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The Runaways

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What began as a typical March day in the Northwest would end up as something completely different. March in Oregon is gray, damp and cool. This day was no different. Kids were in school as I went about the normal household tasks for the day. I had just completed vacuuming the living room and kitchen when the phone rang. It was my 13 year old foster daughter, Brooke, asking to stay after school for a drama project. Although she was one of those kids not to be trusted, I saw nothing wrong with her request as long as she was home by six o'clock that evening.
A few minutes later the phone rang once more. This time it was my 15 year old son, Cole. He wanted to hang out with one of screenwriting friends and work on some scenes after school. No problem. That's where, as a super-sleuthing mom, I should have seen it coming. Two kids, on the same day at the same time wanting to stay after school for "projects", the signs were there, I should have realized something was up. I didn't though, I guess what was about to happen was destiny.
It was around 6:30 and neither was home. Beginning to get that "mom feeling" I got in the car and drove through the neighborhood to her friend, Ashley's house. Her house looked like one right out of "Leave it to Beaver. It was a yellow two story home with a meandering pathway from the street to the front door. The pathway was lined with colorful primroses and led to the cheerful "Welcome" sign hanging from dark stained entry door.
Ashley's mom met me halfway on the path. She was frantic. Ashley hadn't come home from school and hadn't called. I told her about Brooke's phone call and that she had asked to stay after and work on a drama project with Ashley. "Ashley doesn't have drama!" the now nearly hysterical mom yelled. The clouds were parting, the plot was becoming clear. Several days before I had received a call from the Jr. High assistant principal telling me that she had overheard a plot of Brooke's to run away with a group of friends. When we had confronted our foster daughter about the call, she convincingly said that is wasn't her but one of her other friends that had planned to run away. She and another friend had been able to talk her out of it.
Now I was getting pissed. I, the master of discerning the deceit of kids, had been duped. Within about a half hour we had the scheme figured out with the help of the principal and some other parents. Six kids in all, two 15 year old boys; one being Cole, and four 12-13 yr old girls, Brooke and Ashley included, had been planning for weeks to run away. They had been stealing money and clothes. Gathering supplies, in this case of the remarkably "brilliant" kids, like one of those reflective silver, Mylar-type blankets and not much else. Luckily for us, these we kids of the suburbs. Spoiled little brats that were working as slaves in their family homes by having to do dishes and take out the garbage. These kids had no calluses on their hands, they had no street experience and most of all had no common sense.
These kids had thought things through so well that they had invited kids that allowed all exits of the city of Portland to be sealed from escape by these braniacs. The father of one of the girls worked for Trimet, the Portland area mass transit system. Another father's best friend was a Portland police officer. There were flyers and descriptions out all over Portland with minutes of our discovery. Exiting Portland was not going to happen for them.
The hysterical parents all got together and decided to go downtown and search the area. They took flyers to the train station and did whatever they could do to ease their runaway minds. Every parent was freaked, rightfully so, except my husband and me. You see being foster parents we'd been through this before. The most important thing we realized was that Portland is a small place to run away in. It's only a matter of time before they were caught. All avenues of escape had been sealed by their brilliant choice to take a bus driver's kid and a kid with a cop friend. These kids weren't going anywhere. And the weather, who in the hell runs away in Portland in March? They were going to be freezing and hungry well before morning. Jeff and I did our part lest we be burned at the stake by irate Happy Valley parents. After about an hour, we went home, went to bed and most importantly we slept well with the knowledge that these little punks would be found and then they would answer to us.
I was awakened the following morning by a phone call from Ashley's dad. No news, no sign, our kids were surely dead, or perhaps had already been kidnapped and sold to a prostitution ring in Canada. Yeah well, whatever, scare yourself silly, let the kids win and then pay the price later. Not me, I was already plotting my actions after their return. I was able to pull myself off of the phone after about 10 minutes of listening to the ranting and raving about whose kid had started what. Like that matters. Fact is that there were six underage kids together in Portland on a school day. Their window was closing, they would soon be caught.
I got up out of bed and took a nice warm shower, relishing the fact that the Six Stooges were freezing their asses off. I dressed and then kept my appointment to get my hair cut and colored. After about an hour into the color I received a phone call. It was an officer from the Portland Police Department. "Mrs. Worley?"
"Your children have been apprehended. We have them at the juvenile detention center and they can stay here for five hours before we have to let them go. Do you want to leave them the full time?"
You bet your life I did. The more they had to wait, the less I'd have to do. They'd scare themselves shitless waiting to be picked up. Table had turned and this time I would control the outcome.
Then the officer giggled. "And Mrs. Worley, we had to charge your son with carrying a concealed weapon. I really apologize for that, but the, eh, knife was just at the legal limit. We had no choice. But don't worry. He's no hardened criminal; I think he bought the knife at a magic shop".
What could I do but shake my head? That was Cole alright. I bet he had bought the "knife" to protect everyone on their adventure. Like I said, suburban kids. "Mrs. Worley, what color was their hair before they left?" Oh God, this was getting better with each word, I'm gonna need my camera.
Seems The Six Stupid Stooges had decided to color their hair to be less recognizable. Brooke's long, thick blonde hair was now orange and green. Cole's Billy Idol blonde hair was now bright red on one side and bright blue on the other with a stripe shaved down the middle. The officer said he looked a bit like a Pepsi can. Jeff said now he was a true "butt head". Now I was sure they had my son, only Cole I tell you, only Cole. It would be years before I would tell him, but I laughed, this is going to make a great story for the generations to come. Oh I was going to enjoy this, maybe a little too much. But hey, now it's my turn. I loved that the tables had turned, but they weren't going to like it one bit. I was comforted by the fact that while sitting in juvie they were sweating bullets waiting for me to show.
When my hair was finished I called Jeff and told him about the developments. He was in a meeting so I would pick up our little criminals. I got there about fifteen minutes before they had to be released. I took one look at my kids and covered my inner laughter with the blazing eyes of one pissed off mom. These kids looked like kids from the dark side. They were all dressed in black and had dark eye make-up on. With their dark clothes and make-up teamed with the circus like hair they looked like "The Addams Family" meets Bozo the Clown. I signed out my little villains and they followed me to the car in silence. The deafening silence was only broken when I told them that they had better have that God-forsaken make-up off of their faces before they got in my car. From my peripheral vision I could see the licking of hands and the frantic wiping of eyes. For a minute there I thought they were going to completely rub off their skin. Oh well, it would grow back.
After they were all settled in the Expedition I told them what we were going to be doing that afternoon. We were going to the mall. They shouldn't mind, I'm sure they were proud of their new looks. Brooke had just been allowed to get her belly button pierced and we were going to have that removed. After her lack of judgment in leaving the day before, I told her that surely she couldn't care for a newly pierced navel. They seemed fine with it until I parked at the other end of the mall. When they realized that I was going to walk them through the entire mall, before getting the ring removed and then back again, all the color drained from their faces. I'm sure I heard one whisper to the other "why couldn't Dad pick us up?" Ok, good, now I knew I was on track.
We were back in the car before I said anything else to them. "Kids, you know that there's no way to get that color out of your hair", just a small white lie, "without cutting it off." Ok, so that was a bigger lie. But since they started with the lying, I figured I'd finish with it. "I'm going to have to shave your heads to remove that color, you can't go to school like that. I'm sure we have some sort of hats you can wear until it grows in a little."
Needless to say the ride home was silent, except for the occasional sniffle, or sob. When we turned into the driveway the little kids were playing outside. They all ran up to us to see their wayward brother and sister. Michael, who was just 7 at the time, looked at them as if they had just erased all of his cartoons or burned his Pokemon cards. "That's disgusting", he huffed as he walked away. Nikki and Joshua took one look at them and then turned their backs and left. We continued up the steps and into the house.
"Cole, you're first". Cole sat on the barstool as I got the clippers to remove the "Pepsi Can" from his head. Brooke watched in horror knowing she was next. I plugged in my chosen instrument of torture, turned it on and began to run it over Cole's head. Bit by bit the brightly colored tresses fell to the floor. Soon his head was bare. He rubbed his newly freed scalp and skulked away as Brooke made her way over to the stool of baldness. She was crying so hard that the she was shaking. She sat down and waited. "Be still", I told her, "you don't want to end up with patches".
I took the clippers, flipped the switch on and turned them upside down. I put the vibrating clipper at the nape of her neck and ran them up to the top of her head before I turned them off and moved in front of her. "I didn't shave your hair. I wouldn't do that. I just wanted you to feel a fraction of the fear that those parents went through with their kids missing. I know you were the one that was behind this whole little adventure."
After a few hours of letting them shower, eat and get warm I asked the details of the break-out. They had slept under a bridge that night and had one "space" blanket for six kids. Cole, my wanderlust, pirate boy, had bought the "knife" to protect the girls, not sure why he hadn't realized that to protect them, he should have left them at home. They had wanted to jump a train to California, but Cole had jumped on an east-bound train and had to jump off as it chugged him away to Montana or some other snow-covered place. They had spent all of their money on value-meals and Cinnebons. True to what Jeff and I had believed, in the middle of the night, when they were freezing on the ground of a hobo camp, they had wanted to call home but were too afraid to do so.
It turned out well. All kids were safely at home. While Cole looked like a cancer patient, Brooke still had her hair. They were warm and fed, and realized doing the dishes and taking out the garbage wasn't the worst thing on Earth. Plus, besides having a story to laugh at for years to come, Jeff and I had a sparkling bathroom, continually clean laundry and a weed-free yard for the rest of the spring and summer.


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