It didn’t matter to me if I got out. Just as long as I felt like I was free. Just as long as I was getting somewhere.
I packed my bags, trying to figure out what I could begin to live off of for the next few years. A couple of graphic t-shirts from Walmart, jean shorts, shaving razors, shampoo, deodorant, lighters, a couple of books, socks, panties, bras, a notebook and pens. And my last paycheck that I had cashed.
I decided not to shower because it seemed wrong to use their water for my benefit. I had a few provisions, and now it was time to scram. I left around midnight. It was the dog days of summer. It was humid, warm and fireflies were the only things that lit up the woods around me.
Thankfully, on this night, the moon was out and it was enough that the gravel road was lit by its reflection.
My back and arms quickly began to tire, the bags were overloaded with everything I saw as essential. The further I walked I wondered if I could hide the bags somewhere memorable along the road, so I could come back and retrieve them. However, I did not know how high of a possibility this would work out. So I shifted my bags often, trying to give certain muscles breaks while I kept trotting forward.
This wasn’t the first time I had tried leaving. Nor the second or third. I was not scared of the wilderness that lined the roads, or the sounds of whipper-whirls being startled off of the road. Instead, I was preoccupied by the ache in my arms and the tightness in my calves. These places I had barely been aware of as a passenger in a school bus where painstakingly slow to walk past in person.
The back roads were empty. They were steep. They curved over the hilly landscape, and I glided through like a pinball.
I walked all night. The animals in the forest began to change shifts. The sounds and songs changed. The baby light of day lit up the humidity and the mist glowed all around me. I had reached a part of route 60, and a few cars and semis shook the ground as they blew past me. My legs were trembling and I thought as I walked along on the edge of the road, “If I trip when they pass by, I’ll be road kill.”
Then, I made it. My friend’s house was up a steep, gravel driveway. I planned to be aloof as to what I was doing, but I knew I was going to ask for a shower. Hopefully have breakfast. Then get on Facebook and tell my mother and her family where I was. I had gotten out and I wanted to come home.
It was still early in the morning, and I was exhausted and unpresentable. I began to climb the hill, knowing there was some forest past their house that I could rest a while in. Their dogs barked and howled and my friend’s mother called out to me from the porch.
“What are you doing?” She must have been up for a while. She was already dressed.
I stood on the driveway, wavering, thinking about how I could explain this.
“I’m just walking down to Milton.” I lied, but I was too ashamed. I felt grimy, covered in sweat. I hated what was happening. I didn’t want them to see me like this.
“Oh, well, be careful.”
I walked down the driveway, and stupidly began to walk up the hill. I devised a new plan. Get to Milton. Take a bus. Somehow get to North Carolina. Why was this so hard?
I hadn’t even been walking for fifteen minutes when a silver Tahoe slowed down to my pace. It was my friend’s dad.
“You going to Milton?”
“That’s on my way to work.”
His wife had made me a couple of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Two of them. In a paper towel. And a bottle of Pepsi. As I ate, I wondered if I stank in the closed space of the car as he made small talk.
“I left home when I was eighteen, and I never went back.” Wow. My strength within me resolved. I could do this.
He dropped me off at McDonald’s. I bought a milkshake and sat down with my notepad. I wrote about what was happening. I couldn’t believe I had made it this far. By now they must have noticed I was gone. There was no pretending something had not changed. I was almost home free.
I called numbers from a payphone. No one answered. I left voice mails, “Hey Austin, I just wanted you to know that I am officially homeless.”
I reached a friend who I worked with, and she happened to be running errands in Milton. Coincidentally, her name was Erin.
New plan, she would drive me back to my friend’s and I would use their internet to reach my mother.
I apologized profusely to Erin for the inconvenience. She assured me it was not problem.
When she dropped me off, one of my friend’s, Drake, was out mowing the yard. He killed the mower, and looked at me, stone-faced.
“Hey!” I smiled, not seeing him since the summer began. He nodded slowly, stone-faced, and went inside. Gravel crunched underneath the tire of a slowing car, and to my disbelief, it was a golden Buick with the passenger door dented in. My dad stepped out from behind the wheel.
“Are you coming with me or not?”
How did he know I was here? What do I do? Maybe he will understand, he will finally let me go back to Mom’s.
I walked to the car, and sat in the seat, staring ahead as he drove back all the roads I had spent all night walking on. For nothing.
He began to yell at me. Threatening me. My younger brother in the backseat, for whatever reason, I do not know. He said he was going to “beat the shit out of” the guy who I had whored around with. He said running was against the law, and if I wanted to go to my mother’s I would spend the night in jail.
“Go ahead!” I said firmly, raising my voice, “Call the police. I am not leaving this car until they come to get me.”
He was infuriated. He had expected me to cower. To beg not to hurt my friend, not to send me to jail. I had lost my fear of him. I had no respect for a bully.
My dad and brother went inside while I waited, expecting police to show and eventually making it to my mother’s in North Carolina.
My father was on the phone while he stepped out on the front porch with phone, so I could hear his conversation, which he screamed, “I am not letting her go to North Carolina so she can give that guy mother-daughter action!” He stopped his foot with a thud that shook everything on the porch.
My jaw dropped.
I felt cold in that car that had been sitting in the early-morning sun. My stomach still hurts thinking back on it.
Please, please let them get here soon. Get me out of here.
Unfortunately, he had been bluffing. I had no choice but to go inside. My stepmother confiscated my things. Which I later knew that she had shown all of the items to my siblings, laughing that I thought I could have gotten by with what I had packed.She told me that my friend’s mother had called and told them I was running away.
To be continued in Part 2
A picture of me a few months after I had been caught; I was living in the walk-in closet of my brother and sister's room.