Author: SoulCatcher PM
A teen girl from a small town escapes to the city, where she meets a freindly, but even more troubled boy who helps her. Then it gets all angsty. I really, really can't write summaries. I think I should petition against them.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Drama/Angst - Words: 4,884 - Reviews: 1 - Published: 02-24-02 - id: 621540
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
I walked purposefully through the streets of the city. At least, I hoped I looked purposeful, and that nothing in my carefully planned series of movements and the blank expression I had forced onto my face let the truth show. The truth being that I didn't know exactly where I was and had no idea whatsoever as to where I was going. It was quickly turning to night and most of the people passing me on this street wore business suits and headed for the subway or for underground parking lots. Most of them didn't look at me as I passed and I began to understand that it was because, though we were in the same place, there was a monumental difference in mind state that made us exist in different worlds. They did this everyday of their lives, exactly the same. Me, this was my first time in a city, my first time in a crowd this large. For me this was an experience, for them it was just a part of life.
I turned a corner and the streets changed. Desperate, skinny wanderers suddenly replaced the businessmen who had hurried home, clutching their briefcases. There wasn't much on this street, but I saw a homeless shelter, where people waited on the steps stained with the blood, tears and shame of those who had swallowed their pride and climbed them. They clung to plastic bags that carried their lives inside. The people who passed me now not only looked at me, but stared into my eyes, searching me as I was searching them, wondering where they'd come from, why they were here. I wondered how they thought of me, did they think I was a street kid, a runaway, or did they just think I was some child, going to piano lessons or something, taking a different way home, not understanding that I didn't belong here.
The men here were greyed and dirty, with long, dreaded beards and tattered overcoats. The women were different, colourful and crazy looking, with shoes held together by elastic bands, or outfits where each article of clothing looked like a piece from a different puzzle. Everyone had the same look in his or her eyes, hungry and fearful. Not hungry for food necessarily, though I'm sure they all were and not fearing anything in particular, though I'm sure they did. Just a look of desperation, like they were fighting something no one else knew, and needed something so much, but knew that no one could give it to them, that they would never have what would make them whole.
I'm not sure where to go, but suddenly I need to be off the street. The people here are too overwhelming for someone from a town of seven hundred, I need to be somewhere safe, and I need an escape. I see a library, opened until nine tonight, and go in. The librarian smiles at me, and I feel sad, thinking about how this woman probably just thinks I'm a high school student here to research for a history project. I realize she will never know the truth, go through life thinking something that's not true. I almost want to tell her who and what I really am, but of course I don't. I just grab a book and sit down in an armchair.
The Catcher in the Rye, I've read it several times before, but I'm not ready for another new thing. I want to read something where I can half know what's about to happen, where I can expect the jokes that are coming but still laugh at them. I read it straight through, not thinking about my life or analyzing anything, just reading. It feels good, relaxed and for a second I wish that I really was just a normal high school kid. Then, I stop thinking and head back into the book.
At nine, the librarian started turning off the light. I put the book back and walk out of the library. It's darker and colder now, I'm glad I brought my warm winter coat, although it's only late October. I start to feel hunger gnawing away at my stomach and I have to pee, too, so I step into a donut shop. It's deserted except for one guy, very tall and big, but probably only about my age, or a little older. I just glance at him before going into the washroom.
It's not especially dirty for one of these washrooms. After I come out of the stall, I look at myself in the mirror and am relieved to find out that I don't look crazy, but not really clean cut either. My hair, which is dark brown and almost straight, but not really, is a bit frizzy and I want to get it cut short. My face looks okay, but a bit plain. Maybe a few piercings will fix that. I wash my hands and leave the washroom, then order a medium coffee from the washed away looking middle aged woman working at the counter. She looks hollow, like she's been stripped of everything she cared about and now she's waiting to die. Only the fear of humiliation keeps her from joining the people on the steps of the homeless shelter.
I sit down a few tables away from the guy, but facing him. He's not eating or drinking anything, but the woman working at the counter doesn't seem to notice or care. He looks lost in himself at the moment, so I take the opportunity to get a look at him. He had buzz cut dark hair and he's wearing sort of baggy black jeans and a black hoodie, just like any other guy his age. He's good looking. Not cute, but not sexy or anything, he just has a beautiful face, all his emotions seem to force their way through the skin, though many choose the easy route, his dark eyes. They're full of thoughts and feelings, not empty and drained like many people's. The only things that mask this quality are the dark bruises, which spread like some horrible disease over his face. The area around one of his eyes is darkened, too, and his lips or swollen, little cuts cling around them. Looking back, he could have just been a high school hockey player, or a rowdy teen that gets into fights, but these ideas never crossed my mind. I remember looking at his football player build and little boy, scarred face and thinking, "he may be big, but he's as much of a victim as I am. As I was, I mean."
He's looking at me now too, trying to read me as I try to read him. I never used to do that at home, because there were never any strangers, and even if I didn't know someone, they never looked as interesting as the homeless people or this guy. Everything here is so new, I've never really been in a position where I saw someone, wanted to talk to them and couldn't, before this, because at home I knew all the kids, and I rarely wanted to talk to them anyway.
Just as I finish my coffee, another donut shop worker shows up, a supervisor or something. He reminds me of my dad, old, pathetic looking stuck working the same crummy job for the rest of his miserable life. I bet everyday of his life is fine. That's what I remember thinking most about my dad when I was little, how everyday when he came home from work, my mother would ask him how his day went and he would say "fine," every single day. I remember thinking how horrible it would be to have everyday be fine, never having a wonderful day or a shitty day, or even a good or bad day. I loath this guy instantly and I can feel he hates me back.
"Donna, you can't let these goddamn freeloading druggy kids hang around here not buying anything," he tries to yell, but it's raspy and pathetic. Then he turns around to face me and the guy, "you heard me, you fucking street rats, get out of here and go home to your parents where you belong." I grab my backpack and leave to shop. The guy follows me, swearing under his breath, but without much conviction.
It's really dark now, and late. I have no idea where to go, so I just sit down on the curb, away from the huge glass windows of the shop, so that loser that kicked me out can't see me. The guy just kind of stands there uneasily, watching, looking like he's debating with himself whether or not to say anything. "Hey," he finally calls out roughly, "you going to be okay, right? I mean, you have somewhere to go or whatever?"
I want to put on a tough girl act, but I'm too tired and hungry and I'm starting to think that this running away thing wasn't the best idea. Then I remember what happened and that there's nothing else I could have done. So I say, "not really, but I'm sure I'll be able to work something out."
"Are you really?" he says, not teasing.
"Um, yeah, sure I will… Not tonight maybe," I admit, "but I'll be all right."
"Well, if you need a place for tonight, there's this old lady I know who lets me and some runaway kids stay there. I don't like to go, because I always get a lecture, but it's freezing tonight, so I'm going. I'll show you where it is, if you want." He stood there, steady and patient. I'm drowning, I realize and I want him to pull me to shore. I know he can save my life. I get up and follow him out of the parking lot.
We walked through some empty side streets, with big old looking houses. "So…" he said, "what's your name?"
"Erica," I answered truthfully, thinking that maybe I shouldn't have, but not feeling it, "and you are…"
"Adam. Did you just run away or something?"
"Yeah, honestly. Why, does it look obvious or something?"
"No… it's just that you usually see gangs of street kids, not just one, and you don't look too dirty or dangerous or anything, so I thought maybe you're like me, not a runaway, but I don't like to spend much time at home." His hand began to rise to his face, but he quickly stopped it and forced it down.
"Oh, so you stay here when you don't want to go home?" I played along with his word games.
"Yeah, sometimes, but like I said, the woman here is really nice, always lets any kid she knows stay the night, but she's constantly lecturing me, telling me to stand up for myself, not to let my Dad knock me around." Adam didn't realize that he had given such personal information until he had said it, and the fact that I now knew what was likely his most deeply hidden secret had pushed a temporary rift between us. We were silent the rest of the walk.
The house was huge, set back slightly from the road, with a steep set of stairs to climb to reach the front door. Adam jogged up them, "he must have been freezing," I thought, berating myself internally for caring about someone already, and I followed. He rang the doorbell and after a longish wait, an old woman appeared.
"Adam!" she exclaimed, "come inside, boy. You'll get sick, just wearing that sweatshirt when it's like this outside. You've brought someone, too. Who's this young lady?"
"Erica, I just met her," he said, "is anyone else here tonight?"
"Well, there's a lovely young woman named Susan who's living in one of the back rooms, she's pregnant, and a boy named David, just fifteen years old. He's been here for a week or so, his parents kicked him out of the house for taking drugs and I'm trying to get him to stop, but he just won't. You don't do that Erica , take drugs?" She said all this without pausing for a second, speaking faster than just about anyone I've ever encountered.
I was a little freaked out by how readily she dispensed personal information about these kids. But I didn't have anywhere else to go, so I wasn't about to tell her that. "No, ma'am," I said politely.
"You don't have to be polite to me just because I'm an old lady," she said. "You kids must be hungry, go into the kitchen and help yourselves, I'm going to bed." She spun around, headed down a hallway and we heard a door slam shut.
"Woah," I said softly, "she's…"
"Yeah, I know," said Adam, laughing slightly. "She's really nice, though, just kind of crazy." We went to the large, clean kitchen and he began going through the fridge, saying the things we could eat as he found them, eventually getting orange juice and some chips we found in one of the cupboards. As we ate, I zoned out, thinking about how much my life had changed since I'd left Hillsburg early this morning.
"Okay?" he asked, too busy eating to use full sentences.
"Yeah, I'm just kind of overwhelmed and… yeah. Last night I was still living in this tiny town, desperate to leave, to get out, and now I'm here. I don't know, the last few months have been really weird for me," I smiled tiredly at him.
"You're doing good though. I mean, you've been here one day and you've already managed to find a place where you can stay whenever you want, get something to eat," he looked at me encouragingly and I knew he really was telling the truth.
"Thanks to you. Which reminds me: Thank you, for helping me. If you hadn't, I don't know where I'd be."
"It's nothing. If someone hadn't shown me this place, I would have ended up... I don't want to think about it. So if I see people who look like they need a place, I show them, if they let me. Not all the street kids I see, only a few, the ones I want to help," he smiled shyly as if he was trying to say, I wanted to help you, but was too scared to say it, so I smiled back.
"I'm really tired," I said after a while, "where should I sleep?"
"Oh, there's lots of places, there are sometimes like, seven people here, I'll find you a room." Adam got up and started walked further towards the back of the house. He knocked sharply on the door and let me in, telling me that I could stay in the room and telling me good night. He walked away and I was left standing alone in this small strange room. There were some books on the bookshelf and I began looking through them. They had Catcher in the Rye, so I finished it.
When I was done I was really tired, but suddenly realized that I had left my bag in the kitchen. I walked down a hallway, and ended up in the living room we had entered when we first came into the house. There, Adam was sitting, hunched over with his face in his hands, crying silently, but completely. I stood in the doorway for a few moments, watching him, unsure of what to do. If I were to make my presence known he would probably be embarrassed, but he was obviously extremely upset and I wanted to help him. Now he was drowning, in sadness, in fear, and I wanted to help him this time.
I walked silently, deliberately, placing one foot ahead of the other in measured footsteps. I knew if I hesitated I would run and never know if I could have helped the person who had done more for me than any stranger, more than most of my friends. I stood beside him, gently rubbing his shoulder, "Adam? Are you going to be okay?" I asked.
He lifted his head, and for the first time I saw the extent of the injuries whoever it was had caused him. Not only in the dark, grotesquely coloured bruised that had been painted on his face by cruelty, but in the small tears that ran down his face quickly, escaping to hide from exposure and shame. A small jagged cut raced across the top of his forehead, almost high enough to be hidden by his short black hair. Adam looked at me, ashamed and scared, but not exactly wanting me to leave, just nervous that I wouldn't understand or listen. I could sense it; to look at Adam's face is to read his thoughts, pure feelings actually, not thoughts in the mangled, confusing language of words.
"What's wrong, dude?" I asked shyly, feeling awkward.
"Do you really want to know?" He said this bluntly, not in the joking way that most people did. Generally, they turn the words into an icebreaker, but using the words to the full intensity, as he did, as in: I hate what I have to tell you and you'll hate it too, do you want to hear it or not?
"Yes," I answered definitively, with what I hoped was the same raw use of words that he used when he spoke, "I really want to listen to you, no matter what you have to say."
"Okay… Um… you noticed the bruises right? How could you not? My Dad gets mad at me sometimes, so he kicks the shit out of me, to be blunt. Sometimes for nothing, just because he's angry at life, and, the thing is, I want to fight back and I can, I'm bigger than he is, but I never do. I just can't take it…" He began to cry again, tears of anger and frustration pouring out. By this time I was sitting on the couch beside him, but it didn't feel right to touch him, comfort him, make him stop crying before he wanted to. I didn't want to be the one to end the emotion of another, like putting a dam where a waterfall has run centuries.
When Adam did stop, he leaned back and began to speak again, more nervous without the intense emotion to cloud his judgement. "The real problem is that I can't leave because I have two little bothers and I know that if I'm not there take my dad's beatings, he'll take everything out on them and I can't stand the thought of that. So, I'm stuck here, but I'm sixteen now, almost seventeen, so I'll have to leave soon anyway, but I just can't go." He looked at me, defiant but with fear bubbling under it.
"I can't tell you what to do," I began, "obviously, I'm really into running away from my problems, but you feel such a responsibility to your brothers, so you won't. Have you thought about calling the cops on your Dad? I know it sounds bad, but that's what I did to my dad, when he was… hurting me, I guess. Then you can leave for good, or stay, or whatever, but if your Dad's gone your family will be safe."
"I don't know if I could do that," he said bluntly. I didn't feel guilty for what I'd done, or think that he thought I was a bad person for what I'd done. I think we both knew that everyone has to do what they think is best. He looked at me, his eyes an almost endless pit of sadness, worry and confusion, with only the light of a used up lighter at the bottom. I put my arm around his broad shoulders as we sat in silence.
I though Adam was asleep when he turned to me slowly and said bluntly as ever, as if he was declaring a well known fact, "I love you." I was taken aback, we hadn't known each other for long, and… I loved him too. Instead of saying it, I kissed him. He kissed back gently, as if my lips were fragile and he didn't want to break them (although it was probably because his lip was so bruised and he didn't want it to hurt, I realized later.) We stayed up for a while, talking about stupid things. What had just happened didn't seem that real, and I could tell Adam felt that too.
When I woke up the next morning, Adam had already returned to his home. I stayed in the woman's house for a few days, not doing much of anything, except that I talked to the David guy, and he introduced me to his crowd, they were all cool. I missed Adam, though, wanted him there with me, until I saw him again a week or so later, when David's friend, or friend of a friend, was teaching me how to beg on the street. His name was Ryan, and he was a punk. Really, he had a mohawk and wore these tattered clothes that he literally ripped up and stapled back together. He was really quiet, though, and sensitive, once you spoke to him, but he looked like the meanest, rattiest street punk on the planet.
Anyway, Ryan and I were sitting there together, with our hands outstretched, asked people who passed by for money. We got a few dollars, but many more dirty looks and I remember thinking this was the worst thing a person could do when Adam starts walking down the street. Not alone, though, with a group of about six kids, guys and girls. They're all laughing insanely at some joke that was probably sick and not funny at all. He's got his arm around some girl and they're flirting, he keeps playing with his hair. He looks so different, not sensitive and even when he gets close, I can't tell anything that he's feeling by looking at his face.
Ryan asks them if they can spare some change and one of the guys, tall, thin, blond, gets right down in Ryan's face and yells "NO, YOU FUCKING FAGGOT!!" really loudly. The whole time, I'm just looking at Adam and he's looking back at me, and I'm thinking how wrong this all is. This isn't Adam, the sweet guy who had saved my life and cried in front of me, this is some impostor. This is an act he puts on for the others; he can only be himself with me, I think. Mostly, I just feel hurt and alone. Adam wasn't there for me anymore. He didn't care. He was just some dumb kid who liked to… help out complete strangers. I hated him so much, but I still loved him too much to find any real flaws, because when I was with my school friends back at home, I'd acted just the same.
I know he saw me too, we were looking right at each other, making perfect eye contact for what seemed like forever. I hoped he saw how angry I was, how much I hated him for betraying me, for not standing up for Ryan, who was one of us, for not being the person I had fallen completely in love with. He turned away, gave the girl a flirty little hug and walked quickly away to catch up to his friends. Ryan was back to asking for change like everything was fine, but I could see that he was shaken, his words were timid now, as if he feared being hurt yet again by some other dumb oaf who wanted to show off by making fun of a homeless kid.
I left the house for good after that, I knew it was the only place where Adam could find me, and took to the streets for good, with people who I'd met through David and his friends, and just through this underground network of punks and weirdoes. I began to feel what I'd run away to the city for (in addition to an escape): a crowd, a sense of belonging, and an identity. I cut my hair short and spiked it, got my eyebrow pierced, became the street kid I'd wanted to be, in a sense. I still missed, loved and hated Adam more than anyone on earth, and he wasn't fitting together anymore in my mind. One second I'd think of the generous teen that had shown me a place to stay, then the abused, vulnerable child who'd broken down crying, then the cruel kid who'd laughed at Ryan and pretended not to know me. The last one would never fit.
One night, I was back where I had started, wandering the streets one night. I knew a number of people and places I could have gone to, but I just felt like walking. I was in an unassuming middle class neighborhood, when I heard the terrifying scream of sirens, the sound that sends chills down the spine of anyone who's ever had their family be the cause of it. I walked to the house where the sirens were coming from, not consciously, necessarily, but I did. There were a few police cars and an ambulance, cops were dragging away an angry, drunk, screaming man and a stretcher was being placed in the ambulance, while paramedics swarmed around it.
Suddenly, I saw him. Adam, I mean. It was a very clear night; not raining like it always is when bad stuff happens on TV. He was just standing there, with his hands in his pockets and cuts on his face. Everyone was ignoring him and a wondered, if he wasn't on the stretcher, who was. I called out his name, and he turned to look at me. To my surprise, when he saw me, he hurried over.
"Erica," he said breathlessly, "my brother… he broke a lamp, and my Dad beat him up, then I came home and tried to get my Dad after me instead… but I could see that my brother was hurt really bad, so I called the cops and they arrested my Dad and…" He broke off his emotional outburst, which he had given quickly, breathing hard. His face was desperate and a few new cuts let blood trickle down his face, but he wasn't hopeless. He felt as I had felt weeks ago when I got away, it was a new beginning for him, he was free, he could leave a personal hell that he had burned in for sixteen years. He just needed me to tell him, he was in shallow water now and needed me to inform him that he could stand again, or for the first time. I felt good as I waited to tell him.
"What is it?" I asked, as he stood, motionless, looking confused, his eyes burning holes in mine.
"What now? I can't stay here, at home, it's too fucked up," Adam yelled.
"So let's go," I said, simply, bluntly.
"I don't know, but if you can't stay, let's leave!" We were both screaming to be heard over the sirens and I could see the look of utter confusion on his face melt into a smile as he made his choice. Wordlessly, Adam grabbed my hand and we began to walk quickly, not fast enough to draw attention, but fast enough to get us away. Nothing mattered anymore as the mayhem around us split and let us walk through unnoticed.