In 2005 I began interviewing people I grew up with. Because I left home at thirteen and spent four years in group homes, my social network was significantly wider than most people of that age. What’s most interesting about these interviews turns out not so much to be the things we remember differently as the things we remember the same.
John – X-Ray Technician
It was like third or fourth grade when we first met. It was you, me, your sister, and my brother. We were all into comics. Later, you and I would rob the comic store. We weren’t the only ones to rob the comic store. They were closing down. They had already been robbed. You kicked in the wood they had put over the window and we went in and took a bunch of comics. I think you got all the back issues of Daredevil. That was your favorite character. You were taking as many as you could get and I was picking just the ones I wanted. I was thumbing through them thinking: I have this one, I have this one… I wasn’t a very good thief. In hindsight we should have just taken boxes. That would have been smarter.
I remember meeting Roger for the first time. We went over to his grandparent’s house. He said I had to wear a Yamakuh, but he was just kidding. You guys were playing chess but you were way better than I was. You were out of my league.
You started taking speed. You would take your mom’s drugs. We talked about pot and stuff and you said you had smoked pot before but I was with you all the time and I didn’t remember that. I think you got me stoned for the first time. I think you got the weed from Pat.
I remember a lot about your mother. She was very nice. She still had her English accent. She was very skinny I remember her laying down a lot, watching that black and white TV. And you told me she couldn’t have a color TV because your dad thought it caused lukemia or something.
Your dad walked around naked a lot. He didn’t care. His manhood dangling around.
When we started getting in trouble is when we started sneaking out at night with Albert. Albert’s mom used to call me Diablo. The Prince of Darkness. We’d just run around, hook up with other kids that snuck out. Try to find stuff to do. Go to the public golf course and vandalize the greens. Then we started breaking into cars. We were trying to be bad boys but we weren’t. If we were really bad we would have stolen the cars. Which we probably would have done if we knew how.
I don’t know why we started sneaking out every night. Probably because I didn’t want to be at home. It was the only time I was able to go out because my father wouldn’t let me leave the house except to go to school. He used to beat me with a switch, broom handle, extension cords. My dad actually whipped me in front of you when he caught you hiding in my room. He made you watch.
My father hated you. He tried to run you over in his taxi, but that was much later. Probably the year before I went to high school, when you were in seventh grade.
After you told me my dad chased you with a gun I looked for that gun. I looked all over the house but I couldn’t find it. He probably kept it in his car.
I think we were just kids and we had these dreams and we’d talk about philosophical stuff, what our dreams were, how do you make out with a girl, what does the ideal girl look like. Kid stuff. That’s all before the drugs. Then we started taking drugs and we talked about stupid stoner stuff.
We used to rob parking meters. Herb showed us how to do it.
I became homeless way before you did. I started sleeping under your bed. Probably when I was around twelve or thirteen, so you were eleven or twelve. You had a lot of porn magazines under there. I’d run away for weeks at a time. I’d go home, get a beating, get a shower, get some clothes, take off again. Hopefully in that order.
In hindsight I always ran to you when I was in trouble. But how could you help? You were six months younger than I.
I remember you and Felix got in a fight. You fought in the alley and you were kicking his ass pretty good. I remember thinking you were more coordinated than I thought. After the fight he gained some respect for you.
Your father had mirrors all over his bedroom wall.
I remember you telling me you had this fantasy of being tied up by a woman. There was nothing we didn’t talk about.
I think at one point we stayed completely stoned and drunk for two months straight. I knew things took a turn for the worse the day I came over and saw puke running down the side of your house below your window.
It sucked when you ran away from home. Then I had to show you all my spots. Like the hallway, the laundromat, basements I would find. I’d show you where I stayed. You had a hard time getting on the roof of Quick Stop. That was the night you got bit by all those spiders across your stomach. I’ve never seen anything like that.
I showed you how to be homeless. I remember those cold winters. It was fucking cold. How bad could it have been at home for us to decide to be outside in that weather? We didn’t even have heavy jackets because we wanted to look cool. It was worst at three or four in the morning. You wake up shivering. I hate that period of my life. I look back on it now. If I’m walking from my car to work and I’m cold then I think, hell, I’ve been through worse. It was freezing cold. Those winters away from home were cold.
My parents caught me once and put me in a drug rehab. I was there like three months and was going to get out but then I got caught sniffing liquid paper so I ran away from the rehab. You and Dan came to meet me on the Southside at an ice cream place called the Purple Cow.
You and I were huffing spray paint. We were using paper bags to sniff black metallic paint. I said I’m hearing BeeWee and you said you were past that, you were on the BeeZee’s. I’m looking at you and you looked dead. There was nothing there. You had paint all over your face.
You had gone back home. I had a warrant out for my arrest. I was charged with breaking into a basement. I remember my dad flipping out. He beat me pretty good that day.
A narcotics officer interrupted us getting high. Bam, we were awake! We took off running. We’re jumping fences, cutting through yards. We must have ran in a half mile circle only to go back to your place and there’s the cop sitting on your stairs. He says he’s too old to chase us but he knows about me and says I should go back home. That’ when we decided to go to California.
That night you hid me under your bed. You went into your dad’s room and took a wad of cash from your dad’s pocket. He always carried cash so he could make bail. I went back home and grabbed some gear while my dad was sleeping. We packed up real heavy. It was ridiculous.
We got a ride from hippies and stayed our first night in a commune. They gave us acid. We spent all the money you stole on one way tickets to Phoenix where the Grbvacs had moved. Their mom kicked us out. She said, “We moved here to get away from you.”
We hitchhiked from Phoenix to L.A. We got picked up by this German guy. He was going like 100 miles per hour. He was driving with one hand, drinking beer with another, chucking beer bottles out the window. He was trashed. He gave you a bong hit. You tried to pass it to him after you took your hit. He told you it was a one-hitter, you were supposed to finish it. He bought us beer. He wouldn’t let us drink his beer because he had brought them with him from Germany. Halfway through the trip he came to a screeching halt. He goes to this emergency phone box and says he’s lost.
By rights we should have died on that trip. I would never let my son hitchhike across the country.
We were out of cash, out of smokes. We made it to Los Angeles. I remember you called Kevin and he said he just scored a quarter pound. You said, “Don’t do anything. We’re coming back.”
So we’re going back. We get picked up by that truck driver. You can ad-lib those details, I’m sure you remember. (We spent the night in his cab. In the morning he drops us at a donut shop in East L.A. He molested John while I was sleeping. He took everything we had left, which consisted of a small bag with some poetry and maps.)
I remember our clothes are tattered, covered in mud. We have nothing except our clothes, literally. We arrive at Ceasar’s Palace in Las Vegas. We probably haven’t showered in a week. We ask the cocktail waitress for some water and she gives it to us on a silver platter. It was like finding heaven. Then we go back to the highway and get picked up by the Nevada State Troopers and they lock us up in the juvenile detention center. You were fourteen, I was fifteen.
You got out after a couple of days but they kept me for three weeks. I remember they only had enough petty cash for you. Your last name started with an E and that’s how you got out before me. I remember you telling me, “Sorry John, I’m bailing on you.” After you, the caseworker took a vacation. So I sat in detention all that time. Then when I got off the bus in Chicago I’m busted for curfew and that’s when they find out I have a warrant for my arrest. So from one detention center, on a Greyhound bus, to a squad car, to another detention center. I was in Chicago Juvie for a long time. I was in there about six months. I was pretty angry.
My parents kept trying to continue the court case so I wouldn’t get out. Finally I asked to call DCFS, met with a social worker. I asked if the state would take custody and they said they couldn’t do anything unless there were two reports of physical abuse. I said, Go check your files. That’s how I became a ward of the state. If I had known it was that simple I probably would have done it sooner.
I was in the group home when you were put in the mental hospital and we talked on the phones. Then you were put in a group home too. We both became wards of the state.
I remember Aaron having like zero problems in his life but making problems to be more like us.
We were smart. We were a bunch of really smart kids. It makes me wonder where we would have been if we didn’t have drugs and alcohol in our life.