I was very young when I first wanted to run away.
When I was two or three, my mom bought me a black raspberry ice cream cone at Friendly’s while she chatted with one of her friends for lunch. The ice cream was delicious and the prettiest color of purple I had seen. I joyfully ate the treat while my mom and her friend talked grown up stuff that was of no concern to me. Once ice cream time was over, we walked out of the restaurant and the most id, primitive thought entered my little mind – what would happen if I ran? I was right beside my mother as she was chatting her goodbyes to her friend. She wasn’t holding my hand – she had no reason to distrust me. Until now, muahahaha.
Without any further thought I ran with all my might down a pathway. I heard my mother call after me, and I began to laugh. I did it! I did it! I had no idea where I’d go, but it would be new and fun and different. It felt like I ran a block, but in reality I probably ran about 15 feet. My mom’s friend jumped out in front of me. I hit the brakes and turned in the other direction, only to find my mother standing over me, her arms extended. Trapped! I sighed, and my mother scooped me up. She was more amused than angry, surprisingly. Knowing what a wuss I was as a kid, I probably cried when I realized my plan was foiled, however I don’t remember that part of it.
This is the earliest memory I can recall of my desire to run away. From that point on, as I went from toddler to child, I fantasized about all the adventures I could have if only I could cross the street. Whenever a flood warning came on the television, I would excitedly go to my playroom in the basement to make an ark for myself and my stuffed animals. I’d string together a bunch of cardboard boxes and milk crates to make my boat, placing only my most beloved and trusted confidants in the same box as me – Fifi the cat, Ricky the raccoon and Herman the monkey. After Fifi’s frequent weddings and divorces to both Ricky and Herman, one would think this would be a bad living arrangement for a long journey to the unknown, but I understood relationships about as much as I understood buoyant materials.
As I built my ark, I would imagine it being lifted by the flood waters, carrying me and my animals away to some place I had never been before. Maybe they would take me across the Sound to New York! It seemed so exciting. Much to my disappointment, the floods never came and my cardboard boat would never be tested on the rough seas.
Once I got past my ark stage, I entered the runaway stage. Around the same time I read about dinosaurs and outer space, I began to look at things differently. I suddenly became aware that the universe was large but my world was small. When my family would go to visit relatives, we’d hop on the Merrit Parkway and I’d look out the car window longingly. I’d see the endless forests and wonder if anyone would ever find you if you hid in them. I’d see cliff-like hills carved out by dynamite to make room for the freeway, and I wanted to jump out and climb them like a jungle gym. Hills and mountains begged to be traversed. I wanted to take roads to their end. I wanted to see the larger universe.
When I felt like I had to get out and find those hills to climb, I would grab a baby blanket to put my things in and tie it to the end of an aluminum curtain rod – only in middle class Connecticut would a hobo purse be constructed in this way. I’d take my favorite Underroos our of my dresser, grab socks and a shirt, a few stuffed animals, and I’d prepare two butter sandwiches for my journey. Sometimes, my mother would ask me what I was doing. I’d tell her I was running away, and she’d give a disinterested “okay,” puff on her cigarette and return to reading her book. You could say I did this sort of thing fairly often.
I’d start packing my blanket with all of these items and quickly realize very few things fit in a hobo purse, and I wouldn’t use a bigger blanket because well, that would look stupid, wouldn’t it? Ultimately, my plan would end with me staring at a pile of junk atop my blanket while eating both butter sandwiches in one sitting.
As I got older, my runaway plans became grand and wonderful. My friend Jenique always seemed to be my partner in crime around this time. Our adventurous spirits were temporarily satisfied by cutting through people’s yards to get to each other’s houses; we’d climb fences, fight our way through pricker bushes, and stealthily avoid getting caught by the homeowners (most of the time). Soon, the adventure became routine, and it only made sense that we’d want to run away. We both wanted to see that world that existed across the street and wanted to live by our own rules. We decided it would be ideal to live in a forest somewhere far away, eating berries, mushrooms and fish. We’d get a tent and make it our home, live off the land and be free. Probably thanks to Mork and Mindy, I decided our magical location would be Boulder, Colorado. When I pulled up the entry for Colorado in my family’s 1967 Encyclopedia Americana, the map of Colorado looked like there was a huge forest around Boulder, and it was also near the mountains! You can’t beat that.
We looked at JC Penney catalogs and decided what kind of tent we wanted. We decided to create a runaway fund and went around the neighborhood trying to sell my father’s old books. Being seasoned lying liars, we claimed we were girl scouts trying to raise money for our troop. No one bought the story or our old, musty books. We had a plan for how to get to Boulder – her parents had an old, beat up Porsche that sat on the curb next to her house. They weren’t using it – we’d just take it and go! Never mind we obviously couldn’t drive, wouldn’t pass for a legal driving age, and I think the Porsche had a bees’ nest in it…when you’re young you don’t think of logistics or obstacles; you are simply certain you can make it so.
As I grew up, my runaway fantasies mostly subsided, replaced by more practical adventures and grown-up responsibilities. I’d have a spark here and there – like when I stood on the western side of Hanalei Bay on Kauai’i. I watched ten-foot waves crash onto the shore’s soft sand, and I thought for a moment that I would love to live on this isolated stretch of the island in a little hut surrounded by mango and avocado trees, walking barefoot and allowing the crashing waves to sing me to sleep every night. Grown-up reality set in when I recognized a tiny hut on Hanalei Bay costs at least twice as much as my current home, and my romantic runaway fantasy didn’t include working an 8 to 5 for a living.
Despite that realization, it occurred to me that the world offers so much more than what we allow ourselves to have. As kids,we want to have it all simply because it’s there. As teenagers, we want it because someone said we couldn’t have it. As adults, well, we get so caught up in our lives we don’t even see that it’s there anymore.
We don’t need to be beach bums in Hanalei Bay to live our adventure – there are still forests to explore and mountains to climb in our backyard. We may have forgotten they were there, but they’ve been waiting for our arrival since we were children.
The next time you’re driving somewhere and an old road captures your attention, or you see a field of daisies or dandelions, and that little voice in you that tells you “explore”? Allow that voice to be heard and be the adventurer you dreamed of being for just a few minutes of your life – it’s okay to be a kid sometimes.