21 July 2006

The Year I Disappeared

It's not always easy to know the effect our actions have on others. While sitting around with my mother today, she started talking about the year I "disappeared," as she put it.

Regular readers of this blog or my other writings will probably remember that I spent most of 1968 running around the country trying to avoid the police and the FBI, who were hoping to put me in prison for some rather foolish drug offenses I'd committed. Since I had to leave town in a hurry, I deliberately neglected to inform most people, including my family, about my travel plans.

My reasoning was twofold: if they didn't know where I was, then the police wouldn't be able to get any information out of them, and since I'd been nothing but trouble to the family for quite some time, I figured I'd spare them the heartbreak of having to hear about my latest disaster. Of course it was only a matter of days before they found out all about it from the police, who came charging into my parents' normally sedate living room with guns drawn.

By this time I was hiding out in Flatbush, Brooklyn, where I remained until the FBI showed up looking for me, apparently having traced me from a letter I'd sent to a girlfriend back in Michigan. I narrowly escaped, but from then on it was total panic stations, as I fled to Ohio, back to New York, and finally to California. I alternated between thinking that I only needed to hold out until the revolution, which I was sure was just around the corner, and fearing that I'd have to spend my entire life on the run, living under an alias, scrounging off people or working whatever lousy under-the-table job I might find.

It was a stressful existence. A big adventure at times, yes - I was 20 years old and living out the ultimate cops and robbers fantasy - but tedious and boring at others, and occasionally just plain terrifying. I didn't think about my parents or my younger brothers and sister that often, and when I did, I assumed that they'd eventually forget about me, and that it would be better for everyone that way.

But today my mother told me just what an awful year it had been on the home front, made worse by the fact that my dad refused to talk about it with her, and insisted that she keep it a secret from the relatives, the neighbors, and even the other children. "Sometimes I would go down in the fruit cellar by myself," she told me, "and just cry and cry."

I got quite a sinking feeling when I heard that. Could I have been responsible for that much pain? Apparently, and I started out to apologize - I've done so in the past, but when you're so clearly in the wrong, a few extra apologies can never hurt - and then decided to just keep quiet and let her talk. By the time she'd finished, I still felt bad, but it had also occurred to me that as difficult as it was to not know where I was for a year - or even if I were dead or alive - they probably wouldn't have enjoyed it any better if I'd been locked up in prison serving the 20-to-life sentence the authorities had in mind for me. So considering that by staying away long enough, I avoided having to go to prison at all and got off with a week in the county jail and two years' probation, perhaps I made the best choice after all, regardless of how much certain people suffered in the short term.

Who can say, though? Not I, and it will be a long time, if ever, before I forget the look on my mother's face as she described the torment I'd put her through. And funny, I thought, that she'd never given up on me, even when I'd pretty much given up on myself.

With that still weighing on my mind, I was off to meet Kendra for coffee and a chat about life, love and Coronation Street. It being a rare semi-warm night in the Bay Area, we decided to sit at one of the sidewalk tables outside the cafe, but it was still chilly enough that Kendra left her jacket on, and I was nervously eyeing the passing cars, fearing that we'd become the next victims of the Berkeley paintball assassin. We managed to have a pretty good talk anyway, despite Kendra's increasingly inexplicable obsession with Everton Football Club. It's not as though Sheffield Wednesday weren't bad enough; she seems to have decided to work her way through all the godforsaken Northern towns and slag heaps and the football teams that represent them.

Which is admirable in a way, though all things considered I'll stick with Fulham, not least because they've got one of the nicest - ok, quaintest, anyway - grounds in the Premiership and it's almost - not quite, but almost - within walking distance of my house. Which reminds me, the season opener is coming up in only a few weeks and for the first time in nine years, I won't be there. Man, that really depresses me. Enough to move back to London fulltime? Probably not, but it wouldn't make any difference anyway; my season ticket is gone, never to return, at least not in that halcyon position astride center pitch in the Riverside Stand. I just don't want to think about it anymore. In fact, I'm going to bed right now so I don't have to. Good night.


jon rally said...


again, your writing is well done... and, I find myself in retrospect.


kendra said...

what's wrong with liking northern football teams rich history? nothing. as much as i've tried to like other teams- believe me, i have- for some reason the two teams that caught my fancy played in the 1966 f.a. cup? i guess i've got the blues...