Friday, April 25, 2008

the soundtrack of my life, part I

She woke in one of those cold, clammy sweats. The kind when your body breaks into hard shivers when you throw back the covers and the cool air hits the sheen of sweat. She didn't usually get those kinds of violent chills unless she was getting sick.

This didn't bode well for the day. She was putting in a third full day during spring break, grading papers, making study guides, and writing final exams in an attempt to stay ever-so-slightly ahead of the game.

As she woke, the vaguest trace memories of her dreams were still wispies in her brain. She was remembering a girl from her time at a juvenile facility when she was about 15. This girl wasn't a friend, or anyone who even figured remotely in her life at what was a cross between a detention center and a very large group home. The Good Shepherd Home.

But what she was remembering was that this girl, a few years younger than herself, would skip around singing commercial jingles all the time.

Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and chevrolet.

My dog's better 'cause he eats kennel ration, my dog's better than yours.

I am stuck on bandaid brand 'cause bandaid's stuck on me.

(Meg Ryan sung that last one in City of Angels, I think when she was doing surgery on Mr. Messenger, the Dennis Franz character.)

What an odd memory to come into her head and take up residence. But there it was. The girl who skipped and sang jingles.

She began thinking back to all the places she stayed over about a three year period, from age 12 to 15. Places she was forced to stay, because she'd broken the law.

Oh, she wasn't a bad kid. An angry kid, sure. I mean, you can only live in chaos and instability for so long, be told how worthless you are for so long, be smacked around for so long, before you get really angry. And it showed, in her face, her body language. She didn't even know how to smile, and refused to cry, so she always looked like she wanted to hurt someone.

The only person she ever hurt, though, was herself. Self-destructive behavior, it's called. Played out inwardly, instead of being perpetrated upon others. That explained the drinking, and the casual sex. But those things didn't get her put in those juvenile facilities.

Running away from the home life that sucked monkey balls...that was what put her in that place. Back in the early 70's, it was against the law to run away, at least in her state. And if you got picked up by the cops for being a runaway, you had to go to court.

And if your parents told the judge that you were incorrigible, that they couldn't deal with you anymore, that they were throwing up their hands in defeat -- well, then the judge would declare you a ward of the court and put you into a facility somewhere. Didn't matter if the parents were what you were running away from.

Ironic, isn’t it.

But she was getting ahead of herself.

The first time she ran away was in 1972. She was 12 years old. She hadn’t planned anything, but it had been a particularly bad day and she snuck out her bedroom window that night and walked away from the house. She figured she would just hang out until it got late, then head for a laundromat in the area and sleep on a bench there till morning.

Much to her surprise, just as she was dozing off on the bench, someone came in and woke her up and told her to leave, they were closing. But I thought this was open all night, she said. It used to be, he replied. Now we close from 2 am to 6. Because too many people were sleeping here.

Oh. Duh.

She shuffled outside into the frigid air of a January in Washington State, walked around, hung out alone for an hour or so. It wasn’t like she had friends she could stay with. The few friends she did have...well, their moms all knew her mom would make life hell if they let her stay.

It was all of 10 degrees outside that night, with snow on the ground. She hadn’t really dressed boots, no gloves, no hat. Her toes were completely numb and she actually thought she felt them cracking. Despite the numbness, it hurt like fucking hell. When she could take it no longer, she walked back home and snuck back into her bedroom. No one even knew she'd been gone.

For the rest of her life, when she was in the cold too long and her toes got numb, they would crack painfully, just like they did that night.

Summer would be a better time to get the hell out of here, she thought. And next time, she’d plan better, pack some things, take some food...

(Stairway to Heaven, number 1 in 1972; it's a long version, 10 minutes)


fellahere said...

It seems that all the runaways I remember from my mid teens were girls. My oldest sister stole my brother's car and went to cali in the late sixties. Cold weather IS a bad time to split: she cracked the engine block and hitched the rest of the way. It was one of the most collectible cars in history, by the way, but I better not give that info out.

word verification: hairexy

Sen said...

I sit here, slack-jawed, knowing I could never come close to writing the way you do, and anything I could comment would be... unnecessary, useless.

This is why I didn't comment there... but I'm not risking that again. You are way, way too good to lose, and I get that without comments, you wonder... why bother.

Spring said...

I wonder if all the runaways were girls, or if girls had a tougher time finding places to stay and their parents called them into the cops more often. You know, that whole 'boys can make it on their own' thing.

Sen, that's pretty much what I think when I read other people's blogs...that I wish I could write like they do but don't think I'll ever get close to it. :)

It's nice to get comments, but over there too many of the comments were judgmental -- or at least, I perceived them that way.