Childhood Lost 14
Mom picked me up about forty five minutes later. She didn't say "Hi," "Hello," "How are you?" or nothing. Just, "Get in the car." The eighteen mile drive home was the quietest ride I'd ever taken. Not one word passed between us.
On the basis of that, I didn't expect to be welcomed home by my family and therefore wasn't disappointed. My brothers, with the exception of Bruce, scurried away to their rooms. Even Mom disappeared. Bruce remained, however, standing regally in the center of the dining room, hands on his hips and, as usual, scowling down at me.
"We didn't have much say in you coming back." He began, staring at me contemptuously. "And if it was up to us you never would have. You're an outsider now," he smirked haughtily, "not a member of this family anymore. You have to earn the right to even be here."
He paused, waiting for a reply. When none was forth coming he went on, "You're going to do exactly what we tell you, when we tell you, and how we tell you or we'll send you right back to jail, and next time you'll never get out," he concluded smugly.
I turned on my heel and headed for the door.
"And where do you think you're going?" Bruce instantly demanded.
"Outside," I replied. "I don't believe in idol worship."
Before Bruce could respond, Mom came hustling in from the living room where she'd been listening in on Bruce's oration.
"And just what did you mean by that little crack?" she queried.
"That I'm not going to bow down to you or your little tin god here; not now, not ever," I shot back.
"You're going right back to Remann Hall this instant, you little punk," she screamed. "Go outside and get in that car right now."
I just shook my head and headed for my room. Bruce tried to grab me as I walked by; I twisted free and raised my fists. "You want to lose two more teeth," I advised, "you just try it."
"You little hellion!" Mom shouted. "I'm calling the police!"
I went to my room and grabbed my outdoor clothes. Bruce rushed down the hall, slammed the door shut and locked it from the outside with the sliding bolt. I tried to open the window but they'd nailed it shut. By now I knew that Mom was calling the cops. I had no doubt they would soon on their way, so I pulled out my top dresser drawer, bashed out the bedroom window with it and, using my bundle of clothes as a cushion against the sparkling shards of glass still sticking up from the puttied frame, I crawled through the clutter and hit the ground running.
I cut southeast through the woods for about half a mile before turning north, and then west in a wide circle which brought me to within a couple hundred yards of the house. By then three sheriff's cars were parked in the driveway. Out of curiosity, more than anything else, I decided to stay put and watch. About twenty minutes later eight of Pierce county's finest emerged from the place, held a brief conference out in the yard, and then dispersed to their respective cars, two in one car, two in another, and four in the remaining squad.
The knowledge that I alone was solely responsible for such an overwhelming turn out of those guardians of peace and public safety became, in later days, a matter of professional pride. "At least," I thought, "someone wants me!" Still, I would, perhaps, have foregone that distinction for comfortable anonymity and a measure of peace.
I waited until dusk before leaving a dense cover of Scotch Broom which bordered the road a hundred yards north of the house. Slipping down on to the dusty dead end drive which ran past my now former abode, I brazenly strode right past it, cut across the pasture, entered the barn and retrieved the rifle and shells I'd stashed there only a few weeks ago.
Next, I paid a visit to the infamous root cellar to retrieve the cigarettes and matches which, since my incarceration, had been languishing there and I discovered to my chagrin that the outer door was now secured with a brand new paddle lock. "Damn!" I thought, "What next?" I ran over to the woodshed about fifty feet away, retrieved an ax and pried the complaining hasp off the door.
Whom ever had installed this hardware had, in my estimation, meant business. They'd used the longest wood screws I'd ever seen. Prying them free had generated enough metallic screeches and woody howls of protest to alert half the residents of the county; and a vast preponderance of its cops to boot. I rushed inside figuring I had little time to waste, dug my box of smokes and matches out of the dirt bunk where I'd hidden them, and was out the door and into the night in less than a minute.
Maintaining a steady pace, I never slowed down until I was several miles to the Southeast. I rested in a tall grove of evergreens, sitting down on the ancient, crumbling stump of a long dead fir. I mentally surveyed my meager provisions. One rifle, several hundred rounds of ammunition, three packs of Camels, four books of matches, and one change of clothes. "Not so good but, far better odds than I faced just yesterday at Remann Hall.
Remann Hall," I thought bitterly, "and dear old Herbert. Of all the things I thought I needed in life another 'Herbert' was not one of them. F__k you Lawrence," I whispered. "F__k you and the horse you rode in on, the cops behind you, and the Christians following."
I lit up my first in hours, slid down and rested my back against the tired old stump. As night wore on it became progressively cooler. Gathering my spare clothing around me in a kind of nest, I dozed off.
I awoke to a riot of sound. Every bird in the state, and half their out of state cousins were partying down from the sound of things. The drooping branches of nearby fir and cedar were alive with goldfinches, sparrows, robins, and wrens. The morning air was thick with non stop chattering. The instant I sat up and reached for a Camel, however, they fled in a jumble of wings leaving behind a sudden and empty silence.
The first smoke of any morning was always the most satisfying, and I wondered if the rest of the day's habit really was...or if it was just a futile attempt to recapture the morning.
There was obviously no point in staying where I was so I headed for Clover Creek, a little over a mile away. By the time I got there I was hot, sweaty, and thirsty. I bundled my gear up under some tall alder trees near the heavily greened bank and plunged into the ice cold water. A twenty minute soak more than compensated for the gathering summer's heat. I got out, got dressed, and sat on the bank for a while, staring into the crystal clear waters hurrying noisily along.
Having no idea what to do next effectively precluded any constructive action. I was, I felt, totally alone in the world, undisputedly cut off from what passed for my family. Due to Armstrong's theology, I had no friends. The cops were looking for me for such high crimes and misdemeanors as defending what little remained of my thoroughly trashed world, and for advising certain Neanderthal assholes, with a spiritual case of theologically induced hemorrhoids to cram it, ram it, and rotate. "Rebellion," I mused, "whether justified or not always exacts a hefty price."
I collected my gear and wandered the creek in aimless silence. Wild plum and apple trees were abundant in the area. The plums were little bigger than peas at this time of year, some of the apples, however, had reached what I considered to be an edible state... which is to say that they were roughly the size of golf balls; and damn near as hard.
I made camp that night several miles up in a dense copse of fir. An hour's toil wading up and down the stream yielded ten crawdads. I cut off the orange tails, secured them with crude wooden pegs to a broad section of tree bark, propped them up in front of my fire and, within an hour, dinner, such as it was, was ready.
For the next three days, I wandered the entire length of Clover Creek eating what I could catch or pick, without a clue as to what to do next.
A hideous depression settled in about the fourth day and made itself so at home that there was absolutely no facet of the past or present which wasn't horribly defaced by open wounds. The mental effort required to envision some semblance of a worthwhile future represented an investment of optimistic capital far exceeding my means. I had no family, no home, school, or church; the cops were after me, I was totally alone, and God no doubt despised me. There was no way out.
"The best thing to do," I thought, "would be to end it." I sat down by the creek, and lest reason set in, quickly put the 22 up under my chin and pulled the trigger.
It was theoretically possible, I concluded later, that my judgment and attention to critical details had become temporarily impaired by depression and suicidal stimuli, otherwise, I am quite certain that I would have remembered to take the safety off.
I sat there for a long while stunned and in shock. Stunned that I had actually pulled the trigger and shocked that I'd nearly succeeded.
"If only the safety had been off," I thought, "I'd be dead now. I would never again see these trees, feel the dry warmth of summer winds against my face, or taste the scent of rain. There wouldn't be all these problems to face, that's for sure... or any chance to solve them either."
Not that I knew the answer to my predicament. I didn't, but perhaps there was someone who might. I gathered up my gear and headed south towards Fredrickson, a little community about three miles away. Fredrickson was so small that its Post Office, General Store, and Gas Station were one and the same. In older, and therefore happier, times it had been a thriving community of several hundred. No more than twenty residents, mostly retirees from Olin Matheson's nearby powder plant, now remained.
The owners of the store still struggled along but their main source of revenue now was derived from Bethel Junior and Senior High School students who nearly always succeeded in coercing usually affable school bus drivers to stop there on the way home for candy, pop, and chewing gum. Fredrickson possessed one other remnant of a more prosperous past, the only pay phone in a ten mile radius.
The protective cover of brush and trees ended about half a mile away from the little community which was primarily bordered on all sides by privately owned acreages, gardens, pastures, and generally open terrain. For the last stretch I would have to take to the road.
I carefully concealed my gear, crept out of the trees and walked as normally as I could down a half mile of freshly oiled and graveled roadway into what seemed like forever. I had ninety five cents with me.
I knew my dad had gone back to work for the government after his dissension with the ministry, and I knew where he worked, but that was about all I knew, so I called the General Services Administration and ask to speak to him. After some confusion at the other end and after affirming that this really was, to me at least, a genuine emergency I got to speak to with him for the first time in several years.
The voice sounded guarded, suspicious, and a just little bit irritated. But that didn't matter, it was Dad. After a short conversation he said he'd be glad to see me. He gave me his home address and told me to meet him there the next evening around eight p.m.
He lived in a rather plain apartment complex about fourteen miles west of Fredrickson on the outskirts of Lakewood, a small rather affluent suburb of Tacoma. He had told me his car was being worked on and so I'd have to get there on my own. It was going to be a long walk to see him but I felt sure it would be worth it.
I began the trek that evening. I made it to American Lake, a quarter mile from my dad's apartment by late afternoon the next day. When I'd started out I had employed my usual evasive tactics. At the first sign of trouble, which is to say people, I'd disappear, wait until they passed, and move cautiously on. But, as my journey took me through ever more populated regions where homes were four to a block and cars half a dozen a minute, this strategy swiftly became both impractical and inordinate. "The hell with it!" I thought, "I'm going for it. I'm going to walk down these streets just like I belonged here." The gamble had worked. I'd made it. All I had to do was to wait until dark, and I could see my dad.
The old brick clock tower which parceled out the day piecemeal from nearby Lakewood Square, and by which I'd been counting the hours, fell silent after seven bells. It seemed determined to stay that way until time yellowed and eternity had grown gray. It was nearly dark when I finally gathered such ragged shreds of courage as I had left and approached the apartment complex.
He was sitting on the steps outside smoking a cigarette, occasionally glancing around as he was expecting company. I walked to within thirty feet of him before he spotted me. I hadn't seen him in almost two years and as he stood up to greet me I noticed that he wasn't as tall as I remembered. None of that mattered now, though. "Hi, Dad," I said.
"Hello, son," he replied. He flicked his cigarette away and asked me if I'd wait right there for a minute, that there was something he had to do and he'd be right back.
"Sure," I replied and sat down on the same step he'd been sitting on, fished out one of my last cigarettes and, for the first time in days, relaxed.
He reappeared several minutes later and invited me up. His apartment was sparsely decorated but spotlessly clean. We sat at his kitchen table traversing awkward sentences in lurching conversation. He asked what I was doing there, how Mom and the boys were and what I'd done to account for all the cops he'd heard were after me. I told him I couldn't be sure because it seemed like every time I took a piss or drew a breath anymore, I'd broken some damn law or other. He finally asked me how I was (which I felt should have been the first question on his mind) but since I didn't know the answer to that one I just said, "I don't know."
He appeared to be mull over that response and we sat in stilted silence for a several long minutes. "You know I can't have you here," he began, looking up at me. "I work all day and sometimes on Saturday as well. There's no one here to look after you."
"Also," he continued, "since I work for the government I can't risk having anyone around who's in trouble with the law. I gave up a good government job once. I can't afford to lose my position a second time."
I just stared at him incredulously, battered by so many different emotions, I couldn't name them all. Shock, abandonment, fear, loss; those were identifiable. The rest? Anonymous barbed wire feelings which, no matter which way I turned, ripped and tore at my already tenuous existence.
"I didn't ask you to adopt me, Dad." I only wanted some advice, but I wouldn't want to f__k up your precious job for you, so goodbye," I spat out and rose to leave.
"Where are you going?" he demanded.
"What do you care?" I countered immediately.
"Well, ah," he stammered, fumbling his words, "ah, just don't, don't go just yet."
Rather than answer, he motioned towards the kitchen table. "Let's just sit down and talk a little more," he equivocated. I remained standing unsure of him or his motives.
"What do you want to say?" I asked suspiciously.
"First of all, I want you to know that I'd never do anything to hurt you," he began solemnly. "What I've done, I did for your own good and I want you to remember that. Later on in life you'll thank me for it," he piously predicted, "and..."
But I cut his self congratulatory epistle off. I'd heard that "some day you'll thank me" song so many times in the past that I could translate it into dozens of foreign languages in my sleep. What it really meant was, we're going to f__k you and someday you'll thank us.
"What have you done?" I asked fearfully.
"I notified the police when you contacted me the other night," he said quickly. "Now these people only want to help you," he insisted. "They know what's...."
"Yeah, like Hitler helped the Jews," I interjected sarcastically. "So what's the plan?" I continued. "Am I supposed to call them up and turn myself in or are you going to do it for me?"
"I called them when you first got here," he admitted, staring at the floor "They're already on the way."
I eyed at him for all of a handful of seconds before responding. "You worthless piece of shit," I hissed.
I fled through his door, down the stairs and was promptly tackled on the sidewalk by a burly sheriff's deputy waiting in the shadows below. Rolling and twisting I struggled free and managed fifty more feet before a dozen cops converged on me from all directions and, it seemed, half that number hit me at once, knocking me to the ground. They yanked me to my feet, handcuffed me, and then dragged me over to where my father was standing.
"Is this your boy, Ferris?" the deputy asked.
"It is," he replied in a subdued voice.
"You may not believe this now, boy," the deputy said turning towards me, "but this man's the best friend you got."
I made no reply. "Is there anything you want to say to your father before we take you to Remann Hall?" He persisted.
"Yeah," I replied quietly, looking Dad right in the eye. "One of these days you're going to be old and dying from some horrible disease. I'm going to be the only one around. You'll ask me for help, and when you do I'm going to tell you to go f__k yourself. And when you die," I added, "I probably won't make it to your funeral, but I promise I'll come by on your first night underground and piss on your grave."
A sheriff's deputy backhanded me across the face knocking me to the ground. "That's your father you're talking to, you little punk," he shouted.
I struggled to my feet and wiped away the blood running out of my mouth and down my chin. "He's not my father, Deputy Dawg," I said. "I'm the product of a cluster f__k and somebody got in there ahead of him."
Deputy Dawg, for that was how I would always remember him, let out a howl of rage and started for me again. But another cop stepped between us and said in an obviously exaggerated southern drawl, "Ah think we've accomplished everything out here that we might could do for one night. Let's head for the barn, boys, what d'ya say?"
Deputy Dawg glared at me, then grunted in affirmation. He started to turn away but couldn't resist the temptation to have the last word. He chose as his own that threadbare litany of pontifical males the world over. "You're lucky you're not my kid, punk!"
"That would've have been anatomically impossible," I retorted. "My mother walked upright."
Deputy Dawg lost any semblance of self control. He probably would have killed me with his bare hands if several of his coworkers hadn't restrained him. The deputy who initially had shielded me led me away to his patrol car a half block down the street. He opened the front door. "Get in, kid," he said, and he was laughing when he said it. "You can ride up front with me."
"Who was that guy anyway?" I asked when we were safely underway.
"My supervisor," the deputy said with a chuckle.
"We going to Remann Hall?" I inquired.
"Yeah," he replied matter of factly.
"Then what?" I persisted.
"That depends on what you've done and how many times you've been up there before," he said.
"Just what the hell have you done?" he inquired solicitously after a moment of silence. "I know you're a runaway with a penchant for inviting those who displease you to go f__k themselves, but from my point of view that hardly justifies the deployment of six squad cars and twelve deputies."
"I haven't done anything," I answered dejectedly. "At least nothing which would justify all this." I fell silent for moment recalling the events of the past four years which, I felt, had heavily contributed to the situation I now found myself in.
"How long have you're parents been split up, Dale?" the deputy asked gently.
"Four years," I replied emotionlessly.
"Do you miss your dad?"
"Not anymore," I answered rigidly. "I've learned a lesson tonight I'll never forget," I said, and paused for emphasis before adding, "Never trust anybody."
"I know you must feel like your father betrayed you," the deputy observed. "But what would you say to him if it really was like he said, that he thought what he'd done was in your best interest?"
"I'd tell him to stick to manual labor and give up any aspirations he might have about thinking for a living," I responded tartly.
The deputy chuckled heartily, reached out a hand and said, "Shake, kid." I shook his hand warily wondering what this unexpected display of civility was all about.
"You know, Dale, if you could market those barbs, you'd be a millionaire." He chuckled anew, "Where do come up with all those nasty little cracks anyway?"
"The dictionary," I replied after a moments reflection. "All the words in the English language are in there. Thousands of words I've never heard before," I reflected, talking more to myself now than him. "A lot of these words are, at once, both evocative and, magnetic. They paint pictures in your mind and are highly attracted to other words and pictures; and the phrases just string themselves together." I ended in a whisper.
The deputy laughed and clapped me on the shoulder, "Keep reading that dictionary, Dale. At this point in your life that's about all you've got going for you." He hesitated as if unsure of what to say next, then added, "It's a hell of a lot more than most people ever have. Just remember, your life's not over yet."
We arrived at Remann hall a few minutes later. Within forty minutes I was booked in, showered, and walking once more down that long, pukey green hall. The only bright spot in the whole damned evening was that they put me in a different cell.
304 had a slightly different decor. The toilet and sink were on the opposite side of the cell as those in 303, as were the bunks. As soon as the guard was gone I discovered the reason for my new accommodations. A disembodied voice echoed sharply down the hall.
"Who are you?" it queried.
I didn't feel inclined to answer and, so, didn't.
"Hey, you there?" the voice queried again.
"Yeah, I'm here," I affirmed.
"Well, where you from?"
"America," I replied.
"Well, listen America, why don't you just kiss my ass?" the voice uttered provocatively.
"You'd have to mark the spot 'cause it sounds to me like you're all ass," I replied contemptuously.
Silence intervened for the few moments. It was apparently taking the unseen toilet head down the hall a few moments to assimilate and respond to my aspersions. Meanwhile another voice, a familiar voice, reverberated from cell 305 at the western end of the hall.
"Brown, is that you?" it asked.
"Yeah, it's me. Who am I talking to?" I inquired.
"Mike de'Shaw," came the jubilant reply. "Where you been, Dale?" he continued.
"Hell, I think, Mike. But I can't be certain; all I can say for sure is, it ain't been heaven. What are you in here for anyway?" I asked.
"Running away from my foster home, playing hooky, and telling the principal to f__k himself."
"Sounds like serious crimes to me, Mikey," I replied facetiously. "Think you'll get the chair?"
"The way they're f__king acting around this joint I wouldn't be at all surprised." He laughed, then asked, "What are you in for, Dale?"
"I don't know, Mike. It must be my personality, ya know?"
"Yeah," the voice trailed off. "I get out tomorrow, Dale. They're sending me to the boy's ranch. Maybe you'll get sent there too."
"Maybe, Mikey, but I wouldn't count on it," I replied dejectedly.
"Hope for the best, Brown," he admonished. "Well, old buddy, I'm going to conk out now. We'll talk to you before I leave in the morning, okay?"
"Sure, Mikey," I responded. "Maintain your cool."
It was no way out, but I walked the cell throughout that night never stopping traveling around and around, not that it initially accomplished anything but just because it was something I could do. I slept for a few hours after breakfast. Each day thereafter was a mirror image of that which preceded it, and each night I walked away forever in an empty cell cut off from dreams and hope and all that made existence endurable.
Herbert Lawrence made no attempt to contact me for fifteen days. It is unlikely he would have when he did except he had no choice. I awoke on the sixteenth day of solitary confinement with a sharp, burning pain, low on the right side of my abdomen. It hurt to even move. I told the matron who brought my lunch and, after silently acknowledging my complaint, she apparently informed Herbert. Several hours later he arrived outside my cell with a nurse in tow and told me to lay on the bunk while the RN examined me. After a series of painful pokes and prods she diagnosed possible appendicitis and recommended immediate hospitalization before it ruptured.
Herbert moved swiftly. From the time he left my cell to the time I was riding in an ambulance to Mt. View Hospital, no more than two and a half hours had elapsed.
In spite of the pain, I felt better than I had in days; just getting outside into the late afternoon was intoxicating. The soft summer wind felt warm and fluid on my skin, the sterile reek of Remann Hall was nearly forgotten as a bouquet of scents wafted down that sea salt breeze from nearby Puget Sound. Best of all I was, temporarily, surrounded by real people, people who seemed to care, people whose whole attitude could have been summed up in the very first words they spoke to me. "Don't worry kid, we'll take care of you."
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