Letters To Jo
How are you doing? I’m fine. Why’d you have to leave? I don’t understand. And I think it stinks that your parents got divorced. It just isn’t right. Know what I mean?
Today was…interesting. I couldn’t stop thinking that you’d left and that I’d probably never see you again. Sometimes I wish I was a Christian like you, but I can never get myself to go to church or even glance at the Bible you gave me.
Yeah, it’s just sitting on my top shelf in my room, collecting dust. I kind of feel bad, especially since you signed the inside. But I can’t bear to look at it. It’s really weird.
I’ve been keeping up your blog for you, since you can’t go on now. I can’t believe your parents…never mind. But I’ve mostly just been typing up “pictures of Jesus” because I don’t know anything about the Bible and sometimes you’ve posted pictures before. Sadly, the view counts been down lately. Sometimes I think I’m a failure.
I can still remember your face, Jo. I can see you, smiling at me. Mostly my brain remembers when we were at the park. Remember that, when I managed to sneak out of my house and join you? Yeah, I do, too. It’s my favorite memory of you.
We were sitting on the park bench, and you just smiling at me. I can even remember exactly what we said. Can you?
“Always keep writing, Willow,” you told me. “Don’t ever forget that I told you that.”
“I won’t,” I’d replied. You haven’t forgotten, either, right?
“I won’t,” I’d replied. You haven’t forgotten, either, right?
Just to say, remember those emails you always used to send me? That was great. You’d always pick a different accent and everything for your emails. That always made me laugh, though I never said so and my accents aren’t half as convincing.
So I tell you what. From now on, I’ll change all of my accents. I hope you haven’t forgotten me, Jo. I’m sorry about your Bible. Hope you’re having a good time.
* * *
‘Ow’s me beautiful bonny wee lass? I ‘ope ya be a’doin’ right fine, lassie. I be afraid to be a’tellin’ ya that yer Bible’s still a’sittin’ on me shelf. I’m a’sorry that I ‘aven’t read any of it. I ‘ave to admit that I ‘aven’t read any of it, let alone Jesus’ death like ya suggested.
Me life be a’draggin’ along at a wee slow pace. I almost can’t stand it, that I can’t! Ach, it’s pure torture to go through school, that it is! I wish me bonny wee Jo was still here going ta school with me.
But, alas, ‘tis not to be!
I be a’writin’ ta tell ya that I ‘ave a new poem for ya! Ya got to promise not ta read it ta anybody else, agreed? Ach, here it be a’goin’!
Willow’s leaves stretch to the sky,
Jo’s heart reaches to you and I,
Asking, do you believe in the one?
The Father of the most high Son?
I look away, shame in my eyes,
Will she see through my disguise?
My pains and aches that I held near,
Oh, Jo, I miss you, dear.
Ach, that’s all fer now!
* * *
Dearest Lady Joanna:
It makes me very sad to think of our last best time together, before things turned terribly nasty. Remember? It was the Firefly Tournament (haha, the Firefly Concert was sweet, wasn’t it? Just to say, I’m going to refer to the artists as the “jousters” and such). You were much voting for the knight Sir Mercy, I believe (I have a question—I mean, I know you wrangled me to go to that Christian concert, and Mercy Me’s was pretty sweet, but how on earth did you convince me again? I kind of forgot…).
My mother, Lady Katrina, was very distressed at my disappearance as I remember. But I never told you, Lady Joanna, did I? I always hid it from you, because you were always so “obey your parents” and such. But the tournament was such fun.
I made another poem for you, dear lady. Please bear with me.
Willow’s leaves, drooping in the water, mirror reflection,
Jo’s heart, Jo’s eyes, looking, searching, for the detection,
The only way into Willow’s stony heart,
That kept her many years from Jesus apart.
But, alas, the story doesn’t get better ever,
Willow looked around for Jesus never.
She can’t change, won’t change, won’t listen to you,
Jo’s eyes wide open, but closed shut, she doesn’t have a clue.
I’m sorry, that your story had to end that way,
And that you’re not coming back another day.
That is all for now, dearest Lady Joanna.
* * *
Arggggghhh, matey! Ahoy, Jo!
This be Captain Willow of the magnificent ship Sunchaser. Seen any pirates, matey? Haha, we’re pirates, matey! Good joke, huh? ;) Why, me matey, I be knowin’ that ye be away for a while. Are ye taking the Moonflight sailing on the Seven Seas? Aye, sounds like ye, me matey Jo! Arggggghhh, ye scallywag! I wish I could see ye, by you’re gone! Aye, off in the Moonflight. How fare the seas for ye, Cap’n? Me hopes well.
Arggggghhh, I be writin’ a poem for ye, and I’ve just about got it finished. Me fine work is below.
Ships’ sails raised, reflecting the cold moonlight,
Your eyes are lifted, lifted towards the sight,
The ship flies through the sky, faster than light,
Don’t look now, Jo, it’s about to alight.
Willow’s the name of the ship,
Flying away from your sight,
Don’t forget about Willow,
Aye, you just, just might.
But now look for the ship crossing the stormy seas,
And, please, Jo, please come and remember me.
Leave your things now and come and find me, please,
But I have a feeling that you’re gone, your soul at ease.
Arggggghhh, that’s all, matey!
* * *
I can’t stand it, I just can’t stand it! I wish that you’d reply to me, so that I could know what to do! Jo, my life’s falling apart. I know that I promised you that I’d do a different accent, but I just couldn’t tell you about this in some stupid accent that you’ve probably already done in your life before!
Mom understands nothing. She says you’re a jerk and that it’s good that you’re out of my life.
“No, it’s not good!” I told her. “I need Jo!”
“No, you don’t!” she yelled at me.
I can’t stand her, Jo. I just can’t stand her. I think I’m going to run away, but I don’t know where I’d go. Jo, are you there? Please, please tell me what to do! I miss you, Jo!
* * *
I know, I know—I’m not doing an accent again. But I need to tell you what happened. You’re not going to like this story—I know that. But please hang in with me, OK? You’re far enough away as it is.
Jo, I ran away.
I know I shouldn’t have done it. But I can’t stand it, Jo! I’m sitting in a Subway right now. Soon they’re going to notice that I haven’t ordered anything as soon as the line’s gone. Jo, do you think Mom’s going to come after me? I’m so scared, Jo. Please answer.
The guy at the counter’s looking at me. I’ve got to go.
* * *
You remember all of those times when we traveled to New York City and we always went to Central Park and then we’d run to that huge bridge that neither of us know the name of still? I’m under that bridge right now, huddled. It’s cold, Jo. Really cold.
I know you’re probably not happy at all with me. I know. I’m almost sorry. But when I think of my mom…Jo, to tell you the truth, I’d run away all over again if I had to.
I’m not going back, Jo.
I made this poem for you.
Cold, scared, afraid, tired, you are, as you wait,
Waiting, always watching, for the upcoming date,
When she’ll come back, your best friend in the world,
When time will go back, fate’s sail unfurled.
I can’t wait until that time, Jo.
* * *
I don’t know why you had to leave; why you had to go out of my life. When I first met you, I kind of thought you were weird. Remember, Jo? We were both in seventh grade. You were the new girl.
I had that black hoodie on that I always wore and never took off. I was in the corner while the popular girls giggled right in front of me, rubbing it in. Then they’d turn and give me sneers. And then you happened—you came into my life.
“Stop,” you said—do you remember? “Don’t make fun of her.”
Ashley, the popular girl, she turned on her heel and glared right at you. “Why should we? You’re just one of those goody two-shoes Christian girls.” Then her and her goonies had all laughed like it was the funniest thing in the world.
But you just stood there, not letting it get to you. I never told you this, but I couldn’t help but think how brave you were, standing up Ashley and her goonies. And then you told her,
“Don’t bother ever again,” and strode away. It was the coolest moment.
And then later you came up to me. You smiled and held out your hand, your beautiful hand that used to play the guitar for me.
“I’m Jo,” you told me. “What’s your name?”
“Willow,” I’d whispered, scared that I was dreaming because you definitely too good for me.
You only smiled that smile of yours. “Nice to meet you.”
And then it seemed like we were friends ever since. And now I’m still a freshman and you’ve left me all here by myself. Not that I’m going to go to school again, Jo, because I’m still under that bridge. I’m going to call it Beggar’s Bridge, I think. And this poem will tell you why.
Icy fingers, reaching towards the blue face,
Life’s rushing warmth has become a life-or-death race.
“She’s become a beggar, Jo,” Jesus told her.
“Please, please, Jesus, save her, sir.”
“I can’t save her,” Jesus said.
“She’s halfway gone. She might as well be dead.”
And then your eyes are tearful, Jo,
You’d stoop down to me, though it’s low.
You’d save me if you could, if you were here,
Oh, how I miss you, sweet Jo, my dear.
So, you see, I’m the beggar of Beggar’s Bridge. I’m not the same, Jo.
* * *
I’m scared out of my wits. You want to know why? Because I’m all alone and I’m underneath a bridge in New York City.
Yeah, I know. I’ve stooped really low, haven’t I, Jo? You’d think it was really sad. I’m just glad you’re not here with me. I’m glad you left me now. Because if you were here, you’d probably already be dead. You always said I was tougher.
Jo, what if I don’t live through the night? Or what if Mom comes with the police in the morning? Jo, I’m so scared. Please be here for me, best friend. Why aren’t you here?!
I’m sorry I sound so crazy, Jo. Here’s another poem. It’s good for me to write, because then my fingers get warmed up. So here it goes.
Lights, twinkling like a dozen diamonds in the distance,
The stars, shining down on the biggest city,
I wait for you, my dearest friend ever Joanna,
When will you ever come back and remember me?
The lights of the city sparkle on the water,
The beautiful deep blue sea,
Your own stars shine down upon me, Jo,
Down upon little old me.
I wish I were on a boat now, Jo,
Sailing in the sea,
Oh, how I wish I was sailing towards you,
So that you’d remember me.
It’s kind of sad, but there it is. Bye.
* * *
Remember last year when you gave me that Bible for my birthday? Now I wished that I’d brought it with me. The reading would keep me awake. I know—that’s not why you would want me to read it. But that’s not my fault.
I remember that concert that you took me to not a month ago, before you left.
You’d thought I had my parents’ permission—you didn’t know that I’d snuck out just to spend a night with you. You wouldn’t have been happy with me. So, I’m sorry.
But it was a great night. Thanks for that.
* * *
I remembered the first time that you ever invited me to church. I was sitting by myself on the cafeteria floor (remember how all of the tables were always full?) and you just randomly walked over and sat down next to me.
“Have you ever gone to church?” you asked bluntly.
“Uh, no,” I admitted.
“You wanna go?” you offered.
I shrugged. “Naw.”
But I really did want to. I wish I would’ve told you. I wish I would’ve told you a million things. I hope you’re happy, wherever you are. And I hope you can hear me.
I really remember the first time you read one of my poems.
“Did you write that?” your voice came floating over my shoulder.
I’d been hiding in one of the school’s eaves after school. You’d just walked up to me, and I hadn’t even heard. Apparently you read the whole thing. I’ll never know because I didn’t ask.
“Yeah,” I whispered back to you, keeping my head low and pulling my hoodie even lower over my green eyes.
“Cool!” you burst. “I wish that I could write like then.” Then you just plopped yourself down beside me. “How do you write that good?”
Remember how I just shrugged? I really wanted to keep on talking to you, but I couldn’t think of anything to say.
“I just…do,” I finally managed, writing another line.
“Really? Wow.” You were quiet for a moment, I remember. And then, “How do you do it?”
I gave you a look. “I…um…I guess I kind of just start out with a sentence and start rhyming what I’m feeling.” I shrugged, looking away. “I guess.”
“They’re really good,” you’d pointed out. “Well, bye, Willow! I’ll see you later.” Then you’d walked off.
I wish I’d called after you. I wished I’d call and asked if you wanted to stay. But, no, I forgot. And now I’ll probably never see you again. So here’s the poem another of my poems. Now you’ll finally get to read them.
Her eyes, full of happiness and delight,
Looking out with a dazzling light,
Blinding all those who see,
Jo, walking alongside me.
A white light all her own,
Her fate’s already been sewn,
I know she’s saved, I love her so,
Please, oh, please, Jo, don’t go!
She gets lifted up, up into the sky,
I lift up towards her, fingers brushing,
I tried to reach, oh so did I,
But I was failing at touching.
My fingers fell, you flew away,
I’ll never forget that horrid day,
And now you’re gone, I wish you weren’t,
Now you’re gone, as if you were burnt.
I miss you, Jo, please come back,
With your old-fashioned rucksack.
Please, Jo, I miss you, I’m waiting for you,
“But, Willow, you haven’t got a clue.”
So now I’m stuck here. Hope you’re happy.
* * *
Why’s life so unfair?
In other words…
Mom found me.
I’ll never be able to escape her, Jo. Maybe if you were still here. But you’re not. Mom’s really mad at me. I was woken out of my sleep by a rough hand. Mom’s hand.
“What’re you doing?!” she’d screamed at me.
She’d wrenched me off the ground and threw me against the hard pavement. I fell like a stone. My body was bruised, but I couldn’t do anything to stop her.
She yelled things that you wouldn’t want to hear and dragged me all the way back to our house. I barely managed to save this book. Mom would be furious if she found out.
So now I’m locked in the shed out back. The only reason I’m even able to write to you is that I stuck the book underneath my sweatshirt. But now I don’t know how long I’m going to be here.
I’m scared, Jo. Help me.
* * *
It’s night. Mom still hasn’t let me out. I think I’m going to die. I don’t know what’s going to happen.
Fear rises up in me,
As the death closes in,
You, Jo, I can’t see,
As my faith wears thin.
Please come back, Jo,
Why aren’t you here?
Don’t you miss me so,
Aren’t I to you dear?
I think you’ve forgotten me,
Forgot my name,
Am I just as they see,
Am I the same?
I thought I was different, Jo,
You told me so yourself,
That I’m something amazing,
Not just like on welf.
I don’t understand it, Jo,
Why you left me,
Are you coming back soon,
Can me you see?
I think you’ve forgotten me, Jo. Is that true?
* * *
I don’t know if I’ll ever right another letter. It’s been days. I haven’t had food or water or anything. I’m scared to death. I don’t want to die. I’m not ready, Jo, I’m not like you. I won’t face Jesus. I’ll go to hell. Do you understand?! I’m going to hell!!
Jo, why don’t you help me? You used to always help me. You were always there, just like the time when you first stepped into my life and saved me from Ashley. Why aren’t you here now?
Jo…are you even there?
* * *
Right now I’m sitting in a cold room with a scratchy blanket wrapped around my shoulders. I’m sitting on a hard wooden bench. In front of me is a door, and right next to it is this huge window. Nobody’s in the room. But it makes me scared.
I’ll tell you what happened. Maybe you really were listening, because at least I’m not dead now.
The government found out that Mom had locked me in a shed. I heard the locks being knocked off by a crowbar, and then the door burst open. They looked at me in shock.
They’ve been treating me like a baby ever since. I think Mom’s getting sent off to prison.
And me? I’m getting sent off to a foster home.
I can’t stand the idea. It’s horrible. It’s like they’re supposed to help, but this definitely isn’t helping. I need to write a poem to clear my mind.
Cold walls surround me, locking me in tight,
I look around for you, for your eyes the sight,
I’m watching for you, Jo, to show yourself,
But you just won’t come,
When will you show yourself, Jo,
I can’t wait for that some!
Please, Jo, just come now. The cold’s coming quick.
I can almost imagine it—the hard smack of a stick.
What will the family be like? Will they be mean and cold?
Will they be young and nice, or like really old?
I just hope that I’ll be OK, Jo,
Pray for me like you always do,
If Jesus’ working, like you said,
Just let me see that it’s true.
There’s those government people. They just came out of a room and they’re walking towards me. Don’t forget me, Jo.
* * *
Apparently I’m getting put into this house full of kids that are like mostly around my age. I’ll copy the list that they gave me of the family members, though just like their names and ages, because the other stuff would bore a cow.
Elijah Woods—45 (he’s the dad)
Megan Woods—43 (she’s the mom)
Cody and Shasta Woods—15
Yep, that’s everybody. Pretty boring, huh? I think I’m going to die. I wonder if they’ll notice that I only have one other pair of jeans and a T-shirt, other than the clothes on my back. I have a feeling they’re going to be like one of those families whose homes like the perfect Wal-Mart house and who always look perfect. Uck. I’m so going to stick out.
* * *
Right now I’m in this really nice room. The walls are painted purple (way too girly). The trim and the doors (like the one out and the closet) are painted white. The bedstead’s made of brass, and there’s like white lacy blankets on the bed. Like so totally more you than me.
There’s this wood desk and chair right underneath a window that overlooks the front street. There’s a white carpet, which is good. And a bureau, which is totally empty.
Before I started writing I locked my door. Now I’m on the bed on my stomach. The bed’s a lot comfier than my old bed. I have no idea what your bed was like, since I never went over to your house.
Anyway, so this is the home of the Woods. I met them just as I arrived.
So I stepped out of the car with the caseworker, who seemed pretty nice. We walked up to the door and before the caseworker could ring the doorbell a girl with bright red hair whipped the door open, took one look at us, and then yelled over her shoulder,
That started at stampede.
Down the stairs rushed a boy and a girl, both with the bright red hair of the first girl. Their eyes were bright as they stood right behind the younger-looking girl who’d opened the door.
Then down the hallway came three more people—a girl who I was pretty sure was Darby, a boy who I was pretty sure was Charlie, and an older lady who I was definitely sure was Mrs. Woods.
Amazing, all of them had dark blonde hair. But the whole family had a collection of blue eyes. Creepy.
“Willow!” smiled Mrs. Woods with a motherly smile. Then she did a really awkward thing. Even Ashley knew I didn’t like hugs, right, Jo? Well then she just comes forward and wraps me in a hug.
I kind of just stood there. I didn’t make any move to wrap my arms around her, too. Finally, Mrs. Wood let me go.
“I’m sure she’s going to be perfect around here,” said Mrs. Woods. Then she turned and introduced me to all the kids.
I was right about the older kids. You know I was always great at guessing, Jo. The two kids who’d come rushing down the stairs were Shasta and Cody. And the girl who’d opened the door was Laura.
They were all grinning at me as if I was going to give them a prize or something if they smiled for the longest. I managed a half-hearted wave. It was obvious they all knew my name already.
Then the caseworker left and I was left at the mercy of the Woods family. According to the babble their dad was still at work. They gave me the grand tour. They have a seriously nice house, Jo. I suppose it’s just like I always imagined yours would look like.
Then finally they showed me my room. Said they’d give me time to unpack. What a laugh. As you already know I don’t have like anything. So I locked my door and started to write this to you.
Just remember, Jo—I don’t think I’m going to be staying here long.
So don’t get comfy. I’m thinking about leaving tonight.
* * *
I woke up really early this morning. I couldn’t believe that I’d been too exhausted to try and just wake up in the middle of the night. But even though it was early I could hear somebody moving around upstairs, so I stayed put.
I didn’t have any pajamas, of course, so I’m still in my clothes from yesterday. Maybe when Mrs. Wood smells my stench she’ll offer to get me some supplies.
Jo, I’m scared. I’m not sure if I should allow myself to like this family. After growing up in the family that I did, I now feel to need to just get away.
Jo, another poem.
I hear them, all around me,
Pushing me—there’s not enough air,
I listen very careful,
On the wind I hear the dare.
“Stay there if you can.
“If you can’t that’s fine.
“But you’ll always know—
“Then you can’t be mine.”
It’s as if God’s speaking to me,
But the Woods are all I see,
I can’t get away, Jo,
How I miss you so.
I think I hear somebody walking in the hallway. I should just get this over with.
* * *
Apparently there’s a curfew in this house. We have to be in bed by nine thirty. So I’m writing this under the covers with my new flashlight. Yes, I said flashlight.
When Mrs. Woods smelled me, we didn’t even eat breakfast. Laura, Darby, and Shasta came with Mrs. Woods and they all helped pick out clothes and all that other stuff. It was Shasta’s idea for the flashlight. She said it was essential. Maybe she writes letters at night, too.
Since we’d skipped breakfast Mrs. Woods took us to McDonalds. It was the first time I’d ever been there or at any other restaurant, but I didn’t say so. I ordered exactly what Shasta did.
I’d rather be known as a copycat than as a kid who’s never been to McDonalds.
Then we went home. Laura and Shasta wanted me to try on all my outfits, but I just picked something that I liked and put it on. Since Shasta and I are the same age and in the same grade, she told me all about school.
And church. She said we had church the next day.
I definitely wasn’t going to admit that I’d never been to church before.
Here’s for you, Jo.
I’m not who they think I am,
I’m not the perfect little lamb,
I can’t do it, I can’t act anymore,
Of these lies I keep getting sore.
I want to be free, to fly away,
Until that awful day,
When you flew out of my life,
And now I’m only in strife.
So maybe flying’s not the good idea,
Maybe I should just hide,
Maybe I should just forget about Jesus,
And how he came and died.
Can you tell me the answer, Jo?
* * *
I’m under the covers again. Seriously, this family has weird rules. So not only do they have assigned chores, they had to come up with some for me. So here are my jobs:
Keep my room clean
Sweep the upstairs hallway
Check and make sure that Laura fed the fish (yes, they have fish)
Yeah, I thought those were kind of dumb, too. Just to say, since you’re a Christian and all, I thought I’d tell you all about what church was like. My very first time at church.
So Shasta woke me up crazily early so that she could put a flatiron to my hair and then do it. Then she just HAD to pick out my clothes and everything.
When they heard I didn’t have a Bible, they were pretty much horrified. Cody offered me his for the day, and since everybody was smiling, I didn’t have the heart to turn it down.
So, yeah, I’ve been carrying around a boy’s Bible all day. Lovely.
So we all piled into their minivan. Then we drove to their church, which was huge. Seemingly thousands of cars were parked outside. We walked underneath an arch made of stone with a cross that was part of the stone. I shook off the feeling that you were watching me.
We went inside and there was like all of these kids my age. It was weird. Actually, there was a whole bunch of kids about every age.
About everybody my age wanted to come up and meet me. Boys and girls. It was really strange. Shasta and Cody were by me the whole, explaining some things since all I managed to get out of my mouth was “hi” and “My name’s Willow”.
But Shasta and Cody seemed all too willing to step in for me. I guess I should’ve been grateful. How come I wasn’t? Because I wanted to dig myself a hole and then come and find you.
In church we sang all of these songs that I’d never heard before in my life. In fact, I’d never really sung before in my life. I wish you had been there, because then you could’ve told me what I sounded like.
After church the Woods stayed for like an eternity, talking of course. More kids wanted to meet me. Their names and faces seemed to get blurred together.
Finally, I managed to get away with the pretense that I was getting a drink. I managed to take a rest, and I wrote this poem on the back of my arm, which I hid for the rest of the day.
They think I’m one of them,
But I know I’m not.
I thought that maybe this was good,
That it was Jesus I sought.
But now I know I’m different,
I’ll never be one of them,
I’m so different from them all,
As if I’m a flem*.
But then I think of you, Jo,
And you can see,
That I’ll never be one of them.
Can you see me?
*Just to say, that’s short for “Flemish”, or the Flanders, which is somewhere by Belgium. Don’t ask how I know that.
After church, we got home and Mrs. Woods fixed us a really nice lunch. I’d never eaten anything like it in my life. I wish you could’ve tasted it, Jo.
I then managed to lock myself in my room for some time. I just had to think. I didn’t even have the energy to speak to you. And of course I had to change out of my Sunday clothes.
It was awhile later when Laura knocked on my door and announced it was time for Youth Group. Youth Group? That was what you always used to go to. Remember when you tried to get me to go?
That didn’t really work that well, huh? Well, if you asked me now, I would definitely go. The way Laura said it I supposed I didn’t really have a choice. I grabbed Cody’s Bible and followed her down the stairs.
Darby drove us all to the Youth Group, which was at their church. There were lots of kids there. I felt lost, Jo. You should’ve been one of those kids. I barely remember what they talked about and all of the games they played.
Because, you see, since there were so many kids, I just managed to slip out of the games. I sat huddled in the church kitchen, hugging my knees to myself.
And now I’m here.
Can you see me, Jo?
* * *
It’s only Monday, but the days are starting to blur. The kids at the school are OK, I guess. Shasta and Cody are really popular. I’m like their shadow that just HAS to follow them around everywhere. It’s horrible.
I don’t really like Shasta and Cody. I thought maybe I would. But, no. They’re too perfect. And they seem to think they’re perfect, too. They try to “sympathize” with me, but it only makes me want to barf in their faces.
Can you see me, Jo?
* * *
It’s horrible. I can’t stand it. I HATE IT HERE!!
* * *
My life is a prison.
My life is a prison,
I’m stuck behind the metal bars,
I wish I were elsewhere,
With you, gazing at the stars.
You always knew me best,
Especially through the rough, hard times,
But I know you, Jo—
You’re one of those hearts of sublime.
My life is a prison—
I wish I could break out.
I grab a big club,
And hit the guard, the clout!
But no, I’m locked here now.
Where everybody’s so “great”,
You might try to save me, Jo,
But I’m afraid you’re too late.
I’m going to escape, Jo. Don’t think I won’t. I’m not going to let them push me around.
* * *
OK, so maybe at the start I though the Woods family was all right. Right? And now?
I hate them. Definitely.
It must’ve been an act. Shasta and Cody now ignore me. Laura takes my things without asking and doesn’t return them. Darby sneers at me when her parents aren’t watching and flounces off. And Charlie pretends I’m not even there, which is definitely worse than ignoring you.
The parents are too perfect. It’s not right.
And now I know I’m going to break free of this prison, Jo. Sometime I will. And that sometime’s going to be soon.
Jo, can you see me?
* * *
This is the last straw!!!!!! I come into my room and Laura has this book. I can tell she’s just opened it because she was on the first page. I ripped it out of her hands and practically threw her out of the room.
“DON’T YOU EVER TOUCH MY THINGS AGAIN!!!!” I screamed at her, slamming the door in her face.
I heard her crying, and then she ran off, probably to tell her mom. Apparently I was right. I can hear Mrs. Wood’s footsteps even as I right this. She’s stopped. She’s right outside the door.
“Willow?” she whispers.
I don’t know how to respond, Jo, if even to respond.
Her voice becomes harsh. “Willow, come out now. Until you apologize to your sister, you will have nothing to eat or drink. You’re not allowed out of your room.” I can hear her walking off.
Quiet sobs are wrenching my body. I’m sorry if my tears land on this page, but I can’t help it. Laura is definitely not my sister. And it’s so unfair! I can’t eat or drink?
Well, I’ll tell you this, Jo—I’ll never apologize. I guess I’m going to starve.
This might be goodbye forever.
* * *
It’s been over a day since I’ve had food or water. I’m starving. I can’t wait much longer. I feel dizzy from lack of food. Even as I write this my hand trembles. I don’t feel good.
For goodness sakes, help me, Jo!
But you’re not going to help me.
I’m going to die, Jo.
* * *
I’ve made my decision. I’ve packed my school backpack with clothes and things that I thought I’d need. I’ve tied up sheets to get out the window. This is the last time I’ll ever write from the Woods’ house. Ever.
* * *
I’m cold again. When the government found me, I thought maybe I’d never be cold again. But I am. I trekked all the way back to New York City again. I’m underneath our bridge. And I’m writing to you.
WHY DON’T YOU HELP ME?!?!
I’m sick of this, Jo! I can’t stand it any longer! Why aren’t you helping me?! You promised that you’d always be there for me! You promised Jesus would be, too!!! But I don’t see either of you, so you know what that makes you?!
And you know what?
YOU’RE DEAD!!! SO YOU COULDN’T EVEN HELP ME IF YOU WANTED TO!! YOU COULDN’T HELP ME EVEN IF GHOSTS OR ANGELS OR WHATEVER YOU ARE COULD HELP!!! BECAUSE I’M THE ONE WHO GOT YOU KILLED!! AND IT’S MY FAULT!!!
* * *
I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I admitted you’re dead. I promised that I’d never write that you were dead in this book. So that if somebody picked this up that they’d think you were still alive.
But the news is—you’re dead. You were dead the second that the car hit you. The second that you pushed me out of the way and took my place as the dead person on the hospital stretcher.
Yeah, I had major bruises. But you’re the one who lost your life. And it’s my fault. You even told me not to risk running across the street. But it looked safe.
If only. I’m so stupid.
I guess you hate me now.
* * *
Can angels hate?
* * *
You’d be disgusted to know that I’ve been going through the dumpsters at the back of restaurants all over New York City. It’s not that bad if you think about it.
I’m underneath Beggar’s Bridge now. I’ve changed its name to Our Bridge, because it’s one of the only places that holds memories of you for me.
I remember our talk about my name. Do you?
“Willow’s such a pretty name,” you told me, eyes bright. “I’ve always loved that name. It reminds me of the beautiful weeping willows back at my grandparents place. They’re so beautiful.” You chuckled. “Just like you.” Then you flipped a piece of my wavy brown hair. “You even have wavy hair like the long tendrils,” you’d whispered. “Almost as if God had chosen your name.”
I shrugged it off then. I wish I hadn’t, Jo.
I miss you. Can you see me? Are you watching me?
* * *
I’ve been in New York City for what seems like a really long time. Sometimes I think about the Woods and wonder if they even know I’m gone. I’d hope that they’d notice sheets dangling out of a second-story window. But you never know. They’re pretty stupid.
Jo, you won’t believe what I found today. A Bible. An old, battered Bible, just sitting on the sidewalk in Central Park. I only picked it up because of you.
Inside it had an address and the name of some guy named Jim Robinson. I wonder if the kid’s looking for his Bible. If he comes to me for it, I don’t think I’ll give it back. I know I should, but I wouldn’t be able to.
Jo, I miss you and everything about you. I miss the way that you smiled when I could make you laugh. I love the way you would tear up at my poems. The way you always stood up for me against bullies.
Jo, I miss YOU.
I wonder if your parents will ever forgive me. They divorced just because you died. But you probably don’t know that. I mean, maybe you do. And maybe you don’t.
I bet if your parents saw me on the street in New York City they’d figure nobody cared about me and have me killed on the spot. If they did, I’d hope that at least that made them feel better.
It wouldn’t make me feel any better. I can still see that look of panic on your face, your pasty white face, the fear in your eyes. I can’t get it out of my head. I have nightmares of the horrible thing happening over and over.
You’ve died in my life more times then you could ever count.
Very close to me, yet so far away,
You died to only me that day,
You died to my soul, and to my heart,
You died the day, at the start.
You died before I met you,
Died before the day,
When we went to the concert,
When you stole me away.
You died as you sang along,
You died as you cried,
I almost can’t say this, Jo,
But you just went and died.
I can’t get over it, Jo,
The way you saved my life,
But even though I’m alive,
My life’s full of strife.
If only I’d died instead of you,
Everything would be fine,
I wish God had taken me instead of you,
Instead of breaking this heart of mine.
Are you watching?
* * *
Trouble’s brewing. I can feel it. Not only that—I go into a Wal-Mart, and my face is up on the “missing child” board. It’s creepy. People are looking for me. I’ve had to disguise myself.
I found some sharp glass and cut my hair off, for starters. Now it’s shaggy, like a boy’s. I’ve smudged dirt on my face to make me look darker. I don’t have to worry about my clothes. They’ve got enough rips as it is.
And there’s something else, Jo—when I was in Central Park, I saw this sign that said “missing Bible”. It said to contact Tom Robinson, and gave the same address inside of the Bible. I have his Bible, and he wants it back.
What should I do?
* * *
I knew it was the right thing to do. But I didn’t want to do it. I put Tom’s Bible in his mailbox this morning. I left a note, too, that said “Looks like you dropped something”. That’s all. I hope I never have to hear his name again. I can’t bear to think of the lost Bible.
I search everywhere daily for another Bible, but there isn’t one. I wish constantly that I’d read some of the Bible, instead of keeping it hidden inside of my backpack.
How come I only think of good things after everything’s already done?
* * *
I made some money today. No, I didn’t steal it. Apparently people think my poems are pretty good. I sold one to a lady today and she gave me $10. $10. I bought myself some food. It was great.
Here’s another poem.
I watch the seas, glistening bright,
I watch carefully for the sight,
Of your eyes, shining gold,
But will I be that bold?
I can’t forget, can’t remember,
Can’t stop trying to run,
But then I think of what you told me,
Of God, and Jesus his son.
And I wonder, faintly, faintly,
What does it mean?
To this guy named Jesus,
Am I really seen?
Everybody just looks at me,
Like I’m not there,
They just walk on past me,
Without a single care.
And I wonder faintly,
If they even know I’m there,
If one day they’ll wake up,
And I’ll give them a scare.
But then I know it doesn’t matter,
That even if they don’t,
That Jesus will come and see me,
Unless even Jesus won’t.
But I’ve listened to what you’ve told me,
And I know what you say is true,
So wait there, sweet Joanna—
I’m coming for you.
* * *
Today I saw this kid around my age sitting on a park bench. A woman who looked like she was his mom was feeding some pigeons nearby. But that wasn’t all. The boy was reading a Bible.
I secretly made my way up behind him. I’d never read a Bible before in my life, and I couldn’t help to be curious at what it said.
“…Truly, truly, I say to you, I am…”
I broke off reading as the boy’s head snapped around. I was so startled that I admit, Jo, that I fell backwards.
“Are you OK?” he asked quickly, accidentally dropping his Bible.
I almost gasped. It the Jim Robinson Bible. I looked up at him and then ran away.
And now here I am. Did God want me to see that kid, or what?
* * *
Today I went to the bench. Jim wasn’t there, but his Bible was. And so was a note.
“You need this more than I do.”
What kind of a note is that?
* * *
I’ve been reading the kid’s Bible. And I think that I actually believe. Like BELIEVE believe. Not just one of those kids who says it just get attention from their parents or something. I really believe. I can’t believe that Jesus would want to die for the ugly bunch of humans we are, but he did it. And that must’ve taken a lot of love.
And if a guy loves the whole world that much, and would take everybody’s sin on his shoulders, than he’s got to be a great guy.
I believe, Jo.
I’m just like you.
If only you were still alive.
* * *
I returned the kid’s Bible. I’d probably never see him again, so I left him a note.
Short and sweet. You know that’s me.
It’s so cold, Jo. I wish you were here to cheer me with your words. I wish you were here so that you could cheer me on and tell me all about being a Christian.
But you’re not.
* * *
You might not believe me, but right now I’m in a garbage can. Literally. It’s one right outside of one of the stores. Somebody recognized me from one of the Lost Children papers.
I don’t know what to do. I’m so scared. I’m pretty sure that they’ll soon find me. What then?
* * *
They found me.
Right now I’m a social worker’s car driving back to the Woods’s house. Remember that thing you always used to say?
“Sometimes you just need thirty seconds of courage.”
I need that right now.
Because I think I’m about to commit suicide. Not purposely, you understand.
Goodbye, if I don’t make it.
* * *
Right now I have my back to a tree. The leaves of the trees above me make a canopy. The stars sing of God’s joy. Crickets chirp in my ears. I can hear animals scurrying.
My plan worked.
My plan? Open the door, roll on the road, and then run off.
It mostly worked. I opened the door and fell out, but I’m not sure I rolled right. I was covered in awful scrapes and bruises, but at least I’m safe.
And now, right now, I feel as if the Woods can never touch me. Because I’m in God’s woods.
* * *
I’ve been trekking for what seems like forever. I found a road awhile back and got a ride with a farmer in the back of his truck. Apparently he was shipping stuff to Indiana, so that’s where he dropped me off.
So now I’m lost in the middle of Indiana.
Well, not really lost. I mean, there’s like a town every two miles any way you go. But I felt lost. I’ve always felt lost ever since you died, Jo. Even though I’m saved, I still feel lost.
And now I’m sitting outside of a really tiny library in one of the towns. I don’t remember the name of it. Goodnight.
* * *
I’ll tell you what happened.
So when I woke up I saw somebody looming over me. I started and moved back, putting my back against the library’s railings. It was a girl who looked about twelve or thirteen, with dark brown hair and questioning brown eyes.
“Why are you sleeping by the library?” she questioned, wrinkling her nose.
“I…um…” I managed to stutter.
“You could come to my place, if you wanted,” she offered. “It’s just around the corner.” She gave me a glance. “You sure are scrawny. But Mom will fix that up.” Then she skipped off down the library steps.
I paused, then grabbed my backpack and followed her.
She was waiting for me at the gate to a really nice white house. She smiled at the fact that I’d followed her. I could see it written right in those eyes of hers.
“You’ll love Mom’s pancakes,” she told me, skipping to the door.
I followed her into her house and into a nice-looking kitchen. A woman was mixing up some batter at the counter.
“Mom!” the girl cried. “I brought someone home for breakfast.”
Amazingly, the woman didn’t think that was too weird. “That’s great, Adriana.” She winked at me. “So, what’s your name and what’s your order? I have some pancake batter going, and I’m going to put some sausages in soon.”
“I…uh…that sounds great,” I told her. “My name’s Willow.”
“You can call me Mrs. Hall,” she smiled at me. “This is my daughter, Adriana.” She turned to her daughter. “Why don’t you take Willow to wash your hands, hmm?”
I wondered if that was just what they did at their house or if she’d seen my grimy hands. Maybe it was both, huh, Jo?
So we washed our hands and then ate breakfast. It was REALLY good. Afterwards they talked a lot with me, and offered me a place to stay. I turned it down.
“OK,” Mrs. Hall shrugged. “But if you ever change your mind, our door’s always open to you.”
I nodded and skedaddled out of there. Now I’m sitting in a tree that’s in front of the library. Maybe I’ll return there tomorrow for breakfast.
* * *
Mrs. Hall never seems to run out of good food. Her food was as good today as it was yesterday. I’m going to think about her offer for me to stay.
* * *
If angels could make decisions, I’d have you make my decision right now. I think I’m going to stay at the Halls’ house tonight. I met Mr. Hall a few days ago. He’s really nice, just as I imagined my dad always being.
I never told you that my dad went missing, did I? Huh, yeah, I guess it never crossed my mind. Well, Mr. Hall’s really nice. And so is Mrs. Hall. Adriana told me that she has a brother, too. But he’s spending the summer in California.
Who’d ever want to go to that wacko state?
Anyway, I hope you’re having a great time with Jesus. Say hello for me, OK?
P.S. Sorry for calling California a wacko state.
* * *
Right now I’m inside of a bedroom. Inside of the Halls’ house. Yes, I decided to stay with them. It’s pretty early, and I haven’t heard anybody up yet.
But here’s a poem.
Waves crashing against the shore,
My heart wishing just for more,
More of the tales and legends of old,
Tales of things and beings untold.
I feel like a different being myself,
Sometimes I feel so different than others,
But then I just think, “I’m Jesus’ daughter now,
“And they’re all my sisters and brothers.”
And then I think of you, Jo,
And I remember I’m saved,
And now I looked for the roadway,
Which Jesus Christ has paved.
Now I don’t feel so different, Jo,
My heart doesn’t always ache so,
And I know that I’m okay,
Even though you died that day.
Hope you enjoyed that more than some of my other poems. I thought that it was at least a little bit happier.
* * *
OK. So maybe this was a really big mistake, but I told the Hall family my whole story. (Well, I left out some parts.) I think they’re thinking about adopting me. I sure hope so.
But now I’m afraid. Will the Woods family come back and claim me? The thought sends shivers up my spine.
* * *
They’ve come. The Woods are here right now, along with my caseworker and the Hall family downstairs in the living room. I’m up in my room, scared out of my wits. If they’re going to give me to the Woods, I’m going to run again. I can’t stand the idea of staying with them.
I’ll just have to wait.
* * *
They came in before I could think of hurtling myself out my window. The caseworker and the whole Woods family were there—Mr. Woods, Mrs. Woods, Darby, Charlie, Shasta, Cody, and Laura. And they were glaring.
I didn’t know what I was doing. Maybe it was Jesus. But I yelled, “I don’t want to go with them!” and I told of everything that would’ve definitely gotten them locked in prison for child abuse. Like not letting me out of my room.
The Woods family went pale. The caseworker’s eyes bulged out. He quickly phoned somebody.
Victory resounded in my heart,
Where terror had been from the start,
Now I’m free as the sky,
Nothing will ever separate you and I.
Now my real life’s starting, Jo. I can stay with the Hall family. I can’t believe it!! I know the Hall family, I really do. I know they’re good people.
Jo, I’ve got a family.
A real family.
Now I’ll never be locked in a shed or a room again; I’ll never have to roam the streets of New York City looking for food; and I’ll never have to fill the pages of another of these books.
So I guess this is goodbye, Jo. It was great, the times we had together. Thanks so much for everything. I miss you and love you.
Goodbye, my sweet Jo.