We were going to run away. I don’t remember what started it. We must have been about fourteen. Chris was the kind of guy who would never run away, even though if I’d had his mother, I’d have run away a long time before we finally decided to try it. She has this thing, she just merciless with her boys. She wasn’t so bad when his dad was around, but he wasn’t around so much. Always off working a stretch of highway somewhere else. Now Chris is gone and his brother’s moved away so she’s bugging Mr. Vanek all the time. It has to be someone.
I don’t remember what she did but finally one day I rode my bike to his house. I thought we were going to help out at the shop, even though it was that time in the middle of the summer when most of the equipment has broken down and been fixed and the combines are idle and people are taking off for their cabins on the lake or wherever they go. We were mostly going to the shop because we didn’t want to be home. And maybe we were tired of fishing.
But when I got to Chris’ house, he had a little backpack with him. I asked him, “What’s that?” He said it was some clothes and some food. He said, “I’m running away. I can’t take this crap any more. Are you coming?” I said, “Sure, OK.” He said, “Are you going to pack a backpack?” It sorta surprised me, that question. A backpack? What did I need a backpack for? I don’t know if I wasn’t taking it seriously or I just didn’t care. But I went a put a few things in a backpack. I got us some water. Chris had forgotten that. We would have died of thirst somewhere out on the prairie. My mother was home and she didn’t ask me what I was doing, leaving with a heavy backpack, with a big water bottle hanging from a carabiner. That’s how it was in those days. She didn’t notice anything. Like now, but I don’t think she was drinking anything before lunch.
Then came the hard part: what to do. I wanted to ride. West, to Montana. Chris wanted to know what we would do in Montana. Hire on at a buffalo ranch, I said. They must need help. I think I had just seen something on TV about how they were turning some of that really dry country back into buffalo range. Chris said, “What would we do on a buffalo ranch?” I was just throwing out silly ideas. I didn’t have any idea what I was talking about.
Chris didn’t want to go west. He wanted to go to Fargo. He had an uncle down there or something. He didn’t want to ride bikes, either. He didn’t get around on a bike all the time like I did. So we decided to hop the train. We rode our bikes over to a part of the old spur southeast of town where we thought the train would be going slowly enough that we could get on. Kinda ducked down there below the embankment where nobody could have seen us if they had been looking for us, which of course they weren’t looking for us because we hadn’t even missed supper yet.
The spur used to run all the way up to Newcastle, almost up to the Canadian border. I think maybe once it even crossed the border. My dad said they pulled the rails up while he was away in college, ripped them up all the way northwest from here. Jericho has been the end of the line for a long time. So not so many trains come up this way any more. And actually, none came at all on that day. We sat out in the sun and before it was mid-afternoon we had finished the water and all the food we had brought. It was a bright summer day and the wheat was getting up pretty high, waving around in the breeze and that was about all there was to see. We talked awhile, but we ran out of things to talk about, girls to talk about, by the time we had finished the water. So we were just sitting there not doing or saying anything and I said, “We might as well go down to the lake.” And Chris said, “Yeah.” That’s all he said. So we did.
We never tried to run away again but I thought about it. When I was a junior and senior, especially after basketball season was over, I thought about it a lot. I never did it, never even packed the backpack again. But I thought about it a lot. Maybe I just wanted to run away because I knew as soon as we graduated Laura was going to go away for good and if someone was going to run, I wanted to run first. I couldn’t imagine staying here. And then I finally got my chance to stay gone for good and what did I do? — I came running back. Obviously, I’m no smarter than I was back on the day when I thought I was going to leave home without packing anything.