The Runaway


This morning, one of my Facebook pals (and a high school classmate) asked us to post about memorable (the good and the bad) teachers. Since most of the group had attended junior high and high school together, we posted about the teachers who inspired us, and the ones who never should have been teachers.

One name that was brought up evoked a memory. It was 1971 and I was not yet thirteen years old. I’d been goofing off in my Social Studies class and probably had done poorly on a test. Standard procedure was for the teacher to issue a written warning, on a form, to be brought home by the student, placed in front of the parent(s), signed by at least one parent, and delivered back to the teacher (punishment left to the parents). I received one of those warnings. Panic set in. It’s not that I feared my parents, but I, like my sisters, was expected to (a) behave, (b) be respectful, (c) do all assignments, and (d) perform to the best of our ability in school. In my case, based on those Iowa tests and IQ analyses, I should have been at the top of each class. I was not. I was a mixed-up adolescent whose performance was far beneath her potential.

I did not hand the warning to my parents. Instead, I forged my dad’s signature (thinking it would be easier to forge his than my mom’s). I found one of the blue ball-point stick pens and tried very hard to write “John M. Reynolds” on the line in his small, up-and-down cursive handwriting. It didn’t look very good, so I used the handy pen eraser to correct it, and wrote again. John M. Reynolds probably wouldn’t have signed, erased, and signed again.

The next day, I handed the warning back to Mr. McElroy and took my seat. The class quieted down and waited for him to begin instructing. Instead, without looking up, he started talking about warnings and verification, and telephoning parents. I stopped listening, knew I’d been caught, and began plotting my escape. All I knew was that I could not return home that day.

When school ended that afternoon, I didn’t board the bus. I didn’t have much of a plan, so I walked. It was early May, a pleasant day, and I walked. From Lockwood Junior High School, up West Shore Road. There was an Almacs supermarket at the corner and I went inside. But I had no money; how was I going to eat? I stole a roll of Life Savers and got away with it. In hindsight, it’s too bad, because had I been stopped then, I’d have been home within the hour (to answer to petty theft and forgery charges). I kept walking, through unfamiliar neighborhoods. A policeman drove by me, slowly. (I learned later that my mother, so distraught she couldn’t think straight, gave the police a completely inaccurate description of the clothes I was wearing).

By eight o’clock that evening, I was scared. I didn’t know where I was (I was near the Greenwood Inn, about two miles from school). I’d been walking since around three o’clock that afternoon. I stepped into a service station and broke down. Through heaving sobs, I was able to give the kind stranger my telephone number and my parents received the news they’d been praying for: your daughter is safe and here. Come get her.

The rest of the story is inconsequential. I wasn’t punished, and it was only years later that I could fully understand what I’d put my parents through that day. But I think I ended up with a “B” in Social Studies, so I must have made amends, in my studies at least.