We pulled into the station before long.. It was a small white building with a flat roof. Part of the parking lot was paved, part was dirt. None of us had said a word during the car ride, and we remained silent as the officer got out of the car and walked around to the passenger side of the vehicle to open the doors for us. As we stepped out of the car, the second one pulled up behind us and the other officer also got out to let the boys out of his car. The officers led the way into the station and we followed.
We were led into a large room with 4 or 5 long tables lined with chairs.
"Have a seat," said one of the officers. "We'll call in the social workers and get this started. We're going to take you into the office and ask you a few questions before doing anything else."
We each grabbed a seat along one of the tables as the second officer went further into the building to fetch our interviewer.
"While he's taking care of that, why don't we talk about how you guys got here," he said sitting down on the other side of the table. He took down our names and ages and we gave him a brief and minimal story of how we got from Sacramento to Arbuckle. Explaining our walk along the bike trail, stay with Baby's uncle, and ride north to our current location. He informed us that the boy we had tried to sell our CD player to happened to be the son of the store owner. He informed his mother that a group of runaway kids had tried to sell him a CD player and she was concerned enough to call the police and have it checked out.
And here we had been shocked, thinking word of our stunt had already stretched so far north as Colusa county. They had no idea who we were or where we came from. Only that we were 'rumored to be runaways'. Humbling, to say the least.
He then informed us that we were to be asked some basic questions regarding home life and what led us to the decision to run away. Then they would decide what to do with us after that. I didn't know exactly what that meant, but was a little hopeful at the idea that this was not the end and my parents were not already on their way to pick me up.
The other officer returned with the social worker and she took Missy and Baby back into an office with her. The boys were also taken to speak with one of the officers and the other went to get started on the report. One officer was left in the room to babysit Patty and I as we waited our turn to be questioned.
Patty and I talked in hushed whispers. She told me about receiving homes and that if they were to decide that we had valid enough reasons for splitting, then they would send us to a receiving home where we would wait to be placed in foster care. That hit me like a ton of bricks.. Foster care. Those, for some reason, were two words I did not expect to hear. I didn't know exactly what I had expected to come of it if we were caught (well, I suppose I was expecting to be sent back home, no questions asked..). Maybe I thought perhaps that I'd be sent to live with a family member or something along those lines.. Oh hell, who am I kidding.. I was 14, I thought I was invincible like every other teenager. Get caught?? That was crazy talk. We wouldn't get caught. Beaten, robbed, raped, murdered, homeless? Sure, probably.. But caught?? No.
She went on to tell me that Baby had been sent to receiving homes in the past, but had always been sent back home in the end. That kind of surprised me.. she had some pretty crazy stories. But then, how much was true??
The other girls came back out from their interview. Their faces blank. They walked silently to the table and sat down.
"You girls are next, come on back." said the lady.
There would be more questioning than just 'why did you run away'..
"So you started out at school? Where did you go from there?"
"We walked to the bike trail." Patty answered.
"And when you got to the bike trail? then which way did you go.. where were you headed?"
"We walked along the trail until we got to Rancho Cordova." I responded.
"We got a ride to Christina's uncle's house." said Patty.
"Some people we met outside the grocery store.. strangers" I replied.
"How long did you stay there?"
"Just for the night." I answered.
"Megan, you and Devon went to the store the next day? What did you get there?"
"Um.. hair dye and candy and stuff.."
"How did you pay for it?"
"Devon found some money on the way."
"Enough for hair dye??.. or just candy?"
"Okay.. then what happened when you guys got back to the house?"
"We got ready to leave. Christiana had found us a ride." Patty answered.
"Who picked you up? From where?"
"Her friend picked us up at American River College."
"What was his name?"
"Did you know Steve? Either of you?"
We shook our heads.
"Patty, what are things like for you at home? Are your parents strict?"
"Yeah.. I guess. I mean, not super strict. But when my dad gets pissed off, he's pretty scary."
"Scary how? Does he hit you?"
"Where does he hit you?"
"He'll slap me in the face, or spank me.. stuff like that."
"Does he ever leave a mark?"
"Um.. I don't think so."
"Okay. How are things with your mom?"
"Okay, I guess. She yells at me a lot, but that's about it."
"Anyone else in the house?"
"I have an older brother."
"You guys get along okay?"
"Yeah.. well, he's not home that much. But when he is we mostly leave each other alone."
"Megan.. How about you? How are things at home?"
"You sure? If they were really okay, would you be here?"
"No.. I guess not."
"So your parents? Are they strict?"
"Yeah, but not overly.. I guess."
"Do they hit you?"
"My dad does, sometimes.. Nothing bad though."
"Oh? Where does he hit you?"
"Well, he's slapped me before.. and my parents used to spank me, but not so much anymore."
"Okay, anyone else in the house?"
"I have two older brothers."
"15 and 19."
"You get along okay?"
"Who do you not get along with?"
"The one who's 15."
"Well.. he's got.. problems."
"What kind of problems?"
"Um.. depression, stuff like that. He gets really angry... and violent."
"And he takes it out on you?"
"So does he hit you?"
"Anywhere he can."
"Yes. And feet."
"Does he ever leave marks?"
"Okay... That's all girls. Let's go back out now."
She led us back down the hallway to the room where the other five kids were waiting. We went back to the table and sat down in our chairs and looked around at our comrades, meeting their solemn and somewhat angry gazes. The social worker stood off to the side of the room, near the door, and spoke in hushed voices with the two officers. After a few minutes, they came to the table to speak with us.
The officer spoke first. "You guys will be on juvenile probation. What that means is that you run away again, you can be put on house arrest. Then, on a third offense, you could be sent to juvenile detention. Megan and Devon, we will be calling the store you stopped at and seeing if they want to press charges for shop lifting."
Next, we were addressed by the social worker. "Patty, Devon, Missy, and Alika.. we'll be calling your parents and telling them to come and pick you up this evening. You may wait here for them.. Megan, Danny, and Christina, we're calling another social worker to come in and speak with you, calling your parents to speak with them, and we'll be arranging for you to go to receiving homes."
What!?!? Wait.. You're sending Patty home? and Devon?? But where is Patty going to go when she has a fight with her dad if I'm not around? She can't go home alone like that? I looked at Patty and I could see in her eyes a look of 'Don't leave me!'
"No," I said. "I'm going home."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, just call my parents and have them come and pick me up. I'm going home."
"Well.. If you're sure."
They turned and walked down the hall again to make their phone calls and Patty stood up and practically jumped into my arms. Danny and Baby sat across the table and looked at each other. Devon and Alika stood up and moved their back packs from the backs of their chairs to the table. When Patty let go and went to hug Missy, who was starting to get choked up with tears forming on her cheeks, Devon came and wrapped his arms around me.
"You're brave." he said.
"Psh.. no I'm not." I said. Brave?? Why?
"Yes, you are." he assured me.
"It's not a big deal.. really.. It's not like my life is in danger."
"I know. But you're brave. You had a chance to get out, to get away. And you didn't take it. I think you're brave."
"Wouldn't that make me stupid?"
He laughed, "No."
"Well, like I said. Really not that big of a deal."
"I still think you're brave." he said, leaning in slyly to sneak a kiss.
I realized then, just how much I loved my family. Sure, we had our shitty times, we had some downright crazy stuff happen in our house. But I loved them. I may have wanted things to change. I may have wanted a different life, but I didn't want it without them. Yes, there were times growing up when I really did fear for my life. I was afraid. But it was childish fear born of helplessness. I didn't want a new life somewhere else, I just wanted a new life at home, with my family. I loved them. I wanted to go home.