autumn, that's when I can't help but remember. It seems like a long time
ago now, so very long. It wasn't really, seven years, what's that. Not
even a full decade.
3rd, 1994, I ran away from home. I got on a Greyhound bus from my hometown
of Greensville and it felt like I floated on clouds to Northton. That
trip will forever stand out as the best bus trip anyone ever experienced.
I still can't articulate why I left. The events I remember, the feelings
I remember, I even remember the moment I decided to run, run far, as far
away as I was able. It's the why that I don't have, I didn't have it then
properly begins with Jeremy. A boy, how else could it have begun? We met
in the halls of Hillsdale High School, early November of 1993. He was
a junior, I a freshman. He was in a band, everyone in Greensville is,
but his was known, in school at least. My world was small then. He loomed
large, everyone knew him. He had this air, this atmosphere of palatable
coolness that followed him where ever he went. I was a nobody, worse than
a nobody, I was somebody who people knew and hated. It hurt. It still
hurts. That day, that day that changed my life and set into the motion
the events that followed. It was the best I had ever experienced in my
short sheltered life.
A note folded in a complex pattern. A note with a sun sketched on the
outside. Inside, an invitation. A phone number. A call made hurriedly
after school. A date planned for the next morning.
We met at Bongo Java, the local coffeehouse. He had ginger-peach tea,
I had a mocha. He moved among the tables with a confidence and a panache
I could never hope to have. Then, he stopped. He sat by me. A spell. No
spell could ever be as powerful as the meeting of two humans who have,
without knowing it, needed each other. Needed each other from a deep and
primitive part of their psyches. I can only speak for myself, but the
moment he sat down next to me it was like I was swept into my own version
of Narnia, before the coming of the witch, before the dreadful sacrifice
and resurrection of the lion. Magic, wonder, a whirlwind.
No mere physical description could do him justice. He was beautiful. Beautiful
in a way that men rarely are. Masculine to the core, yet exuding a certain
impishness, a certain playfulness. His hair was only brown, worn in a
bob, always with one of those ski hats that were ubiquitous in the early
nineties. Sensuous lips, deep-set eyes. Strong arms and a broad chest.
Not ostentatious in his beauty, but quiet, in the background.
We walked that day, as we were to walk many times over the next few months.
Greensville never held more beauty for or received more reverence from
any couple. I had been in love before, sweet, affectionate, puppy love.
I had never imagined that anything could be like this. We exchanged our
stories, revealed our lives, and at the end of it, we knew that all of
our lives had somehow been building to this point. At least, I did. As
we walked that day, I walked away from myself, from my friends, from my
life. And I walked straight into his.
Passion. Passion is word that has been destroyed through excessive use.
Passion. I was not a virgin when I first met Jeremy, at least I didn't
think I was. After that day, the day we met, there could be no doubt.
Sex, awe-inspiring, incredible. Never, never, in my most private fantasies
or in my deepest hopes, had I ever imagined a thing like this could exist.
But it did.
Months went by. Dreamy, blissful months.
Things were bad at home, they had been for years. When I was an
infant, a baby, my parents divorced. I was born in just the right era
for just the wrong custody agreement. Joint Physical Custody. Back and
forth, back and forth, back and forth. Years on end of back and forth.
When I was twelve and in the sixth grade I quit. Eventually, I was only
seeing my mother for lunch every month or so. At my father's house things
were miserable. My step mother and I argued and fought like dogs trapped
together in too small a cage. My father was lost, he had no idea how to
control his wife, his daughter, and the rage that dominated their thoughts
and actions. So he did nothing. When I was thirteen and in the seventh
grade I ran away for the first time. I moved to my mother's house.
After a night of terrible fighting between my stepmother, my father, and
myself, I walked into school and had the guidance councilor call my mother.
It took three hours, long enough for my mother to fetch me from school
and get me to her house, before I knew the terrible mistake I had made.
Class. Social class. Class was the fundamental problem. My father and
step mother held masters degrees. Read, listened to NPR, were practiced
in the subdued behavior required of the educated class. Without knowing
it, without realizing, I had picked up the habits, mannerisms, and attitudes
of an upper middle class youth. I was an angry, difficult child, but one
firmly grounded in her class.
Fracture. Loud, rude, racist, no books, no appreciation for my love of
reading and knowledge. Never realized there were other ways. Other people.
Now, then, there at my mother's house, at my mother's house, with my loud
sisters and their large hair, the dog chained outside. Barking, barking.
Saturday nights at Pizza Hut, Sunday mornings in an evangelical church.
Horror. Shock. Pain. Pain of realizing one has no ability to relate to
All I remember is pain. Terrible, terrible pain. She tried. My mother
took me to the library and let me read as much as I wanted. She tried
to behave in the way that I believed, naively, adults ought. Whatever
knowledge may be communicated in the nation's graduate schools and elite
undergraduate institutions pales before their primary task of training
the upper class. She did not have that training. She could not measure
up. And I, I was only a child. I didn't know or understand that what I
was facing was one of the primary divisions in this nation. All I knew
was that the noise, the food, the dialect, they were wrong. This was not
me. Not me. Anything in the world would be better than this.
I have little memory of how I got back to father's house, my imagined
haven of quiet and calm and culture. Images. Images of a black trash bag
with yellow strings. My belongings angrily tossed into it. Crying, so
much crying, worse than any funeral. Hurt. I hurt my mother. But inside
I was numb. Numb to her pain. Dedicated to my own needs. My need to be
back in Greensville, back in my social class. I needed to walk along my
father's tiled floors, touch the piano. Touch the textured walls of our
beautiful old home. Walk in the garden, run my hands along the bookshelf.
The bookshelf filled with textbooks from my father's college days. The
bookshelves stuffed with what I suspected were all the books anyone could
ever hope to have or to read.
Eighth grade. Few memories. Few friends. Few joys. Who knows how I got
through that year. One hellish day at a time. Slowly, slowly, moving slowly.
The bang of lockers, the smell of junior high, a mixture of clean laundry,
dirty lockers, and solvents used in vain by tired janitors. At school,
everything was awful. Everything. Classes were a punishment to be endured.
I don't recall any real friendships. A few moments, ones that I can barely
remember stick out. I was in a play? Which one? A stage, makeup, singing.
Lights. Little else, but I must have been happy then. Surely, surely the
year can not have been as bad as I remember.
It's a painful irony when a major character is reduced to an archetype.
Yet, there is no other choice. Aaron. Aaron and I met in the seventh grade
and he stood faithfully by me for two and half years. Both my parents
loved him. I loved him. Stable. Sturdy. A calming influence on my life.
Whatever else was going on there was always Aaron in those days. We laughed
and made silly jokes, ended our nightly phone conversations with 'forever
and always.' Innocent Aaron. His was not to stand between me and my volatile
nature. He tried. He tried to calm me, to control me for my own good.
No one ever succeeded in that. Least of all a kindhearted young man, drawn
into my web of chaos and confusion. Nonetheless, from the seventh grade
through the beginning of the ninth, he was always there, in the background
of my life. Without him, who knows what would have happened. Things can
always get worse.
The summer between eighth and ninth grades stands alone. The summer of
green trees and bright flowers. Driving here and there with Aaron. Picnics
in the sun, kisses under the stars. Yet, there, right there in the middle
of that idyllic summer was the beginning of the end. New friends, older.
The story is timeless, a universal story of troubled youth running with
the wrong crowd. Pot. A rigged soda can in a state park. Marihuana and
I got along like butter on bread. Still, not too much. Experimentation.
Not too late. Control. I could control this thing, this new thing in my
life. This fabulous wonderful thing. Aaron stood by as I moved away, further
and further away.
Ninth grade started with all the excitement due the beginning of high
school. Geeky friends, friends who played role playing games with all
the seriousness of Winston Churchill during World War Two. Who cared,
they were friends. Afternoons at Taco Bell, evenings in a bedroom darkened
by foil over the windows, intent young men playing for keeps. No climb
in social status was ever smaller, or more appreciated. A certain sense
of place and time came over me. I was in high school. I had friends who
went to high school with me. Who cared if we weren't going to win any
popularity contests. Popularity was out of my reach anyway. Things continued.
It was bad, I couldn't keep up socializing. I didn't have the knack for
it, I lived in constant fear that everyone would hate me. That no one
really wanted to be my friend. No confidence, none at all. The constant
fear wore me down, I withdrew. Solitude was mine again. Except for Aaron,
What drew Jeremy to me, what made him select me, me out of all the girls
in school? What made him drawn to me? Later he would tell me it was my
awkwardness, my fear of the adolescent society into which we all are thrown.
At the time, I had no idea. From outside of my pain and my fear and my
ineptness, the note fell. My world changed forever.
There were two separate, yet intertwined aspects of my relationship with
Jeremy. The first is the story of our romance, of our blinding flash of
understanding and acceptance of each other and what it would lead to.
The second is the social aspect. I was Jeremy's girlfriend. I was no longer
a graceless and unliked freshman. I was Jeremy's girlfriend. There was
a point when I could walk into any establishment where teenagers congregated
and have the room fall silent. Power, power that changed me. Power that
taught me not to fear. A magic feather was Jeremy, or was he a magician
holding the strings of a marionette who danced for his pleasure? No matter.
It was heady and intoxicating.
From the beginning I knew it would end. Nothing like this can be sustained
in the real world. In the actual world where we all must ultimately arrive.
No way, no how. I resolved to enjoy the time we would have. Never to forget
it. Never to let it go.
the proverbial ax fell I was not ready, unwilling to give him and my new
self up. Red, flashes of red before my eyes. Another note, also certain
to change my life. No complex pattern, no cheery sun. An end. It was over.
could capture the chest constricting feeling, the physicality of it that
left me gasping for breath, as though I had been punched hard in the stomach.
The desire for all to be better, for this end never to have happened.
I would have done anything to have him back. Anything. He could have asked
me to do anything for him, and I would have, content merely to bask in
his presence. Yet, it was not to be.
of events are broken and jumbled. Out of order, out of reach. The next
clear memory I have is of fucking Fred, a graffiti artist. After that
I think I would have fucked anyone, I didn't care. I had relationships
devoid of meaning, I had lost Aaron, yet there always seemed to be some
man . . . some boy waiting to pick up the pieces, to join me in my bed
and my pain for a time. And I was always willing.
Things were worse than ever at home, I had run away again while I was
with Jeremy. I lived for two weeks in the sub-basement of his father's
condominium. Yet, the joy of being with him overshadowed everything. It
overshadowed the anger of my father over this new turn of events, he hated
Jeremy, hated everything about him. It overshadowed my interlude with
my mother, again I had run to her, run to her when I heard her begging
Jeremy to tell where I was. Mistake, worse than last time. She pulled
me out of school, put me in a private Christian school. Still, I laughed
then, and now, at the experience. I was expelled for reading an Anne Rice
book, The Witching Hour. My mother moved to me to a public school closer
to her house. I slit my wrists with a soda can in the girls rest room.
I walked into the office, walked in trailing blood from my fresh cuts,
and said, "I seem to have a problem." Back with my father in
Greensville, at a mental hospital. Long wait, I told them that my mother
had held me against my will and all I wanted was to be back with my father.
They deemed me sane. Walking out was awful. My mother in hysterics in
the waiting room. My step father's accusing look. What did I care, I was
back at home.
After Jeremy, After Jeremy. After Jeremy was when my life fell to little
bits, like confetti around me. Nights at a park, a park behind my elementary
school. Nights drinking gin, nights on LSD, nights when getting stoned
qualified as sobering up. And sex. Again sex. Always sex. I was fifteen
by then, fifteen year old girls have no trouble finding eager partners.
Wandering around Greensville, wandering trying to recapture the wonder
it had held. All I could see were memories. Places Jeremy had shown me,
places we had been, places we could have gone. So I drank, I tripped,
I smoked, and I fucked. All to numb myself.
A spark, a flirtation. Another, damaged as much as I. Playfulness in the
park, a glance, a wink . . . again an overwrought feeling of hope. It
was not to be what I had longed for. When men are damaged, damaged utterly
and completely, they don't dissolve, they don't get lost in themselves
and their pain, at least this one didn't. But how could I know? I was
again blinded by his status, a drug dealer, well known, respected. When
Jeremy showed up at the park one night, I should have known. I should
have listened to him. He warned me. He warned me of what was to come.
Idiot, I never listened to anyone, and I learned all my lessons the hard
When my parent's guest house burned down the final countdown to my exit
began. I had lived there since I was thirteen. Jeremy and I, Aaron and
I, all had had many long sensuous nights there. I loved that place, decorated
simply, a wooden crate for a coffee table, an old sofa, vinyl, yet comfortable.
My cache of notes, all the notes Jeremy had ever written to me. My books
on the shelf. Gone. All gone. Except the books, books on a shelf don't
burn very well. Things had been coming together. I may have been with
a dangerous man, a man named Sasha, but he still provided me with the
stability I so desperately needed.
Tenth grade had started. I managed to show up often, even knowing that
Jeremy was there, that everyone knew of our painful breakup and my terrible
depression. Nonetheless, I went. I was forming a drama club with a group
of friends. I was getting better. Had that little guest house not gone
up in flames, who knows what would have happened. I may even have managed
to get myself and my life back on track. I had been at the Daily Grind
again. Planning a drama club for the underclassmen with friends. Good
friends, calm and stable friends. They dropped me off at home at four
The windows, the windows were wrong. All wrong. So wrong. Not sure, uncertain.
A fire truck? I ran inside, oblivious to the fire inspector, my father,
the police officer. I began washing my windows. I was certain, absolutely
certain, the only thing wrong was the windows. They needed washing. Anyone
could see that. They were covered in soot. After that, everything goes
I moved in with Sasha, his sister, and her eight months old son. At first
things were okay, I went to school, work, lived a normal life. Normal
being a relative term. Things started to go bad between Sasha and I. A
slap, a shake, a night with cocaine and guns and the baby awake. Insanity.
A gun on the table and an infant crawling on the floor. Money. Stacks
of old twenties, carefully smoothed and counted. A morning. Sasha came
home and passed out. Terry, his sister, and I were worried. He began throwing
up blood. We hid everything. All the bongs went in the closets, the mirrors
were returned to the walls, the pills stashed in the couch. Sasha's friend,
Joseph, discouraged us. But we were all scared. Terrified of Sasha's apparent
impending death. The house clean, Joseph and I left and Terry called an
Who knows what happened after that. The true story. Joseph and I spent
the day at Perkins, ordering cup after cup of coffee. Shaking, brought
together in our fear of what might have been transpiring behind us. I
don't remember clearly what happened after that. We went back to the apartment
at some point. Sasha had been arrested. Then released. I was alone. Terry
and the baby had gone to a friend's, Joseph had gone home. It was only
me. Then it was me and Sasha. A punch. An enraged male. Dangerous creatures.
A lamp went through a wall. A fist followed. He hit me, over and over
he hit me. He hit me until I lay on the floor, crumpled like a piece of
scrap paper. I don't know if I called the police or if someone else did.
Perhaps, Joseph called? I really don't know. But they came, they came
and they took him away. I went home with Joseph.
There is no need to describe what happened next. A hurt and scared girl,
a strong and protective man. Nothing needs to be said. It happened. It
was virtually inevitable.
Before the hell started, before the fear began, I had told Terry that
I wanted to runaway, runaway and start over. She is the only one I told.
That weekend. That weekend was to be my last in Greensville. Friday night
I was beaten. Saturday I stayed close to Joseph while Sasha, out yet again,
tailed me around a mall. Then Joseph, off work, new cloths bought. A gun,
did Sasha have a gun? I don't know. It seemed at the time he did. He owned
one, what was to stop him from using it on me. I stayed close to Joseph
for his protection and his warmth.
That night, Saturday night, Sasha showed up at Joseph's. He begged, begged
me to come back to him. He promised all would be better. I told him no,
he cried, he got down on his knees and cried at my feet. I told him no,
I told him I wanted to escape. Escape from Greensville, from my life,
from myself. He offered to drive me anywhere. Anywhere at all, all in
his little Nissan. A car whose only working brake was the hand brake.
I had doubts, both about the car's mechanical integrity, and the wisdom
of running off in a car. Cars can be traced, cars have license plates.
No. I said no over and over again. Finally, I guess he left.
I remember waking up. I remember a child at Joseph's. A family gathering.
Young, old, there was food. The kind of food women make for families.
He lived with his grandfather. I should not have been surprised. The decision
was made, I was leaving. Joseph, a nineteen year old with nowhere much
to go and no real future would accompany me. We walked. We visited drum
circle, a regular social event that we had both attended many times, but
neither of us breathed a word. McDonalds, we ate. I had $121 dollars,
I have no idea how much he had.
We trekked to the bus station. We bought our tickets. I chose Cincinnati
because I had loved looking at the houses when driving through it as a
child. They were beautiful, slums, but beautiful ones. A lightness came
over me. I was flying. The wait for the bus left me gripped with fear.
I contemplated. Was this the right move? Was I doing the right thing?
Would I regret this? Would I go crawling home to my parents? I was determined,
even if I didn't know why, didn't know how, this would make me a better
person, this was my destiny. This was the only option left to me. Joseph
enjoyed a hot dog. I think it was a game to him. I don't think he had
any notion that I was deadly serious and that I would see this through
to its end, no matter what.
The bus trip was heaven. At the end of it, Joseph and I found ourselves
in a large and empty bus station, in the middle of downtown Northton on
a cold October night. Drunks, old dirty drunks sat in the bus station.
Rising fear, a quick suppression, a skill I was to become an adept at.
Wonder, amazement. I had done it, truly done it. We hung around the bus
station for a while. When morning began to arrive we hailed a cab.
not a religious person. I do not believe in God or angels or other supernatural
interventions . . . yet, the cab driver. The cab driver must have been
an angel. He must have been sent from God. A loving and kind God. He recognized
us for what we were. Two lost and scared teenagers, teenagers who had
just runaway from home. I don't know how he knew, in my haste I had not
brought anything. Joseph had only brought a backpack. Yet, the cab driver
knew. He knew and he accepted. Another Perkins. He bought us breakfast
and left us off in the right part of town. The part of town you want to
be in if you are run away, the part that you don't want to be in if you
to Runaway Lives: Stories