Second in a series of stories of being 16…
It’s mid-afternoon in early September. The weather here in Augusta Georgia is not too hot, about 85 or so. I am out here on interstate 20 hitchhiking west… I’ve got about 100 pounds of stuff, every piece of personal shit I could cram into the bags. Definitely not planning on coming back. A song is rattling around in my head: “I’ll never go back to Georgia, I’ll never go back no more”. Amen to that, I can’t wait to get the fuck out of here…
A rush of thoughts and emotions…considering why I’m leaving, justifying my decision, doubts and some guilt edge their way to the periphery of my mind, quickly snubbed…Now I’m thinking how cool it is to be running away. “Dude, I ran the fuck away…” Yes…I’ll have something to talk about with my friends.
Thinking about shit don’t help too much, better to just DO.
California is where I’m headed, and I picture myself, vaguely, there in San Francisco, on some mountain and at the beach, all in one mish-mashed picture. No slight concept of the realities of living, just the grand majesty of being there…Mainly my attention is on getting a ride before my resolve dissolves or the cops get me.
Thinking about hitchhiking across the country is one thing, but there is something final about having someone drop you off at the interstate. I made the decision to go last night. There was no way I could see myself living in Augusta, going to high school…just can’t do it…I went to one day of school with my sister, the orientation day. We were both supposed to be seniors…but I didn’t like the look, the feel, the accents, the music, no, not for me, I’m outta here…
My first idea was to make my way to Marin County and hang with my friend, Dan and his brothers.
Dan was a close friend from my home town in Pennsylvania. We had hung out a lot during the last summer, being a 16 year old was glorious fun in many ways…and then he’d moved out west. Soon several of my friends were living out there in San Rafael.
The stories I kept hearing from them were all greatness and glory, the sun and brown hills, the music and drugs, yeah, that sounded like the place to be. I called and told him that I was thinking about coming, is it alright? Dan’s older brother wasn’t so enthusiastic about having another young kid to take care of, and certainly didn’t want trouble with a runaway…so I called my older brother, asked him. He was living down in San Diego, can I come? “Does Dad know you’re leaving?”. “NO, he’s on the honeymoon still…” “What will you do if you come out?”, “Not sure, just need to get away from here…”
The undercurrent to all of this was the blanket of sadness from our mom dying. She had passed away 8 months ago and things had become…unraveled.
So, we make the calls and it’s decided, head to San Diego. My sister, Laurie, is there with me. She understands why I need to go, though she sees that in the end they’ll blame her for my leaving, she helps me, insists that I call our brother, and agrees to give me a ride to the Washington Street on-ramp the next day…
Packing is not easy, too much stuff…I have an Alpenlite external-frame backpack filled with the basics of wilderness travel, tent, stove, sleeping bag, clothes and food. (I just returned from a month in the wilderness of Idaho on an Outward Bound expedition.) I raid the pantry taking cans of soup, tuna, peanut butter, jelly and bread…
When you’re running away you figure you wont come back, don’t want to come back, and probably wont be welcomed back, (the whole “burning bridges” lecture comes to mind here) and so if there is some stuff you think you’re gonna want, better take it with you! So, I had 25 of my favorite record albums with me (alas, no i-pods back then…), mementos of childhood, some books, lots of clothes…and any items left to me by Mom.
I think I had about 13 dollars…figured that was plenty, didn’t really need money, had enough food for the 3 to 5 days it would take me to get out there…
We loaded the car and headed to the freeway. My younger brother was there, 8 years old, asking where I was going? Out to visit Randy, out to California. The significance of all this was not there, he seemed happy and wished me a safe trip.
I had my sister drop me off at the bottom of the on-ramp walked up to the highway. The first few moments I’m concerned with getting myself located in just the right spot, just about where the ramp merges onto the freeway, out there enough so the cars already on the interstate can see me and close enough to the ramp that I can tell the cops (if they stop me) that I’ really on the ramp. Getting my shit hauled and placed, while I’m doing this a few cars whiz past me, I hold out my arm while getting set.
A lot of changes in the last few years, not too many good ones…Mom found out she had breast cancer and started treatments, surgeries, chemo, none of it working, all of it horrible… visits to the hospital, helping at home, my Mom taught me how to cook, laying on the couch in the living room, she instructed me in how to make beef stew and orange chicken.
High school, girl friends, parties, camp-outs and drugs interspersed here and there…and then just before Christmas my Mom passed away, upstairs at our house. My dad took it the worst, he couldn’t stay there, had to leave, found a new gal, moved to Augusta, got married, starting a new life.
I guess I just needed to do the same.
There on the ramp for almost an hour now, small kinks in the armor opening, maybe walk down to the gas station and call Laurie, have her come get me? Quickly filled in with the pictures of going back to that school, living in Georgia…no, nothing for me here, need to go…
Then… a blue Chevy Impala comes barreling along, two people in the front seat, a guy and a gal, we make eye contact at the last moment, they were going so fast on the interstate that by the time they saw me and pulled over their car is about 100 yards down the highway.
It’s the last call for me: Stay or go?
I grab my shit and run down the freeway and open the back door, “Where you headin’?”, she asks. “California” I say, “San Diego”. “We’re only goin’ out past Atlanta, but get in”
I wrestle my stuff in the back and then pause for one last look at Augusta…smiling I close the door, “Let’s go!