That first night, I hid on a plywood board in the back of a John McGovern’s van. His back kept mine warm in his dirty sleeping bag though I only slept in hard-fought intervals. When we woke up in the blue dawn of late autumn, it was my kid brother’s birthday—and I was a creep for running away. The suburb was still asleep when we slipped through the woods and around the fenced-in petroleum tanks—the sky, half-yellow and cold.
There actually was a plan. John’s van just needed tags, and then we would leave for Bradenton, Florida. That was the place. That was the plan for me and John. And that was kinda the extent of the plan. What mattered was they couldn’t give me away to the hidden prison-school. Their claws could only pinch into space now because I was gone.
The day before, I huddled with my classmates in our long cotton dresses. Scott approached, warm in his pants, among the buses, relaying that the church elders had decided after some discussion that it would not be theologically logical for two tenth-graders to marry since he wasn’t my first partner. I was free of him and now free of my folks.
At the other end of those naked woods, my buddy Brad lived with his parents. I was sufficiently hidden behind their house. Fire flecked up toward the trees. Brad was walking around his fire poking at it sometimes. Kim crouched down beside me, small fingers around his cigarette. The orange licked the air above us. It rolled up from the cracking branches and died. Dave, in his prep school pants, set down the tape player with juiced batteries and unpocketed the new album. Brad clicked it in and stabbed his fire more.
New souls come to earth—
as Kira hides away
here in these secret woods,
—a young girl learns their rules.
I was cold through my skeleton, but I was safe. And we passed around chips for dinner. We slept that night in a tent. How they got a tent was a tall tail, something about shoplifting a large box from Sears. I didn’t believe them. But sleeping among those boys kept me warm. Kim woke amid their steady breathing, pulling my jeans down over my hips. Funny how you still belong to the people you once belonged to.
The next morning, we traipsed back to Brad’s house where his Mom was hot-gluing eyes onto wooden ducks in Christmas green dresses. I called her Mrs. McGonigal, and she told me she would be proud if one of her kids were smart like me. What you did, not who you were mattered at her dining room table, strewn with newspaper and ribbons, The table was hardly used, I imagine, for meals. Brad was planning to quit school since he was almost sixteen. He was registered in school as a sixth grader. And his Momma was not concerned when he slept in the woods in November. Before his twentieth birthday, he was shot dead in a West Philly drug deal.
The police came down Brad’s back stairs an hour before John and I were to start the six-mile walk up I-95 to the Chester bus station. The plan with the van had clearly changed. A decade later, I’d drive past that bus station on the way to my Civil Procedure class—Villanova Law School, said the sticker on the back window. And I’d wonder in the crunched traffic who I would have been in Florida: by then, a twenty-five-year-old woman who had first arrived as a fifteen-year-old runaway.
Bio: Catherine is a former northerner excited about growing her roots into the Georgia clay. You can find her blog at myspace.com/czickgraf
Her writing has appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Pank, and Bartleby-Snopes. She also has work forthcoming in GUD Magazine and A cappella Zoo.