ber of things in my life, actually.) I had lunged into the outside world,
and although there had been plenty to alarm and dishearten me, I had
survived—I was fine—a sensation so interesting it became addictive.
Even Sally was afraid I was never going to finish high school because I
ran away so many times. I discovered hitchhiking—I’d walk to the next
town (I was a great walker) and stick out my thumb. Once I got all the
way to Philadelphia, where I panhandled money for lunch and slept in
a park near a museum. Once I got to a campground in another part of
the state and made a mattress out of my jacket. Once I went to Manhattan and just walked all night, sticking to streets where stores were still
lit. I was an amateur as a runaway—two days was my maximum—and
I never joined the runaway clans crashing in apartments or lazing in
encampments on city streets. When I was home, I even did schoolwork.
But I hardly talked to my parents. My father called me a deluded hoodlum and raged when I wouldn’t answer him. He’d say, “Wake up!” and
chop at the back of my neck with his hand. My mother, who could be
very icy, would say, “You used to have a brain.” At night I’d slip out
my window—I was a good climber, I knew where the ledges were—and
sneak up into Sally’s house, which I had to leave before dawn.
“Ah, look what’s flown in,” Sally would say. That was the one piece
of luck in my situation. Girls liked me. It was probably my aloofness,
but there was also something in my looks they liked. Sally had another
boyfriend by then, but she never turned me away. And I could feel the
gazes of young women on me when I was walking in new places. I wasn’t
exactly at ease with new people, but girls did the work of talking to me.
I managed to graduate from my stuffy prep school; I’d been there
enough days, and they gave up on me. I hadn’t applied to any colleges—I’d
always thought I’d have to, or else be drafted, but the war wound down
and the draft ended, just in time for me. My parents thought I should
work for a year to give me a chance to mature, and I had spoken to one
of their friends about a future in retail management, whatever that was.
Of course, the night after graduation I was gone, escaped on a train with
a duffel full of books and sweaters and underwear.
I had someone waiting for me. When I got off at the Hoboken station,
almost deserted at one am, there she was by the closed newsstand—my
lovely Lizzie, with her long dark hair and her pale eyes, the agent of my
future. She was twenty years old, and she had an apartment she shared
with two roommates in New Brunswick, where she was going to college.