the soundtrack of my life part I
My evening has been one alfred hitchock movie after another -- literally. It seems to be alfie day on turner classic movies. Perhaps it is fitting, as my past life seems to be a classic movie of sorts.
The second time she ran away was in direct response to a beating. What kind of mother catches her 13 year old coming out of the shower and beats her with a ping pong paddle bare-assed. Well, it was typical for her mother...when she wasn't verbally abusing, that is.
This time she planned it better, packed some clothes and some food in a bag, and headed for a freeway entrance. She wasn't sticking around this town. She would go to New York. Everyone who ran away went to New York -- that's what they did on television, in books.
Didn't much matter that she knew so little about US geography that she had only a vague idea that New York was on the 'other side.' Didn't matter that she didn't realize that she'd have to go through some long stretches of freeway in the middle of nowhere to get there. Or that it could take weeks to get there by hitching.
So when the bug went came her way, she stuck out her thumb, and he stopped and picked her up. It was some dude in his 20's, long hair, long beard. He saw her for the runaway she was and started talking to her. Told her he had a friend, and asked if she wanted to stop somewhere and talk about his friend.
She thought he meant he had a friend she could stay with, so she said yeah, sure. He pulled off the highway and drove to a park he mentioned that was close to the on-ramp. They stopped on the side of the road under the shade of the big trees, and he started talking.
He talked for a long time, asking her questions about her life at first, then sharing with her about how great his friend was, how cool he was. He talked for a good half hour or more, at least it seemed so. His voice was low and non-threatening, and she could hear the sounds of kids playing in the park in the background. The sun would peek through the trees when the wind rustled the branches.
And then, he said it...the name of his friend. Jesus. He was talking about jesus. What the fuck?! She had thought she was going to have someplace to stay, and he's talking about accepting Jesus as her saviour. He was a fucking hippy jesus freak. And she couldn't believe she'd just wasted an afternoon with this dude, time that could have been spent getting out of town. So when he asked her if she wanted to hear more, or be taken back to the freeway, she chose the freeway. And he seemed disgusted, angry with her, but he took her back.
But it wasn't as easy to get a ride this time. It was getting later in the afternoon, and the shine began to fade on this little foray into the world. She decided to back-track to the park and hang out there instead and left the freeway entrance.
The park was still full of kids of all ages when she walked into it, found a picnic table, and sat on the bench. What she didn't know, and what had never occurred to her, was that she probably shouldn't have been in this particular park in this particular part of town. Not because she wasn't safe, but because she didn't quite fit in with the kids there.
In her town in the early 70's, there was one area in particular where the black kids lived. They didn't go much out of their neighborhood, and white kids didn't go into the black neighborhood. It just didn't happen. But she'd never thought much about color living in a white neighborhood, and it didn't occur to her that she shouldn't be in this neighborhood.
She didn't feel out of place, or unwelcome exactly, while she was hanging there. Well, she felt out of place, like she didn't belong, no matter where she went or who she was with. She always felt as though she were on the outside of something looking in. She always wanted to feel invited to come in, but never was. So it would be more accurate to say that she didn't feel anymore out of place in that neighborhood than she did at any other time or place.
And so the sun faded and slowly fell out of the sky, and with it, much cooler air than she'd anticipated. The kids began to go home, and quiet settled over the park, except for a small group of teen boys who seemed quite fascinated by the fact that she intended to stick around for the night.
But eventually, even they left, and she was alone in the dark. Not completely dark, as there were streetlights and a few park lights. But she was always afraid of the dark, of someone coming up from behind, so she looked into the fringes of the park, the rocks and trees, to find a spot to try to sleep. She found a concave of rocks that she could put her back up against, curled up into a ball, and tried to sleep.
But it was just a bit too chilly for a barefoot girl, and she dug into her bag for a light jacket, and a towel that she wrapped around her feet to keep them warm, and tried to sleep. She lay awake though, listening to the sounds of the night, for hours, finally dozing off just before dawn.
She awoke to some of yesterday's kids standing over her talking, the sun high and getting warmer. They were surprised to see her still there, but included her in whatever they were doing. She'd brought a few cans of food with her, had eaten cold pork and beans the night before, and a can of fruit this morning. She still didn't have a penny to her name -- her mother didn't give her money, and she didn't exactly have a job at 12.
She hung out most of the day, the freeway hitching to new york a distant memory at this point. Why not just hang out here, she thought. Toward the end of the day, an older guy starting talking her up. Older was probably mid to late 20's, but she was 13 -- in her mind, he was old. She thought at first he was picking her up, 'cause guys did that all the time. He was telling her she could come back to his place and stay instead of sleeping in the park.
She thought he was old though, so she said no thanks. Then he mentioned his wife and girls, and that they'd be happy to have her stay, she could sleep on the couch. She still said no, so he gave her directions to his house just in case she changed her mind. Just ask for Shook, he said.
And later that night, as the temperature dipped a bit lower than the night before, she did change her mind and decided it wouldn't hurt to walk down the street and see where he lived. She found the house, saw the two little girls he'd mentioned, but there was some other girl there, a teenager it looked like. The dude wasn't there. She didn't want to knock on the door and ask for Shook, what if it was the wrong house.
And so it happened that she was standing on the porch when he and his wife drove up to the house. They had been out, had a few too many, and he didn't recognize her at first. It was about as awkward as it could be, and she was just saying never mind, it wasn't anything, I'll go back to the park, when he realized who she was and invited her in.
She stood in silence of their home, sitting on the sofa when she was invited to. The embarrassing awkwardness continued as he took the babysitter home, leaving her alone with the wife. The woman was kind, but she seemed not to have been as keen on having a runaway white girl in their home.
It was only years later, as an adult, that she could see why the woman might not have wanted her there...it would have meant serious trouble if the cops had found her in their home. You see, it was not only against the law to run away, it was against the law to harbour a runaway. And the whole race issue could have made things much worse for them. They really risked a lot, letting her stay overnight.
She spent the night on their sofa, and had jimmy deans sausage patties in the morning with the girls. The dad talked to her, obviously trying to get the story on why she'd run away. Do your parents beat you, he asked. She couldn't really tell him what was going on, so she just said no and shrugged her shoulders. She figured he probably thought she was some whiny white girl who didn't know what it meant to have a rough life. But she couldn't tell him, couldn't put it into words.
Not surprisingly, he talked her into calling her mother and telling her where she was. Her mother always had 'problems' with black people (think growing up white in a rural, racist south), so it must have been something for her to drive into 'that neighborhood' as she called it later, to pick her up. Why did you pick 'that neighborhood' of all places, her mother would say. Which only made her hate her mother even more, 'cause 'those people' in 'that neighborhood' had been really nice to her.
But pick her up she did, and home they went. She never saw Shook or his family again. Things with her mother continued to go downhill, but after that day, her mother never again physically assaulted her. Well, except for the backhand across the face...but that was another story, for another day.
A few songs from 1973:
Killing me softly with his song -- Roberta Flack
D'yer ma'ker -- Led Zeppelin
Break up to make up - the Stylistics
Hello it's me - Todd Rundgren (on the midnight special no less)
Love's theme -- Love Unlimited Orchestra (and Barry White)
I'd better stop there, or this post will go on forever.