Excerpt from Driftwood Chapter 6, Jail.
Context: Having had my fill of the streets, I come up with the dumbest idea in the history of dumb ideas to eventually get stable… a grown up boyfriend. What I got instead was a life lesson that would serve me well when I would ultimately end up homeless and not by choice. Embarrassing story? Yes. But teenagers olds can end up doing some seriously stupid shit when left to figure out the world on their own.
I went to the mall and stole some clean clothes. I don’t even remember the store, but since my clothes were like 6-8 sizes too big, it wasn’t that hard to hide a clean T-shirt under the long sleeve pullover that I’d run away in. This was the first time I stole clothes. A lot of firsts this time around…not like that. Anyway, I thought they gave free makeovers to try out products, but no, that wasn’t a thing like in the movies.
Or the makeup kiosk lady could tell she’d be wasting her time if she did. Still, I figured I needed to wear makeup to look older, so I went to the Macy’s or JC Penny makeup stand and tried on some lipsticks…and of course the epitome of 90s middle school chique –blue eyeshadow. After that, a trip to the bathroom to ditch my old pullover and neatened up my pigtails and BAM, ready for my date.
As I waited for him outside the mall, I started to panic. Forgot about the whole “bragging about sex” Tia and Tamara did up ‘til that point. What if dude wanted to have sex? Was I prepared to have sex? I can’t have sex. I’m a Jehovah’s Witness… but I wasn’t anymore. Now I was Jewish. Could Jewish Girls have sex before marriage? I really needed to actually research being Jewish. Next time at the library, I’d find a Torah or something. Then the Lil Kim feminist sex talks I had with my sister’s golden friend kicked in. Sex was fine as long as the girl wanted to do it. It was my choice, my power. I could do this. If I had to, to get a boyfriend, yea. Totally. He pulled up about then.
A black jeep with the doors and roof pulled off. It was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. I got in his car and we rode off. I held on tight as he sped out the parking lot. He made a joke about me falling out the side. Okay, so the taxi driver maybe 4 months prior took me saying I was 15 and immediately knew I was full of shit. I told this guy I was 18. Not only that, but I’d also never wore makeup before and had put on blue eye shadow and red lipstick. I don’t think that was enough. Okay think my ass, that dude didn’t buy it. The first thing he said when I got in his car was “you weren’t kidding when you said you looked young.”
The movie theater was closed, so he took me to a burger place, probably McDonald’s. We talked some more, I told him some stories from my mom’s life which… the dates clearly didn’t add up. Dancing with David Justice at a night club? At what? 14? 15? I wasn’t thinking, I was just trying to seem cool. My mom was cool. He’s just like “how old are you?” and I’m like “I’m 18.” And he’s like “no, stop fucking around, how old are you?” and I’m like “18.” Maybe it was the pigtails. We talk a bit more, MTV’s real world, what college I was gonna go to (Notre Dame), and blah blah blah “How old are you”
“Okay, I’m 17 but I’ll be 18 in a couple of weeks.”
He’d had enough.
“Look kid, I don’t know what you’re pulling here but this is not okay. You look younger than my kid sister” Okay, it definitely was the pig tails. Then I got a full-on lecture about how he could have been Ted Bundy and I could have wound up in his basement with my hands and feet cut off and how damn lucky I was that he wasn’t.
He was right.
“I don’t know what your life is like. I am not going to sit here and act like it’s okay. But you need to go home, back to your parents before you get yourself killed.”
I sat there like a kid who just got a lecture from an absolute stranger and knew the stranger was right. I was pretty embarrassed and just ashamed of how dumb I was. I was also pretty relieved he spotted my bullshit. He offered to give me a ride home, but I didn’t have a home for him to take me to, so I lied and said I lived in an apartment complex around the corner from the mall.
I had him take me to some random entrance. It was clear he didn’t believe it was my place cause he asked if I needed money or anything. I told him I was fine and walked to the entrance of the building. I waited for him to leave, but he waited till I went in and yelled out “I mean it, go home” as drove off.
The entrance to the building had a stairwell in it. I sat there for a bit till I sure the dude was gone, then I walked to the nearest bus stop. I waited for an hour for the bus before I came to the conclusion that the bus had stopped running. It was almost midnight. I had no clue where I was, only somewhere near the mall. I didn’t want to risk walking trying to find the train station and getting lost. Though, Dunwoody was probably one of the safer cities to wander around lost at night.
I walked back to the apartment complex and sat in the stairwell thinking I’d just have to wait a few hours ‘til the sun came up and the busses stopped running. I tried staying up but fell asleep sometime before dawn. The next day, I woke up to some yuppie couple stepping around me.
“Do you think she overdosed?” – Yuppie Chick
I told them I wasn’t a junkie and I’d just gotten locked out and was waiting for my roommate to come home. The guy replied with a yuppie scoff.
“We should have moved to a gated community” – Yuppie Guy
When yuppies drove off, I left the building only to find out that I was only a block or two from the mall. I walked to the train station and hopped on the train. I fell back to sleep probably as soon as the train started. I was exhausted. Too sleepy to be able to sense the beginning and the end of the tracks to get up and switch trains. I was awakened by an old white guy screaming at me to get up, the conductor.
“Wake up. Get off my train”
“Sorry, I’m on my way to school. I must have fallen asleep”
“This is the third trip with you and your friend over there knocked out”
He pointed over to some middle-aged homeless lady. She was dirty, her hair was all jacked up. She was completely sprawled out on the seats like a bed with bags all next to her. “I don’t know her!” I said, super insulted that he would equate us. “Bullshit, Homeless Hilton is closed.” He said, jerking me out of the seat and pushing me towards the homeless woman. “Get your friend and get off my train before I call the cops.”
♫ It seems no one can help me now♫
I ran out of the train door onto the platform and down the stairs. I hopped on the first bus pulling out of the station and road it til the end of the route, then hopped on the train at the station its route ended at.
♫I’m in too deep there’s no way out ♫
I made my way back to the library and went about my normal routine. Just trying to figure my next step. What was I going to do? I’d exhausted every idea every plan, everything I could think of short of camping out in the woods living in a barrel, like Huckleberry Finn.
♫ This time I have really led myself astray ♫
I couldn’t shake the image of the homeless woman and Jack’s warning to “Go Home” kept echoing in my head. When the library closed, I took the train back to Avondale station and caught the bus to the shelter.
♫ Runaway train never goin back. Wrong way on a one-way track ♫
When I got to the shelter, the doors were locked. It was about 8 or 9. I knocked. A staff came to the door and laughed and shut the door. I figured I was gonna be locked out. I halfway expected I was gonna be locked out. I figured they were calling the cops on me for a runway charge. Hours passed. No cops. I kept waiting outside. It was getting later and later. I started getting scared. I had already waited too long. The last bus was gone. I was stuck waiting in that shitty neighborhood, didn’t know what was going to happen. I started banging on the door. Screaming “let me in!” Nothing.
I banged and kicked and kept screaming. Another staff came peeked out the door and told me to sit my ass down before she called the cops. They would let me in when they felt like it. I yelled at her to call the cops and tried to hold the door open as she pulled it closed. Another staff member came to help her. A male. He started kicking my foot that I had shoved in the doorway and hitting my fingers on my hand to make me let go of the door, telling the female staff to just slam them in the door. Luckily, she didn’t but he pried my fingers off, but not before I got my foot back in the door.
They pushed the door open, knocking me back then slammed it shut. I went and grabbed a rock and hurled it at the window of the children’s unit. They were either plexiglass or I was super fucking weak. Then the cops rolled up. I thought the shelter staff had called them on me, but the way they reacted, it’s more likely all the commotion caught the attention of one of the neighbors across the street, and they called…guess not everyone in the neighborhood was a teenage rapist gang member. The cops were livid.
The cops—a younger white guy and an older black guy—put me in cuffs without asking a question and then put me in the back of the car. Then they walked back to the shelter door and lit into the staff. I couldn’t make out everything he was saying but it sounded like he was reaming them for having locked me out. I guess they’d been warned before about doing that cause the younger one was yelling “You know better!” and “She’s just a fucking kid!”
The younger one came back to the car I was in while the older one stayed at the shelter still talking with the staff. He asked me why I ran away, where I had been all that time, etc etc. I didn’t answer. I just kind of stared out of the window. Then he phrased the “are you a danger to yourself or others” question differently. He asked if I wanted to “die or anything.”
I squeaked out a “Yes,” not making eye contact with him.
He nodded like he understood everything I was feeling in that moment. He couldn’t possibly have. Sitting in that car, every emotion that I had suppressed while acting like I was on some grand adventure for the past 3 weeks was trying to fight their way to the surface. I did everything I could to stuff them back down.
A few minutes later, he drove off. He asked if I wanted to listen to the radio. I shook my head no, but he turned it on anyway. Country music. I don’t even remember the song. I just remember it chipping away at me till a few tears escaped. Then a few more. I wiped them off as quickly as they rolled down my cheek. He looked up at me in the rear-view. He had kind eyes. I started to get choked up.
“How…how long til we get to the jail”
“I’m not taking you to jail, honey.”
♫ Seems like I should be getting somewhere. Somehow, I’m neither here nor there ♫