The stewardesses held us on the plane until everyone had deboarded, then walked us into the terminal, where my parents and Dennis’ mother waited beside the gate. Dennis was instantly collared and hustled away in a shellburst of angry lament. Mom and Dad, on the other hand, didn’t yell. They never yelled at their children or at each other, not even when yelling would have been normal and appropriate. They hugged me out of sheer relief.
But the questions began right away. They hadn’t yet received the letter I’d written in which I’d attempted to explain my action, using grandiose terms of “adventure” and “freedom.” It would arrive the next day, as untimely as yesterday’s newspaper. “What did you think you were going to live on? How much money did you have with you?” I looked in my wallet. I had eleven dollars. I knew Dennis had even less after blowing several dollars on breakfast for the two of us at the Chicago Greyhound terminal. “We were going to wash dishes for food,” I said. I’d read books about cross-country travel like Kerouac’s On the Road, and washing dishes in exchange for a meal was, I imagined, common currency. I hadn’t thought too much about what that dishwashing would actually be like or whether it would even be possible most of the time—it was an abstract concept.
Over the next days, their concerns were repeated. “You could have been victims of crime.” “You could have become a drug addict.” And last but not least, “You could have gotten pregnant.”
Mom and I made a trip into DC to the pawn shop on 14th Street. The sewing machine, in its elegant baby-blue carrying case, sat plainly in view on a shelf. But I hadn’t kept the pawn ticket, and Mom did not respond favorably to the pawnbroker’s proposal that we could get back my birthday present for triple the amount he’d paid me for it a few days earlier.
I kept saying I hadn’t been running away, I’d been running to a life of adventure. My dazzling vagueness about this adventure made it a hollow idea. But Mom and Dad latched onto one thing, that I wanted a change of scenery. Somewhere along the way—I don’t remember which of them came up with the idea first—they proposed that I go out to live with my aunt, uncle, and cousin in Wyoming for the remainder of the school year. It might satisfy my desire to be in new territory. But most important for them, it would get me away from Dennis.
In the meantime, he’d been grounded and his mom had hatched a deal with the school authorities that they’d call her at work if he didn’t show up any morning. We saw each other only between bells in the school corridors. Go out to Wyoming? Wouldn’t I miss Dennis terribly, leaving him behind? It says something about my mindset that once this Wyoming notion was proposed, I embraced it. Wyoming was a faraway place—a place very different from home—that was all I needed for my overactive imagination to work on. Wyoming would be, well, what I thought I was looking for: adventure.
My horse would be sold—that had already been decided, regardless of whether I stayed home or went out west. But my Wyoming relatives owned two horses: another attraction.
You will somehow not be surprised to learn that Wyoming turned out to be quite different than what I expected.
(To be continued)