I might go to school today, but instead I lie in the snow and think of all the tortures of classrooms. Of bullying and photos taken secretly, then doctored and posted. I think of guns and those angry boys; how they might take the family rifle, load it with body armor-piercing ammunition. Not that I wear body armor, at least not in algebra. Maybe in physics; force equals mass times acceleration—
It’s so quiet in the snow bank. I can burrow inside. I can find the snow town where everything is soft as powder, luminescent and pearly bright. I can pet the snow cat; it purrs, its body flakes at my touch. Put those missing bits back, smooth its long white tail.
Years ago, I met my true love here. I was six, he was six. Now I’m fifteen, and so is he. He waits for me on these chilly winter mornings. His lips are cold, they melt when they touch mine. I open my mouth; he melts against me, in me. I fall into his body, my own body warm and solid.
“Do you have school?” I asked him once.
“Three hundred words for snow,” he said. “Five hundred ways to prepare it, a thousand ways to sculpt it, sixty ways to wash it.”
“Do you have guns?”
“Do we have what?”
“Guns, bang, kill.”
“No, seventy ways to bond two snow bodies, twenty ways to pet the snow cat.”
He lives in a snow house with a snow floor. He has a snow bed, but you don’t need it because the whole town is a snow bed. You step, you fall inside, you forget hard hot hate.
When we were seven, we made snow dragons and snow birds. We pressed snow in our hands, urged the little bodies to walk and fly, but they fell and scattered in clouds of white dust. I was always disappointed, but he took it in stride, he just started over.
When we were ten, we made a snow cart, we drove it around town.
When we were twelve, we made a snow cottage, just for the two of us. He was the dad, I was the mom.
When we were fourteen, he made a snow heart. He touched my face with cold snow fingers, he leaned in to kiss me with cold snow lips.
When I’m fifteen, I skip school every day in winter when the clouds break, when they blanket the world white anew.
When I’m sixteen it’s September. I sit in hot classrooms; boys sit next to me, behind me. They wear T-shirts that are wet at the armpits. Their arms are thin and wiry and strong. They watch me and I run from them, in the hallways, on the sidewalks.
In the girl’s restrooms the stall doors are graffitied with lewd messages, drawings of penises, girls’ telephone numbers—mine, as well. I take a pen from my purse, I try to mark it out. But it must be in the boy’s restrooms, too, because I get calls—
You want a good time?
I don’t answer, but they leave voicemails, they text images of their naked bodies. I delete the photos, I get a new number, but it doesn’t help.
I think of snow, of the snow town. I lie in the deep grass, but there’s no town here, no escape.
By November I’m failing history. The boy who sits behind me, every day, he drives his foot into my leg. When I ask to move, the teacher says there’s no favoritism here, no special treatment, no moving.
When the snow comes in January, I run from my house to the yard. I fall through, I find my darling. He sees the wild look in my eyes.
“A hundred ways to love,” he says. “Ten thousand reasons why.”
We see a movie, we eat snow cones. Sound here is muffled and soft. We stop and watch a woman who sings sad songs of winter on the sidewalk. Her voice trembles in a high lilting melody. It fades in the white night air.
We stand in the light of a streetlamp.
“Where do you go?” I ask, “when spring comes?”
“I sleep in the ground.”
“Can I come?”
“You can’t sleep in the ground. You’re too solid.”
He is sad; he nods.
“The flowers sleep in the ground,” he says. “But the animals, they always die.”
When I’m seventeen and thirty-three days, I walk to and from school instead of taking the bus. The bus is too crowded; it’s filled with groping.
It’s warm outside in the morning; it’s Sahara by afternoon.
The neighbor cat prances my way and rubs against my leg; it purrs a song. When I pet it, my hand sinks in the heat of its fur. I wonder how it would be, never to feel heat except my own.
Long ago, in winter, I collected snowballs and put them in the freezer. In spring I removed them, but they were hardened by the freeze-thaws of a frost-free freeze cycle. I tried peeling snowflakes from them. I tried grating them with the cheese grater to make new powder, but it was ice powder not snow powder. Even so, I rubbed the powder on my face where it melted so fast. But there came no hint of snow town, no taste, no feel. There was only my mother; she thought something was wrong with me. She took the remaining snowballs from the freezer and threw them out the window.
In the heat of this August afternoon, the boys follow me on the sidewalk after school. They laugh, they deride. Some of them move past me, they block my path. They stand near me, their bodies like long metal cords, twisting and fierce. They take my face and press it between their fingers. They pull me from the sidewalk to the alley, to the dark place where no one sees. They remove their pants. Afterward, they leave.
When I’m seventeen and thirty-four days, I take all the cash from my mother’s purse. I take her debit card, her car keys and her car. She’s upstairs in her bedroom; she works the graveyard shift at the hospital, she sleeps until eight at night.
I empty the ATM then drive north. I follow the signs. I worry the police will stop me, so when the fuel goes out I abandon the car on the side of the highway. The road is long and empty, flanked by rows of corn stalks whispering in the breezy silence. In the corn I’m hidden. I walk and walk. At a lone truck stop, I cut my hair and color it from golden blond to raven black. I sit in the restaurant and wonder at the truck driving men, that once all of them were boys. How all of them are related to the great cosmic man start.
I don’t know if it works in any snow bank, or if it has to be my snow bank—the one in the backyard. There’s no way to know, only a way to try.
“I can pay,” I tell the truck driving men. “Take me north and I’ll pay.”
I look at the man next to me in the semi. He’s big and hairy. Some of his hair is grey. He said he’d take me without the money.
“How old are you?” he’d asked.
“Uh-huh, I could take you to the police.”
No, not the police.
So we drive and drive; he says he’s going to Oregon. There are mountains there, I’m sure of it. I’d check my phone for specifics, but the phone would track my location. I’d stomped it and left it under the bed at home.
After hours of driving, the night comes black and warm. The man parks at another truck stop. He buys me late dinner and we eat in silence.
“Are you going to the mountains?” I ask, finally.
He looks up from his food.
“I’m going near some mountains.”
“Can you drop me there?”
“In the mountains?”
He appears dubious.
“I could drop you at a women’s shelter,” he says.
His eyes flick down. My shirt sleeves slipped above the wrists; visible are the blue-red stains of grip marks.
“No,” I say.
“You want to freeze to death, instead?”
“I won’t freeze.”
I hope, I pray. Will he find me, my love? Does he feel my travels across the land above him, follow it like the shadow from a flying bird to the earth below?
A hundred ways to sleep in the ground, a thousand ways to dream your nightmares. If he’s not there I’ll walk until I collapse through a lake of thin ice.
“You can stay in my truck tonight,” says the man. “You can take the bed.”
His bed is rough and hard. It smells of man and sweat and grease, but it’s inside locked doors of the truck. The man leaves me there, but I wake to a pre-dawn sky to find him in the front seat, smoking out the window. I sit up, dizzy and disoriented. So strange being in this foreign place with a scary stranger.
“There’s an AMBER Alert,” says the man, staring out through the front windshield, “for a seventeen-year-old girl.”
No, no, don’t give me up.
“It was out yesterday, already,” he says. “It has your photo but with blonde hair.”
The man has big arms and a big neck. His body looks rock hard, stronger than those boys who were strong but also took power in numbers. He is like a tree, an immovable object. At first, when he’d offered a ride, I’d swallowed my fear from desperation. Now though, watching him smoke, I sense a softness about him. Even something lost.
“My father beat me,” he says, still looking ahead. “I ran away and it saved my life.”
On the bed I huddle in his stinking blanket, wrapped tight despite the warmth.
“So if you don’t want me to, I won’t turn you in. But I won’t leave you in the mountains for the wolves.”
“You’re not leaving me for the wolves.”
“Then for what?”
I want to tell him. I’ve never told anyone. Who would believe?
“I love a snow boy,” I say.
I think he’ll turn in his seat now, to take a good look at the crazy runaway girl who’s in love with a snow boy, a snow town, long nights of gentle snow adoration, but he doesn’t.
And his lack of movement moves me. That he doesn’t laugh or mock or even act surprised. I haven’t cried at all, not when those boys left and I put my clothes back on, not when I showered until the water ran cold. Then I took my mother’s car. I drove for hours and my feelings were far away like my body was far away.
But now I cry, very softly, just small hiccups and tears damp on my face. Still without turning, the man throws his cigarette out the window. He takes keys from his pocket and starts the engine.
When the sun comes up, I start talking. I sit in the front seat, and I tell the man everything: how I fell through the snow bank the very first time, how I explored the town. I found my love in the front yard of his snow house. He smiled and asked if I would join him pressing patterns from icicles—melt them in your hands, mold them like glass. I returned over and over until each time the heat came and took the snow from both of us.
Over the years, the between-snow times grew harder, my life became a series of sprints to safety. My mother worked nights and sometimes days, as well. I was a latchkey kid; I was almost a latchkey orphan.
The truck-driving man says nothing. Then he pulls a cigarette, lights it and rolls down the window. He does all this expertly and one-handed.
“Your snow boy,” he says, “how you do know he’ll be there for you in Oregon?”
“I don’t, but I think he will.”
“And if he’s not?”
He will wait for me in the snow, months of pent up snow kisses.
“What if he can’t find you?” the man persists. “I let you out in the mountains, and you climb into a snow bank, and then what?”
“He’s always been there before.”
“But if this time he isn’t.”
“He won’t abandon me.”
“Maybe he doesn’t want to abandon you, but you’re just too far, what then?”
Silence hangs between us; just truck wheels against the road.
“What happens,” he says, “when you lie in the snow for a very long time? For hours or maybe days?”
“You get very cold,” I say, quietly.
“You get very cold,” he says, “and then you die.”
We stop at a diner for lunch. The AMBER Alert continues, so I wear the truck-driving man’s oversized baseball cap and sit looking down at my plate. I think of our earlier conversation, how my snow boy words feel different, somehow, when another person speaks them, instead.
I glance to my travel companion. His sheer bulk seems to negate the existence of a lithe snow boy who melts at my touch. It’s like this man is so real and substantial, he pushes aside all things tenuous. In this same way, the image of myself frozen in the snow becomes less appealing and more terrifying.
I think of my mother. In my life, she exists more as a spirit. In her absence food appears in the refrigerator, washed clothes appear in my bedroom. But our paths cross rarely, those few occasions when both of us occupy the same room at the same time. Then we sit there, awkward and unsure how to communicate across the void between us.
I never tell her about the boys; she never tells me about her job. She works as an orderly. It involves pushing sick and dying people around the hospital at all hours of the night. It must be unpleasant. Those few times we do see each other, I could ask her: How was work? She could ask me: How was school?
We could engage in back and forth dialogue, like I did just earlier today with the truck-driving man. What a strange experience, conversation with a real person—
My snow love isn’t real?
“There are boys at school,” I say.
The man looks up.
My snow love isn’t real?
I stop and think again of my mother. Right now she must sit at home, asking herself if another woman pushes me around a hospital because I’m dead or dying. I’m not dead or dying, but maybe I should be in the hospital. Because I hurt.
I took the car, so I’m not sure she could come get me. Did they find the car? Will she have to pay a fine?
“They what?” says the man.
I think about myself, about the boys and the alley. And then I can’t talk anymore.
The man waits. When I say nothing more, he lets it go.
When late night comes I stay in the truck bed once more. The night before the man left me, at least at first, but this time he leans sleeping in the front seat.
We’re in Oregon now. There is no snow here, but there are mountains. Before sundown I watched them through the window. They seemed far away, but their peaks were white and beautiful. The man let me use his phone, and I saw there’s a year-round snowboarding resort at Mount Hood.
I imagine myself standing alone in the moonlight, shivering in my summer clothes, near a pack of snow, cold and pristine. I imagine myself falling into it. But instead of falling to the snow town, I fall to a stiff sheet of ice or a sharp slap of rock. There’s a new kind of pain, the frozen hard against my body. The freeze bites and cuts, sharp as knives.
There is no snow boy, no sad snow song in a high lilting voice. No snow love except my own.
I leave the truck bed to climb barefoot to the parking lot. The asphalt is still warm from the sun. I want to walk, I don’t know where to, so I just wander in the lot between the long trucks, enormous like sleeping dinosaurs.
It’s quiet, the boys are too far away to watch me, stalk me. I don’t know what to do about them; I don’t know how to say what happened. I don’t know how to tell my mother who’s never home, who barely knows me. I’m alone in this world except for the truck-driving man. I hear footsteps behind me. I turn to see he follows me, though at a distance. He stops when I stop.
I wonder I still don’t know his name. He knows mine, but he doesn’t use it. And it seems a thing of respect, that he doesn’t take what I didn’t share freely of my own will.
I wonder that once he was a boy, although he was a different boy: the one beaten by his father. But those other boys, maybe they were beaten, too. Maybe that’s what made them so vicious.
I don’t know, but I do know I was always scared of them, and I’m not scared of the man. It’s such a relief to feel safe outside the snow town. I can’t remember the last I felt that way.
The next day we drive through Oregon, and the man was right because he does drive near the mountains. In fact, he drives through them. Not the very tops, but across them in the lower areas. There’s no snow, but there are pine trees and rocky mountain slopes. There are exit signs for roads that lead higher up, to thin winding trails, paths to the top.
And there’s a pull. It’s strong and unrelenting. I turn against the door. I curl my body against the hard plastic interior, bury my head under a pillow from the back. Because it’s like my insides are being ripped outside. I have a feeling of love failed, life torn.
Boys on me, in me.
Here are the mountains, the end, the escape, the great leaving and forgetting. Except I see it now; there is no ending and there is no forgetting. There are mountains and mountains, and high up there’s snow, but there’s no end except death and no life except more of the same.
I sit up and turn to the truck-driving man who’s watching me between watching the road. He looks alarmed.
“In two hours,” he says, “we’ll be out of the mountains.”
“And then what?”
“Do you have a father living with you?” he asks.
“Does your mother have a boyfriend?” he asks.
“It was the boys at school?”
“OK,” he says.
When he finally brings me to the police, I’ve lost something. Not my trust, because I see he’s not betrayed me. Not my snow love, because I see I never had that in the first place.
But I’ve lost the man who pulled me from the storm, the man who heard my story and didn’t laugh. The man who waited before he turned me in, to get the answers he needed. The giant, hairy, big-armed man who pushed me back into life.
In the end, he’ll be as tenuous as my supposed snow love. For all his size, he slips into my life, then he slips back out.
My mother is coming; she has the car back, but she will fly to get me. She is sorry, so sorry—that’s what she said on the phone, although I still haven’t told her. All she knows is I ran away. But I suppose there will be more talking now, between her and me, between me and other people. I don’t know how that works, but I suppose it must happen.
At the station I’ve said very little, but I think the truck-driving man said something, because I’m going to the hospital soon in a police car. My mother won’t arrive until morning, so I guess they’ll keep me there. When I first ran away I feared all this police and hospital, but now it seems the only way things can be.
The truck-driving man said he has to keep driving; he has a schedule to keep and it’s strict. I know he lost time today, bringing me here, answering questions and filling out paperwork. I worried he’d be in trouble for keeping me secret so long, but they let him go. Maybe they’ll call him back later, I don’t know.
I don’t seem to know anything, just that life is washing back up against me, and I feel this great despair inside, and I guess I’ll talk about that, too.
I watch the man leave. I stand at the window and watch him climb back into his truck. He will go on, and now, so will I.
*Feature Image: "Snow Girl" / created for Pipeline Artists by Emily Barnes