I can’t tell you why she did it. I can’t tell you much about what was going on in Meek’s house when she was twelve. I can’t tell you what drove her to pack a few things in a rush and leave her home for the streets of Milwaukee.
She was a good girl. She was hard on Cage, hard on her little brother Rascal. She loved Madonna and Prince and she was beautiful. Blonde hair, green eyes. Funny. Smart. She tried hard in school and she had a lot of friends. She never gave much of a damn about me, but when she left, she left a hole that ran right through the neighborhood.
It started when we left for school one day. Lisa and I got ready and walked out our door and stood in the middle of the sidewalk. Meek walked to the bus stop with us every day. This day we walked out, stood on our stoop, and waited. After about ten minutes, when we were pretty sure we were going to be late for the bus, we went to her house.
When her mother answered the door, she looked haunted. Her face drawn and creased, her eyes rimmed in darkness. She wore her normal clothes, but for some reason when I think about that day and I try to picture her, I can only see her in gray, a long torn robe disheveled and stained. I see gray hair where there was none. I see bare feet where there were slippers. I see grasping hands. And there is a sound I associate with this moment as if I could hear the woman’s soul. It is a howling wind, a kind of moan you get when winter wind whips through a drafty house. When the chill of a hard night is breaking through and you will never get warm again.
When we came to the door, Meek’s mother grabbed me. She pulled me in tight and hugged me. “She is gone,” she said, weeping. “My baby girl is gone.”
It took me a while to disentangle myself from her, to break free of her desperation and step back. We left that house as soon as we could, and when we hit the streets, we ran. I was running for the bus, but I was also running from the hole yawning out behind me. Because at that moment, a reality came to me that I had never heard before.
We could leave. Meek had done it. If things got too bad, we could just grab our things and run away. I suddenly knew the word, though I don’t think I had heard it before, and I don’t think Meek’s mother had used it. Run away. The very notion was ridiculous but there it was. Run away. To pick up and walk out. I had so many questions. Did she take money when she went? Did she say goodbye to Cage? Did she know where she was going or did she just walk out the door with no plan and no hope?
What about school? What about food? What was she going to do about a place to sleep? How could she ever plan her next meal? I wondered what she was going to do on Christmas. What she was going to do without friends? I wondered about everything I could think of.
The only question I never asked myself was why.
A month later Meek came back. I don’t remember much about that month. I know I played with Cage almost every one of those days, but I don’t remember asking him about it. I know he never talked about it. A great big chunk of his life had been ripped out, but I could not tell from hanging out with him. He went on as if nothing had happened.
She came back defeated. No cops brought her home. Her parents did not go and find her. They just left the door open for her and she came back one day.
Her parents threw her a party. They only invited my family. Our families matched up perfectly. A mother for a mother, a father for a father, sons for sons, daughter for daughter. Perfect pairs. And when we got to the party, we all peeled off and went with our match.
We went to Cage’s room. I sat on the floor for a long time, trying to find a way to ask him about it. Trying to figure a way to say, “What did she say about it? Where has she been and what has she been doing for the last month?” I could not find a way to ask those questions, so I just stared at him. What I saw was a boy broken. I saw a boy who had not wanted his sister back. He did not seem excited.
I knew he did not hate his sister. He loved her, she was family. But for reasons I did not understand, he was not happy she was back.
When we got back home, my mother sat us all down. She wanted to know what Lisa’s talk with Meek had been like. Why had she done it and where had she been?
Lisa said nothing except, “We didn’t talk about it.”
Furious but impotent to do anything about it, my mom gave a lecture about how we needed to be there for the family and the horrors of the run away life, but in the end, what it came down to is my mother wanted details. She wanted to know how the family was doing. I want to tell myself she was just worried about her friend. Didn’t want to think what I feared. Because what would it say about my mother if she just wanted to gossip about it?
When Meek left again, her mother was even more haunted. This time was different. This time she knew something she had not known before. I think the second time Meek ran away, her mother knew why.
Meek’s father drank more this time. Every time we went over there, he was drunk. He would be silent for a long time before exploding into an alcohol-fueled rage. My stepfather could not reach him anymore. All they did was drink and talk about football.
The second time, Cage got mean. I could find that meanness in his walk, in the way he treated the other kids in the neighborhood. We got into more arguments. I had to pull him off a kid at the park who shoved him away from the slide. Cage had just knocked the kid down and started beating him. Pounding the boy into the sand silently, no growling, no screaming, none of the emotions that normally came with a fight. I saw nothing more than a quiet kind of hate being poured out on this poor kid. When I pulled Cage off, his fists were bloody.
When Meek came back, it was because her mother and father bailed her out of jail. Meek had been caught with a few grams of coke. She was different, harder now. There was a desperation to her that could not be missed. She moved strangely. Moved as if she were churning. As if below her skin was a thing fighting to get free. She would sit in a room staring at a corner while you tried to talk to her. Blank-faced she would slowly start to cry. Her face would not change. None of the expression of a cry would appear. No curling face or trembling lip, just tears. One time I asked her what was wrong, and she had not realized she was crying at all.
The girl who, years before, had been bouncing around the house blaring “Borderline” by Madonna as loud as it would go, dancing and singing, “Keep pushing me, keep pushing me, you just keep on pushing my love over the Borderline,” was doing very little more than staring and weeping. Something had died in her. Some piece that all young girls possess had been taken from her.
She was home for less than a week before she stole the VCR from her parents and ran away again.
When the police picked her up for prostitution, her father would not bail her out. He refused, calling her trash and saying she was not his daughter. Her mom went to bail her out though. And a few days later, Meek offered to give me a blow job if I could get her some money to run away with again.
Fifty from my mother’s purse. A few twenties from my stepdad. Any amount of money I could get for her she would take, and I could do anything I wanted to her. When my biological father showed up in his van, with his sly smile and his hungry eyes, I saw her talking to him, her elbows on his van door. My blood went cold.
She ran away when she was fourteen and never came back. I was told she was working as a hooker downtown. Told she had married and was pregnant. A boy I played guns with one time told me his mom had seen her working as a check out girl at a grocery store, but Meek was too young for a real job.
When I became a man, I went back to the old neighborhood. Her mother had left her father. I talked to her mother about where the state was keeping Cage and how many more years were on his sentence. We talked for a long time before Meek came in.
She was a woman now, blonde hair, green eyes, and beautiful. She looked bright, she looked happy. She had a man now and she adored him. When we left, I finally worked up the nerve to ask her why she ran so many times.
“He was evil,” was all she would say.