You don’t really talk to anybody. Mostly, you have five friends, and three of them don’t even go to your high school. The other two are worried about their own shit and the three of you often seem to spend your days at school trying to figure out how to not be at school. You discover how easy it to is walk quickly across a parking lot and disappear into the wash, running only when you feel you need to, and then walking the rest of the way. There are a lot of empty beer cans out there, in the desert, and old cigarette butts pecked apart by inquisitive beaks.
Where do you go on these days? Downtown Tucson. You find your three friends on Fourth Avenue, or at Roads to Moscow. You spend whole days doing nothing but walking, or sitting on a curb, talking about nothing, halfheartedly panhandling until you have enough for a jelly donut at the shop on the corner. Maybe a cup of coffee that singes your tongue. Sometimes you drop acid, or smoke pot, or shoulder-tap outside The Buffet on 9th Street. When that happens, a lot happens, and one day can spin into two, or three. There are sudden parties at dumpy houses. Sometimes there are cops. Always there is not home, because home is a blank. Sometimes your sister, who smells like Breck shampoo and cigarettes and has her own apartment and a tall boyfriend, signs you out of school and takes you to the movies. Her hair is glossy and she has a car and even though she’s just waitressing, it all seems glamorous, this life of not home and not school.
It might not be so glamorous in a month, when the shit hits the fan and you have to sit with your biting-her-lips-to-keep-from-crying-mother in a bland office as the principal tells her you are expelled for truancy for the rest of the year. Your mother says, You’re going to get a job. You say, I’m not going back to high school. She says, You don’t have to. There is a GED, there is a job sliding hot dogs into soggy buns, there is a moped, and then there are classes at community college.
At sixteen, now, your whole day is work, but it is also school, again, and this time, you are reading, reading, reading, and no one looks at you funny, and no one pushes your face in the toilet because of the name of a band on your shirt, or whispers, Slut, as you wash your hands in the restroom. You write poetry, and stories, lots of stories, your head teems with characters and ideas and somebody tells you, You’re pretty good at this, and suddenly not home doesn’t matter, because you can do something else. You can make up home in your head. You can make up anything you want. You can make up a whole new world.
Kathleen Glasgow lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota and writes for The Writer’s Almanac. Her book, THE TENDER KIT (Delacorte 2016) tells the story of 17-y-old Charlie Davis’s struggle with survival and self-harm. You can find Kathleen on Twitter @kathglasgow, and at her website here.