The Headquarters

I began this blog with a post about my first day as a hobo. However, the story actually starts much earlier during a time when a backpack and a vague idea of where to sleep was about the extend of my so-called plan.

I was maybe 15 years old and residing in a child home with many other children and teenagers. Looking back, I can’t give you a satisfying reason as to why I decided to run away. The staff was great, I had no real trouble with the other kids, and I was well-fed and taken care of. Yet, there I was, throwing belongings I deemed important into my backpack. A blanket, three pocket knifes, a few random snacks, a flash light, some clothes, and for some reason a 500 page Novel. Paranoid as I was, I stuffed every last dollar I owned into my shoes (which added up to a whooping $80) and kept one of my knives in my pocket.

I waited until everyone had gone to bed and got dressed. My roommate knew what was going on, wished me luck, and went back to sleep. The plan was to exit the house via our balcony, make a run for the fence on the north side of the property, and climb to freedom. I took a deep breath, tightened the strings on my backpack, and climbed over the balcony. Holding on to the metal bars, I was sliding down the side of the balcony much faster than I had expected. I let go and ungracefully crashed into a small tree in a pot just below me, which hadn’t been there the day before. The sensors triggered the lights and illuminated the backyard like a football field during the Superbowl.  After a short struggle, I picked up the poor tree, stuffed it back in the pot, and ran for the fence. Somehow I managed to climb over the fence without further incidents.

I had never done anything like this before. Sure, I had moved from place to place in the past and lived through quite a few adventures, but this was different. For the first time, I acted on my own impulses in a somewhat desperate attempt to make sense of the world and my place in it.

Staying in the shadows, I began making my way to what my friends and I referred to as “the headquarters”. The headquarters were an abandoned military base consisting of 15 ish buildings and some underground tunnels. We had discovered the area several years prior and had spend many weekends exploring the property. Sometimes we destroyed windows and acted like wild gorillas on crack, other times we tip-toed through the empty halls in a state of adrenaline fueled fear and excitement. Either way, we always had a good time.

I had about 10 miles to cover by foot. The hours went by and as I passed through neighborhoods, shopping areas, and industrial parks, I meticulously planned my point of entry and picked the building I was to spend the night in. It took me about three hours to get to the headquarters, and when I finally stood before the wire fence, I felt the overwhelming urge to collapse and cry. I am not talking about tears of joy, but tears of bitter frustration and disappointment.

Before me lay the remains of torn down buildings. At an age at which I believed things last forever, I couldn’t believe my eyes. This was the one time I really needed this place and just like that it had disappeared forever. After several minutes of reciting every cuss word known to mankind, I headed for the only other abandoned building in town, I knew was suitable for my plans: An old farm house that had survived the city’s eager attempts to keep the area looking clean and attractive.

With another 6 miles to go, I had no time to waste. It was getting pretty late, and I knew that more than likely the police had been notified and was keeping an eye out for me. I decided to leave the main road, and stay low for a while. Shortly thereafter my phone began blowing up with texts and calls urging me to return home. My heart was pounding and I ended up turning off my phone; I simply couldn’t deal with the stress.

The streets and parks were empty; the only sign of life came from an unidentified animal in a bush, a night jogger, and a bunch of drunks who were partying in someone’s back yard. Slowly but surely, I realized that I had no idea where the hell I was. I ended up on a field and climbed up one of those massive power towers (great idea…), hoping I’d recognize the area from above. It dawned on me that I had to cross the interstate to get my destination. “Screw it!”, I thought to myself, climbed back down, and found myself a nice spot next to a bridge (not under!) to get some desperately needed shut eye.

I managed about an hour of sleep. Tired, dirty, and hurting I looked at my watch. It was around 3 o’clock in the morning as I began my walk of shame back to the child home. About an hour later I crawled out of a bush and caught the first bus of the day back to the city. Not much later, I was standing in front of Tom, the staff member assigned to care for me. With hanging shoulders and staring at the floor, I followed Tom to the office. After a few phone calls and an incredibly uncomfortable conversation, he sent me to my room.

The door flew open about an hour later. “Good morning, sunshine!”, Jeff exclaimed. “Time for school!”. “Seriously???”, I muttered in an almost comatose state. “I am tired!”. “Oh I bet, Tom told me all about it”, he laughed. At 8:00 am I was sitting in front of my teacher dreaming of a nice comfortable bed.

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4 thoughts on “The Headquarters

  1. Ouch!

    I lived in a children’s home for about 6 months when I was in the 4th grade. My roommate was 14 at the time. My parents became staff/house parents there, but the stress sent us on to greener pastures fast.

    About 4 or 5 years later, my old roommate found us and hitchhiked to our new place out of the blue. He lived with us again for several months, got a job, a girl friend, and seemed to be building a life of “stability.” But then one night he up and disappeared. Of course his job go burgled, a car got stolen, and no one heard from him again.

    Years passed. My family moved yet again. I grew up and left home, but lived across town from my parents. And about 6 years after the previous time, my old roommate showed up again! He had spent time in prison. He stuck around for almost a year, again, but then blew with the wind all over again one night as mysteriously as he had before.

    There is a lot more to that story actually, but it begins to diverge dramatically from yours about there. Nevertheless, you story reminds me of my old roommate. Not that it matters to you. But as I read your post, I suddenly joined that kid in my mind as he made his seemingly desperate break away. Hmmm…

    Of course it also made me recall the movie Into The Wild (that was the name of it, right?). Anyway, that story diverged from yours too in the end, but the sense of freedom and radical break with “normal” came to mind.

    Sorry you had to come back… I guess.

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    • Sounds like he had a difficult time figuring out his path. Sometimes, that’s just how it goes. Going back to the child home wasn’t bad. I had a good time there, just not enough skills to properly communicate my needs. Thanks for reading. Take care!

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    • It’s all good! We are about to get hit by a pretty harsh cold front with temperatures around – 12ºC (10º F). I typically heat up some water and fill up my hot water bottle and my regular water bottle. Makes for a heated sleeping bag, which keeps me toasty warm. Last year, we’ve had 0ºF (- 18ºC), but I was visiting relatives and thus had a nice warm place to stay at. I’ll deal with that kind of weather when it gets here : – ). What’s the temperature in California?

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