They are young, and they escaped with nothing to lose and everything to gain
We were only 14 years old, living in a group home in the deserted mining town of Gardnerville, Nevada.
My mother left Nelson because he has always been a drunk. She left when I was only two years old. Whenever I asked about her, Nelson never gave me a straight answer. He was either too drunk to recall or too hurt to admit that he had no idea where she was. Nelson promised he would stop drinking after she left. But he never even tried. My mother didn’t bother to take me with her. She left me with his drunken madness.
I remember the unbearable feeling of coming home after school to our one-bedroom apartment on Melrose Avenue. Opening the door and smelling a strong stench reeking of piss and cheap beer with Nelson lying on the mattress. He would often piss himself in his sleep because he was too drunk or unconscious to make his way to the bathroom. He snored to the sound of indistinct chatter coming from the television, the soundtrack of my afternoons.
My room had a blue blanket on the floor with a picture of my mother hung up on the wall. She had gorgeous long brown curly hair with big hazel eyes. She left behind a necklace that hung over the picture. It was a gold chain with a dolphin pendant. I kept it in case she ever came back for it.
One night, when I was only eight, I woke up to the sound of heavy knocks on the door. A social worker and the police took me away from Nelson and arrested him. I haven’t seen him since. I packed the picture, the necklace and a blanket in a plastic bag and left. They brought me to a place called a group home. It felt like constantly living at school. I was always with a bunch of different kids, and I had to share everything with them. The people taking care of us would come and go. Some were nice. Others were miserable and wanted us to be miserable too. It’s weird growing up with strangers that you’re supposed to consider family.
Joey got there a year later, and we’ve been inseparable ever since. I found out that his mother was a crack addict and his father was serving time for dealing drugs. All Joey wanted was to find his younger brother, Jesse. Social workers separated them and sent his brother to another group home. Jesse was all he would talk about. “I have to protect my baby brother. I have to be there for him. I’m all he’s got,” Joey would shout out whenever he got upset with someone. He tried running away several times, but the police would always track him down. They even took his shoes so he wouldn’t run away again.
This time though, we ran away together.
“Let’s get the hell out of here,” I called out to Joey. “The cops are searching for us. It’s a small fucking town, we need to jet.” After months of planning and waiting for Joey to get his old shoes back, we finally escaped the group home one afternoon. I had agreed to help Joey find his baby brother.
“Fuck the cops and fuck this system. Have a beer,” Joey said as he passed me the Rolling Stone he had just stolen from a 7/11.
Joey and I headed straight to the Gardnerville bus station.
Our plan was to head to Portland. Word was that the social service people took his little brother Jesse there. I didn’t care where we went. I had nowhere to go, nothing to lose and everything to gain. I was free and lonely as hell. Freedom and loneliness combined make way for a fascinating yet destructive adventure.
All I wanted was to get the hell out of this town and never look back. The only belongings I took were the picture of my mother and her gold necklace. I hoped to find her and prove I was nothing like Nelson and that I was worthy of her love.
While waiting for the Greyhound bus, I realized how sad bus stations can be. When lost and broken souls like mine want to escape, the first place they run to is the nearest bus terminal. Before we left, I grabbed a quarter and headed towards a payphone. I took a note out of my pocket. I could hear my heart jumping out of my chest. I had a phone call to make.
[To be continued…]
Graphic by Zeze Le Lin