I lay face down in the wet, decaying leaves and God knows what else underneath the trailer. I carefully controlled my heavy breathing; my body had ceased to shake from the cold. I knew I was hypothermic, but I had much more serious matters on my hands. I heard a car door slam and knew the cop had gotten out of his cruiser. Here we go.
I lay there in the Michigan blizzard under some random person’s trailer and watched the boots of the policeman following my prints in the snow, throwing his flashlight to each side as he carefully stepped. He came closer. ‘God’, I thought. ‘Don’t catch me. Please please please keep walking.’
The footsteps neared me and slowed by the trailer. I held my breath, suddenly realizing my barefoot prints in the snow had led him straight to me. Before diving for cover under the trailer, I had turned to continue running, so at least, I realized, my tracks didn’t make a direct line to where I lay. It felt like I lay there forever holding my breath as the policeman’s boots trod the snow three feet from my face. Finally, they turned around and started stepping away. Slowly, silently, I exhaled. The boots suddenly spun around and a face appeared under the trailer.
Cop: Ms. Galvas, get out from under the trailer.
Dang. Now what?! I’d been caught and brought back home so many times I felt like SOMETHING had to change. Weren’t people understanding I wasn’t crazy and that something was actually going on? I grumbled in response to him and dragged myself forward through the filth to get out from under the trailer. Not even bothering to shake the trash and dirt off my clothes, I straightened my frame.
The look of shock on the rookie’s face was apparent. I had been in the blizzard for several hours; he knew that. I guess he hadn’t known I was barefoot, clad only in a thin tee-shirt and torn sweatpants. I saw the thoughts flying around behind his eyes; he could see I’d been smacked around and my bluing hands and face. He didn’t cuff me. Blasting the heat up as high as it would go in the cruiser, he took his coat off and put it around my shoulders, putting me in the passenger’s seat. My numb mind noted the brotherly way he treated me; I had already dealt with many cops and none of them would ever have been this kind to me. I really much have looked wretched with rotting leaves and sticks poking out of my hair.
I don’t remember much of what was said as he drove me back to the house. I had only made it a few miles from the house along the highway, as every time I saw approaching headlights, I would dive into the snow bank until they faded again. As he pulled up the steep driveway, I saw at least three flashing cruisers in front of my parents’ home. A much more gruff cop who seemed to be my friendly rookie’s boss came to the window and talked to him. He explained he had already interviewed my parents and give me a disdainful look. Of course; they were so friendly and successful. No one would ever believe me compared to them. As the boss-man leaned through the driver’s window, the rookie turned to me with a fresh pad of yellow legal paper and asked me to tell him what happened.
I opened my mouth to tell him how screwed up my parents were, how they treated me behind closed doors and exactly just how cool I was. A sob came out. That wasn’t right! Then another, and another. I was sobbing hysterically. So much for communicating and playing it cool. Let’s rewind now that I’m not crying anymore.
The evening had started as usual. I think I was 15 years old and as shown in the picture (middle) I was incredibly uncomfortable and awkward from day to day. I wasn’t allowed a door to my room, personal belongings, books to read or phone access. Forget sitting at a computer. I was going mad from the isolation, so I had asked my mother if I could call a friend. I believe it was a Thursday or Friday night. They told me no; my friend was atheist and they said it would only make me more insane. I cracked and pushed and pleaded; if I didn’t talk to someone I felt like my mind would literally cross permanently into a psychotic break from all the stress. Things escalated quickly. I kept insisting and soon my father entered, challenging me about pressuring my mother to let me make the call. Talks turned to blows. I will not go into detail about what happened. For this chapter, it doesn’t matter. Not long after the blows, they pushed me into the corner while my dad made calls in another room. I angrily shoved something into the electrical sockets. I knew something terrible would happen, and I asked my mother for permission to use the bathroom. The bathroom had a small window about 1.5 floors up. I used the toilet, opened the window and sat on the ledge. Something even more terrible was going to come from those phone calls my father was making. I had to escape this madhouse. Looking down, I was dizzied by the fall. I sat there, hesitating. I realized I was risking broken bones and other injuries if I pushed off. Suddenly my mother threw the door open. Not seeing me, she screamed for my father to call the police. I hurled myself into the swirling blizzard in total panic.
I didn’t know where to go. My adrenaline was pumping too hard for me to worry about the cold. I had to call someone to come get me. I ran into the woods. Sprinting up a narrow stretch of trees, I hung a right and entered the next neighborhood. It was around 10pm and not many lights glowed in the wealthy neighborhood. I briskly walked up the steep hill of the street, scanning for any lights on in living room windows. I felt the balls of my socked big toes banging against the hard ice but paid no notice as I rounded a corner past the house of the family I babysat for. I needed a phone. If I could somehow even just get a lift to my high school I could break into the locker room and get shoes and clothes.
As I flew around the curve in the neighborhood, I found what I had been seeking: flashing lights in a living room. I could feel my face swelling; I had to act before any proof that I’d been struck showed. I approached the house and rang the doorbell. Mind you, this was when cell phones were still reserved for the heads of household. I pressed the doorbell button again and controlled my shaking and breathing. Now was not the time to show trauma. A woman answered the door. She squinted at me.
Me: Hi…I’m sorry to bug you. My parent left town for a while. My sister and I got in a fight and she locked me out of the house. Can I use your phone to call my friend to come get me?
Woman: ….I guess. Come in. What’s your name? Where do you live?
Me: I babysit for the Harrison’s down the street but I’m from the other neighborhood. No worries; I’ll just make a quick call.
They handed me a cordless house phone and I dialed the number of a friend whom I thought may have the resources to help. She had a car and her parents usually let her go out and do things; they trusted her. I had memorized the phone number of the few friends I had. Memorization has always been difficult but I had sat on my bed chanting the phone numbers in a singsong until they stuck, realizing it was my only frayed little lifeline to getting help. The call to my friend Amy went through just as I realized that the homeowner and her husband weren’t going anywhere. I couldn’t actually tell her what had happened with them standing right in front of me. Time to get inventive.
Me: Amy hi! Remember how my sister and I always fight? Well we got in a big one and I’m locked out of the house. I am over at a neighbor’s but it’s freezing. Could you come get me?
Amy: Skye what is going on?! (the annoyance that was first in her voice had melted into panic. She knew something big happened) It’s too late at night to come get you. What happened?
Though I was deeply focused on controlling my frozen body, keeping a jovial tone on the phone and somehow speaking in code to someone who didn’t necessarily know I was speaking in code, I noticed a shift in the room. I had failed at convincing this couple that I wasn’t a runaway. My face was starting to swell in the warmth of the house and even though I couldn’t feel my legs or feet, I saw a small stream of blood seeping onto the floor. The man left saying he was going to bed. The woman started looking for her cell phone. The moment she vanished from the room (even for just a second) I dropped my happy code voice, speaking in a hushed, urgent tone.
Me: Listen Amy. Things got really bad with my parents and I jumped out a window and ran away. I need to get to the high school to get warm. Can you meet me at Crain Hill?
In that moment, the woman reappeared holding her phone to her ear. She was talking to the police. Since my parents had already called them, I knew I had roughly one minute to get out of the house and disappear before they caught me and brought me home.
Amy: Skye you can’t do this. I can’t come get you; it’s late at night! What do I do?
The panic was rising in her voice. I looked over at the woman talking to the cops. Code time and a goodbye were in VERY short order. The seconds were flying by.
Me: Okay well I’m going to start heading over to Crain Hill to meet you. Thanks for helping out!
Amy: There are people there aren’t there? You’re just trying to trick them right?
Me: oh sure! Definitely! All right well I am going to go. See you soon!
Amy screamed something for me to not hang up and as I pressed the button to end the call, I knew I’d done something terrible to her. I set the phone down and thanked the woman, who was also wrapping up her call to the cops. She tried to get me to stay and I thanked her again, sprinting out the door and back into the cold. I had to get out of the area FAST if I was going to avoid getting caught by the police, who were likely about to start pouring into the streets. I ran.
The balls of my feet started making cracking sounds as I ruthlessly slammed them into the ice again and again. I couldn’t feel it, and I was willing to do whatever it took to not get caught and brought home. I was a cross-country runner and for this one night, it served me very well. I finally got to the end of the steep neighborhood entrance and to the local highway. I started running towards Crain Hill (roughly 3 miles away) along the highway. Headlights appeared in the distance. In the dark, I had no way of knowing if it was a cop or a passerby, so I dove into the snow bank and waited for it to pass. I shivered, feeling the cold stiffen my already rigid joints and leach my life away.
When the car passed, I climbed back up and started running again. Not ten seconds later, more headlights appeared and I repeated my diving routine. The cars kept coming. Every time I took a few steps I had to dive again. This wasn’t working; I was growing exhausted and more hypothermic in the whipping snow with every step and dive and I knew I wasn’t going to make it. I decided I’d gotten far enough away to risk running past a few cars. As I reached that conclusion, another set of headlights appeared. I walked coolly along the road as if I wasn’t dragging my right foot along, leaving a small trail of blood. The car began to slow. OF COURSE it had to be a cop. Of course the one driver I would risk letting see me would be an officer trying to hunt me down. My adrenaline shot up. I couldn’t outrun a cop, but my runaway experience told me hiding was much more effective than one would think.
I ran away from the road. Houses lined the side of the highway I was on, and the other side was a frozen beach. Sprinting into a small copse of trees spanning the gap between two houses, my eyes roved from side to side trying to find a place I could disappear to. There was nothing. There was a steep hill behind the houses, boxing me in. I spotted a dirty old flatbed trailer in the trees. I only had a few seconds and it was the only place I could find. I steered desperately towards the trailer as the high beam search light in the cruiser flicked on and began sweeping back and forth in my direction. I hesitated for a moment when I reached the trailer. It clearly hadn’t been moved in years; I didn’t want to know what I would find underneath it. The light started moving dangerously near me and for the last time, I dove.
This is where the intro to this chapter begins, so as you know, I was caught and the cop was kind to me. Let’s fast forward to mini me sitting in the cruiser, sobbing uncontrollably as the cop asked me what happened. I tried to speak but every time, a fresh wave of hysterics would hit. I managed to spit out that I had been hit and that I ran away, but I couldn’t manage to get the critical details out. I knew what my parents had told the police: I was suicidal, emotionally unstable and a compulsive liar. I knew they would sadly shake their heads as they told the boss-cop how they had tried again and again to help me and how they didn’t understand why I would act out so much.
From time to time, I am asked to describe my childhood. For years I would try to explain the craziness and the secrets, but it’s just too hard to explain. Now, I just tell people to think of the movie “Shutter Island”. It perfectly describes the situation. Anyways, back to the police cruiser.
The rookie gave up on getting a statement from me. I looked like a crazy person and with my hysterical sobs, it wasn’t hard to believe. Still, he spoke to me kindly. He had to drive over to check on something before he took me anywhere; we drove to the neighborhood I had run into to call my friend Amy. There were police cruisers EVERYWHERE. Apparently in my hometown there was nothing better for them to do. He pulled up in front of the house I’d called my friend from and left me in the car (which still shocks me). I couldn’t run; there was no point. My legs limply tugged on my hips, blood was all over the foot well of his car and my adrenaline was gone. I felt dead; it was as if someone had shut my brain and all my feelings off and only my eyes worked.
While I slumped, a female cop came to the cruiser and opened my door. She exclaimed something and turned to the rookie, who was just coming back to the car. She was angry. I heard her shout at him for not taking me directly to the hospital. She checked my vitals, yelled some more and pushed him into the driver’s seat.
At first he drove casually, telling me about the rookie life and how he wished he could get a better cruiser. I was fading fast. When I stopped responding to him, he got worried. Flicking on his lights and sirens, he rushed us onward to the hospital. Someone came out and scooped me into a wheelchair, then some people transferred me to a gurney. I don’t remember what they did to treat me, but I know I was treated for lacerations on my feet and severe hypothermia. They took my ragged tee-shirt, shredded socks and filthy sweatpants and put me in a hospital gown. Actually, I think they took my underwear too. Anyways, I just lay there. If there is a such thing as feeling dead while alive, this was it. The thought flitted across my mind that if I killed myself it would be better, but I didn’t consider it. I didn’t have the energy to do anything but lie there and wish I could fall asleep and not wake up. Voices in the hallway roused me slightly; they were my parents’ voices. I suddenly became aware that my right wrist was cuffed to the gurney and that there was a policeman posted outside my hospital room. The cuffs I understood, but in later years I have learned that cops are only posted outside rooms if they feel the patient is a danger to OTHERS. I listened as best I could to the conversation outside my door.
The words swirled under the door and around where it was cracked open in little bits and pieces. I heard the words ‘violent’ and ‘disturbed’. “We tried to help her” appeared as well. Friends, I want to reiterate: The one thing in all of this crazy with family that I have taken pride in is that I NEVER was violent or aggressive. When the blows came, I never reciprocated them. I had broken some of their belongings, taking my rage out but never did it ever come to retaliating against them physically. That said, listening to the words exchanged outside my door deadened me. Shutter Island. No one believed me; how could they? My family seemed so nice and loving and I was completely unhinged from what was actually going on. The cops totally bought their story.
I didn’t wonder what would happen to me. I didn’t care. I slept. When I woke, two police officers put me in a wheelchair and wrapped blankets around me. They loaded me into a van, seating me in the back behind a metal grate. I was still in my gown. I couldn’t wear the hospital socks because my feet were swollen, bone bruised and bloody, so I was barefoot. I asked the two drivers, a male and female, where we were going and they ignored me. I asked again and again, but they didn’t speak to me. We drove for 3 hours.
Somewhere along the drive I realized my mother was driving behind the van to wherever we were going. Finally we entered a city I recognized. After a few more minutes, they pulled in front of a secure mental hospital. Of course; because everyone was convinced I was insane. They tried making me walk myself in with my butt showing out of the back of the gown, but I couldn’t stand. They wheeled me into an interview room, where my mother and a doctor were seated and waiting. They were processing my admission. Shutter Island.
The process took what felt like 2 hours. I wasn’t permitted to speak, so I had to sit and listen to my mother spin tales, exaggerate and leave critical information out as she worked to convince the doctor to commit me. Shutter Island. He agreed and gave us a moment to say goodbye before they took me into the hospital, explaining I would be in the criminally insane unit.
I don’t remember all of what I said to my highly impressionable mother, but I convinced her that committing me would be a massive step backwards. I shamed her for her lies and did the best manipulating job I could to change her mind. Thankfully I had learned well, and she asked the doctor to release me.
I drove with her back home. When I gingerly stepped into the house, my brother and sister gave me hateful looks and disappeared. They didn’t know what had happened, but they hated me for all of my craziness. I don’t believe my parents ever treated them the same way. By the time school started on Monday, my walking was improving. I went to school. Sitting on the bench in the lobby area, I watched as hundreds of students streamed around me. They had all had normal weekends, I was sure of it. I had aged ten years in mine, and none of them would ever know. I felt bitter.
Near the end of the school day, I passed my friend Amy in the hallway. After I had hung up on her, she had gone to her father to ask if they could come get me. Not knowing how bad things were and how my parents were, he had decided the best course of action would be to call my parents and tell them what had happened. If I had made it to Crain Hill, no one would have been there and I likely would have frozen. Amy asked me if I was getting the help I needed. My defenses went up, and I told her with the most cheerful voice I could muster that everything was fine and that I was ‘good’.
Like what you read? Don’t forget to Subscribe, Like and Share!!