My roommate Allie nodded nervously. “Do you need me to fake barf again?” Her eyes darted back and forth. “I’ve been practicing so I can also fake choke.”
I shook my head. “No.” I paused. “Yes---Wait maybe. I really wish Miss Tolson would stop sending me to my room for conduct unbecoming a young lady and resident of The Crawford Home for Children and Youth.” I cupped my hand and whispered in Allie’s ear. “All I’m going to say is that was the last time I will try to run-away. Tomorrow I will succeed.”
Earlier that afternoon I had removed my clothes and back brace. As usual, I wrapped myself in the paper thin hospital gown and waited for radiology to x-ray my spine and wrist. The room was cold and smelled like it always did of antiseptic and tears.
Later the doctors frowned and explained the severity of my scoliosis. I’ve listened to the same information so many times. Doctors usually ended with their sincere hope for the best outcome, but in the end my spine alone would determine my treatment schedule. By a treatment schedule they meant surgery. However today the tone started serious and grew increasingly somber. “Due to the significant increase in your curvature, we’re left with no other option but a surgical correction. A spinal fusion must be scheduled.”
I reached over to my pants hanging on the hook and pulled a tattered clipping from the pocket and began to read. “Doctor seeks patients with severe scoliosis for an experimental treatment. E.S.I. The surgeon implants---”
“Now let me stop you right there, Miss Gray.” The doctor pointed to the x-ray, glowing on the wall panel. “I’m not here to learn about some experimental false-hope. I’m here to schedule your surgery so your spine doesn’t seriously compromise your health.”
I put my article away and planted my eyes on the wall trying to stop them from watering.
A white sleeve extended. “Miss Gray, I have written two dates on this paper. All I need you to do is circle your choice and we’ll take care of everything else. I know you’re scared.”
I clenched my jaw and accepted the paper. I wasn’t scared, well ok yes, I was. But in an instant I was determined to seek another path. It would be different if someone who loved me was waiting when I woke up from anesthesia.
Later in the evening just as we planned, Allie screamed and ran down the hallway with her hand over her mouth. She really knows how to cause a disturbance.
Under the veil of a medical pseudo-emergency and twilight I awkwardly tumbled out the window, regained composure and walked as quickly as my spine would allow. I disappeared into a thick field and kept moving until I disappeared into a dark wall of trees. Once I was tucked in the brush I reached down and picked grass from my jeans. My heart slammed in my chest and my new resolve began so I walked until my lower back wailed. Occasionally I stopped and planted my back against a tree. I hoped that if monsters lurked in the Northwestern Pennsylvania woods tonight, they were satiated. Or sleeping.
My senses played tricks in the blurred darkness.
At that moment for all the residents at The Crawford Home for Children and Youth who didn’t run away this was pudding time. I sure did miss pudding.
I closed my eyes and imagined snack time. Suddenly I wondered if my ears were playing tricks when twigs snapped near me. I froze. Was an evil serial killer coming for me with a shovel, rake or ax? I held my breath, waiting for what I didn’t know. I hoped it wasn’t a murderer. Or worse.
It’s female and she was humming. I listened some more and tried to recall what the song was. Goodness this person was out of tune and will one hundred per cent never make a decent living humming. I strained to remember the lyric.
A few more notes echoed. I smiled.
She was humming It’s Not Easy Being Green. I’ve heard Kermit sing it so many times.
I started to hum, softly at first, then louder and louder as our melodies collided. We stood only for a moment in uncertainty. Sure there aren’t many reasonable reasons to be hiding out in the woods.
Over the next few minutes I discovered her name. Jenny Honeycutt. She was sixteen and recently got her learner’s permit. The more I learned about her the more I believed she was everything I wasn’t.
Unbeknownst to me earlier, when I was tumbling out my window she was on the other side of the woods dumping gasoline, striking a match and lighting her step-dad’s shed on fire.
Later as we collected sticks, Jenny shared her deer jerky and showed me how to light a campfire. She shared the map she made for her adventure. “I’m joining the navy and sailing far away to exotic ports.”
I smiled and shared my article. “It’s from the National Enquirer, so you know it’s very true.” I said. “I’m going to see this doctor.”
Since my new friend was so good at planning trips and fires and such I asked her best advice about how I could get to Toronto Canada and The Hospital for Sick Children. 555 University Avenue.
She stirred the fire with a stick but remained silent.
After I waited more I cleared my throat. “Will Lake Erie take me all the way to Toronto?” I asked. “How about a boat?”
“How about a boat indeed.” She shook her head. “I knew this had to be the night to light his shed on fire but I never knew I’d be so lucky as to find you. And on account of I’m not old enough to join the navy I might be able to help you get to Canada.” She rifled through her backpack and pulled out a sketchbook and a pencil.
“All we need to do is get to Erie. Then we can steal, check that, I mean borrow, a boat to sail to Canada. It’s totally doable. How are you with running long distances?”
I shook my head. “I can walk.” I paused. “Slowly.”
“Ok. Never mind. Can you ride a horse?”
I shook my head. “Wait.” I hesitated. “Maybe, I never rode one but maybe I’m good at riding horses but I just never knew it.”
Jenny scratched her head. “Well. I’ve got to be honest, I’ve never actually sailed a boat, but I’ve read about it. A lot. So I’m pretty sure I think I know how to be an expert boat person.”
Long into the night, we continued to brain-storm a plan.
Jenny and I.
Before we closed our eyes, we locked pinkies and swore to make it official. We were Goal Sisters.
Can you keep a secret? Sometimes in a matter of minutes your life changes with a medical diagnosis or when you meet the right person who gives you a purpose by sharing in your dream, no matter how crazy or foolhardy it seems to everyone else in the world.