Excerpted from Runaway by Wendelin Van Draanen Copyright © 2006 by Wendelin Van Draanen. Excerpted by permission of Ember, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
It’s cold. It’s late. I’m trapped in here, trying to sleep under this sorry excuse for a blanket, and I’ve just got to tell you—you don’t know squat. You think you know what I’m going through, you think you know how I can “cope,” but you’re just like everybody else: clueless. Writing. Poetry. Learning to express myself. “It’ll help you turn the page, Holly. Just try it.”
Well, I’m trying it, see? And is it making me feel better? NO! Giving me this journal was a totally lame thing to do. You think writing will get me out of here? You think words will make me forget about the past? Get real, Ms. Leone!
Words can’t fix my life.
Words can’t give me a family.
Words can’t do jack.
You may be a teacher, Ms. Leone, but face it: You don’t know squat.
Oh, you really took the cake today. “Put your most embarrassing experience in the form of a cinquain poem.” What did you expect me to do? Write the truth? I knew you’d read them out loud and you did! How do you spell idiot? I spell it L-E-O-N-E.
Did you like my little poem about spilling my milk in a restaurant? Stupid, I know, so give me an F, see if I care. Like I can even remember ever being in a real restaurant.
You want a cinquain poem about a most embarrassing moment that actually happened to me? Okay, here you go:
Shivering, huddling, sobbing
Naked in the rain
Oh, yeah. That makes me feel SO much better.
My mom died two years ago today.
I’d been scamming food, she’d been shooting up.
I miss her.
More than I have tears to cry, I miss her.
May 20th, again
You want to know why I was crying at recess? That cat Camille is why. She called me a homeless freak. Told me I had a face only my mother could love. Normally, I would have told her to eat dirt and die, but today I just couldn’t take it.
I didn’t tell you because I knew you wouldn’t believe me. Everyone knows she’s your favorite. “Miss Leone, do you need some help?” “Miss Leone, do you want me to pass those out?” “Oh, Miss Leone, you look so pretty today!” Adopt her, why don’t you?
Oh, that’s right—she already has two parents.
May 20th again, again
When they moved me in with the Benders, the social worker told me that they were “very kind and very patient people.” What a laugh. They’re phonies, is what they are. Mrs. Bender is a heartless witch, and Mr. Bender is a total creep. He’s always touching me. On the shoulder. On the hair. On the hand. He gets that same look that Mr. Fisk used to get when his wife wasn’t around.
Social services won’t believe me if I complain. They’ll say I’m just looking for trouble. Lying. Faking. Overreacting. “Self-inflicting.”
Well, I’m not going through that again. I’d rather DIE than go through that again. So tonight when Mr. Bender started massaging my shoulders, I told him, “Stop it!”
He didn’t. “I’m only trying to help you unwind,” he said in his snaky voice.
“Stop it!” I shouted. “Don’t touch me!” And I slapped his creepy hands away.
That brought Mrs. Bender running. “What is going on in here?” she asked, and after he explained it to her, I got locked in my room. Not the room they show the social worker. That’s the room they tell me I’ll get when I’m a “good” girl. The room I really get is the laundry room. They give me a mat, a blanket, and a bucket to pee in.
So sweet dreams, Ms. Leone, in your feathery bed or whatever you have.
Do you really believe words are going to keep me warm and safe tonight?
May 21st, early morning
Why am I doing this? Why am I writing to you again? I’m shivering in this room, huddled under this blanket writing to you, and why? What good is it? I’m hungry, I can’t sleep, I’m locked in here, and I’ve got to pee. I hate using the bucket, I just hate it.
Man, I’ve got to go. Hold on a minute.
Oh, that’s better.
Maybe I can get back to sleep now.
Nope. I’m too cold.
So you want to hear how I get a drink when they trap me in here on weekends? I turn on the washer. Pretty sly, huh? I used to put my blanket in the dryer and get it roasting hot, but the dryer quit working and of course I got blamed.
I don’t mind the size of this squatty little room, it’s the cold that gets me. Why can’t they give me a better blanket? How about a sleeping bag? Would that kill them?
Whatever. No matter how much I try, I’ll never be “good” enough to sleep in the real room.
I’ve got to come up with a plan to get out of here.
May 21st again, lunchtime
What is it with you and poetry? It’s like some crazy obsession with you. And I couldn’t believe your stupid “Life is poetry” statement. Maybe your life is poetry, but mine’s a pile of four-letter words. “Find the motion. Find the rhythm. Find the timbre of your life.” Whose idea is all this? Yours? Did somebody teach you this stuff? How’s this ever going to help me in life?
And guess what? You can forget it. I’m not doing it. Write your own stupid poem about your own poetic life.
Mine would just get me sent to the office.
May 21st again again, after school
I hate you, you know that? I hate you for making me write that poem. I hate you for making me lie about my life. But most of all I hate you for acting so sweet to me. You don’t really care. I’m a job to you, like I am to everybody else. I know it, so quit pretending you care.
And you probably think you’re doing a good job, but guess what? You’re not. I can see right through you, so just leave me alone, would you? Forget I’m even in your class. Forget you’re supposed to be trying to “help” me. And quit making me write poems!
From the Hardcover edition.