I throw on a top and shorts. Slip dirty feet into scuffed old shoes. I have no money, nothing.
No need for much.
We are in Florida after all. I don't even think as I run out the back door.
My brain only registers that I must run!
I run and run... along the roads to duck behind trees or slip off into deep ditches as cars drive by so their headlights won't illuminate me in the darkness as I make my way to freedom.
I don't know where to go or what to do.
It doesn't matter. I am free.
Free from Barbara and her sick pleasure and glee in inflicting torture and pain. Free from Bob and his evil thoughts to a girl who is not his daughter but who is coming of age.
I find a church and spend the night curled up in pew in the back. It's like Heaven there. The smell of the wood still a memory as I press my face into it and breathe it in. No pillow or blanket, just a few oranges I have found in the orange groves that line every back road of the state of Florida.
I am 14 and not very wise to the ways of the world but I am strong!
Sleep doesn't come easy as I worry each noise and creak of the tiny old church may be one of them lurking and waiting in the shadows to take me back. I won't go back!
Morning comes and I slip out of the church undetected.
I am getting good at this.
I am learning to become invisible and slip in and out of places and not be seen.
I am now in Lakeland Florida.
The year is 1970. A time of free love, peace and hippies. Flower children everywhere. I am able to fit right in with them and they accept me as their own. Long hair and unkempt kids. Pot and drugs are free and available.
Its not my thing but it's a way of life for those around me. I didn't need to be high or messed up on drugs. I was just happy to be alive and safe! I felt so liberated.
I meet other runaways, hippies and homeless kids my own age that quickly teach me how to pan-handle.
Pan-handling is just a pretty way to say beg.
I was 14 but looked 10 years old. It was easy.
I was fed and had people that cared about me. Street people. They didn't care who I was, they liked me for me. If I felt like I was going to be accosted by some drug addicted hippie at night, I would simply leave. Better to sleep in a ditch. I learned to sleep in ditches and churches and under bridges. It was easy. I'm sure I was dirty and ragged but I had no fears. I still think my sweet guardian angel was with me. Keeping me safe. I think of my own kids at this age living like I did and it scares me to death!
My days are filled with pan-handling, coffee houses, hippie-fests, and fantastic music on hillsides. Sitting in the grass listening to bands. Sunshine and warm sunny Florida days. The smell of pot wafting in the air.
I am at a 7/11.
It is a beautiful day and I know have nothing to worry about anymore. Each day away from Barbara and Bob has lured me into a sense of safety.
As I walk out of the convenience store with my hands full of a sandwich and BBQ potato chips bought with money begged for right outside by a nice older lady, I am stopped by someone that looks so familiar yet older somehow.
It's my sister!
"Lana? Is that you?" She says with a look of wonder on her face.
"Are you ok?"
I am so happy to see her as I grab her in a tight sweet hug. I have never been so happy to see someone, ever!
I answer her, "Yes, I am fine! How are you? Are you still living with Barb and Bob?" Please say no, I silently plead with her as I wait for her answer....
She lowers her head and nods yes.
"Come with me. Leave now! I know how to get by and you can leave them! I can take care of us both." I beg her as she begins to walk away, she looks at me and says, "I'm not as strong as you, Lana. I won't make it."
"But you will! We can both have escaped. I think of you every day! I worry about you still there."
"I can't" she says as she hurries away from me almost running and disappears.
My heart is so heavy just knowing she is still living there with them.
My days are the same but different. Begging, meeting an array of people from everywhere.
Anywhere. No one knew or cared where we came from. We never asked last names or backgrounds. It didn't matter.
Young people like myself that are either runaways or just escaping life. Such a simple time.
I scored a dollar from a young mother when I helped her by entertaining her darling 2 kids at a nearby park. Pushing them in the swings and playing with them in the sand. I love kids. Laughing and playing and building sand castles. Bright sunlight on our faces as we laughed and played... It felt so normal.
My life was about to become anything but normal.....
As I walked to the same convenience store I had just seen my sister days before and with my newly earned dollar bill in hand, eager to get a can of soda and a candy bar for my meal of the day, I am approached by two uniformed police officers. One on either side of me. They turn me around. Each has a solid grip on my arms. Pushing me along to a waiting squad car.....
" You are coming with us. You are under arrest for being incorrigible and running away from home."