When the Greyhound arrived in Deer Lodge my grandparents were not there to meet me. After walking the 20 or so blocks to their house, I realized that my mother had neglected to contact them regarding my visit. After trying to jimmy all of the windows and locks on their tiny house, I decided to walk to my aunt’s house to gather more information. I walked the 10 blocks to my aunt’s house and discovered that neither she nor my cousins were home either. There was a young guy, probably in his late teens, working on an old truck in the driveway. He was an odd looking fellow with darting eyes that went in different direction, like a heavy set Marty Feldman. He told me his name, which I can’t remember, and said that he was a friend of my cousin’s. We started chatting and I realized he had gone to school with Jerry and said he knew him. I waited in the driveway for about an hour, talking with this guy and hoping that someone would come home soon. Eventually the guy graciously offered to take me to my friend Tina’s house across town and I thankfully accepted.
We headed out of town but I soon realized we were not headed in the direction of Tina’s but rather straight west out of town toward the mountains where mom had taken us to harvest wild watercress when we were young. The route took us right past my grandparent’s house and I confirmed that they still were not home. I asked the guy where we were headed and he just mumbled something about wanting to show me the new water tower on the outskirts of the town. I was beginning to get freaked out as I didn’t know this guy and realized that in my naiveté I had again compromised my own safety. I was so tough and experienced so much, but I was still only a 115-pound thirteen-year-old girl.
As we pulled up to the isolated site of the huge new water tower I grasped at any attempt to put a buffer between this guy and myself. I was familiar with the area but only barely. It was a long country road that paralleled the highway for miles with not much else out here. We were about a mile from town and not another soul was within sight. I’m not really sure what his intentions were but nothing good came to mind. I knew he had taken me to a secondary location, without my consent and my intuition kept telling me I needed to get the hell out of the situation anyway I could. My mind raced and landed on Jerry, Jesus how I wished he were here. Often if my opponent had an unfair advantage I relied on Jerry’s charity to help protect and pummel. I surveyed my surrounding and weighed my options. Fight, flight or negotiate. Thankfully I knew how to fight but this guy was as big as Jerry, over whom I never had an advantage. I could certainly outrun him, but all I saw were fences, a dirt road and thick brush in every direction. I didn’t know this place- the idea of being in his backyard evoked no confidence in my own speed. Although I felt cornered into choosing the weakest of my three options, I decided I had to try and negotiate my way out of this dangerous situation.
Quickly I made up a story that Jerry would be coming into town tomorrow and we were to meet at my grandparents. They must not have known I was coming a day early, I promptly added. He had recently been released from Juvenile Delinquent Hall, having beat a kid within an inch of his life, I lied, and a month in Montana with our grandparents was a chance for him to get back on the right track. The look in the young guy’s eye revealed that he remembered my brother, was throwing around the implications of such a story and that he did not immediately discount the fabrication. Keep it up Kelli. Like the senator in The Silence of the Lambs who keeps repeating her daughter’s name to the press, I kept invoking Jerry’s. I recall elaborating on the dire condition of the ghost victim I had created, whom Jerry was accused of nearly killing and laughed as I recounted Jerry’s shenanigans. I didn’t want to rile this guy, I was trying my best to pull off cool, collected and tough. The nonchalance I struggled to convey masked a heartbeat that I was certain could be heard and eyes that were glued to his every move. When in the starting blocks one tries to release all tension from every muscle and attain 100% relaxation in anticipation for the gun. The quick muscle reflex is much more powerful if coming from such a state. I released the tension from my neck and tried to slow my breathing.
It seemed like we sat in front of the water tower for a half an hour while I did my best to redirect this guy’s focus. Eventually, he made his decision, started the truck again and drove me back to town, to Tina’s house. Rarely in my lifetime, have I felt such fear of the inevitable. Although I was fairly well informed and savvy for a thirteen year old, this was the summer of awakening and loss.