Salt Lake City, UT – 1996
My family had been in Salt Lake City almost a year. I completed the second half of ninth grade and was finishing the first half of tenth, and had transitioned from junior high to high school. Due to overcrowding in my district, I could not attend the high school in my own neighborhood. I was bused across town to a school on the the east side.
The east side of town is considered the nice side – the west, less nice. The neighborhoods got nicer the further east you went; they got worse as you traveled west. Me and the other kids in my neighborhood were bused from the middle of the west side to the middle of the east side. We all knew we didn’t belong there. Most of the kids at school had their own cars paid for by their parents; we all had holes in our jeans.
To be clear, SLC doesn’t have a bad part of town like you’d find in other major cities. There are places you shouldn’t go alone at night, but there aren’t blackout zones like you find in Chicago or Detroit. But the contrast between the haves and the have nots is as obvious as anywhere else.
Needless to say that a young punk kid from the west side did not assimilate well into the new school. I was disinterested and defiant, and the posh social atmosphere only made it worse. I was sent the principal’s office for petty things like piercing my eyebrow with a safety pin in class or violating dress code. I got in several scrapes with kids in the halls. But the real problem was academic: I didn’t want to learn a damn thing.
I showed up to every class empty handed. I wouldn’t bring a book, a pencil or a scrap of paper. I never completed assignments and I didn’t listen. I was disinterested to the point of contempt. My home life had never recovered from the trouble in Albuquerque; I was not happy enough to embrace an academic state of mind.
In addition to this, during my half year of home school in Albuquerque – the first half of ninth grade – I learned more than I would learn during the rest of my time in high school. Because of this I was bored in every class, and I certainly wasn’t going to redo work I had done previously. This intensified the trouble at home. My parents were always mad about my performance, and the madder they got the worse I did.
It all came to a head one evening in December. My dad had come home in one of his moods and decided that my school performance would be the avenue for him to vent. When he got in these moods there was nothing anyone could do to stop it. He was going to go off on something. He began his tirade about me and school and I endured it for a while. But shortly I argued back. Things escalated to the boiling point quickly.
I don’t remember the catalyst, but something pushed us over the top. We screamed; my dad punched holes in the walls. I lost my mind; I had had enough. In a fit of rage ran to the front door. I reared back and with bare feet, kicked it open through the lock. My dad continued to scream behind me as I fled the house.
It was winter and it had snowed two feet that day. I was barefoot and shirtless but I hardly noticed. I ran through the snow with my mind completely consumed in anger and frustration. It snowed steadily and the wind blew as I ran. I had no plan and wasn’t even thinking ahead; I only reacted to each moment as it arose. I remember shooing away a dog that followed me from a house as I ran down the street.
There was a gas station about half a mile down the road from my house. Before long I arrived there, shivering and convulsing from adrenaline and the cold. My feet were beet red and burned like they were on fire. I entered and the clerk looked at me with confusion. Here was a shivering teenager with no shoes or shirt who had walked in through the snow, who was still crying hysterically – who knows what this person thought. I asked to use the phone. He nodded without taking his eyes off of me and pushed the phone across the counter.
I could barely dial the numbers I was shivering so badly with rage and the cold. All I could think to do was call my friend Kalin. As soon as he picked up he knew something was wrong. I told him where I was and asked him if he could come get me. He said he would come right away. I stood in the gas station for several minutes as customers came and went, each looking at me with confusion and concern.
By the time he pulled into the parking lot, my mom pulled in behind him. She had come out alone to look for me to make sure I wouldn’t freeze. I didn’t want to talk. I tried to avoid her but she pulled in front of me in the car. She asked me what I was going to do. All I could say was “Go away.” We both knew this was it.
I jumped in Kalin’s car. He looked as concerned as the people in the gas station. We drove back to his place. He loaned me some clothes and I stayed the night with at his house.
At this point I was in limbo. I didn’t know if I had to go to school, but I went anyway just in case. I returned each day with Kalin to his house. After several days, his parents noticed I was still there. They were concerned and asked him if I had a plan. They thought I should go home. Kalin broke the news to me; I knew I couldn’t stay there forever. I made a few calls to other friends.
I relocated down the street to my friend Joe’s house. His parents understood and gave me an open invitation to stay as long as I needed for things to cool off. But I knew I was out for good. I sneaked to my parents’ house when I knew they were gone and packed all my clothes in a bag.
Within several weeks I found a more permanent situation. My girlfriend’s older brother needed another roommate for his apartment. I could have the spot if I could afford two hundred dollars a month in rent. I recruited my girlfriend to come along and split the rent. I didn’t even consider food or other bills; a hundred bucks a month sounded manageable. I jumped at the chance.
And so at fifteen years old I struck out into the world to do it my way.