It’s been a while – again – since I last wrote something. I need to get better at this as I enjoy writing, and as was pointed out to me earlier this week, I just need to sit down and write.
Today, I am going to start writing about the three times I ran away while I was in high school. When I explained why I was doing this site, I said that I was going to write about some of the different parts of my history, and this 3-year span was definitely a crazy part of my teen years.
I made a lot of dumb decisions during my teen years, and especially so during the second half of those years. Usually, it was because I didn’t stop to actually think about what I was doing and what the results would be. But on these three occasions there happened to be a girl (or girls) involved, and girls (or women) have been at the root of many of my bad decisions over the years. There is probably a myriad of reasons for that, but that will have to be for later introspection.
As it turned out, I ran away (or attempted to run away) while in 10th grade, 11th grade, and in 12th grade. Those years were all spent at Roanoke Valley Christian Schools (RVCS) which added their first high school class in 1975, my sophomore year. So each year of my high school career, our class was the top grade at RVCS. It’s safe to say I was not a “model student” during my time at RVCS. Because each adventure will take a while to write, I will make this story in three separate posts.
First run away adventure – 10th grade
My first year at RVCS was also the year I had my first “real” girlfriend (who shall remain anonymous). Most of our ‘dates’ were to church youth group meetings and events, but we also went to several football games at the local public high school. We had several classes together and things were going quite well.
She had a rather unpleasant home life, with a step-father who wasn’t exactly nice. I don’t recall all of the details, but I know it wasn’t good. One day, after a particularly rough situation, she happened to mention that she wanted to just run away and get out of her home. I thought it would be a great adventure to run away to New York City with my girlfriend and make our own life. Of course, we were only 15, but that didn’t factor into my epic plans to be her hero. (There is a very real possibility that I wasn’t thinking entirely with my head, I WAS a 15-year-old punk with my first real girlfriend. ‘Nuff said…)
We started making plans and trying to come up with the perfect escape exit. Our youth group met on Wednesday evenings before the regular Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting. (People of a certain age will remember when almost all churches had a Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting.) We decided that on a certain Wednesday she would come home from school with me and then we’d go to the youth group meeting.
She packed a very large purse with a few things that we figured she’d need, and I packed some kind of bag (I don’t remember now exactly what it was) with a couple of changes of clothes. It didn’t dawn on us that we didn’t have any money, we didn’t know how to drive, and we might need more than a couple of changes of clothes to start a new life in the big city. I came up with the bright idea of taking the pistol that my dad used to carry with him on his night truck routes. I’d never fired a gun at that point, but it looked easy on TV, and I figured we could make like Bonnie and Clyde on our adventure.
I remember that we somehow convinced my mom to take us to the youth group early that night and we went into the youth building before anyone else was there. We found a decent hiding place to stash our two bags and then we went through the motions at our meeting. When it was over, everyone always went from that building to the main church building for the prayer meeting. Instead of us going with everyone else, we each went into the restrooms and waited for the building to be empty. After we waited an extra couple of minutes, we each came out, grabbed our bags from our hiding spot, and went out through the back door.
There was a big open field behind and next to the church and a drive-in theater next to the field. We set out through the field and towards the drive-in. When we got to the boundary fence, we headed out to the major highway that ran in front of the church and theater. Up to that point, everything seemed to be going according to our plan. I took the pistol out of my bag and stuck it in my pants waist, because, you know, that is what tough guys were supposed to do.
We moved out to the shoulder of the highway and stuck our thumbs out to start hitchhiking. To our amazement, the first car that came along pulled over to pick us up. We excitedly ran to open the back door while I had my hand on the gun, just in case. Imagine our shock when we got to the door and saw that it was our youth pastor driving!
It turns out that we had been missed right away, and my mom and stepdad had gotten the youth pastor and his wife and let them know we weren’t where we were supposed to be. They assumed we were in the youth building, doing boyfriend-girlfriend stuff. When we weren’t there, they let the pastor know and apparently the course of the prayer meeting changed drastically, as they announced that we were missing. They asked all of the others in the youth group if they knew anything, and of course, none of them did. So they had a meeting in the church office and decided that my mom and stepdad would drive one direction on the highway and the youth pastor and his wife would drive in the other direction.
I have always admired what our youth pastor did next. He talked us into getting into the car and promised that he wouldn’t force us to go back to the church. Instead, they convinced us that we should go to their house with them and talk things through. If, after talking it all out, we were still determined to run away, he would drive us as far as he legally could and let us go. (Keep in mind that this was 1976, and things were much different then. Police weren’t immediately called to every situation and some things weren’t so horrifyingly wrong back then.)
He and his wife went back to the church and let our parents know that we were okay and in a safe spot, but he didn’t say where we were. He convinced our folks to go along with his plan and to not call the police or to freak out. (I think he was quite confident that he could get everything sorted and take us home.)
Meanwhile, we were alone at their house and we were scared out of our minds. We kind of knew that our adventure was over, but we also knew that if we could hold out, he would keep his word and take us out to the county line. (We didn’t even consider that if it came to that the police would likely be waiting for us to take us home.) We made out a little (of course) but mostly we just talked and worried about what to do next.
The Youth Pastor and his wife came back from the church and they started talking with us. That was so incredible to me, they talked with us, not at us. I have so respected him ever since then, and have tried to follow his example whenever I’m in potentially contentious situations.
We sat and talked for several hours. They listened to everything we had to say. They asked questions so that they could understand why we were attempting to run away. They presented different realities of what life would be like if we followed through with our plan. They prayed for us and then they prayed some more.
Finally, sometime after midnight, we looked at each other and knew we had to go home. They prayed over us again and then they drove both of us to our homes. But right before we left their house, I reached into my jean jacket and pulled out my pistol and told him he should probably hold on to it until we were home. The look on his face when he realized I had had a loaded gun the whole time we had been talking is a look that I will never forget!
In the aftermath, my girlfriend and I were not allowed to see each other, the school changed our classes so that we weren’t in the same classes, and I had my first school suspension. Looking back, it always amazes me how God was taking care of me all the time. That situation could have gone entirely different if anyone but our youth pastor had pulled over to pick us up.
Next time, I’ll write about my second runaway adventure, which took place when I was in 11th grade. And then after that, my third adventure during my senior year.