{October 27, 2012}   Port St. Joe

At breakfast, Walt told me he found a place for me to stay. My money wasn’t going to last long if I had to spend it on a room. He said a girl he knew lived nearby in Port St. Joe with her mother. Her parents divorced and her mother worked full time. Rhonda graduated high school recently and hadn’t found a job yet. She told Walt that I could stay at her house for a few days. I didn’t want to leave Panama City, but my options were limited. Walt and Mike were putting pressure on me to go home because they were leaving for their trip around the world in a few days. I said I’d go to Rhonda’s house for a few days and think about what I was going to do next. I figured that would buy me some time. So, Walt borrowed Robert’s car and drove me to Port St. Joe.

Rhonda was only two years older than me, but she looked much older. Her hair was dyed blonde and she smoked cigarette after cigarette. She had the look of someone who just woke up, with dark makeup under her eyes and wrinkled clothes. Her mother’s house was a two bedroom ranch house in a rural neighborhood far from the central area of Port St. Joe. It had one bathroom and a a small kitchen. Rhonda’s bedroom floor was cluttered with shoes, clothes, tubes of makeup and jewelry. The lighted makeup mirror on her vanity was the only light in the dark of the room except for a headache-inducing overhead light.  I thanked her for letting me stay for a few days. She said her mother wouldn’t know or care because she has friends spend the night all the time. Her mother worked and wasn’t home until late. Walt carried my flowered suitcase to her room and sat on the bed for a minute while we met each other. It was hard saying goodbye to Walt. I told him I hoped one day we’d meet again under different circumstances. He agreed. The timing wasn’t right for us. I was only sixteen. He had a long journey ahead and there was no telling where he would settle. Same for me. I walked out to the driveway with him. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t want him to see me crying because he would feel bad. I waved to him as he drove away.

When I was alone with Rhonda, I realized just how isolated I was. There was no city within walking distance from her house. There wasn’t anything to do but watch TV.  Ugh. No wonder Rhonda was depressed. I figured I couldn’t stay here but a day or two because I had no way to get to work even if I was lucky enough to find a job. I asked her if we could go for a walk so I could check out her neighborhood.

We walked about a mile and stopped at one of her friend’s houses. There were several of her friends hanging out there, drinking beer and smoking in the back yard. It occurred to me that maybe I could get rid of the weed in my flowered suitcase here. I wanted to get my money back as soon as possible. I made a mistake thinking I could make money doing that.  One of the guys looked approachable, so I mentioned that if he needed weed, I could get it for him. He perked up. “Yeah. I’ll let cha know…Hey, you wanna do a lude? I have a few here…” I’d heard about ludes–Qualudes. There was a girl at my school that got in trouble with them. One weekend, she took so many that she overdosed and her parents checked her into Brawner’s mental hospital in Smyrna. I didn’t really want to try one. But, I asked him what effect they had. “Ah, they make you dreamy, like you’re floating deliciously through time and space. You feel real peaceful” he said. “Here, try one.” It was a large, white, round pill with a crease down the center. On one side was the number 714 and the word, “Lemmon”. I didn’t think I could swallow it. “Here, take it with beer,” he said. I closed my fist around the pill, still thinking about it. Rhonda said she just took hers and that I was the only one that hadn’t taken one yet. I took the beer out of the guy’s hand. I tried to swallow the pill, but it got stuck in my throat. It was awful tasting, dissolving in my mouth with each attempt at swallowing. I gagged over and over. I spit out what was left and split it down the middle with my fingernail. I swallowed each half with gulps of beer. I waited for it to take effect. But after an hour, I felt exactly the same. That pill I took had no effect on me! Rhonda said that I was so uptight that it just leveled me out and made me normal. The guy gave Rhonda another pill and put one in my hand. I split it in two and swallowed them with gulps of beer. It went down easier this time. I sat back in a metal lawn chair and watched the trees start spin. Everything was spinning. Spinning and going dark. I felt like I was going to be sick. Soon, everything went black.

When I woke up, I was lying on Rhonda’s bed. She was beside me, unconscious. I wondered how we got back to her house. I couldn’t remember anything after the spinning started. I closed my eyes, for how long I don’t know. I woke up again, and shook Rhonda to wake her up. She sat up and tried to stand, but fell back on the bed. She grabbed a cigarette from a pack on the night stand and lit it. Then, we both fell unconscious again.

When I woke up next, it was smoky in the room. Rhonda was gone and her mother was standing in the room with a police officer. They were discussing what to do with  me. Rhonda had already been put in the ambulance. I was still lying on the smoldering bed. The bed had caught fire. The police officer helped me to my feet, but I fell back on the bed. I couldn’t stand up. Two officers, one on each side, helped me walk to the police car. The leather seat of the car was cold. I fell asleep on the way to the station. The next time I woke up, I was throwing up in a bucket. I was at the police station under bright lights, and an officer was holding a plastic tub under me to vomit in. A woman officer was holding back my hair. I threw up again. An officer said that he was going to give me more Ipecac to make me vomit. He put a spoonful in my mouth and I threw up again before I went unconscious. When I woke up again, I was walking down the hall under florescent lights with an officer holding me up. We walked up and down the hall. Then I went unconscious again.

When I woke up a day later, I was in a metal bed. I was shaky and weak. I couldn’t remember much about what happened along the way, except for the vomiting and walking. A meal of what appeared to be chicken had been shoved through a metal slot. I couldn’t eat. I went back to sleep. The next day, I woke up again. This time, things were becoming clearer. I had walked with Rhonda to her friend’s house. Then, I woke up in her bed. There was the smell of smoke. Then the vomiting. In that order.

Another day passed, and I started feeling hungry again. The food on a tray shoved through the metal slot looked awful, but, there was a piece of white cake on the tray. I ate only the cake. That evening, a police officer came to get me. He asked me if I needed anything. I told him I wanted a toothbrush, toothpaste and soap. He said that I looked much better now than when I first arrived. He said Rhonda had just gotten out of the hospital. She had her stomach pumped out. She had taken more pills than I had. I was lucky that I didn’t have to go to the hospital. He told me he wished he had a film of me that first night so I could see what I looked like. He said if I saw it, I’d never take anything again. I told him that I didn’t plan to.

Another officer guided me into a bright room where there was a metal table in the middle of the room. On the table was my flowered suitcase. It was open. Beside my flowered suitcase on the table was a mound of weed. “Is this your suitcase?” the officer asked. “Uh, yes. It’s mine” I said. “And this–” he pointed to the mound of weed. “Is this yours?” “Uh, no. It’s not mine” I said. The officer knew I was lying. He’d be a fool to believe me. But what was I going to say? Yes? Yes, it’s mine, so put handcuffs on me and take me to jail? The officer closed my flowered suitcase. The outside was dirty, like it had been lugged through mud. “We found it buried in the woods near the house” he said. Buried in the woods? I didn’t do that. Who would’ve buried my suitcase in the woods? “I don’t know what happened to my suitcase. I didn’t bury it” I said. “It’s okay. We know who buried it” the office said. “A kid named Walt buried it. Do you know him?” “Yes” I said. “He’s a friend” I said. “Did he treat you okay?” the officer asked. “Yes. He did,” I replied. “We’re trying to piece together how you ended up here,” the officer said. “You live near Atlanta. You’re in the tenth grade. You skipped school and came to Panama City on a Greyhound bus well over a month ago. We know that much” he said. “We found and contacted your parents.” Ugh. That was the last thing I wanted to hear. “We spoke to your father. He said wants to talk to you,” the officer said. Daddy wants to speak to me! I felt a chill of dread shoot up my spine. “We’re getting him on the phone right now. Will you talk to him?” the officer asked. “Yes” I said. The officer handed me the phone receiver. Daddy sounded far away on the phone. I could hear his voice crack when he asked me why I left home and why I took so many pills. Didn’t I know that I could have died? Why? Why? I couldn’t answer his questions. I was still a little foggy and mostly, I really didn’t know ‘why’ myself. I told Daddy I was sorry. I said I know I caused him worry and that I’m sorry. Then, we hung up. The officer took me back to my metal bed.

The next day, it was all coming back to me. Walt buried my suitcase. How did he know to come for my suitcase? Who called him and told him? I figured he buried it because he knew weed was in it. He was trying to help me. But, how did he find out what happened to me? I tried to piece it all together while I pondered what was going to happen next. Was I going to jail ? Was I going home?

That evening, a woman came to visit me. She was pretty in her floral dress. She said she was the deputy’s wife. She came to see me because her husband told her about me. He was the officer who found me on the smoldering bed that night. He was the one who walked me up and down the hall trying to keep me awake. He was the one who gave me Ipecac to make me throw up. He told her that was very concerned about me. He didn’t think I was the type who would do such a foolish things. She said when they found my suitcase, they discovered my copy of Walden, with underlined passages and notes in the margins. She said Walden was her husband’s favorite book and hers, too. She asked if I wrote in a notebook every day. I said, yes. Then, she took my hand and held it in such a way that I thought I was going to cry. She said she hoped that I would go home and straighten out my life. She said anyone who loved Walden enough to carry it around wasn’t the kind of person who would throw away their life. I told her I wanted another chance. I said that if I got another chance, I’d go home, finish school and not get into any more trouble. She asked me what subject interested me. I said English, and I told her how much I liked Mrs. Johnson’s lectures about Wordsworth and Emily Bronte’. I told her that I really wanted to choose a career that would help people and that I once wanted to be a missionary. She smiled and said she hoped I’d get that chance. She said she thought I had important work to do. She hugged me, and wished me well. I sat back on the hard pillow and thought–I just had a visit from an angel.

The next day, the deputy came to tell me I was going home. Officers I’d become familiar with nodded as we walked down the hall for the last time. At the door, an officer handed me my flowered suitcase. It was cleaner now, but stained brown by soil. The deputy guided me out to the edge of the parking lot where we waited for a Greyhound bus to pick me up. He warned me that I’d better stay on the bus until I got home. He said I’d better not put him through having to come looking for me. I promised him that I would stay on the bus. I told him that I did my best to keep every promise I made. I got on the bus and waved to him through the tinted bus window. He stood at the edge of the parking lot until the bus pulled away.


Deborah Love says:

Wow, what a story…I wish I had runaway from home several times but never did.

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