Runaway Attempt #1: Surviving Exposure

Brianna and I swung gently on her porch swing, listening to the sounds of the night. She played with a twig and I sat, staring blankly, at the ground moving back and forth beneath us. We didn’t speak much, but just being together was enough. The midnight insect band was in full chirp, and combined with the rocking, my eyes drooped. I was fourteen and Brianna was sixteen, but we carried troubles meant for much older souls, dividing the burden between us. She broke the comforting silence, shifting her weight.

“I’m getting tired. You should go home and I’m going to bed.” She spoke huskily, snubbing out her cigarette.

“I’m not going home. I don’t want to go back there.” I knew I had nowhere else to go, but speaking the words felt like some reclamation for my lack of options.

“Go home, Skye.”

Her tired words lit defiance in my heart. I didn’t want to go home; it didn’t matter whether or not Brianna let me stay here. The idea of returning to my room, the medication and my parents overwhelmed me. For a moment, the thought flitted through my mind that home was probably one of the worst places I could be.

“I’m not going back there. I’m going to run away.” My protest sounded as watery as it felt.

“No you won’t. I’ll see you at practice. Good night Skye.” She dismissed me with a lazy flick of her wrist, then rose and strode into the house.

I sat, thinking hard. My resolution, just moments before a feeble protest to what I considered inevitable, was growing. I needed to clear my head, I decided, and I stood.

I picked my mother’s bicycle up from the dirt. I guessed it was around three in the morning, but I wasn’t sure. I had been sneaking out of my bedroom window for weeks, grabbing the bike where I stashed it in advance next to the garage. Each time, I rode the ten miles into town and to Brianna’s house. My parents had no idea I was taking off, and I couldn’t bring myself to consider what my father would do if he found out.

Mounting the bike, I pushed off and headed for the hospital just across the street. Slowly circling the parking lot, a sudden breeze of freedom hit me and I smiled broadly; I was free! In the cool Michigan September air, I whooped and took off.

After roughly an hour of whipping around town smiling broadly in my new high of freedom, I began to grow tired. I needed a place to rest, but I had nowhere to go. Thinking hard, I decided on a copse of evergreens not far from my high school. I could rest in the woods and see what I could find at the school in the morning. Classes hadn’t started yet, but every morning the fall sports teams assembled to train. It was the best option my sleepy mind could come up with, so I turned and began the long, uphill ride to my high school.

When I arrived at the copse, I hopped off the bike, dragging it through rows of identical evergreens. From the road, the trees seemed as if they would provide good cover but I found myself pushing deeper and deeper to ensure no one would spot me. I chose a place in the pine needles, carefully setting the bike down nearby. After some thought, I piled the little brush I could find atop the metal frame so no one would spot its glint when the sun arose. I lay down.

I had been warm throughout the night from the exertion of pedaling, but as my breath slowed and my veins pumped less warmth into my arms and legs, I began to feel my muscles stiffen. I remembered reading about the dangers of exposure and how to insulate through cold nights, so I began to build a nest in a small impression in the earth. I paced back and forth, scavenging in the light of the full moon, becoming increasingly aware of my visibly puffing breath. Once my nest was built, I pulled up my hood, tugging hard on the drawstrings. Drawing my arms inside my sleeves, I lay down.

By the time the sun streaked through the clouds, my body was shuddering from the cold. Welcoming the growing warmth, I finally slept.

As the day wore on, I continued to doze on and off, sometimes waking and watching cars buzz by on the road. I wondered what my mother had done when she had entered my room to wake me for practice, only to find an open window and Maroon 5 playing softly on repeat. I didn’t want to imagine the plethora of possibilities of the scene, so I busied my mind in coming up with an action plan for the following night.

I needed food and water before all else. Thinking hard, I decided if I could ask people around the hospital for pay-phone change, I would be able to buy myself a water bottle and some food at the nearby gas station. The next thing was to figure out about where I would stay to keep warm at night. At a loss, I told myself I would ‘play it by ear’ and focus on the important things first.

Night fell and I crawled from my nest, stretching and trying to warm my stiff muscles for the short downhill ride. I hefted the bike from beneath its disguise, carefully brushing pine needles from the brakes. This was going to be a much trickier ride than last night, I realized. This time, the police would be looking for me. The realization that I would likely be caught shortly settled in, but it didn’t faze me.

My father had stripped away my self-efficacy and had chipped at my identity for so long that I had come to live in a state of learned helplessness. This time though, I had sent him a clear message: he could not control me. In my single day of sleeping in the trees, I had already begun to feel a change in myself. I was allowed to have my own opinions and thoughts, I realized. I wasn’t his child more than I was Skye; a person all of her own. He had forbidden me to all but breathe without his permission, but here, maybe I could actually start writing again, I thought. I had the power to deviate from his ironclad plans for me and I could do more than just protest; I could fight!

The cool air whipped past my rosy cheeks as I hurtled towards the hospital. Braking in the glow of the Emergency Room light, I felt my courage slip away. This was my father’s workplace, but I couldn’t think of another business that wouldn’t raise suspicion as I asked for change at this hour. Stalling, I decided to stop and see Brianna first.

Brianna’s house was next to the hospital, but I took the long way around to make sure I could scope the place out. I didn’t know if there would be cops, or worse, my parents at their house but I was certain they had been there during the course of the day. At the last minute, I decided to make my approach from the back alley. No one was up or around the back of the home, and only one dim light was on in the kitchen. I noticed Brianna’s mother was home, which was uncommon. I circled the block a few times, trying in vain to boost my withered courage so I could go to the hospital to feed myself. My circling grew steadily in radius as I included more and more blocks, buying myself more time to think with each pass.

I heard giggles and spotted a figure stumbling around in socks one street over from Brianna’s house. Concerned for my safety and for the person, I ducked behind a car and watched. I heard Brianna’s husky voice, speaking into the phone the person was holding. It was her!

“Yeah I’m coming. Got booze. Bye.”

I had known that Brianna had started drinking heavily, but I had never seen someone as drunk as she was, stumbling around and giggling. She was carrying her usual satchel and I heard glass bottles clinking ominously inside.

“Brianna! Brianna!” My heartbreak for her state was audible in my parched voice. She was a wreck. Was it because I had gone missing and she was the only one who knew? Was this my fault?

“Hey Skye! Lots of people are looking for you. Where did you go?” Her voice slurred heavily and I had to listen hard to make out her words.

“I’ve been around. I’m free now! You need to get home. Let’s go.” I gently held her elbow.

She couldn’t stand; her balance was simply gone. I guided her hands to the handlebars of my bike, helping her use it like a walker.

“Come on. Just keep your hands on the handlebars. There you go. Let’s go home.”

“No. I wanna see my friends. We are gonna hang out.” Drunkenly stubborn, she used the bike for balance as she forged past me, further away from her home.

I knew Brianna; once she decided on something, nothing changed her mind. I made a few more fruitless attempts to cajole her into turning around. I was torn; if the police caught us together we would both be in much more trouble than if we were caught separately, but I knew her friends were a few untrustworthy guys. I was terrified to think of what might happen to her in her state. I decided to stay with her.

As I painstakingly helped her walk several blocks, she managed enough clarity to tell me what had happened during my short absence. Brianna’s phone had rung in the morning; my father was on the other end of the line, pressing her to tell him if she knew where I was. He had painted scenes to her where I was killed, sold into sex slavery or kidnapped. She had begun to panic, realizing I had, in fact, followed through with my promise to run away. She gave my father a list of a few places she thought I may have gone. Rather than search her listed possible hideouts, my mother showed up at Brianna’s house with a couple of policemen at her back; they were convinced I was hiding at the house. Brianna’s mother had let the policemen search the home thoroughly and promised to report with any updates, but my mother, still believing they were hiding me, staked out the house day and night as my father tried to find me.

A call was placed to my cross-country coach as daily practice was about to begin at a nearby park. My coaches plied the girls on the team for any information on what may have happened to me, but none of them had any idea. They knew I was unhappy and had an eating disorder, but little more. The quest to find me had been as disorganized and ineffective as my attempt to flee; even I hadn’t predicted I would do such a drastic thing. As Brianna finished her slurred update, she stopped and looked me hard, suddenly clear, in the eye.

“Your parents really love you. I don’t know why you would run away from them. You need to go home.” Her words cut. She had been the one friend I had shared my troubles with.

I didn’t doubt that my parents loved me; I knew my leaving had caused them suffering. I couldn’t wrap my teenage mind around the possible coexistence of both their love and their abuse; to me, it had to be one or the other, so I leaned on my experience to make a judgement. My mother said and did many things a loving mother would, but everything else that happened under their roof, in my mind, had completely mitigated any possible chance they could love me. To me, they were professional-grade actors in order to keep their messy lives hidden behind the facade of the American dream. It had finally convinced Brianna.

Two figures appeared in the darkness; they were Brianna’s friends Paul, Nick and Jake were ahead. Jake, completely drunk, lagged far behind. They helped me pick Brianna up. One of them took her bag and cracked open one of the beers that clanked inside as he tossed the strap over his own shoulder. With two of them holding Brianna on either side and another carrying her bag, I had nothing to do but follow behind and push my bike.

We walked only two more blocks, but to me it felt like hours. Brianna and Nick stopped several times to make out, running their hands up and down each other. Jake ran up to several telephone poles, hugging them and falling backwards onto the sidewalk, laughing hysterically and tripping Paul. I watched Nick’s hand slide down into Brianna’s pants and shouted in protest. Brianna, still in his arms, looked over at me.

“Relax Skye. We are together.” She slurred.

My heart filled with young worry. I knew she was certainly too drunk to give consent and Nick was capitalizing on the opportunity, but I didn’t know how to handle Brianna’s rejection of my help. Finally, we arrived at Jake’s house.

As we dragged Brianna into the house and set her on the couch, she began laughing hysterically. Jake hushed her, warning her that his mother was sleeping upstairs. He cracked open the freezer and removed a glass bottle of clear liquid, pouring shots for each of the guys. They put the TV on for Brianna, but she wanted to join them in playing cards. I watched, wide-eyed, from the corner of the crusty, peeling kitchen. Exhausted, hungry and panicked, my mind worked hard to try to assess the level of risk and what I could do to get her home safely.

Brianna continued to laugh hysterically in spite of Jake repeatedly hushing her with increasing urgency. I continued to weakly heckle Nick and Paul to help me take her home, and finally they relented. We lifted Brianna from the couch, set her on her jellylike legs and guided her out the door.

The streets had grown much colder since arriving at Jake’s house and my tired shoulders hunched, remembering the misery of the night before. We began the slow trek back to the house in the same manner that we had before. Paul and Jake, who had become incredibly drunk, were especially difficult to herd. Shortly after crossing a street, Jake hugged another telephone pole before he and Paul collapsed on their backs in a random flower bed. I begged, threatened and cajoled, trying to get them to get up. I needed them to stay with Nick and Brianna to help me make sure nothing happened between them that she would regret in the morning. At long last, they staggered to their feet. I pulled them back to the sidewalk and looked around. Nick and Brianna were gone.

Ditching the two boys, I leaped onto my bike, rushing along the street to locate Brianna. Nothing. I took every possible route along the four block stretch to Brianna’s house, cutting through alleys and tearing down streets, but they were gone. I stopped in an alley to catch my breath. My legs shook. I heard a giggle further back in the alley where I had just ridden.

Doubling back, I spotted Brianna and Nick. He was pressing her against one of the alley fences, his hands tracing out the details of her body and pushing himself hard against her. I breathed; they were both still dressed. Grabbing Brianna’s hands, I pulled her towards me and promised Nick I would take her the rest of the way home. They were growing tired, so after a few more promises, I managed to break them apart. Advising Nick to return to Jake and Paul, I placed Brianna’s hands back on the bike handlebars and guided her home.

Once we had arrived, I leaned the bicycle in the bushes by the house and quietly opened the back door, leading Brianna up the steps and into her room. I helped her into comfortable clothes and watched her collapse into bed, still rambling and giggling. I sat on the side of the bed, planning to watch until she was asleep so I could and leave with peace of mind. In less than a few minutes, my head nodded and I passed out.

_______________________

“Hey girls! Time to get up!” Brianna’s mother’s voice roused me and I pushed myself deeper into the folds of the quilt, not remembering where I was or what had happened.

“Skye! It’s time to get up. When did you get in? I checked on Brianna before I went to bed and early this morning, and suddenly there you were. It’s really good to see you again.”

As I sat up and drew the blankets sleepily around myself, I remembered the events of the last few days. Brianna’s mother was so cheery and casual that I felt as if I had just popped in for a sleepover. I mumbled at her.

Brianna sat up, looking chipper and well-rested. She put her hand on my arm as her mother ducked downstairs to make breakfast.

“Don’t you dare try to run. We are taking you home.” She too had an oddly casual tone about her, but the steely glint in her eye told me I didn’t stand a chance of getting away. I was beaten.

My eyes drooped. Sadness filled me; I was going back to a life and family I nearly hated and there was nothing I could do. My newly regained sense of power slipped away and suddenly I was exhausted. Brianna’s mother offered me breakfast, but in spite of not eating for days, I had no appetite. They packed me into her white Sienna and drove me home. Brianna held me tightly by my wrist in the backseat as I drifted off to sleep, letting my head loll back.

As Brianna’s mom pulled up to the house, I blinked hard, trying to wake myself up. I didn’t know what lay waiting for me within the brick walls of my parent’s estate and I didn’t have the energy to feel fear or relief. My mother came outside through the garage, wrapping me tightly in her arms. I felt nothing; I knew the hug wasn’t for me. It was for her. My brother and sister were nowhere to be found. They had seen my parents’ fear and grief at my absence and were angry with me for inflicting such pain on them. They stayed in their rooms, unwilling to speak to me.

Brianna and I sat in the kitchen as my parents spoke with her mother in hushed tones in the living room. I turned to her, desperate.

“I don’t want to go back to this. I want to go somewhere away from here. I can’t come home. I can’t do this.”

“I don’t want to hear it. Your parents love you. You need to stay here and actually tell the truth about your family.” Her rage was apparent, yet so quiet I hadn’t detected it until this moment.

She thought I was lying! I stared at her, the one person who had actually once believed me. She had been the only person I had felt safe and understood with, but finally, my parents had gotten to her. I was alone; worse, I had a new person telling me I was crazy. I stared numbly at the kitchen counter. Though I hadn’t been completely honest with her out of my own shame, I had told her everything. She had repeated it all to my parents; she had betrayed me. In spite of the blanket of broken-hearted exhaustion weighing on my mind, I felt a tearing in my chest. I was alone again.

Brianna’s mother summoned us into the living room with them. My father wanted me to sit between him and my mother, but I didn’t want him to touch me, opting instead to sit as close to Brianna and her rage as possible.

“We have been talking about options for you,” my father began. “We can’t ignore what you’ve done but we love you dearly. There is a place you can go that will help you get your mental issues under control. What do you think about going into a program for Christian girls?”

There it was: he played my cries for help from his reach as ‘mental issues’. In the face of this incredible facade, sitting on the couch with parents that claimed they wanted to hold me, I didn’t stand a chance against being labeled a problem child. Did I want to go into a home? I suddenly realized I was about to lose my friends; my cross-country team had been the one thread of love and support I had ever experienced. If I went into a home, especially a program, I would lose my limited support. I didn’t know what Brianna would tell them, let alone my parents in the wake of my disappearance.

“No. I don’t want to go. I don’t want to leave my friends.” I looked to Brianna and her mother, pleading for help.

“I think it’s a good idea.” Brianna spoke quietly, staring at her lap. I stared at her in shock.

She had shared my deepest secrets with my parents, who had only the interests of their appearance in mind. I suddenly realized she also didn’t want me to tell her mother what I knew about her and wake likely afraid that I would out of concern or retaliation. The betrayal sliced deeper into my heart.

Brianna and her mother left; instantly the tone of the house changed. My parents stopped pretending to be loving and directed all their rage towards me for putting them through such an ordeal. My father made arrangements for me to go to the correctional home and my mother watched me carefully through the day and into the night to make sure I didn’t try to escape again.

I was being sent away, and all I could think about was how much worse Brianna would get while I was gone. Convinced I was the only one who could be there for her and in denial that I had lost her as a friend, I wrote her mother a letter, telling her everything. I prayed it would help Brianna in my absence. My preoccupation with Brianna got me through the night as I packed my dark green sports bag to go to the program in the morning.

I had no will. I couldn’t save anyone, not even myself. My father was reclaiming every part of power I had taken back when I ran away; his statement was clear: He owned me.

What happened next? Read The Christian House for Teens (part 1) The Hazing.

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