My neighbor was there on the adjoining balcony, and as I put my cigarette out, I let him know, “I’m running away today.” Then, I ran. Once I was on the run, I learned I’d never again enjoy the leaden hibernation that comes with a deep sleep.I imagined her like a stoned Stepford wife sitting on my ugly bed and petting it twice a day.
The prize was so much smaller then what I had planned for.
Back at the magnet school, I used to look over college advertisements depicting schools with sprawling green lawns and big quiet libraries. In each of my classes I’d study harder —do better, hoping that I would one day be able to run away to one of those eastern cities and be like one of the smiling young people in the school brochures.
In the two years before I fled, the abuse had gotten worse: her need to control me, locking me in closets or the bathroom; ordering me to clean the apartment at all hours, scrubbing the carpet with nothing but toilet paper and water, scraping the crust off the rim of Mom’s toilet. * * * Summer of 1982, my mom and I came to Los Angeles. We slipped into her Easter yellow Audi and drove from our little commune in Pacific Grove, outside of Seaside, California, where my grandmother lived.
She forced me to stand with one leg bent up and cocked behind me for hours. When you become feral it never happens all at once. This was the first time I remember my mom exhibiting symptoms of mental illness. She peed in an MJB coffee can and threw it out the window as she drove.
There was a wooden placard that read “Stepping Stones” hanging from the porch. There it was, looking just like an ordinary white house. Could I close my eyes in a house full of strangers? Could I sleep on sheets used by thousands of homeless kids?
I imagined hundreds of kids inside — gangsters, dope dealers — all leering at me. I walked into the TV room, with its three scuzzy couches from the 1970s, a low coffee table topped by a plastic fishbowl filled with condoms, and a handwritten sign on the fishbowl, “” Two boys and a girl sat on the couch.I had to bury my ambitions as I sat in my new classes.The best you could do there was graduate with your GED in hand, a check for two hundred dollars, and a brand new computer.On the way to the group home, I remembered all the times my mom bent over me and kissed me goodnight, whispering, “The princess is sleeping.” Once we reached Santa Monica, looking out of the passenger side window, I saw all the homeless women — little old ladies with no one attached to them but a litter of mewing cats. Stray dogs nuzzled up against the corners of buildings as if they were the bellies of moms.Cop cars driving along, probably on their way to pick up another kid who was being taken from their mom. College students sitting at the bus stop or the Foster’s Freeze.We no longer had scheduled visitations but I would see her every six months at children’s court in Monterey Park. * * * If my mom were to tell you about the beginning of my wildness she might tell you about the dogs. She complained to the social worker that these parents were really, really bad. I imagined that the angry people in her class bashed people’s heads in at work or tortured their children by plucking off their toenails.