Let’s start in teenage years, right before things really started getting crazy. Since it is another story for another time, here’s a small amount of background:
I was in a ‘Christian’ home for troubled teens. I was dumped off at this home because I had run away from my family. This home, shockingly, was far worse. But that’s a story for another time; let’s fast forward.
One Friday night while at this home, a few of the girls and I were to receive a special treat: We were going to the owner’s house to help her knit and watch a MOVIE. Like, a real, on a screen movie. The owner, Trish, did not particularly like me as I had previously run away from the school and had kept a close eye on me since. In this picture, I had just been brought back from my first escape attempt and had been so viciously punished, I had decided to try again at the earliest viable opportunity. After weeks of waiting for the perfect opportunity to run again, I had everything carefully planned out. We were sent upstairs to change out of school clothes into our prison-style uniforms, with the school insignia emblazoned across the chest and down the leg. Good thing, I thought to myself, very few people know what this is. It was October and my skinny fourteen year old body didn’t fit into many clothes well; I was always drowning in them. Seizing the opportunity, I grabbed three sets of long underwear and packed them on under my uniform. Four pairs of socks made my feet look like pillows, but I quickly stuffed them into the warmest shoes I had. It was go time.
The school was located nearly an hour away from town, so I knew from watching other girls attempt to run away and carefully gauging the distance that it would be fruitless to escape directly from the campus. The most important thing, I told myself, was to wait until we were in town and I could move through the small city undetected. Last time I had made a run for it, I had jumped out of the van while we were on our way back to the school; this time I knew I needed more of a head start. One of the girls, Sara, knew what I was planning to do and had asked to come with me. I had told her yes but she had to be ready to take care of herself. We both fidgeted nervously in the back, clanking out knitting needles together. We rolled into the residential side of town, what my mom always referred to as ‘slabtown’, with the houses and trees in perfect blocks and rows and pulled into the drive of Trish’s house. The girls were actually in decent spirits at the news of this treat and pulled their shoes off quickly, leaving them just inside the house. I lagged behind as much as I could without raising suspicion and left my shoes just outside the door, below the stoop and out of sight. No going back; they would know I was up to something if they noticed.
Another part of this treat was dinner; we were allowed to eat as much as we wanted! Usually we were required to eat 2/3 of what was on our plate, no more, and were watched to make sure we wouldn’t make ourselves throw up after, but this time, I stuffed myself silly. I hid rolls in my clothes whenever no one was looking. My partner in crime barely ate. In fact, she looked pretty pale and sick. Nerves, I thought.
The girls sat down in the living room to start the movie and knitting session. I joined them. After roughly 45 minutes, as they were fully engaged in the movie, I asked permission to use the bathroom and slipped out of the room. Trish barely looked at me. I gestured from the hall to Sara and she carefully crept over, eyes wide and fearful. The look on her pinched face told me that my runaway party had just turned into a solo expedition. She hugged me and wished me good luck, reminding me to contact her family and tell them what was going on at the school. It was time. I slipped into the bathroom and locked the door. Carefully sliding the window open, I ungracefully clambered onto a low outcropping of roof and dropped into a bush by the drive. Apparently bushes are not soft, fluffy cushions to fall into as I had been led to believe by the television of earlier days, and this one had thorns I had failed to notice before. Had I not been so heavily padded in clothing, it probably would have been more than a few scratches. Crawling out of the bush, I snuck around the house to the stoop where I had stowed my shoes, grabbed them and ran in my little Michelin man feet until I was several blocks away. Ducking behind a bush to put them on, I breathed in the cold Michigan air and whooped. It was a pretty sad celebration going from a dysfunctional home for teen girls to the streets on a cold fall night, but at that point, I took what I could get. I began to run.
For the sake of time, let’s fast forward two days. I was bone cold and ravenous. After a day or so of asking people for payphone change at the local hospital for money, security had gotten suspicious about the young girl (mind you, I looked like I was ten) in the dirty sweats. I had to give up, but not without trying to save myself from going back to that school. I moved only at night, cutting through yards and on back roads since I knew the cops were out in full force looking for me; my small hometown didn’t see runaways often and took them seriously. I decided to appeal to my one friend for help.
My friend lived a couple miles from my current location so I began dodging across town in the dark towards her house. Dark had just fallen and I was beginning to feel comfortable cutting through properties to avoid traffic and the occasional trolling cop. As I ducked along someone’s front porch, I heard a voice say “Who’s there?”. I slid away from his porch onto the next yard. As I approached the back of the yard, I heard footfalls and turned around just in time for this guy to take me to the ground. As soon as I was able to free my foot, I kicked him in the groin and bit down on his fingers. His grip faltered for a moment and I tore free, running like my little cross country legs had never run before. I tore down a street, around a corner and down a sidewalk with the man in hot pursuit. After a sharp turn around a corner I spotted a backyard storage shed and dove behind it, trying to silence my heavy breathing. I heard him round the corner and then his footfalls faded. Anxious to move along and reach my destination, I waited only a minute before creeping out from behind the shed. The man hadn’t left; he had just been standing there and had just turned to go home. He lunged for me again and I danced back, shouting at him.
Me: Leave me alone!
Man: What are you doing skulking around my house? What did you do?
Me: I was just trying to get to my friend’s house. I’m really worried about her. Don’t chase me!
Man: No you weren’t. You’re sneaking around. You’re up to something.
Me: I don’t have permission to be out! I don’t want my parents finding me. (amazing how truth seemed important in that moment)
Man: well….stay away from my property.
And then he jogged away. I was scot-free again.
Let’s call my friend Nora. Nora lived in slabtown as well, so by 10pm, I had arrived, dirty, tired and hungry, at her house. She was sitting on the porch swing with a boy and they were talking quietly. “NORA!” I strode into the drive and towards the porch. Nora was having a lot of trouble herself and had recently discovered alcohol. Truth be told, my intense worry for her was a part of the reason I had run away. She looked at me, standing up in surprise.
Nora: Sammy! The cops are looking for you. Everyone is looking for you. Are you ok?
Me: Are you ok? I worried about you while I was in there.
Nora: I’m FINE. Why don’t you come inside the house and we can talk?
Me: I’m fine out here. You’ll call the cops.
I knew better than to trust someone by walking into their house and at this point in my life, I knew there WAS no one to trust. Runaway Attempt #2 had already taught me that people would lie and cheat and coax to get me to ‘surrender’, and my trust in this girl had already been shattered after Runaway Attempt #1. What I hadn’t realized was that my mom, on a strong hunch I would come to check on my friend, was sitting in her car across the street, watching, unbeknownst even to my friend or her single mother. While we were talking, she had placed a call to the police, who advised her to remain hidden until they were able to detain me. Unfortunately, she also placed a call to my dad (let’s call him Jim), and he was much less patient.
He arrived at almost the same time as the police. The cop rolled down his window.
Cop: Samantha, we need to bring you home.
At this point I was beginning to realize I was surrounded. I could probably get away if I fled right then and there, but part of my soul was exhausted. I was too heartbroken to run; I just didn’t care enough, but I wasn’t about to let them know. The following conversation had me spitting out the most creative uses of swearwords in the book to demonstrate my rage. This is the gist of it:
Me: F*** no. You’re going to make me go back to that place. Do you know what they do to people there?
Cop: No we won’t we just want to talk. Why don’t you get in the car?
Me: You can suck it. I’m not going. I won’t. They said they wouldn’t make me go back last time.
My dad pulled into the drive, leaving the car at rest with its high beams blasting on me.
Dad: Get in the car.
Me: You f****** stupid f***. You’re a liar. I’m not going.
At this point I was sobbing so hard that I was pretty much choking on my own snot. It has become of those moments I recall to make myself feel better about whatever embarassing thing I just did. Anyways, I threw somethings, screamed obscenities and otherwise make my complete panic look as if I was ready to lodge a hatchet in anyone. Then Nora’s mother came out. There was something about this woman that I loved and adored. She loved fiercely and cared for me in ways she never should have. Something about her speaking kindly to me, the only person not treating me like a rabid tiger, brought me to the ground. I was beaten.
The officer was generous enough not to cuff me. Ironically, this was his first appearance in what would become a strong ongoing relationship. He put me in the back of the cruiser and Sandra, my friend’s mother, came with us. She had seen me through another runaway attempt, and if there was no one else in the world I trusted, it was her. Her influence, however, was limited. She filled me in on the way to the station about what had happened since my disappearance.
It had taken Trish about 45 minutes to realize I was gone. She notified my parents and the police, but by then I had been tucked into my hiding spot for the night. The next day the police had come to question Sandra and Nora. While they were honest and upfront with the cops, my parents, convinced that Sandra was hiding me from them, insisted they open their home to be searched. Obviously, I wasn’t there, but it sure was a demonstration. No wonder my mom was staking the house out discreetly, I thought. Just like my folks to hate someone I was beginning to look up to.
We arrived at the police station and my parents, insulted that Sandra had come to support me, asked her to sit in the hall while I was placed in an interrogation room. They went into another. The cop came in and asked me what happened. By now it was 0200, and I was exhausted in every way. I didn’t say much to the cop; to me it didn’t matter. Adults only used information to hurt me from what I knew. Finally he released me, saying that usually a third count of running away was supposed to go on my record, but he seemed to realize that I was legitimately trying to escape something and let it go. My dad gave me a hug in the parking lot. I didn’t hug him back and asked if Sandra could come with us. Sandra, jumping on the opportunity, said she’d love to. At the time, I was too tired to notice how steamed my parents were about her coming, but off we went.
I don’t remember much more of that night. I remember my mom giving Sandra milk to put in her coffee. Even though I was starving, I didn’t eat. My parents bitterly explained that I had officially been kicked out of the home, and that I really wasn’t going back. I remember holding my golden retriever, Brooke, for the first time in months and finding more comfort in her fur than in anything else.
And then the next chapter began.