that too long existed. But still I was motivated to reward their patience.
The show was on.
I emerged from the wall, replaced the cinder blocks I had removed - so as to not give away our secret - and started to run.
Don’t ask me what came over me. I’m not sure I could explain it. I didn’t weave. I didn’t move back and forth. I didn't s-curve. I didn’t even really run as fast as I could. I didn’t need to. Something had changed.
Actually everything had changed. I was comforted. The field felt small. The towers felt far away. The spotlights felt imagined. The dogs were silent. There was only the cheers of the audience above me, though they were far too away to hear.
I kept going, with a bounce in my step that I hadn't felt in years. I raised my fists in the air for them, signaling my confidence. I almost turned around but that felt arrogant with snipers on the horizon. I just kept moving toward the wall, although I couldn’t see it either. Only the forest. Only beautiful freedom.
And then I fell to the ground as Dixon had. Not because I was shot but because I was no longer afraid of being shot. I laughed out loud and did snow angels in the grass, in full view of the guard towers that were not shooting at me. It was bliss and I soaked in as much as I could before eventually getting to my feet and running the last distance into the woods, through a wall that had probably never existed.
It was then I stopped to look back at where I had come from. When I saw it, my gasp was as audible as the voice of Dixon. “Yeah, not what I expected either.”