I’m standing in the middle of my cheap, already furnished, efficiency apartment that sits on a busy street just a few miles from the ocean. There’s a cop standing in front of me. He’s got broad shoulders, dark hair and a face that looks like it’s made of play-doh. Tears are streaming down my face, my cheeks are red and swollen, and snot is dripping from my nostrils…I have never been a pretty crier. My knees are shaking like those of a newborn colt. My eyes dart around the room, nervously flitting back and forth from door to the window. Both seem like they are a million miles away.
I am only 15 years old.
The cop is angry and he asks me yet again, “Is your name V _____?”
I shake my head. I point to the state ID sitting on the nicked up nightstand. It fooled my landlord. It fooled my boss. It doesn’t fool him.
“What kind of a fool do you take me for?” His voice is measured and firm. “I know your name isn’t Susan! So how about you tell me who you really are?”
Again, my eyes dart around the room. One of the dresser drawers is open. I can spy my clothes inside. Three months ago, those clothes were packed up by my little brother in makeshifts bags made of sheets while I stood in the kitchen getting dinner plates smashed over my outstretched hands in punishment. He then lowered those bags outside of my bedroom window to my waiting boyfriend with a pair of jump ropes. My little brother was already in bed, feigning sleep, when the last dinner plate shattered against my knuckles.
The scars aren’t so bad.
Now, my boyfriend is standing outside of my apartment talking to another cop. This one is a muscular black man with a neatly trimmed mustache. The cop says to him, “Son, do you know you can go to jail for harboring a runaway?”
My boyfriend says, “I am only 17.”
Right next to the door of my apartment is my backpack. It is full of textbooks and all the schoolwork I never turned in. Three months ago, I was wearing it when my Mother dropped me off at school and watched me walk in the front door. I was also wearing it 10 minutes later when I walked out the back door and got into the car with my boyfriend. It was sitting on my lap when we drove to a pay phone and called my boyfriend’s Mother.
My boyfriend told her, “No one saw her. Make the call.”
Then, my boyfriend’s Mother called my school secretary posing as my Mother and informed her that I would be staying home from school sick that day. She did this so the secretary wouldn’t call my house and ask where I was.
The cop standing in front of me suddenly flicks his fingers in front of my face. Startled, I focus on him again.
“I am losing my patience with you, young lady,” he warns, “So how about you tell me your name?”
Outside, I can hear my boyfriend. “You don’t understand!” he tells his cop, “She will be in danger if you take her back there!”
Against the right wall of the room, there is a piece of shit desk with a wobbly leg. Inside that desk drawer is all the money I have in the world. Three months ago, we drove from the pay phone to the bank and waited outside until it opened. Three months ago, at around 9am, I withdrew what was left of my raped college fund. I added it to the money my friends had all pitched in to give me. Now it was all sitting in that desk drawer, hidden under the holy bible.
My boyfriend suddenly starts yelling, “If you don’t believe me, call my Mother! She can verify everything I’m saying!”
Earlier today, my boyfriend had attempted to drive down to visit me. He was bringing me another calling card, a stack of books, and letters from all of my friends. We had planned to take a ferry ride and have a picnic. It’s the same thing we do every weekend.
Only this weekend, my boyfriend had been followed. Normally, he watches for things like that, but an uneventful three months can make people careless. He was followed over three state lines. When he reached his destination, a phone call was made to the police. They showed up on my doorstep minutes later after running his license plate number which was flagged in some fucking database.
The cop in front of me suddenly softens his voice.
“Listen sweetheart,” he says, “I think I can help you. Did you know that in this state the legal age to leave home is only 15? That means we can’t make you go home unless you want to go home. All we have to do is take you down to the station and call up Missing Persons. We tell them you’re OK and that you’re not missing anymore. Then, we let you go.”
I look at him hopefully.
Outside, my boyfriend is shrieking, “CALL MY MOTHER! JESUS FUCKING CHRIST WILL YOU CALL MY MOTHER?!”
My cop continues, “All I need to help you is your name. Now tell me the truth; are you V ______?”
Slowly, I nod. “There,” he says, “Do you see how easy that was? Now all we have to do is go down to the station, make a phone call, and I’ll bring you right back here.”
Finally, I speak. “C-c-can’t we call from here?”
“No, we have to call from the station. It’s standard procedure. But we’ll come right back, I promise. Just come with me.”
I follow my cop out of my apartment, past my boyfriend, towards his squad car.
My boyfriend says, “Hey! Where the hell are you taking her?!” He is crying now, too.
The black cop tells him, “We’re going to need you to pack up her things.”
I ask my cop, “Doesn’t he know I’m coming right back?”
“Not yet,” my cop tells me, “But I’ll tell him. Also, I’m going to need to put these cuffs on you.”
The cop cuffs me and helps me into the back of his squad car. I glance over at my boyfriend who is furiously waving his arms around. The black cop is pointing at my dresser. I hope they don’t make a mess of my apartment.
After a short drive, we pull into the parking lot of a brown brick building. I can see the hint of a very tall fence towards the back. There is razor wire at the top of this fence.
It doesn’t look like a police station. It looks like a prison.
The cop leads me into a foyer and turns me over to a severe looking black woman with short, curly hair. They remove my cuffs and the black woman leads me by the arm down the hall. I look back at the cop who is talking to someone behind a counter. I am wondering when we are going to make my phone call.
The black woman pushes me into a side room. “I’m going to need your mug shot and your fingerprints,” she tells me.
Too confused to argue, I oblige. Then she says, “Now we’ve got to get you a shower. Follow me.”
Finally all of the little things that weren’t quite right added up into one great big wrong. I ask, “But I thought I just had to make a phone call? Then the cop said he’d take me back to my apartment.”
“Is that what he told you?” she asks.
I nod my head. She laughs.
We head down to a shower room and the woman orders me to undress. She tells me that she’s got to watch me, but trust her; she doesn’t like it anymore than I do. Once I’m naked, she tells me to open my mouth. When I do, she puts her fingers inside and probes under my tongue. “Don’t bite me,” she warns.
“Now I’m going to ask you a question and I want the truth,” she says, “Do you have any drugs or weapons hidden inside your vagina or anus?”
Horrified, I say, “NO!”
“I’m going to check anyway,” she tells me as she reaches for a box of latex gloves, “And if I find out you’re lying, you’re going to be in a world of hurt.”
“This is your last chance to tell me,” She urges, “This is your last chance to remove anything inside of your vagina or your anus yourself.”
“There’s nothing there! I swear!”
After my search she hands me a bottle of shampoo.
“I don’t have lice!”
“It doesn’t matter. Use it anyway.”
After my shower, she hands me a pair of khakis and a navy blue t-shirt. “The boys wear orange,” she says. I’m not sure why she thinks I’m interested in that particular piece of trivia.
After I’m dressed, she tells me the rules. “You are not allowed to talk to the boys. No love connections here. And when you walk, you must keep your hands clasped behind your back. Letting your arms swing is called ‘traveling’ and will get you in trouble.”
“How long do I have to stay here?” I ask.
“Until your Mother picks you up. Probably around tomorrow afternoon.”
I’m not sure what I said next because I was hysterical, but I’m pretty sure there was plenty of fruitless begging involved. And struggling. And screaming. And people coming to help restrain me. And finally, vague acceptance of my situation.
I was brought in on a Friday. Every Friday is pizza day and the other kids were already in the process of eating when I joined them. I was taken to a table with another girl about my age, maybe a little younger. She was a chubby thing, with greasy mouse brown hair and terrible acne. She was picking at a piece of pepperoni.
“I’ll bring you a slice of pizza,” the warden said to me. This one was a guy.
“No thank you,” I told him, “I’m not hungry.”
The girl at my table interrupted us, “You can bring me some aspirin!”
“Now you know I can’t do that, Stacy.”
“But I have cramps!” she wailed. “I’m bleeding! I’m clotting! The clots are killing me!”
The warden rolled his eyes, “I can bring you a heating pad.”
She wailed again and slumped over in her chair clutching her stomach, “My insides are falling out, but I guess it’s better than nothing.”
When he walked away, she sat up straight and looked at me. “What are you here for?”
“I don’t want to talk about it, really.”
A few minutes later, the warden came back with a heating pad. Stacy slumped over in her chair again. “The clots! The clots! I am bleeding great, big, killer clots!”
He rolled his eyes again and walked away.
I looked around the room. It was huge and would have resembled a high school cafeteria if you could imagine one two stories tall. On the first level, 3 of the 4 walls were lined with small cells with metal doors that each sported a single square glass window. Against the fourth wall was a room made almost completely out of reinforced glass. There were a couple of cots in that room. On the second story, against the wall directly opposite the glass room was another window with an office behind it. The wardens looked down on us from that office. The other 3 walls on the second story were simply more cells.
Later that evening, while all the other kids were being lined up in front of their cells for bed, Stacy and I were taken to the glass room. We were assigned a cot and locked in for the evening. I watched all the other kids as they were locked up for the night as well.
Then I sighed and said to Stacy, “Don’t we get any pillows or blankets?”
“Not in here,” she said.
“I don’t know,” she shrugged, “Probably because we might hang ourselves with them.”
I shook my head, confused. “Whatever,” I told her, “Turn off the light then.”
“We can’t turn off the light in here.”
“Why the hell not?”
“Because they can’t watch us all night if the light is off,” she replied as she pointed upwards to the office window.
“How come they don’t need to watch everyone else all night?” I asked.
“Because everyone else isn’t on suicide watch,” she answered.
“We’re on suicide watch? Fucking A.”
“Yep,” she giggled, “But I think I can get out of here anyway. How hard do you think I’d have to bash my head up against this glass to make it break?”
Suddenly, I understood completely why the warden had kept rolling his eyes at her. “Pretty hard,” I said, “Considering that it’s pretty thick. Besides, even if you broke it, you couldn’t get out. Look at it. It’s got like a little metal fence embedded inside of it.”
“Oh that is no problem. I am a reincarnated butterfly. Once the glass is broken, I can shrink down into a little bug and fly out.”
“You know,” I said to her, “I’m starting to think you’re a real fucking wacko.”
She started laughing hysterically. I groaned and covered my eyes with my arm. She didn’t want me to go to sleep just yet, so she started singing ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ at the top of her lungs.
I thought to myself, Maybe if I beat her up, they’ll let me stay. Maybe if I hurt her enough, they won’t make me go home.
I was too exhausted to do more than think about it, though. So I closed my eyes and went to sleep.
The next day, after breakfast, they gathered everyone up in the cafeteria-like room again. A motivational speaker was there to talk to us. He went around the room and asked us all who we thought of as our hero. One kid told him, “Kurt Cobain.”
The speaker said, “Isn’t that the musician who killed himself? Why would he be your hero?”
“Because he had a hottie wife, a kickass band, and $5000 a day to spend on heroin and I ain’t got none of that shit.”
I’m not sure who I told the motivational speaker my hero was, but I hope I said something profound.
Shortly after the class, a warden came over and whispered in my ear. “Your Mother and her husband are here to get you now. Come on.”
“Her husband?” I whispered back, “When I left three months ago, she didn’t even have a boyfriend.”
He ignored me.
My Mother didn’t say much to me as we left although she did introduce me to her new husband. Apparently, his name was Gene.
My brother was outside waiting in the car. I slumped down in the backseat really close to him.
“You OK?” I whispered.
“Yeah,” he murmured, “She’s been so pissed at you that she hasn’t paid much attention to me at all. I’ve been spending a lot of time over at Willie’s house.”
“I thought she’d be glad to be rid of me.”
“Yeah, probably. But you took that money. Also, she told the new guy she had a daughter before she realized you were gone. After that, he kept pushing to meet you. She was pretty fucking embarrassed when she finally had to tell him you ran away.”
“What are they going to do to me?”
“I think you’re safe as long as that cheese dick is around. She still tries to play ‘Nice Mom’ in front of him.”
“He won’t always be around, though.”
“No. He won’t.”
“You know V,” Gene called back to me, “In my line of work, I’ve have a lot of experience with girls like you. You don’t know this about me, but I’m a police officer.”
“Security guard at a shopping mall,” my brother whispered.
“Girls like me?” I answered, “What do you mean by that?”
“You know….pregnant….on drugs….”
I looked over at my brother, shocked. He shrugged.
Very forcefully, I said, “I am not pregnant or on drugs. I am a virgin!”
My Mother sighed, “Gene, in your professional opinion, how often do drug addicts lie?”
“All the time,” He answered.
“Look!” I said, “If you’re a cop, then you know how to go about getting me tested for drugs, don’t you? I can pee in a cup and prove it! And I’m sure you can take me to a doctor and he can tell you that I’m not pregnant!”
He and my Mother exchanged a look.
“Here!” I said as I ripped out a couple of strands of my hair and held it out to him, “Can’t you test my hair? For drugs? Test it! You’ll see! I’ve never done a drug in my life!”
“Young lady,” Gene said, “Do you really expect me to believe that you were able to afford an apartment for three months without selling drugs?”
“No,” I sighed, “I expect you to believe that I was pushing heroin on the mean streets of suburbia.”
My Mother turned completely around in her seat to face me. She smiled at me; a lazy, smug, evil grin that still wakes me up sometimes in the middle of the night. Then, she turned back around in her seat.
“Don’t bother with him,” my brother whispered to me, “He’s hopeless. She could turn around and cut your throat right in front of him and she’d convince him it was self defense.”
“What do I do?” I asked miserably.
“Maybe you can jump out of the car the next time it slows down?” he offered, “Or, when we stop at a rest stop or something, you can take off when they’re not looking. That’s my advice. If I were you, I’d run.”
I looked out the window. We had to be going at least 70 miles an hour, so jumping out of the car right now probably wouldn’t work. But the rest stop idea wasn’t a bad one. I mulled it over in my head.
“You can do it,” my brother encouraged, “You’re fast.”
You can read Part 2 of this story here.
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