Here’s more of the true story of when I was sixteen and ran away from home and hitchhiked over a thousand miles and all sorts of things happened.
Chapter Three: Girls just wanna be dangerous and cool but not too dangerous and cool
My intention for chapter 3 was to talk about exactly the things going on in my life that led to me deciding to hit the road.
I have, however, discovered that it is possible to:
- Have a close, friendly, loving relationship with your parents as an adult, but
- Still think they were kind of awful parents when you were a teenager, and
- Feel bad about how they’ll feel if you describe what they were like back then, but
- Also have no interest in pretending they weren’t kind of awful.
This has been an intense week for everybody, what with the election and all, and I don’t feel like getting into the parents stuff just yet, so I’m going to avoid it and tell you about an adventure my friend Linda and I had with a runaway we found, a couple weeks after 10th grade ended (I think. Somewhere around there).
I met Linda at the beginning of eighth grade, just after I turned 13. We became friends because we were both the type of kid to walk down the street reading a book, and weren’t good at things like sports and being popular. My two best friends had BOTH moved away at the beginning of seventh grade, and I was very happy to meet Linda. She had a group of friends already, but no best friend, and we were soon inseparable.
Even though we were very bookish, somewhat quiet girls, we both dreamed of growing up to be rebellious teenagers. We’d buy candy cigarettes and practice smoking. We’d write dialogues full of cool slang words and swears, and rehearse saying them, trying to sound natural. We’d make up stories about our incredibly handsome and imaginary punk rock boyfriends. Whenever her mom left us outside to go into a shop, we’d play “Drug Dealer.” One of us would lean up against the wall looking shifty, and the other would approach cautiously and say in a low voice, “Hey, got any stuff?” The “drug dealer” would respond that she did, indeed, have some “stuff” and we’d hunch over, trading one wadded-up piece of paper for another. We always hoped a cop would see us, think it really was a drug deal, and arrest us — only to find down at the station that we had somehow gotten rid of the drugs. This never happened.
One time when we were hanging out at her house she suggested that we go beat up a boy who lived around the block, who had borrowed her Nintendo and not returned it. We thought that we could probably take him, two against one and all, but decided weapons would be a good idea, and after rummaging through her closet picked out a tennis racquet and jump rope with heavy wooden handles — I believe the idea was that we could use it like a whip or something, hit him with the handles from a distance. The boy wasn’t home when we got there, thank goodness, so we put the weapons back in the closet.
Linda was almost never allowed to spend the night at my house — her parents were very strict — but I slept over at her place all the time. Her mom was a sweet woman, who loved me even though she was pretty sure I was a bad influence. Her father was the angriest man I’ve ever known, just mad every second of the day. Who knows why; Linda was a great kid. I had nightmares about him well into my twenties.
Whenever I spent the night her dad would come in at bedtime to bark about how much trouble we’d be in if he heard a single peep, just one peep, out of the room. After he left, we would whisper quietly about how we were going to show him how little we cared about his threats. We were going to make so much noise he’d know we weren’t afraid. We were going to sneak downstairs — silently! — and get the couch from the living room — silently! — and carry it (silently) to the top of the long straight staircase right outside her dad’s room, and then, and then, we’d just push it down the stairs, making the loudest noise imaginable. Then he’d know we weren’t going to pay any attention to what he had to say about peeps, not at all!
We never carried out this plan.
We did, however, become ridiculously cavalier about sneaking out in the middle of the night. Her dad was scary; we felt the need to prove he wasn’t the boss of us. We’d stuff Linda’s bed to make it look like maybe there were two people asleep in it, and then we’d creep down to the kitchen and out the back door.
Of course once we were out we had no place to go. Later on there were boyfriends and things, but in the eighth grade all we could think of was to walk to the 7-11 (which I remember as being miles and miles away but according to Google Maps it’s barely a mile. I encourage you to look up the great treks of your childhood and be similarly dismayed), and buy candy and those rolled-up astrology charts. The most dangerous it ever got was the night we walked past a shopping center that had just had a break-in, and a helicopter flying overhead kept hitting us with its searchlight. We ran and tried to hide from the light, frantically assuring each other that we were just two perfectly innocent girls out for a stroll. Of course we were forgetting that it was actually true, and whoever was in the helicopter was clearly aware of it, as they completely ignored us.
When we were fourteen, I had some peace-sign earrings, about the size and thickness of a nickel, and one night we decided to heat them up and brand our arms with them, which would admittedly have been fairly extreme, but once they were hot enough to burn us they were too hot to touch, so we gave up. Another evening, we secretly ordered pizza — even though we were both pretty full from dinner, it seemed like a very adult thing to do. We went down and met the driver outside, so her parents wouldn’t know. After we’d eaten a bit, we had the idea to light a candle, drip melted wax on the box, and stick the candle into the wax so it would stand upright. I think we were going to have a seance or something, but before we could, her mother opened the door to check on us and Linda panicked, grabbed the box with the candle still lit, and threw the whole thing out the window. We went back outside as soon as we could to stomp out the (very small) fire.
We met John the Runaway one day at the shopping center near my house. I have no idea how he ended up in our particular suburb — he was from a suburb twenty miles or so away. He was our age, just fourteen, and hadn’t run away for any good or interesting reasons, just bored the way kids get. He’d only been gone a few hours when we met him. But I was charmed by the idea of rescuing a runaway. We took him to my place first — Linda wasn’t allowed to have boys over — but he couldn’t stay there; my mother was the sort who would know instantly what was up.
So Linda and I came up with a plan that we were sure made perfect sense. We would dress John up as a girl and take him over to Linda’s, and announce that we were having a slumber party. I was allowed to stay over at Linda’s pretty much whenever I wanted, and her mom was very open to slumber parties.
Somehow this all actually happened. We put John in a wrap-around dress of mine and carefully applied make-up, our many late nights of practicing on each other’s faces finally paying off. Once he was ready we warned him to keep his mouth closed as much as possible and took him to Linda’s. Her mom was out when we got there, but her dad was home and we quickly introduced them with the explanation that our friend Sheila was very shy, and got upstairs into Linda’s room fast. When Linda’s mom came home, we had some sort of idea that we could keep her from seeing John — she was a bit more observant than her husband — and so we sent him into the bathroom when we heard her coming upstairs. She told us in a whisper that Linda’s dad said we had the ugliest girl in the world up here and she just had to see her.
John stayed in the bathroom for far longer than must have seemed reasonable, but finally came out and Linda’s mom knew at once that this was no girl. While John changed back into his regular clothes Linda’s mom shocked us all by saying she was sure he had a good reason for running away, and suggested that Linda call our friend Allen and ask if John could stay with him. Sneaking John — now clearly a boy — out of the house without Linda’s dad seeing him was scary but worked okay; her dad was not the sort to get up from the TV once he’d sat down.
Linda’s mom drove us and John to Allen’s, and the exchange went smoothly and we thought everything was fine until we pulled into Linda’s driveway and I got out of the car and a flashlight shone in my face and a woman asked if I was me.
It was the coppers, as Linda and I said later, even though it was actually just one cop and she was very nice and didn’t seem to think it was at all strange when Linda, her mom, and I insisted that we all sneak up the stairs to Linda’s room as quietly as possible. I guess the cop understood that some dads (and husbands) are angry and scary. I have no idea how the cop found out about me, except that maybe John used the phone at some point to tell a friend what he was up to? Linda and I were so busy working out the plan we probably wouldn’t have noticed.
Linda’s mom kept her mouth shut while Linda and I told the cop that we knew nothing, that we knew everything, that there wasn’t anything to know, and that probably the runaway was at our friend Allen’s house. It’s entirely possible that Linda said that last part, but really the best I’m hoping for is that maybe we said it in perfect unison. The point is, we broke and spilled the beans in under two minutes. As soon as the cop left we got on the phone to Allen’s and yelled some variation of “Run, baby, run!” He did run, and later that night Linda and I snuck out and met Allen and John, and after we’d walked to the 7-11 and back John admitted that probably he should just go home. We’d all been scared straight, at least for the time being, by our brush with the law.
I saw John again many years later, when we were both nineteen or so; he came to the house where I was living to pick up one of my housemates for a date. I squealed with joy at the sight of him and started telling everyone the story, and he looked me dead in the eye and told me he’d never seen me before in his life.
The lack of gratitude is still appalling.
Later, after I moved into D.C., I met actual runaway punk kids who lived on the street and were, it seemed, pretty much fine. I wonder now if there was more to their lives than I realized, but the ones I knew well seemed happy with the situation. I loved having runaways stay at my house, and it was easy with that door from my bedroom to the street. There was one girl, Lise, who practically lived there for about a year and a half. My folks thought she lived around the corner and just liked to come over early in the morning. Running away had a glamor to it and I was frequently tempted, but I knew if I did I wanted it to be for real. I didn’t want to hide at a friend’s house until her parents found me, or spend a few nights under a bridge a couple blocks from home. I thought it if I ever did it, I’d do it for real, and get far away.
And of course that’s what I did eventually.
Next time, I swear, we’ll get to the reasons why. And then, to what happened next.
For now, here is a transcription of my diary when I was twelve… plus one entry when I was sixteen (deciding to start writing in the diary again, and then only managing one day, is still exactly the sort of thing I do). It’s just a transcription because for some reason — I am mystified and furious about this — I threw it out after transcribing it, and didn’t take pictures or anything. (I think when I transcribed it, my phone didn’t have a camera, so taking pictures was more complicated.) Anyway, I swear to god it is all 100% real.
It was one of those little diaries with a lock, that you were supposed to write in each day. A day took up half a page. At the top of each page, and again in the middle of the page, there was a line that said Date:__________ Day:________.
I filled these in for every entry I made, and also wrote my age. The few times an entry was too long to fit in half a page, I filled in the date and day spaces again before continuing to the next half-page section. I got the diary from my aunt, a gift either for my birthday (September) or Xmas (December). I have no idea why I decided to start writing in it the day I did.
Oh and here is my school picture from that year. I was not yet punk.
Nov. 5, 1983 Saturday Age 12
Dear Diary, Nothing much happened today. It was great having Thursday and Friday off from school. I still like Jay B***. Whenever I think he might not like me I think of the time he put in his mouth gum _I_ had already chewed. Not positive, but rather reassuring. Bye! Sarah
March 28, 1984 Wed. Age 12
Dear Diary, I am still in love with Paul R****. And he is still giving me the could shoulder. I can’t really understand how someone can be such good friends with someone and then five years later, be a jerk to the same person. Especially when he hadn’t seen the person during the 5 years. Oh, well, people change, I guess, bye.
March 30, 1984 Friday Age 12
D.D., Nothing much today. Went to Grandmom M’s. It was rather boring. Had nightmare last night. It was horrible. Bye now, Sarah Oakes
March 31, 1984 Saturday Age 12
Boring day. Nothing happened. Bye.
April 1, 1984 Sunday Age 12
D.D., Boring day today. Nothing happened. Except I went to Grandmom M’s. Bye!
April 2, 1984 Monday Age 12
D.D., Nice day. Nothing really great happened. Bye!
April 3, 1984 Tuesday Age 12
D.D., boring day! Bye
April 4, 1984 Wednesday Age 12
D.D., Boring day! Bye
April 5, 1984 Thursday Age 12
A lot has happened. Sorry I have just been writing “boring day. Bye” but I have just been so busy! I stayed after school in science one day and Paul was there! I nearly died. It was embarrassing but in a way it was great, because I could look at him to my heart’s content. Abby brought me a picture of him that she cut out of the Reston Times. I taped it to the next page (as you can see) ==>
[Picture of Paul and some other kids showing off some art projects]
April 5, 1984 Thursday
I drew an arrow to him, as you can also see. Isn’t he cute? I think so. I wrote him a card. It says, “I miss you every now and then,” and on the inside it says, “and all the times in between.” Gotta go now. Bye! Sarah Mckinley Oakes
P.S. I love him so much it hurts
P.S.S. Why is that?
April 6, 1984 Friday Age 12
What hustle and bustle! We’re getting packed for New York City.
Bye for now,
P.S. I love Paul R****.
April 7, 1984 Saturday Age 12
Here we are in New York. It’s really great. We met my mom’s Aunt Maggie. She’s really nice, great, and terrific. The only think is I can’t reach Hallie.
April 8, 1984 Sunday Age 12
It was a nice day. We went to a dance play with P.A. and to dinner with Sadie and P.A. Mom and Chris had a fight this morning though. Bye.
May 8, 1984 Tuesday Age 12
Sorry I haven’t written! I’ve just been soooo busy. I no longer like Paul R****.. I like Jay B***. He’s gorgeous! I think he might like me, too!
Bye for now,
May 21, 1984 Monday Age 12
I’m in love with Paul R****..
I wish he’d be nice to me. I can’t understand why he’s so mean to me, you know? Oh well, life goes on.
Oct. 28, 1984 Sunday Age 13
I’m sorry I haven’t written in so long, but I’ve been so busy. I guess that’s no excuse, huh? So much has happened. I don’t know WHO I love. Jay B*** is a jerk and Paul R****’s in high school. There is not much difference in my school, except I’m in eighth grade instead of seventh. Oh, well, bye.
P.S. There is someone I sorta like but I forget his name.
Dec. 6, 1987 Sunday Age 16
It’s hard to be back. Running away was something I had to do. I miss Shadow so much. It’s so nice to be engaged! I’m completely over Shadow Cat, which is nice. I just finished writing a birthday letter to Eddy. He’s turning 30 next week. I love him a lot. He really is my best friend. I feel kinda depressed… I guess I just miss Shadow. I can’t wait till he comes home.