This past week I received an email from a friend who had taken some time to jot down some childhood memories and wanted my thoughts on them and hoped I would respond in kind with some childhood memories of my life. I found this request a bit funny in an odd sort of manner since I’ve written about my childhood here on this blog. Albeit, it has mostly been non-traumatic shenanigans of me and my friends, I’ve tried to stray away from the stories of the feel good nature or the too disturbing for readers genre.
That being said, the three tales in the email struck a chord in my own personal history, a chord I can’t ignore. An ear worm of a memory which has been haunting me and I wasn’t quite sure I’d ever want to share. So, without further ado…
I was sixteen and I had been grounded for reasons which escape me right now, but I’m sure it had something to do with me being a total ass at school and pissing off a teacher, or maybe it was because I’d stayed out too late on more than one occasion. Or it could even be the fact that I’d been caught drinking beer and wasn’t really sorry for it. The reason doesn’t matter nor does the fact that I actually enjoyed being grounded. Simply because it afforded me time to sit undisturbed in my room and read my books, draw pictures and listen to music without interruptions. So my punishment by not being allowed outside or to hang with my friends allowed me to spend quality time with myself. I’ve always been my best company. It’s true and I rarely get bored when I’m alone.
I remember coming home from school to find my step-brother Brian already home and watching television. I said hi and went directly to my room with my most recent school library books and started to read. I don’t know how long I was in my room reading but a knock on my door drew me out of my reverie of one of the R.A. Heinlen stories I was reading. I sat up and said “Come in.”
My step-mother poked her head in my room and then flipped on the light “Honey, I made some sandwiches if you’re hungry. Also, Brian and I are going to the movies later, would you like to come?”
“Ma, I’m grounded. I can’t go to the movies.”
“Well, we can’t leave you here alone, so you are going to come with us. I’m sure your father will understand. Now wash up and eat. We are going to be leaving soon.”
I got up, washed up and ate. Then we all piled in the car and drove to Manitowac to the theatre. I can’t remember what film we saw that Fall Friday night but we all laughed, ate popcorn and had a good time. I even made a joke about getting to go to the movies while I was grounded. Both Brian and my Step-mother laughed.
When we got home and settled, I in my room, Brian watching t.v. and Ma, doing whatever it is she was doing, the phone rang. I did not have phone privileges so I ignored it and a few minutes later my step-ma knocked on my door and said my father wanted to speak with me. I went into the dining room and picked up the phone. “Hi Pop. What’s up?”
The conversation went downhill from there. That is if you could call what was said a conversation. Basically, he was pissed I went to the movies and made a joke about being grounded and being allowed to see a film. He also threatened to kick my ass when he got home in less than an hour. I tried to explain it was a joke but he was having none of it. He was pissed and I was his scapegoat.
After the phone call, I was upset, pissed and not ready to fight with him again. So I did what any disturbed teenage boy would do, I packed up my duffel bag with some clothes, books and what little money I had and hightailed it out of the house as quick as my feet could take me. I knew if I stayed on the roads I would get caught so I cut across all the plowed over corn fields, hey fields and alfalfa fields away from Two Rivers and towards Manitowac where my girlfriend lived.
Unfortunately, about halfway there, I had to walk down a dark stretch of country road which is where my family caught up with me. I saw car coming but I didn’t know who was in it so I crossed the roadside ditch and started cutting across a hay field when the car stopped and my dad got out. He was shouting for me to come back and if I didn’t he would kick my ass. I knew regardless of whether I came back now or later, I would get an ass kicking. So I ran. He tried to follow but the legs of my sixteen year old body were a lot faster than the legs of a fourty-something year old truck driver. He didn’t catch me, but to say I got away unscathed would be a lie. I fell several times, cut my knees and my hands and even scrapped up my face a bit.
When I arrived at my girlfriend’s house and explained my situation she in turn got permission from her parents to let me sleep on the couch for two nights. It was after all the weekend and I really had nowhere else to go. I showered, changed clothes and sat uncomfortably on the couch next to her while her entire family watched television. I felt uncomfortable and was afraid to move. By eleven everyone had gone to bed except for me and her. We stayed up late talking about what I was going to do and where I was going to go. I told her I didn’t really have any plans but I would call some friends in the morning to see if I could stay with them if it was ok with her. She thought it was a good idea.
By Sunday morning I had exhausted all my contacts trying to find a place to stay and I knew I couldn’t stay on my girlfriends couch anymore so I woke up early and headed out to try to find a place to stay. Before I left, I made myself some sandwiches, took some canned food out of their pantry and left. I knew I would be expected at school on Monday and I knew of no place else to head towards so I headed there. About a half a mile from my high school was an old junk yard and as I was cutting through it I found a beat up old station wagon and I thought, why not? After all, every night on the news it showed people living in their cars across the nation so why not me? I could do it. After all, it’d be just like camping, only instead of a cloth tent, it was a metal one.
I stayed in that car for three days before my school figured out I was not living at home and since it was a Catholic High School, I was offered to stay with the Brothers that taught there. I figured a warm bed and hot meals would be better than a cold car and cold canned food. So I spent time with them. I helped clean up the school after hours, took hot showers and even helped work on some of the lawn mowers and cars in the auto shop that belonged to the Brothers. I was also given a lot more homework than I normally would have had and it was checked, double checked and then I was made to fix any mistakes I made.
I also was allowed to smoke, it turns out most of the Brother’s smoked but never in their apartments. We had to smoke outside. I also learned that one of the Brothers who had the reputation of being a total hard ass was actually a pretty nice guy who liked to feed birds and walk in the woods. Him and I would go for walks and we would talk about all sorts of things. It was an odd friendship to suddenly have, one I was not really prepared for but one that did help me out.
After a week of being away from my family the school called my father and step-mother and arranged for us all to have a sit down meeting. When my folks arrived I could tell my dad was still pissed and my step-mother worried. We talked for over an hour with the school’s Principal serving as mediator and a couple of the schools Brother’s seated in defense of me. By the end of the meeting it had been decided that I would pack up my things and go home and that corporal punishment would not be dispensed but I was to remain grounded for the foreseeable future. It was also mandated that I would enlist in the Delayed Entry Program for the United States Navy and take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery as soon as possible.
I agreed to these terms and conditions simply because I knew in less than a year I would brush the dust of Wisconsin off my boots and never have to go back to a life where I felt uncomfortable all the time.
I can’t say I never got my ass kicked again by my father nor can I say I didn’t throw a punch back but I can say that I felt I had earned a little respect from my family by not backing down from what I felt was the right thing to do.
Have a great week.