The winter my homegirl Boogie turned fourteen, we got it in our heads that we could run away, leave Miami Beach and never come back. I'd just finished reading The Catcher in the Rye for the third time, and lost my shit for Holden Caulfield. So I decided to do exactly what Holden did: run away from everything. From school, from home, from everyone. I dreamed of adventure, of hitchhiking to New York City during winter break, although I wasn't looking for a specific place, since I didn't believe there was anywhere I belonged. But I longed to meet exotic characters at subway stations, hang out at the Lavender Room, ice-skate in Central Park. I'd be just like Holden, except I'd take advantage of my time in the city and have sex. Lots of it. I'd lose my virginity to some anonymous drummer, a guy without a name who played for an indie punk band, or a New York rapper, and we'd have sex in the back of his limo while listening to "God Save the Queen." I'd party at the Limelight, become a club kid, wear Halloween costumes in February. Pink hair, silver glitter eye shadow, blue lipstick, leather dog collar. Nose, eyebrows, lips pierced. I'd be nothing like the Nena who lived in Normandy Park, the Nena who was full of secrets. I would finally be free. And I'd take Boogie with me.
That winter, when the Christmas lights went up around Normandy Park and all the Miami radio stations started playing "Feliz Navidad," Boogie and I took off. We didn't leave a note, didn't give any explanation. There would be nothing left for our parents when they discovered that we were gone. We figured it'd be easier that way—that nobody would try to find us, or worse, stop us.
We tossed a change of clothes into Boogie's JanSport and hit the street, walking along Normandy Drive, and I stuck my thumb out once we got to the corner of Seventy-First and Collins.
"We need to be smart about this," Boogie said. "We can't just get into some random guy's car."
"Sure," I said. I never mentioned how I'd had the whole thing planned out for weeks, and when a green sedan pulled over, we climbed in without even a second glance at the driver. [End Page 272]
Turns out his name was Cesar, and he was headed toward Bird Road. We had no idea where Bird Road was, but we took the ride anyway. He was a middle-aged man with a thick mane of black hair that screamed "Just For Men." I rode shotgun while Cesar drove us down the 836, a lit cigarette pinched between his lips. He asked questions about our boyfriends and our parents, and what exactly two fourteen-year-olds were doing getting in cars with strangers.
"We ran away," I said, checking myself out in the visor mirror.
"Why's that?" he asked.
I shrugged. "Because home sucks. Because this whole fucking place sucks."
"You shouldn't talk that way," he said, "a pretty girl like you."
But I wasn't falling for his bullshit. According to my mother, men always pretended to give a shit about you, saying exactly what you wanted to hear when there was something they wanted. And men always wanted something.
I reached into the center console for his Marlboros, plucked one out for myself, tossed the pack to Boogie. As he pulled off the road and we approached the sign for Santa's Enchanted Forest—Miami's Christmas theme park—I got an idea. Boogie and I had never been there, so it seemed like destiny: it was exactly where we were supposed to be.
I snuck a look at Boogie over my shoulder, gathering my curls into a ponytail. I smiled at Cesar like I'd never smiled at any man before, and asked him if he would take us to Santa's Enchanted Forest.
"I can drop you off out front," he said. But he hadn...