Ma and Daddy were sniffing around my trail. I was gone too often and too long and I was too happy. I invented a work friend who belonged to an ice skating club at a rink near her house. I told them that we rented skates and signed up for classes three nights a week. My best friend, Andi, and I covered for each other on weekends. She was sleeping with a guy her parents adamantly forbade her to see and I was tagging along with Annamae and Dodie, cautiously exploring the bedrock of the lesbian community. For all my clever and devious schemes, my parents were still smarter than I. One afternoon I answered the pay phone in Annamae’s hallway; my father was on the other end.
No more arguments, no more threats, my parents were done with me. If I wanted to stay at home I had to stop what I was doing or I’d have to leave. I chose to leave. After the decree, Daddy retreated into seclusion. Ma went to the bank with me and withdrew my two hundred thirty-four dollar savings. We were crying because we knew I couldn’t have done anything else. We were both renegades who had to be who we were. It was killing us but neither of us knew another way. She mustered all the faith and trust she had in her strong ally, her stable and dependable first born, and let me go. I believed whatever it was that I’d set in motion could not be slowed or stopped. It was on me now to avoid being crushed in the gears.
I was trembling as I stuffed a shopping bag with my money, underwear, a toothbrush, two pairs of chinos, three polo shirts and a windbreaker. My continuity was assured. I went straight to Annamae and Mavis, told them what had happened and asked if I could stay there long enough to find a job and rent a room. I slept in the same bed Edelle and I had shared several months before and, ironically, I struggled with the same feelings. I was terrified and wanted my mommy desperately but, at the same time, I welcomed my freedom. This time I had a plan. I’d leave right after breakfast to look for work. As soon as I got a job, I’d take a room in a nearby rooming house and settle in. To hell with caution, I’d write Edelle a carefully worded letter so she’d know what I was doing. It was all under control. I’d prepare five hundred cups of tea, put my feet up five hundred times and get to serious growing up.
I left in the morning to apply for two jobs I’d seen in the newspaper. When I got back to the apartment I rummaged through my shopping bag for a clean jersey - the money was gone. Annamae and Mavis had taken it. For a minute I felt the room spinning. I had to sit on the bed to keep from falling. I sat for a long time clearing my head. I’d always known there were crocodiles in the world, Ma taught me that. Ordinarily, I knew enough to stay out of the swamp, but this time I had been brought to my knees by my own desperation. When I finally walked into the kitchen their silent faces dared me to confront them. I said nothing as I walked out the door with the shopping bag clutched in my hand. For the second time in two days I had stepped into the machinery that was propelling my life, only this time it has shifted into overdrive.
There was a small park with a couple of benches where I sat for most of the rest of the day. I was surprisingly unemotional, more like numb. The big picture of my future had blurred beyond focus. I’d deal with Annamae and Mavis if I ever saw them again. As for Edelle, fuck her and Winnie, too. I supposed I could go home but what would that solve. I’d be right back on the same hamster wheel. Edelle calmed the restlessness I’d been struggling with for a long time. Finding her gave me the spark and the words to realize I was gay. Being with her had been the goal, but not anymore. With or without Edelle, I’d creep, crawl and scramble into the imminent.
When it got dark I walked to the Hayes-Bickford’s in Park Square, an all-night cafeteria in the gay part of town. There were a couple of girls I recognized and I sat at their table. One of them asked me what was in the paper bag. I told her it was just about everything I had in the world. She chuckled at my response until she looked at my face. She quickly advised that I get rid of the bag because it would attract attention. She told me to wear all my clothes at once. She took off her long-sleeved woolen sweater and traded it for the two pair of chinos in my bag. I put on all my underwear, my other polo shirts, my new woolen sweater and my windbreaker. I couldn’t fit into my shoes with three pairs of socks so I wrapped the extra pair around my toothbrush and tucked them into the inside pocket of my jacket, thinking maybe I could use the socks for mittens when it got really cold. The next few days and nights were spent shuffling between the cafeteria eating leftovers and the bus terminal where I felt safe enough to sleep. Little by little, the bird builds her nest.