Gravel crunched under the soles of my shoes as I landed outside the open window. Immediately, I left my perfectly made bed behind, no hesitation, no looking back. Although it was 1:00 am, the heavy summer air soaked into my t-shirt, dripping with the remnants of day. The street was empty, drained of any life left from the sun. Cracked pavement stretched out before me, the night tasting of freedom and rebellion. Confidently, I marched down the middle of the street, ready to take on the world.
I always talked about running away from home;(1) it had become a long running joke in my family, but I never really followed through until now. What's odd is now that I think about it, there's really no reason for running away other than the sheer rush of adrenaline. My dad always told me ¨Live your life so your memoir is interesting¨. He used to tell me countless wild stories from his childhood, but I had none of my own. So here I am, running away for the sake of a story.
I could imagine my dad walking next to me,(2) telling me about when he was young “there were none of these stupid rules and regulations. I tell ya, when I was a kid and I was forced to go outside, I’d be running and climbing trees and spreading mud all over the place. This is why no one goes outside anymore.” Man, he would lecture us like there was no tomorrow. So here I am dad, outside with complete disregard for the rules and regulations.
After walking for what felt like hours, but in reality was probably 20 minutes, I arrived. Laid out before me was the trainyard littered with trash and loose crossties, its adolescence marked with the chain link braces surrounding it. Several tracks ran parallel across the area,(3) but only one appeared to be working. A few workers in bright orange vests loitered outside, their cigarette smoke twisting into the hazy night. Slowly circling the perimeter, I scanned for a way through the fence. I came across a large knotted oak tree, its distinct silhouette contrasted against the sky despite the darkness. Glancing over my shoulder, I threw my bag over the barbed wire and grasped onto the tree. Its rough bark scraped my palms as I scrambled up, but my dad would find this exciting rather than something to complain about. Looking over the edge of the fence, my heart dropped into my stomach. It wasn’t the height that I was afraid of, but the commitment. Once my feet hit the ground, there would be no way out. Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath and let go of the tree branch. Any air I had left in my lungs squeezed out as I hit the earth below.
My feet jumped into action and I ran behind a train car full of metal beams hiding my shivering body. All I had to do was wait. My eyelids sagged, weighed down by the lull in activity, so I gave in and let the darkness swallow me.
The ground shook me awake with a shallow, yet angry, grumble. I shot up and scanned for a source, squinting out into the night. A train rolled into the gates but didn't appear to be stopping, so I got a running start. For a moment fear leapt into my throat as I ran alongside the moving cars.
“Do people actually survive doing this?”
This train didn’t have the cargo boxes like in the movies about rebellious teens and ragged hobos. These were oil tanks and stacks of metal, industrial carts screeching along the tracks. Behind me a white tanker accompanied by a ladder was catching up. I sprinted with all I had to get ahead. All sound muted and when the ladder passed, I threw myself against it. By some miracle, my hands found a way to latch onto the metal rungs. I smiled into the wind, the humid air freezing my teeth. On top of the tank, the cool metal pressed against my belly as I laid flat. This train ran slower than I’d anticipated, just barely cruising along the track. From far away, Longview glittered like a thousand coins bleeding into the stars. The track continued south for a while, but soon began to curve east.
“This is really happening,” I thought. If I was in an indie movie, this would be the part when I scream and dance while looking romantically out at the city glittering in the night.
After a while, the train slowed again passing through through another railyard. This one larger than the last and patrolled by more employees. Terrified, I flattened myself as small as humanly possible. All went well until the train slowed to a near stop and a million anxieties thrashed in my head. I had heard stories about railroad police that aren’t like real police officers; they just beat peoples knees if they trespassed. Was that even legal? Mistakenly I looked over and made eye contact with one of the workers. He gave me a look of simultaneous disgust and amusement until I finally looked back down at the metal.
This pattern of different speeds of slow continued through the night until I was sure that we had left Longview in the dust. Suddenly, the realization hit me; this train was never going to leave the city. I sat up and looked around, instantly my eyes locked on the oak tree. I hopped a train that took me in a big, fat, circle. Dread filled my stomach, twisting like a pit of snakes. Then, I laughed. My family wasn’t even awake yet, and here I sat in the middle of the train tracks looking for a way back home.
“You just can't run away like you used to,” my dad would say in all seriousness. We’d sit at the table and my mom would sigh while my brothers pointed and laughed.
Carefully, I checked to make sure the coast was clear. All the employees had gone inside, and everything was still. I became the rock that disturbed the pond and made a break for it, sprinting at full speed. I launched myself at the branch but rather than smoothly swinging onto the tree, I tripped and fell into the fence, tangled in my backpack. I wriggled free and just barely tipped myself over the fence landing in a heap of scratches and ripped cloth. See what happens when you go outside? The sky blushed ever so slightly with hope of dawn and shed enough light for me to walk to the nearest highway.
“Why are you calling me at five in the morning from a payphone?”