It was many minutes later I realized I still had the knife gripped in my hand. I rolled to my back and floated, closed it, and managed to stuff it in my front pocket, thinking that Sean would kill me if I lost it. Funny what can come to your mind sometimes. Anyway, once the knife was safely put away, swimming became a lot easier.

I stayed in that river for as long as I could, my fear that Ronny was going to catch me becoming less and less the further I dogpaddled and swam. But I was still frightened and might even have floated in that muddy water all the way across the state of Minnesota to St. Paul if a farmer hadn’t been tending to some cattle on the shore and seen me, called to me, and waded out into the water to drag me to safety. I realized then that I was close to being drowned, my thoughts of Ronny and what he might do to me if he caught me the only thing that was keeping me going—keeping me afloat so to speak. The farmer was old, strong, and kind enough to bring me up to his farmhouse (in fact, he carried me most of the way in his arms). It was a big two story white home with a wide porch—just like you see sometimes on the television.

He brought me through the back door right into the kitchen and set me down on a rug by the door, saying, “Greta, look at what I found.”

Whether he was making a joke or not, I didn’t know, but his wife, who was stirring something on the stove, took one look and ran straight to me, smacked at her husband with her wooden spoon, and told him to get some towels, which he did. She took over, helping me to the kitchen table, where she sat me down, knelt on the floor, and began drying me off and fussing over me which, I have to admit, even to this day the memory of still makes me feel really good.

The farmer looked on, his eyes topped by white eyebrows that I swear stuck halfway up his forehead, giving me the once over while his wife worked on pampering me.

At one point, she looked over her shoulder and said, “For pity’s sake, Clive, don’t just stand there dripping on the rug; get a towel and dry yourself off. I’m sure not going to do it for you.” And he did.

When he was finished, he took a pipe out of his overalls, filled it with tobacco, and lit it before asking, “Your name wouldn’t be Quinn by any chance?”

What the…? “Yes, sir, it is.” I told him, wondering how the hell he knew that. Then I immediately got suspicious and frightened all over again. After what I’d been through, who wouldn’t? “Why?” I looked toward the back door as I wondered if I’d stepped into another bad situation and I’d have to make a run for it. Again.

“Clive, quiet down and don’t bother the boy,” his wife told him. “Can’t you see he’s frightened enough?”

She turned to me and smiled, reassuring me, “Don’t let him scare you, young man. His bark is way worse than his bite.” She looked past me toward the old farmer and I could almost see daggers coming out of her eyes.

Clive, I guess that’s what his name was, shuffled his feet on the rug, shook his head and said, “Didn’t mean anything by it.” He sucked on his pipe some more and conscientiously blew the smoke outside through the screen door. By this time, I got the feeling his wife pretty much ran the show in that household.

She made sure I was comfortable in my chair at the table, and after she’d dried me off, she went and got a big quilt that she wrapped around me. It smelled clean and fresh, just like the out-of-doors. Then she went to the refrigerator and took out a bottle of milk. “You’re all over the news,” she said, pouring me a big glass. “We’ve been listening on the radio. The police have been looking for you. We heard you’d been kidnapped.”

She brought me the milk and a heaping plate of chocolate chip cookies and set them in front of me. Suddenly, I was famished and I started eating them right away. They were the best cookies I’d ever tasted, then or since.

While I was eating, Greta stood next to me, watching over me with a concerned expression. She was a large woman with her gray hair pinned up on top of her head and she wore an apron over her dress. Then she knelt down and felt my forehead. It didn’t bother me at all; her attention felt kind of nice. She had blue-green eyes that I especially noticed when she peered closely and asked softly, “Are you okay, Quinn?” Her breath smelled sweet, like peppermint.

“Yes, ma’am, I am,” I told her, swallowing after finishing off my third or fourth cookie, “I’m fine. I really am.” And for the first time since I’d run from the truck, I truly believed I was and, I have to say, with the relief I suddenly felt, my eyes filled with tears and I almost started to cry.

She pulled me to her bosom and hugged me tight.

Well, I never…

Then she released me, like she’d had a sudden thought and turned to her husband, “Lordy, Lordy, Clive,” she exclaimed, “What in heaven’s name’s the matter with you? What are you waiting for? Get on the phone right now and call Sheriff Nelson. Quick. Tell him we’ve got that boy they’re looking for. Tell whoever answers that he’s okay and that he’s sitting right here in our kitchen.”

Clive, who I got the impression wasn’t the fastest man alive, moved pretty darn quick under his wife’s command and made the call.

That night, I spent in the hospital in Ortonville. The next night, I was home and I’ll tell you this, after all I’d been through, even seeing Sean felt pretty good.

The morning after I got home and Dad and Sexy Sal had gone to work, Sean and I were alone in the house for the first time since I’d been back. Everybody wanted me to rest, so he’d had to sleep that night in the living room on the couch, which I don’t think he minded too much because he could be close to his precious Atari. I’d given his knife back to him the evening before and received nothing in return but a menacing scowl.

That morning, as soon as Dad and Sexy Sal left, he came into the bedroom. I immediately got nervous, my stomach tying itself all up in knots.

“So you stole my knife, huh?” he asked, sitting down on my bed and moving close.

I didn’t answer right away. If I said no, he might find out Lea took it and gave it to me and I didn’t want her to get in trouble. If I said yes, well, then…my imagination took over, leaving me with nothing but an unhappy ending. But hell, I’d had to deal with Ronny and I got through that all right. I figured I could take on anything, even whatever Sean had to dish out.

I puffed up my chest a little. “Yeah, I did,” I told him, trying to sound tough, “So what?”

I looked at him and he looked right back at me. Two days ago, the next move would have been me trying to get away and probably not succeeding, suffering Sean’s version of justice with him proceeding to pound me into a bruised and battered, bloody little pulp, then walking away with a self-satisfied smirk on his face.

Sean surprised me by doing nothing violent. Instead, he put his hand on top of my covers on my leg, but not in a mean way. I only flinched a little.

“You don’t have to lie for her,” he said. “I know what happened with the knife. Lea told me.”

“What?!” I screamed. “Is she all right?”

I tried to get up, but he held me back. I pictured my sweet-natured little sister submitting to his wrath. The image was more than I could bear. Then I had a thought. Wait a minute. I’d already seen her when I got home. She’d been perfectly fine. She’d even given me a big hug and everything before retreating to her room with her dolls for the rest of the evening.

“Relax, man, she’s okay,” he smiled. I accepted that Lea really was unharmed, but now Sean was smiling at me, which was creepy in and of itself. He never smiled at me. What was up with that?

“Seriously, she’s just fine.” He sounded almost like he was trying to reassure me. Like he knew I cared about Lea and he didn’t want me to have to worry about her. “Weird” was the word that popped into my mind. He was acting really weird.

And he was also confusing me. Big time. He was right about my sister, of course, she truly was okay, but his behavior was so different from how he normally acted that I have to admit I was stunned. I looked at him like he was nuts and he must have seen the disbelief in my eyes because he waited for me to say something. But I didn’t. I couldn’t think of anything to say. I was speechless.

Maybe a minute went by before he continued, “I admit I was mad. Pissed off is more like it. I really was ready to kill you.” I involuntarily shuddered. “But then you were gone and no one knew where you were and someone found your bike up on the highway and called Dad, who got mad and worried and he called the cops and…” he stopped and shrugged his shoulders, “And everything else happened and I just sort of forgot that I was mad at you.”

What the hell? Was this real life or had I stepped into a fantasy world where nothing bad ever happens and there’s unlimited ice cream and hot dogs every night for dinner and a happy ending?

I was pondering the significance of such a world and finding it to my liking when I sensed a movement at the bedroom door. I pulled myself back to reality and looked. There was Lea, peeking around the doorframe. She was safe and unharmed and she looked great. She took a tentative step into the room. “Hi,” she said, shyly.

“Lea,” I grinned and almost shouted, “Come here.” I patted the side of the bed as I moved over.

She smiled back and ran to me and hugged me so tight that for a moment I wondered where she got the strength for such a little thing. It almost hurt. Almost. And it felt great.

Sean stayed and sat on the bed with us and it suddenly came to me that it was the first time we all three had been together in our room before in I didn’t know how long. If ever. And without fighting or anything. Like a normal family. I have to say it felt pretty good.

We talked a lot. Sean couldn’t hear my story enough, especially the knife part, and he had me tell it over and over again until I finally got tired. I had been through a lot and it was still catching up to me. Finally, he stood up, telling me that Mr. Jorgenson from the hardware store had called the night before and offered him his job back. “Yeah, he told me that when he’d heard what you had gone through and what you had done to get away, he thought maybe there was something in me that he’d missed. What do you think he meant by that?”

I had my own idea that Mr. Jorgenson hadn’t missed anything, but I certainly wasn’t going to tell Sean that so I said only, “Maybe he was just being nice.”

Sean shrugged. “Maybe. Anyway, I’m going down there now.” He glanced at the clock on the night stand by my bed. I followed his gaze. It read a few minutes after nine. “Shit. I’m late. I’m supposed to be there right at nine. See ya.”

I watched as he ran out of the room. Then I caught Lea’s eye. We looked at each other for a moment before my little sister pointed to Sean’s disappearing back, then pointed to her head with her finger and twirled it around like “he’s crazy” and rolled her eyes. I couldn’t believe it. She was making fun of Sean and it was funny! I laughed out loud for the first time in I don’t know how long. It was then that I had this thought: it was actually great to be back home.

You know what? They never found Ronny. When the sheriff came and picked me up at the Greta and Clive’s place, he talked to me on the way to the hospital. I was able to give them an idea where I had been and he immediately sent some deputies to search the area. The car, the tent, and the dog kennel were all still there and surprise, surprise, no camping gear. But Ronny was nowhere to be seen. They searched the river, sent out hundreds of police-type bulletins, dragged the river, everything they could think of. They never found him. My fervent hope is that he followed me into the river, the current got him, and he drowned and was eaten by some big ugly fish with dull teeth. It would have served him right.

Dad and Sexy Sal pretty much acted the same as ever to me after I came home and I don’t really want to talk about them.

But Sean and I got along better with each other. A lot better. I think the job at the hardware store helped; made him feel older and more responsible maybe. Anyway, he didn’t pick on me so much afterwards, only sometimes joking with me, pretending like he was going to hit me, but he never did. I guess he just started to grow up some.

Lea and I became closer. I couldn’t then, and still can’t now, ever thank her enough for giving me Sean’s knife that day. But maybe I was able to in some small way. She got me to play dolls with her a lot the rest of the summer right up until when school started (and even after that) and I didn’t really mind. She was fun to be with and she had a really good imagination, especially when it came to using her dolls to play a game she called Family. I never did understand why she never ever had a lot of friends. Well, any, actually. Maybe she just liked being by herself. But she was a sweet kid and I figured playing with her and being kind of a friend to her was the least I could do after what she’d done for me, even if it had been inadvertent (another word I learned about in school). I’m positive I wouldn’t have escaped without her.

Next year in seventh grade in the fall, my teacher, Mrs. Rademacher, had us studying The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Now there’s a lot of fancy imagery and stuff in the book that I didn’t understand, but there were some other things that I kind of got what she was saying. Like at one point she talked about how at the end Huck sort of is rescued from his life on the river and ends up living with his Aunt Sally and everything is fine for him. But he doesn’t like being civilized and decides light out for the west. One of the points she was trying to make was about how life sometimes works in mysterious ways and there’s no accounting sometimes for why things happen the way they do. Huck was rescued and had the good fortune to have the easy life all laid out for him: good food, clean clothes, a roof over his head, someone to love and care for him, and he chose to give it all up.

Mrs. Rademacher looked at me when she talked to us about that but didn’t mention me or refer the class to my story from last summer about how I’d run away from home and what had happened and that I’d returned safe and sound. (Thankfully, most people didn’t talk to me too much about it.) But when she said it and I thought about, I had to agree. I think I might even have nodded my head at her because I think what she meant was this: if Sean hadn’t bought the knife and if Lea hadn’t stolen the knife and given it to me, I wouldn’t have been able to use that knife to get away. Weird, huh? Or lucky. But yeah, I think I got what she was saying. Sometimes life does work in mysterious ways.

By the way, Mrs. Rademacher was really nice to me that whole entire year.

And that knife. Later that first day I was home, Sean came in from his first day of working at the hardware store and sat down on the bed next to me and woke me up from a nap.

“Here,” he said. He handed me his knife. “I’ve been thinking about it all day.” Which was surprising to me. Was I still dreaming? I actually pinched myself a little. No, I was wide awake. I’d never thought of Sean as much more than a bully. A thinker? I didn’t think so. Maybe he was changing. In one day? I doubted it but I guess stranger things could happen. He looked at me like he meant what he was saying, “Seriously, I want you to have this.” He reach over, gently took my hand and put his cherished knife in it.

I was shocked. I watched him to see if he was kidding, but he put his hand over mine and said, “Really. After all you went through, I want you to have this. You deserve it.”

I took his knife and held in my hand. I opened the blade. The sheriff’s department had wiped it down for traces of blood before they gave it back to me. They must have cleaned it, too, because it was gleaming. I looked at it and saw my image on the blade reflected back. I looked tired. Real tired. Then the image changed and I saw something else. For the briefest moment, I thought I saw Ronny smiling at me with those ugly brown teeth of his. Grinning at me like I was all his and he could take me and do anything he wanted to me. It freaked me out. I might have screamed. I don’t know. But I do know that I quickly closed the blade and handed the knife back. I swear it felt hot to my touch, like maybe it was possessed or something. I knew one thing. I didn’t want to touch it again. Or have anything to do with it again. Ever.

I tried to compose myself and told him, “That’s okay, Sean. But thanks. I think I’ve had it with knives for a while.”

He looked at me for a moment or two before putting the knife in his pocket. “Okay. I think I get it.”

Well, that made only one of us because I certainly didn’t. In fact, I just let the matter drop, but sometimes still to this day an image of Ronny will appear in my mind. And when it does, it’s scary. People tell me that it’s normal for that to happen, especially after all I had gone through. But I have to say, others have been through a lot worse, a way lot worse, and for the rest of my life, I always counted myself as among one of the lucky ones. I got away.

Now, I’ll tell you one last thing. In the summer three years later, Sean started driving a delivery truck for the company my dad worked for and I began working at the hardware store. Even though I was still small for my age, Mr. Jorgenson was happy to have me, saying, “Sean turned out to be a good worker, but I’ll bet you’ll be lots better.” Well, Sean had changed and actually gotten to be a pretty good guy and I didn’t want say anything against him, so all I did was to tell Mr. Jorgenson that I’d do my best.

The first thing I did with my first paycheck was to take my money and go to the knife display case. I’d spent many long and enjoyable hours looking at the knives in there in those three years since Ronny, picturing myself having one of my very own. One like Sean’s, except a little bigger. I knew exactly the knife I wanted and so I bought it, snapped open the blade a few times, getting the feel of it and the balance of it. It felt good. Finally, I closed it up and put it in my pocket, said goodbye to Mr. Jorgenson and went outside to get my bike.

Now, I’m not sure I really understand it all that much, but ever since I escaped and came home, Lea started to not like to go outside the house alone. She took the bus to school and it was hard for her, but she was able to build up her courage and do it, but that was about it. Once she was back home, she pretty much just stayed inside. So, I sort of made a commitment to myself to be with her as much as I could. To be a friend to her. After all, if it hadn’t been for her, I wouldn’t be here to tell my story. So, I told her that morning that when I got home from work I’d take her to the park, which was referred to by the locals as the City Park. It was located a short bike ride away on the shore of Long Lake and it was something we had started doing pretty often over the last three years. We liked to go there and goof around and play. She liked swinging on the swings and so did I. As I rode my bike home that afternoon, I looked up at the sky. It was bright and blue with a few puffy clouds. A perfect day to play outside. I rode faster and got home in record time.

Lea was standing at the back door waiting for me. She ran outside, jumped on the back of my bike, and we rode down to the park. We spent an enjoyable hour, swinging on the swings, playing on the merry-go-round, climbing on the jungle-gym and running up and down the slides, acting silly and goofing around. We had a fun time. She even laughed out loud a few times.

Before we came home, we found some purple and white wildflowers that Lea liked so I cut a bouquet of them for her with my new knife. She carried them carefully in her hand all the way back to our house and then put them in a small juice glass that she filled with water from the kitchen faucet. Then she took them to her room and set them on her window ledge.

“My dolls like them, Quinn,” she told me. I was standing at her door watching, happy that she was happy. She looked at me and said, “So do I.” And then she smiled and waved as I closed the door. Standing in the hall and listening, I heard her saying, “Come on now girls, let’s play Family.”

I went into the kitchen, got an apple, and went outside and sat on the back step to eat it. I used my knife to cut it up. It sliced really good. Tasted good, too. When I was finished, I cleaned off the blade on my jeans and put it in my pocket. I’ve kept it there ever since.

After all these years, I’m not sure if it helps or not, but I have to say that I like having my knife with me. It gives me a sense of security that I just can’t explain. But when those images of Ronny appear and I start to freak out a little, I put my hand on my knife and they go away. I like knowing that I can do that, that I have some control. And it gives me a little sense that I might not be a victim after all. Or ever again. But I carry it with me every day. Just in case.

And you know what? I never once thought about running away from home again.


For all installments of “Why I Don’t Run Away Anymore,” click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1
  2. Part 2
  3. Part 3