xposted to my journal
In March of 1982 I walked out of Mr. Cohrs' Social Studies class in the middle of a discussion about the Cold War and the Iron Curtain with the intention of Never. Coming. Back.
I felt queasy and blank. I had no plan, my impulsive nature simply took over and I asked to be excused to go to the restroom. I floated down the empty hallway past the secretary's office, dragging my fingertips across the green paper leprechaun stapled to the bulletin board. The border ridges clicked against my fingernails like a wind-up toy. I stopped for a moment at the water fountain and wandered into the girls lavatory soon after. I stared at my reflection for a long, quiet time. Then I turned, walked toard the door, and walked out into the chilly sunlight.
I walked and I walked and I walked. Hours.
I walked, plucking nervously at the chain-link fences as I cried. Through Dog Patch, past the sedate edges of The Country Club, around the tennis courts on MSU campus, and down into the more familiar rows of apartments and dirt roads. March packs quite a punch in Texas, and I was cold. My jacket, regrettably, was hanging on a hook in Mr. Cohrs' room. Somehow, my grandmother found me. She pulled up alongside me as I slogged through the muddier-by-the-minute path. I hopped in her car thinking this was an amazing coincidence, as it never occured to me that my absence would be noted.
I was recently eleven. Sort of a girl, but with the unfortunate side effects of emerging womanhood beneath my velour v-neck leisure wear. My primary occupations were getting John Coleman's attention and avoiding the hell out of my step-father, Rubin.
When I wan't coveting Kristi Rathgeber's Dexter Side Tops, I was tearing holes in my math homework from erasing so many mistakes. My mom was going through one of her Jesus freak times, and she was busy painting plaques quoting scripture, and making dinner a lot. This was a departure from her bar-fly identity, but she crawled between the two with regularity. When Rubin wasn't copping a feel in the hallway, or staring me down in the tub like a dog eyes gravy, he was fucking around on my mom with a really ugly woman named Wanda.
My mom had been married to Rubin for four years at that point and we were all kinds of lake trash. He was an apartment manager for a complex called Lakeview. Mama helped him run the show along with a handyman named Wayne. In addition to living in the same complex, Wayne and Rubin were in a bowling league together, and it played every Wednesday night. Wayne's daughter Bonnie and I would scrounge for quarters and play Bob Seger's "Night Moves" as often as we could afford it. We crawled along the baseboards and beneath the plastic booths in the concession stand like stringy haired children on crack, looking for a fix.
I had been denied all contact with my grandmother, aunts and uncles. My grandmother was manipulative, according to Rubin. Controlling. Best to stay away. I didn't really get on with the Lutherans at school. Skinny ass buck tooth Kaileen never tired of calling me fat. Rubin's parents were paying for me to go there and I never really fit in. Those folks at the school had too much horse sense and not enough beat-the-daylights-out-of-the-kids for my level of understanding in those days.
That's why Bonnie was my best pal. She was a year younger than me and went to public school. Her daddy Wayne beat her ass for everything up to and including getting out of the goddamned car when he was inside the bar having a drink. "Hold yer shittin' horses! I have to pay up!" She and I rollerskated over every inch of that complex together, from the cabana to the coke machine, past the scary dude in the townhouse down by the laundry room. When I told her I hated my step-dad she never asked why.
In the common language of children who are left undone by those who should protect them, we carved a space for eachother. She was beautiful and dark eyed, and skinny as a rail. We played in the dark long after nobody called us in. During Christmas break, I had an ear infection, the first of many to come, that raged on so far that my ear drum just burst one day from the pressure. "Say What?" I asked repeatedly; the world was behind glass for weeks after that. We scratched our names into the foil that covered her bedroom window along with words like "honky tonk" and "kissing"
My grandmother dutifully returned me to Lakeview apartments that afternoon. Before I got out of the car she told me to call her sometime, if I could. I'm sure that she spoke directly to my mom or step dad, but I have no recollection of it. All I remember is Rubin and Mama were in the pool room hanging yellow and white streamers for a tenant's wedding slated for that weekend. "WHY?" Is all I heard for hours. I plead ignorance until I was dizzy. I got the living shit beat out of me that night and school was no joke after that. Even third graders asked me "Hey, are you that girl who ran away?" I shrugged, I had no answers for anyone. "I guess so. I really just wanted to walk is all"
One night a few weeks later my mother woke me up to an empty apartment to tell me we were moving. I was still in pajamas as I walked through the rubble of our hastily emptied apartment out to the truck with its truckbed full of stuff. Rubin had embezzled some money from the apartment complex and wanted to run from it before he was caught. We drove past Bonnie's foil covered window and I never saw her or that window again. We were in Raton, Mew Mexico by daybreak-headed for the Colorado line. We stayed in a Holiday Inn for 2 nights until my mom turned him in by calling the apt owner to confess. We were about to leave for Denny's, but called him instead. I still remember Rubin shivering in the bathroom, snapping a pair of plastic ice tongs together while her voice floated through the darkness, calling out to family, and friends, calling out to the church. By the end of that school year, we would be divorcing Rubin and living with my grandmother. If memory serves, that was the last of Mama's Jesus freak phases for a few years. My menarche and a hideous perm were just around the corner for me, but like the moment before any big change, the future loomed out there somewhere in the distance. We still had a few miles of traveling before we burned off the last of those days. That was the night I first heard the word "restitution."
We headed back home.