I took a call the other day about a runaway child. For whatever reason, it reminded me of some of my own attempts to leave home as a child. I can’t remember if I’ve ever mentioned it here but I ran away a few times when I was young. Ok, more than a few, 4 times total before finally leaving for good. Are you ready for this? The first time I was around 5 years old! That particular time I wasn’t running away so much as running from my oldest sister’s house to my aunt’s house, where I believed my dad was. It was right before my foster mom passed away. I was feeling particularly lonely considering my dad spent all his time at the hospital. As a child I couldn’t rationalize the fact my mom/dad couldn’t be with me. All I knew is I was left w/my very mean older sister who didn’t seem to like me much and salvation wasn’t far away. Obviously, I made it fine, but it is not the actual story I wanted to share today. hehehe
Fast forward many years, my dad had remarried to my step-mother and things were not good at home. I was still in junior high at the time. If I remember correctly, I think I was in 5th grade. It was 5th or 6th grade, I can’t remember for sure at the moment. The point is I was bored in school so I routinely cut up in class. I was mischievous and hyper active so it shouldn’t have been a real surprise to anyone. And being bored meant poor grades. My dad also had a temper and was prone to fits of rage when he felt he was being challenged.1 He knew I was smart so he assumed I did it on purpose. I’d previously survived a round of whoopings due to said grades and he told me if I got any more F’s on my report cards, I was in for a doosy of a beating. And trust, I believed him! He’d been particularly thorough in his last attempt to set me straight. I knew if I came home and showed him my report card w/three F’s on it, I was in for a good whooping. The kind that left bruises and made me walk/sit funny for a few days.
Report card day arrives and I get off the bus at the road that leads to our place.2 I was alone that day and the fear took over. With no thoughts to how, why, or even where, I ditched my books and fled. I didn’t stay on the paved road as I was afraid my parents would drive by and see me. This was the piney woods of East Texas. There wasn’t much development back then so it was easy to just run through the woods to avoid being seen. I remember making a diagonal line to avoid subdivisions that I knew existed. At this point I’m driven by fear of the coming beating and a little excitement. I loved being outdoors so had little fear of the woods. I knew what the woods held and not much scared me.
I made it about 3 miles the first day. Having realized I didn’t bring anything with me and it was getting chilly, I meandered back toward places I knew where people lived. I spent the first night in the a ceramic storage shed behind the house of one of my school mates. They rode rode the bus to school with me every day. Having been there before with my parents for ceramics, I knew there was plenty of stuff to keep warm so I settled on hiding out there overnight. I covered myself in shredded paper used to stuff boxes. I can still remember giggling at the idea of being a hamster. I got a nice surprise the next day when I found a box of twinkies that made for a lovely breakfast (It is odd how certain moments stick with you over time).
I start out the day knowing I have to head deeper into the woods as I’m approaching more populated areas. It must have been close to winter because I had a lite coat on and it was definitely chilly out. I remember at one point ditching my very tiresome cowboy boots at a rest stop that was along several of the paved roads I had to cross along the way. They were my favorite boots but I was tired and couldn’t bear taking them with me. It helped I had my gym shoes in my school bad. I zigzagged through the woods for most of the day. It wasn’t until I started getting hungry that doubt crept into my mind. I trekked on until it started getting dark again. I’d now been gone more than 24 hours. I started getting cold and hungry. It was then I realized I had no idea where I was going or how I was going to survive on my own. My fear of getting a whooping shifted to fear of my future. I had no idea where I was going. Of course, a kid that young can’t really rationalize properly. I started crying and decided to turn myself in. I remember thinking that to myself. lol
I made a bee-line for the closet rode and by the time it was almost completely dark I made it. I’m only about 10 miles from home by car. Considering how much I zigzagged I probably walked over 15 miles. The first car driving by stopped and picked me up. I was crying and they managed to get it out of me that I ran away and wanted to go home. I pointed out the way and they drove me all the way there. Good lawd was there a ruckus going on! There were 3 game-wardens, a sheriff cruiser, and several other random cars parked by the road side. They had passed out radios to people and a lot of really nice people were looking for me. Apparently, the way I ditched my books turned out to look very suspicious and everyone thought I had been abducted. God what a mess I had created. The lovely folks who picked me up were super sweet. And in the midst of all this fuss, I can remember the very handsome man riding shotgun that let me sit in his lap! Even then I was incorrigible.
My dad arrives in short order and is overwhelmed. Even my stepmother looked relieved to see me. Anyway, I kept my mouth shut as to why I fled; I was afraid my dad would get in trouble. As everyone left and things returned to normal, my dad came back to me and we had a talk. I told him why I ran away thru tears and a death grip on his neck . It was one of the few times I saw my dad look vulnerable. He hugged me, told me he loved me, and told me he never wanted me to scare him like that again. I promised I wouldn’t.
So, in the end I actually didn’t get a beating. lol Even more amusing, my siblings were all amazed I made it so far on my own. I think they saw me as weak and didn’t think I had it in me. Now that I think about it, both my older brothers treated me a little better after that. There was less teasing and being treated like the annoying little brother. My older brother actually left home for good not long after that. I always wondered if he felt I had one-upped him by running away.
Wow, that was a lot. I didn’t sit down to write all that out. It just sort of came out the more I thought about it. It amazes me how fearless I was. I don’t think I ever realized how ballsy I was back then. I can also still remember the color of my cowboy boots. Which by the way, we went back for the next day and they were still there! This led to another conversation about how far I made it.
Oh, and the call I took? The kid was fine. He ran away because he was mad at his mom for taking his xbox away. He took MUNI down to the Metreon for the afternoon before being returned home. These youngin’s today. If they only knew. hehehe
- Ironically, I never referred to it as rage but looking back on it, that is pretty much what it was [↩]
- We were a mile from the paved road [↩]