I could hear my Step-Mother yelling and hitting my sister. The house was small. you couldn’t, not hear what was happening anywhere in it. It was an old place, put on the side of a salt water creek. When it was a new house, it was probably just a fishing shack. A place to get out of the weather.
We had a small room near the street side of the house. The house sat back 300 feet off of the road. The three of us shared the same bedroom, and my step-mother and my dad had the other bedroom. Their room was at the view end of the place, with a big picture window looking out at the creek, and Mt. Tamalpais. The mountain was only a mile away to its base, and rose to a height of 2571 feet.
We had been in that house now for over a year, and I had only been allowed outside to go to school. I wasn’t allowed to go hunt lizards, or catch frogs, or do anything that would give me a sense of not being watched. I almost got to go outside one day.
I was being let out, to play or whatever, and I was truly stunned. I get to go out! I grabbed my jacket and started for the back door, and wham! I got smacked so hard in the mouth, my caps on my previously broken teeth, broke, tearing my lips and cutting my tongue. ” You know better than to go out, where your dad is!” she screamed at me.
” Your dad is out there working on the car, now if you’re going out, use the sliding door off the porch! “. She continue to scream at me, and paid no attention to the damage she had just caused. I knew If I cried, I only got it worse, so I hid my tears, shut my bleeding broken toothed mouth, and tip-toed out the sliding glass door, before she changed her mind.
My sister was still in our room, crying. My little brother had been outside many times, and was out by the creek already. I was so happy with being outside, away from HER. I even liked school, even though I was supposed to keep my grades low. That was hard. Pretending to be dumb. Acting like I didn’t understand stuff, just so I might not get a beating.
I joined my brother on the stinky muddy bank of the creek, watching the tide going out, exposing turds and toilet paper. The houses along the creek drained all of their plumbing, right into the creek. Low tide was nasty, but outside was a thrill. I would rather have the stink and turds, than go back inside.
” What’s she yelling about now? “, my brother asked. ” She said I could go out, and then smacked me for almost going out by where dad is”. I said. I had to be careful of what I said. I couldn’t talk to either my sister, or my brother. Steppie had a way of getting information out of them. I never had that problem, because she never asked me anything, in the way of just talking.
We could see over the bank of the creek, and my dad was intent on working on the car. He either never heard anything, or had learned to turn a deaf ear to it. I heard him ask HER, where us kids were once. She told him, we had already eaten dinner, and were in our room, studying.
He seemed to approve of that. He went to work at 7 in the morning, and came home about 5pm. He never saw us. we weren’t allowed to see him either. He never seemed concerned, as to where we were, or what we were doing.
My brother and I didn’t have much in common, aside from living in Hell. He wasn’t very coordinated when it came to throwing a ball or catching. Not balls, not lizards or snakes, and usually even the frogs were more coordinated than he was. He didn’t get picked for teams at school, and he didn’t seem to care.
” Is She still mad?” he asked. I shrugged, that was good enough for an answer. “I heard Her hitting Karol ” he said, and then kicked at an old willow stump, almost fiercely, and actually looking angry. ” What’s your problem?” I asked, even though I was sure he had none. He was the youngest of us, and held favor with Steppie, almost equal to Karol.
” I don’t like Steppie! I hate it here, and Karol told me she hates HER too “. I didn’t say much, it was dangerous to say anything that might get back to Steppie. I pretended to be interested in the sunset, and ignored him. The sun was going down, and we had to get back inside, or more crap would happen. I reveled in the last rays of the sun as it buried itself behind the mountain.
” We gotta go in now, before we get in more trouble ” I said, and started sluggishly walking toward the house. I had to look to see if my dad was about, so I could avoid the wrath of my Step-Mother. I couldn’t do anything right. No matter what I did, I was always in trouble.
Today we were all in trouble, and no one did anything wrong. We did the chores, cleaning the house, and that was only an okay chore when SHE had the t.v. on. That was the only time I ever got to watch it. My life was get up, go to school, get right back home, and don’t be late. Hurry home so we can clean the house and cook dinner, and eat before dad got there. Then, back into our room.
Dad was already inside. My Step-Mother was out on the deck. She pointed to the back door, meaning don’t come in this way. I just about had her all figured out. I didn’t want to aggravate her. The smallest thing set her off, and I never knew what it would be next. I headed around the side of our house, my brother tailing me like a cat, following a mouse.
When us boys got into our room, we could see the slap marks on Karol’s face. She was sullenly sitting on her bed, staring at the ceiling, and holding her guitar. She couldn’t play it, but she pretended to, and having a big something across her body protected her sometimes.
She looked at me hard. I could feel her looking at me, so I glanced over at her. She mouthed something. Steppie could hear us if we whispered, so we didn’t. Karol mouthed, slowly, and carefully enunciated soundless, “we need to get out of here “. What a trick, I heard her loud and clear, as if she had screamed it. I only nodded, and my brother pipes up, ” Whatcha noddin for? ” and he said that so loudly, I wanted to kill him.
In very quiet tones I lied, and told him I was thinking of a song. He then wanted to know which one. I told him ” Sky Pilot “, knowing it was one of his favorites. He believed me and started humming the tune to himself. I looked at my sister and mouthed ” tonight “. She understood me, and we let the conversation go.
It was dark. My sister awakened me, and whispered ” I think they’re asleep now “. I got out of bed carefully so I wouldn’t wake Kevin, and crept to the blanket that separated the two bedrooms. Carefully I peeked around it, without letting it move more than an inch, Just snores, maybe we could do this.
” Get a heavy coat, and good walking shoes ” I whispered to Karol. While she crept around the room getting what I had told her to get, I woke my brother. ” We are leaving ” I whispered, “Get your jacket, and shoes. Don’t put your shoes on yet, just carry them “, and I grabbed my stuff too.
We quietly crept from our room, and I swear, every step made an echo, every board in the floor creaked, loudly. I made it to the back door and tried to turn the lock latch, without making a sound. It needed oil, and it made a squeaking, grinding noise that seemed to bounce off of every surface. I got the lock open and turned the rattly door knob. It was loose, and rattled loudly.
The snore sounds were different now, we probably made too much noise, but we would get killed if Steppie caught us now. I pulled the door open and the scream of squeaky hinges, should have awakened the neighbors, a quarter-mile away. It was so loud to me, I didn’t hesitate to move. We bolted away from the house, jumping across the porch, and down into the dirt.
Karol and Kevin were right behind me, and no one shut the door. We ran down the driveway out to the main street in front of the house. We were far enough away now, we could talk quietly, but we needed to get away from there, It was late, one o’clock or so, and it wouldn’t do, for us to be seen by the police. We put on our shoes, and I led the way, taking a track across an empty field. Moving as quickly as we could, we put some distance between the house and ourselves.
“where are we going to go? ” my sister wanted to know. ” There is a place on the other side of San Rafael, where we can go “, I said. ” The Fenton’s? ” asked Kevin. ” Yeah, the Fenton’s ” I said, ” But we have to be quiet, and stay in the shadows, until we can get into the hills .
Ma and Pa Fenton were an old couple. They ran a receiving home, a place where kids could stay, between foster homes or adoptions, or just when kids needed a safe place. They took in kids, that were in trouble. All I really knew, was they were nice.
” I know a way over the big Greenbrea hill, that cops don’t go on. We’ll have to walk all night though. The fenton’s place is out by Santa Venetia, and that’s 14 miles down the freeway. We can’t go that way, so it’ll be a lot farther”.
We negotiated our way around the creek, and I led them across a mile of empty fields, tripping and stumbling over and around the torn up ground. The lights from the cities around us, gave us a little illumination, but It was extremely dark. Being in a hurry, and afraid we would be seen or picked up by the police, seemed to heighten our senses.
We had to cross a bridge, on a main road, so we waited in some brush by the edge of the road, until there were no cars near, and bolted across the bridge, diving back into the tall brush on the other side of the bridge. “Just past the church on the main drag, we can start up the hill, and no one will be able to see us or get to us ” I told them.
We sneaked the rest of the way across the next town, and no one seemed to have noticed. As soon as we started up the hill, I heard a car, rolling up the gravel road. panicking, I pushed my brother and sister down on the ground, and told them to hide in the trees about 50 feet away. We belly crawled all 50 feet, and barely made it to cover when headlights cut through the air above us. We huddled quietly, trying to be small, and heard the radio blare, ” J19, request your location”.
It was a cop! Someone must have seen us. I was nearly panicked, and the faces of Kevin and Karol were dripping with terror. Karol whispered to me ” If we get caught they’ll send us back there “. She was almost in tears, and Kevin was about to cry as well. ” SHHH, just be quiet. Don’t make a sound. If he can’t see us or hear us, he won’t know we’re here”, I bravely whispered back. I couldn’t let them know how afraid I was at that moment.
The cop turned on his spotlight and flashed it around. He did it too fast, and didn’t see us when the light flashed by, right at us. He pointed the light at something off to our left. I was inspired, and had an idea. I found a fist sized rock and threw it as far as I could. I threw it high, and away from the path we would take. It arced up over a tree and sailed down through the leaves of a tree a long way from us. The cop heard it passing through the leaves and turned his spotlight in that direction.
It was an inspired move. The rock made lots of noise going through the trees, and bounced off of something. Before the rock even stopped moving, I heard the sound of something running away. The cop heard it too, and jumped back in his car headed back the way he had come, probably looking for the running whatever.
We stayed hidden for another ten minutes or so, and then headed up the hill. I followed some deer trails, leading Karol and Kevin up and over the hill. It was late and getting cool out, so I stepped up the pace to help keep us warm.
We made our way down the hill, and I angled our trail toward the industrial area, where we hoped no one would see us at that time of day. I had been a runaway several times before, so I kind of knew what we could do, and how we could go, without causing notice. We got into the industrial area at about 5 o’clock am, and the cities were beginning to wake up.
I led us to an old run down shed alongside the railroad tracks, and we huddled in there for a couple of hours. Every noise struck terror. I wasn’t afraid of animals, I was afraid of the police. Every time a car rolled by, I felt sure we were going to be discovered. After a couple of hours, I noticed school busses starting on their rounds.
” We can go out on the streets now, but we have to go fast. If we’re seen after school starts, we’ll get picked up, so come on, let’s go! ” They didn’t argue, but we all were tired, and we still had a long way to go.
We followed the tracks for about a mile, to the base of another tall forested hill. ” We can go over this hill, and that will cut a couple of miles off this walk”, I explained, ” the Fenton’s live maybe 5 or 6 miles farther, this hill will take us to the next valley, it’s steep, but it’s a shortcut, and the cops won’t see us”.
We climbed the hill, sticking to the trees. It was a hard climb because of the slope, but we made good time and only had to rest a couple of times. When we came out of the trees at the bottom of the hill, it was only 8:30, according to the clock by City Hall. It would be alright for us to be on the streets, but only for an hour or so.
” We have to hurry ” I urged, ” we only have about half an hour before the truant officers will ask, why we’re not at school “. Although we were tired, from all of the walking, and climbing over the hills, we picked up our pace. It looked like we might just make it. It would be hard to cover 3 or 4 miles in the time we had.
We had no money, so we couldn’t jump on a bus, and I knew better than to suggest we hitch hike. I told Karol and Kevin, the cops would bust us for sure if we tried that. 3 youngsters hitchhiking would be like starting a fire, so we tried jogging for a while. That helped eat the distance, but it would be close. Schools would already be starting, and we needed to get off of the streets, and hidden again.
The last three miles were the toughest. The road we needed take, to get to where we were going, would lead right past, where my Step-Mother worked part-time. None of us kids figured Steppie would be there, with us being ” runaways “, and having been gone when her day started. We were still jogging, and walking, trying to hurry.
We were dead tired after walking all night, and I was afraid we would get picked up by the police, if we were out on the streets much longer. We still had a couple of miles to travel, to get to safety. There were a lot of cars on the road, mostly commuters who didn’t have to be at work early. There were vehicles parked in parallel along the edge of the roadway.
I saw a police car up ahead of us, heading toward us. It was about six or seven cars back in a long string of cars, that had just taken off from a stop-light. I told the others to walk closely to the parked vehicles, and we paced ourselves so we could be behind a van when the cop passed by. It worked! The police man didn’t see us as he passed, but when we came out from behind the van, I saw my Dad’s car going toward where Steppie worked.
He was taking my Step Mother to her job, only a few blocks farther up this same road. Now my terror was rising, did they see us? My Dad kept driving up the road, and we all breathed a sigh of relief. That was too close. If he was taking Steppie to work, he would be coming back this way in another few minutes.
There were a lot of cars parked on the side of the road, but I didn’t see another truck or van to hide behind. My panic was taking over, and my mind was racing through plans, as to what we might be able to do. There were parking meters along the edge of the sidewalk. I was looking down at the gutter and spotted a dime, someone must have dropped. If we could find enough change, we could catch a bus! I told Karol, she should cross the road, and look along the street edge for more change.
She argued about that. She didn’t want us to separate, especially with our Dad in the vicinity. It made sense, but I thought we would be better off if we found some more money. She won that battle. I knew it was asking a lot. We all were scared, tired, out of options, and in a panic. We were so close.
On the other side of the street, about half a block farther was a gas station, and off to the side of it was a phone booth. We could call the Fenton’s! How is it I hadn’t thought of that before now? They had told me I could call them, if I ever needed help. We were close to their place, so the call shouldn’t be a toll call. That was the answer, and it would put us on the other side of the road. Maybe my dad wouldn’t be looking here for us.
The last time I had run away, I had Kevin with me. Steppie never even called the police! We were gone from home for two weeks, and she didn’t report it. Maybe my Dad didn’t know we had run away. Maybe to him, we weren’t missing, and he wouldn’t be looking. All of the wishful thoughts rattled around my brain. All of the positive maybe’s left me feeling like we had a chance.
” Cross the street, after these cars pass, and we’ll go to the gas station ” I told them. ” I have that dime, and there’s a phone booth over there “, I pointed with my chin. ” We can call them and maybe they’ll come get us. Also Dad might be coming by here again in a few minutes, and I don’t see anywhere else to hide. You kin go into the bathrooms while I try to call the Fenton’s. If Dad drove by, he’d only see a kid in a phone booth, and it’s half way back of the station “. I hoped I sounded convincing, so we could get off of the streets, and out of sight.
The line of cars passed, and we dashed across the street, and just kept running to the side of the gas station. I was faster than them, by a mile. I got in the phone booth, and slammed the door shut, before they even made it half way there.
The phone book was in there, and it was pretty new, not all ripped up like they get. I started looking for their number, still watching for my dad’s car, and praying the Fentons would be there. I found the number, dropped my only dime in the slot, and heard the chime of the phone eating my dime. The dial tone came on and I carefully started dialing. 4….3…5…..7…….9………1.8……..itstarted to ring in the earpiece, and I impatiently counted rings. 1…..2…..3……4…..Karol and Kevin were just shutting the doors to the restrooms, and there was my Dad’s car! It rolled by, and he never looked! 6…..7…..8..” hello? ” It was a kid, not Ma or Pa Fenton. ” I’m trying to reach Ma or Pa Fenton ” I spoke as, grown up as I could sound. ” They aren’t here, could I take a message? ” the kid asked. My hopes crashed, so much for wishful thinking, I thought. I wasn’t going to be able to call them back, and I didn’t know if you could even call a phone booth. I was starting to panic again, and my brain mentioned Marty to me. ” Is Marty there? ” I asked hopefully. ” No, Marty had to go to court, that’s where Ma n Pa are too” the kid replied. That meant we couldn’t get them to pick us up. Court can take all day sometimes. I know, I’ve been to court a couple of times already. ” D’you know when they’ll be back? ” I asked, knowing already this was a waste of a dime. ” They said about one, if things went smooth” he replied, sounding confidently. My hopes were smashed, now what are we going to do? We can’t stay around here, and we can’t be on the streets, and I was running out of ideas. ” Okay ” I said, ” Thanks, guess I’ll just go ” I blurted, not knowing what to say anymore. It wouldn’t matter who I was, or what I wanted. This kid wouldn’t be able to help, or do anything for me. I hung the receiver up hard, hoping, that would fool the thing into giving me back my dime, and growled when it didn’t.
The convalescent home Steppie worked at was only another block farther up the road, and we would have to pass by it. There was a park, we might be able to hide in, but it was going to be risky going 3 or 4 more blocks. The parking meter zone, would quit at the next corner, and there wouldn’t be parked cars to help shield us.
I told Karol and my brother what was up, and we debated what to do. We all knew we couldn’t stay here in the restrooms, and we shouldn’t be on the streets. How come I always had to do stuff, with no real options, I wondered to myself? All the grown-ups always talked about solutions, and all I ever had was problems.
We ran back across the street, and made for the park, hoping no one would see us. As we went passed the nursing home, we saw Steppie, shaking out some sheets through a second floor window! We ran as fast as we could for the last few blocks to the park. There was a little dip in the center, with a few trees around an old beat up picnic table and rusted firebox. We crawled under the table, sure we would get caught.
” I saw HER up there, on the second floor ” my sister said quietly, ” SHE looked right at us! What are we going to do? ” I shrugged, I didn’t know what to do. If it were a math problem, it would at least have something on the other side of the equal sign. I didn’t see that something. I was fresh out of ideas. ” We’ll have to stay hidden here, until schools get out ” I stammered, ” There’s no way we can get another mile down the road, and there’s nothing we could do”.
My brain was spinning! We were in trouble. My Dad wouldn’t normally drive Steppie to work, so he must know we were gone. She saw us, maybe, but she couldn’t call him, yet. But if she did see us, she could call the cops! We were only three blocks from where she was, and if they looked for us, they would check here!
Hope, was only another mile away, and town was thinning. We didn’t belong on any street, or in any public place. We were supposed to be in school. It was almost 10 o’clock, by my reckoning, and we needed to lay low until at least 2 o’clock. I said we could probably rest for the time being, and I would see if there was something else we do. All I could do, was to try to keep us from panicking, and exposing ourselves.
We were only hidden from the street. If anyone decided to walk through the small park, they would see three kids hiding under a picnic table. I just hoped we could wait it out without being discovered. We all were tired, but I was so pent-up with nervous energy, I could barely lay there quietly.
Every car that slowed on the roadway caused me to jump. Every sound was clear to me. I could hear voices of people walking by out near the street, and was sure, I would see them peering into the park looking for us. The time did not pass nearly fast enough. It seemed time had actually stopped.
Finally! A school bus rolled by, but it was empty. I saw Karol and Kevin were napping and I didn’t want to bother them. I was getting antsy. Just a bit longer, and we could continue in the open, without being too obvious. It occurred to me, if we were being sought by police, we would only be too obvious anyway. We needed to walk separately when we did get to go. We needed to appear as though we had nothing in common, aside from coming home from school.
Another bus was rolling by, and slowing near the park. It was full of mixed aged kids. ” Hey you two, it’s time to go. I will go in front, cuz I know where it is. Kevin, you need to follow me, and stay back about 5 feet. Can’t hide we’re brothers, if the cops are really looking, we’re dead. Karol, you gotta stay back about 30 feet, like from here to that fountain, so it ain’t like you’re with us “. I finished explaining my long thought out plan.
We were able to be seen now without looking too out-of-place. I learned the last time I split, you had to look like you belonged where you were. We could blend in with the other kids getting off of the bus. We left the pit area and ran over to the restrooms and got drinks at the fountain.
I led the way with my brother trailing my steps. There were about six other kids walking past the park, and a few more were cutting through it from the other side. Karol waited until we were well ahead of her and followed. There were kids between my sister and us boys, and when I looked back there, I think it would have fooled anyone.
Some of the kids were turning off the sidewalk at different houses, and cross streets. We weren’t quite pacing the bus, and that meant we would run out of kid cover fast. I tried to go faster, without being too obvious, but we all were hungry and dead tired. The bus dropping kids off, was already a half of a mile ahead, and there was no way we would be able to keep up with it.
There were cars going by, probably Moms picking up kids, and getting groceries. So far no cops, but even I knew they liked to hide behind stuff and wait. A purple car went past and then hit the brakes. The car pulled over to the shoulder, on the other side of the road, and stopped. The back window was rolling down and a girl yelled in my direction. I looked behind me and saw Karol walking slowly, hanging back about 50 feet. There was no one between us anymore,
” Rusty! What are you doing here? ” she shouted out of the window. The driver was getting out of the car, and I recognized him. It was Pa Fenton! I couldn’t believe my eyes or our good fortune. ” Karol, catch up, we got a ride! ” I shouted, and she double timed it, catching up fast. Pa was crossing the road, studying us and smiling. He was probably in his late 60’s, and moved pretty slow. He was grizzly looking, because he didn’t care much for shaving.
” Watcha doin, and who’s that? ” he asked me, while pointing at Karol. I hugged him, so happy to be rescued. I told him we ran away in the middle of the night, and what we had to do to get there. He shook Karol’s hand and told us to get into the car. Never had I felt as safe or secure before that. Pa had seen us, and we would be safe now.