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 12: The Cutest Jailbird You Ever Did See
So, as I said last week, Troy, Shadow and I were in the pickup truck following some guys who’d invited us to get high with them. Troy was driving, Shadow was next to the passenger door, and I was in the middle. We were drinking from a large container of orange soda, munching on cheese puffs, and arguing in a friendly way about whether we should go get Bill from his stepdad’s so he could smoke pot too.
We drove maybe three blocks. Police lights and a siren came on behind us. Troy started saying, “Shit. Shit. Shit.” We had discussed what would happen if cops tried to pull us over. Both Troy and Bill had said they’d just keep going. But now, Troy pulled over to the right. I was scared, and I didn’t want Troy to get arrested or for us to get in trouble either, but I was relieved. Only then we all sat in the car, frozen. Over the loudspeaker the cop said, “Get out with your hands up.” We did not. Troy was watching in the side view mirror, waiting for the cop to get out of the car. As soon as he was out Troy said, “Y’all ready to go?” and slammed on the gas.
We drove very fast. I was not buckled up, and I was also holding a big open container of orange soda in my lap. The cop was back in his car and after us and soon there were more cops behind us, lots of cops, all with sirens on and lights flashing.
I don’t know how long that lasted. Shadow kept trying to pull me down in case they started shooting at us, and I was just trying to get the cap back on the orange soda. Finally, after ten minutes or thirty or five, Troy yelled, “Fuck!” and screeched to a halt a few feet in front of a brick wall. I don’t know why I didn’t go through the windshield; maybe I’m remembering wrong and I was buckled or maybe one of the guys held onto me. As soon as the truck was stopped ,Troy jumped out and ran. Shadow and I sat there for a long moment, then the order came again to get out with our hands up. Shadow climbed out, hands in the air, and I did too. I was, of course, in complete horrified shock. Which is why I did not let go of the bottle of soda or the big bag of cheese puffs. I held them in my raised hands.
We were told to walk to the back of the truck where they could see us. When we got there, Shadow saw what I was holding and whispered to me to throw it in the back of the truck. I was all, “Are you sure? They might get mad…” but he told me again and I finally listened. I can’t imagine what the police must have thought.
They had us lie down on the ground and I can still see them walking around over us with their rifles. I was certain, absolutely certain, that they were going to shoot us. I hoped that if Shadow died, I would too.
They did not shoot us. I didn’t know the term “white privilege” at the time, but the amount of white privilege in the story that follows is almost unbelievable. I want to explain right now — I don’t think anything that happened to us would have happened the same if we’d been BIPOC.
So the cops handcuffed me and put me in the back of a car, and put Shadow in a different one. The car I was in drove to the station. I had never ridden in a police car before. There were no handles on the doors, which made sense but still surprised me. I wondered if the cars were made without handles or if the handles were removed and if the handles could be put back on if the police sold it to someone who just wanted to use it as a regular car. I thought a lot about those missing handles.
At the station, they fingerprinted me and I assume took my picture, though I don’t remember that part. I showed them my ID that said I was 20. The ID said my name was Margaret but I cleverly explained that my middle name was Sarah, and I went by that — so that if they tried to trick me by saying my name I wouldn’t get caught when I failed to respond. I don’t think they asked me any questions at that point. But I don’t remember much.
They took me to a jail cell and a female cop strip searched me. She didn’t make me take off my underwear though. They left me in the cell. I had it all to myself. I saw the toilet and had my aforementioned realization about that story of Troy’s. I used the toilet as fast as I could so no one would come by and see me. Then I lay down on the bed. I was scared. I wished Shadow was there. We’d barely been apart in so many days. I fell asleep.
I woke up after who knows how long, and there were a couple of blankets on me. Someone had come by and put one on me, and then, a while later, someone else had put another one on me. These cops definitely did not believe that I was twenty, or that I was in any way a villain.
The cop who’d woken me up led me back into the… lobby? Surely that isn’t the term? The big open space with a desk where they’d fingerprinted me. Shadow was there. I was so happy to see him. We hugged each other and while we did I quickly whispered, “We were just hitchhiking and they picked us up in Illinois, right?” in case he’d told them something else. It seemed important that our stories should match. If he’d said no, I guess I would have claimed to have amnesia because there was no way he’d have time to whisper some new story to me during a short hug. Luckily he whispered “Yes.” We broke apart, and when the cops asked me what had happened, I explained that we’d been hitchhiking and were picked up by these guys who we didn’t know. Yes, I knew the truck was stolen, but no, I hadn’t been involved in stealing it. They believed me, and I felt like I was getting away with something even though I was telling the absolute truth.
I’m not sure if it was then or later that the cop who’d initially pulled us over told me that he’d witnessed the conversation with the guys in the store parking lot and thought it was a drug deal, then called in the license plate number of the truck and found out it was stolen.
After we’d talked to the cops for a long time, they told us we were free to go for now but that they’d talk to us more the next day. Then they gave us vouchers for a motel room, and for food at the convenience store across the street. Apparently these vouchers are a thing police have? Or maybe just these police? I don’t know. I also don’t know if they were actually just letting us go. Giving us the chance to head back on the road. I was way too scared of them to consider doing any such thing.
They drove us to the motel — it was the same one we’d stayed in the night before; based on the map I think it was the Palace Motel — and told us to come back to the police station in the morning. (A combination of white privilege and the fact that this was a very small town, I guess? Amazing.)
The convenience store across from the motel was a 7-11 at the time. (There are, it seems, no longer any 7-11s in Arkansas. I thought they were everywhere, at least in the U.S.) We were very amused to see that it closed at 11, and the lady behind the counter patiently explained that it was called 7-11 because those were the hours. We told her that where we came from all the 7-11s were open 24 hours, but I don’t think she believed us. This 7-11 had one of those self-serve hot-food stations, with much nicer food than I’m used to seeing in a convenience store, and we were able to walk along and fill styrofoam containers with fried chicken and these huge potato wedge things I’d never had before, like a giant french fry. They tasted good, anyway.
When we got back to the room, Shadow told me about what had happened to him when we were separated. The cop car he was in had driven around looking for Troy. They saw Troy hitchhiking on the highway. Shadow said that he yelled “There he is!” and that Troy dove into the trees next to the road. He also told them about Bill, and everything he knew about the two of them.
I guess he thought that the more helpful we were, the more likely it was that they wouldn’t charge us with anything. We weren’t a team any longer. It bothered me, made me sad, but I went along with it because I trusted him. He thought the only way we could get away was to act like we absolutely considered Troy and Bill the villains. I didn’t let myself think about it much.
Later, looking through my jacket pockets, I found the little satin pouch with the crystals that Troy and Bill had thought were valuable jewels (until, I assume, they’d tried to pawn them earlier that day). I think Troy must have slipped it into my pocket before he ran. It was the pocket on his side. It was hard to imagine him thinking of it when he was so frantic, but I couldn’t figure out any other way it could have gotten there. Anyway, I liked to think that that was what happened, that it was a sort of a goodbye.
I don’t remember much about that night at the motel. My diary entry is pretty upsetting. I guess I didn’t want to have sex but was scared Shadow would be mad or leave me so I did anyway, and it was unpleasant… I had completely forgotten about that. Still don’t remember, but it’s there in the diary.
I am so glad I didn’t end up living in Washington state with him.
The next morning, Shadow woke up screaming from a bad dream. I don’t think at the time either of us connected him having this awful scary dream to what had happened the night before; it was just a coincidence. He was freaked out and I comforted him, and eventually it turned into him faking being way more freaked out than he really was, practically catatonic with no memory of where we were and whatever. I was playing along even though I could tell it was fake, and we were both being very melodramatic. Then someone knocked on the door, and I dropped him and ran to open it. It was the police officer from the night before — according to the diary his name was Captain Watson — making sure we had enough vouchers to get breakfast across the street, and telling us to come to the police station after we ate.
It was Thanksgiving day, that day. We were only vaguely aware of it. I hope we didn’t ruin anyone’s Thanksgiving — that they were able to go home to their dinners as planned after dealing with us. Thanksgiving was always weird for me after that, always a strange anniversary.
So we dressed and ate and started off walking to the police station, which was just under a mile away according to Google Maps. Assuming the police station hasn’t moved in 30 years, and I’m correct about what motel it was.
It still didn’t occur to us not to go back to the police station, to just leave. They were saying they were going to let us go once we had finished our statements anyway. We’d only gone a couple blocks when a police car pulled up and the cop asked us if we were headed to the station. We said yes and he offered to drive us. There was no attitude of not trusting that we weren’t going there or anything; he was going that way anyway and thought he’d save us the walk. I don’t think he’d been there the night before, but he knew who we were; I’m sure we were pretty big news around the station.
They told us at the station that Troy had stolen another car, and that they were trying to figure out where Bill might be. We never heard anything about them after that, ever again. I tried to find out, but not knowing their last names makes it difficult.
One funny/stupid thing that happened at the station, either then or the night before: I had a necklace that was like a little crocheted bag with tiny new age crystals inside. My dad had given it to me. I told you I was very into new age stuff, right? And that it was pretty much the only thing I had in common with my dad at the time. So I had this necklace, and the idea was that the crystals would soak up negative energy or something. So a cop noticed the pouch and said “What’s in that bag?” and in my immense innocence, I replied “Crystal.” Crystal meth at that time was usually called “crystal” but while I’d almost certainly heard of it, it hadn’t reached our area yet at all. It didn’t even occur to me he’d of course think that was what I meant. He got all intense and was like, “Where did you get it??” and I, still completely oblivious and confused, said “My dad gave it to me?” And he stared at me for a moment and then his face cleared and he was like “Oh, you mean actual crystals!” It is shocking to me to remember how naive I was, while also managing to survive this trip.
They drove us to a different, bigger station (looking at the map, I think it must have been the sheriff station?) to write up our official statements of what happened. We were given the options of handwriting them or typing them into the brand-new word processor, which of course we chose because who doesn’t want to use a computer?? This was 1987, ok? It was exciting. At this point we were still working with an understanding that they were going to let us go as soon as we’d told them everything we knew. They’d said they might be able to get the local Salvation Army to buy us bus tickets, even.
But then Captain Watson took me into his office, without Shadow. Another officer came in too, but he sat in the back of the room behind me and didn’t say anything. Captain Watson sat at his desk and had me sit across from him and said, “Ok, your name’s not really Margaret, and you’re not 20. What’s the real story?”
Up to that moment, I had honestly thought they’d fallen for all of it. My stomach fell through the floor. It was over. The ridiculously huge heaps of good luck had finally run out (of course not; this was part of the very good luck). I said something along the lines of, “I guess I just should tell you the truth now, huh?” and he agreed that yes, I should.
So I told him who I really was, that I’d run away from home, all of it.
Next week I’ll tell you what happened after that.
I’m leaving out a page of the diary. It’s about how the night after we were arrested and all, I didn’t want to have sex with Shadow and did anyway because I was scared he would leave me, and all about how I thought I was being too clingy and annoying. It’s insane I was worrying about that after everything that had happened. But I was. It’s one of the only entries that’s so personal I don’t want to include it. Some of the sex parts freaked me out a lot just reading it; I’d forgotten how bad things got with him, when I didn’t go along with whatever he wanted. I don’t want other people to read it. I just don’t. It makes me so angry, though, that I thought maybe I was unreasonable for being freaked out and wanting him to cuddle me. I mean, Jesus fuck.
[Shadow] Troy came around 11:00 he took us to an abandoned house. He took us to the pawn show to pawn our guitar. We pawned it for $20.00.
Went to the Jiffy Shop to get some gas and food. 2 guys asked us if we wanted to get stoned. Troy said sure. We followed them up the road & noticed we were being followed by a police car. We got pulled over & Troy was told to get out with his hands up. He asked if we were ready to go & we said no but he did it anyway. Wxex wxexnxtn axrxoxuxnxdx I told Sarah to get down in case there was any shooting. I ducked down also. We went around the [bank? back?] where he jumped out & ran. We stayed in the truck. We got out & walked toward the squad car. We were told to stand with our hands in the air, then told to stand with our hands against the truck. We did. Then we were told to lie face down on the concrete cement. I told her it would be ok. We were cuffed & sxtxex placed into different cars. She was takin’ into custody
I was looking for Troy with the Sheriff. I saw him xhxixcxkx hiking along the Hiway.
I was brought back to the co. Jail & filled out a statement report. They let her out of the cell. She filled out a statement report. In the mean time Troy had stolen another car. We woke up in the hotel this morning & were told to go to the police department.
I really want to go or something. I’m getting real impatient. I hope the salvation army will pay for a bus xsxtxaxtxixoxnx ticket & we can be on our way. I know Sarah was scared shitless last night but I knew it would be allright. I love her so much & I know she loves me as much. Last night xx I had a real bad nightmare.
I dreamt that was shot in the throat by an Indian don’t ask me why. I woke up around 2 seconds before I would of died. I couldn’t drink water or anything. I was really scared for one of the first times of my life. I hope Bill is ok. And in a way I hope Troy will be ok. He is in a lot of Deep shit & is going to need all the luck in the world.
I was so scared last night. The worst part was when they separated me from Shadow. They put me in a police car and took me to the station. A woman xx strip searched me and I was locked in a cell. I fell asleep for I don’t know how long, then they told me to come on out and I did and there was Shadow! It felt so good to have his arms around me. We stayed at a hotel they paid for. I am so scared of getting him upset with me. I realized just how much I love him last night. I am so sore, I really hurt. It’s more than just being sore, It’s like being cut inside. I’m afraid I got Shadow annoyed with me. I didn’t want sex, I just wanted to be cuddled and held. I need to give him more space, I guess. It’s so hard.