When I was 7 or 8 I ran away from home. Not the typical I packed my suitcase and walked a little way down the street. I legitimately had run away from home.
There was a boy in my school we called ‘Chip’ and while I don’t remember a whole lot about him, or how he looked (I think he was fairly ‘boy next door’), I remember that we were very similar. We had deep, vivid imaginations and we had an entire universe of feelings/thoughts within us that we had no idea how to handle.
Chip and I decided one day that we were going to run away from it all. The problems at home, the problems at school, the constant feeling that we just didn’t fit in and seek lives better fitting our grand notions.
After school finished one day, we began our journey at the local Safeway. After all, if you are serious about running away from home, you are going to need provisions.
We were beginners at the whole running away thing, however, and perhaps, didn’t make the wisest choices of what we would need to provide adequate sustenance. We also didn’t have any money, so we shoplifted everything.
What great items, you ask, did we choose to pack to keep our nutrition up during this adventure. We started in the baking aisle because everyone knows that marshmallows are an essential item of any real runaway bag of rations. Our next stop was the cake decorating section. We picked-up two packets of candy cake toppers. I wonder if we did this because it was going to be one of our birthday’s soon and we didn’t want to completely miss-out on the festivities? At any rate, we left the store with marshmallows and candy cake toppers that read “Happy Birthday” and contained coloured balloons.
We walked for what seemed days towards ‘the edge of town’. We talked about where we would go and what we would do. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the details of that conversation now. But, I was becoming aware that my resolve in our journey seemed to be stronger than his.
Dusk was settling-in and I suggested we find a place to sleep for the night. We found a culvert that ran under the train tracks. This seemed like the perfect place to set-up camp. We made ourselves comfortable and then broke-into our rations bag. After devouring half the bag of marshmallows and all the cake toppers, we rested. Dizzy in our sugar high.
Chip said to me “what do we do now?”
I replied, “We relax and try to get some sleep. We have a long day tomorrow.”
About five minutes later, Chip says with a sigh “I’m bored. I think I’m going to go home.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. How could be abandoning our mission so soon? Where was his resolve? How could he be so gutless?
I felt blindsided.
“Are you coming?” he asked me.
“No.” I replied indignantly. “I have dreams to follow.”
And with that, he skulked out of the culvert and away from my life.
Alone, I sat inside that culvert until it was dark outside. I listened to the light trickle of some water that was running between the rocks and the sound of the world going on around me, without me.
I was starting to get cold.
I was also starting to get scared.
I was alone.
I was very, truly, all alone.
Nobody cared. Nobody would find me. This was it, I would either survive the night and become like Pippi Longstocking, or I’d die in the pursuit of freedom.
I hugged my backpack close to my chest, rested my head on the cold, metal inside of the culvert, and finally drifted off.
I was awakened by a flashing of red and blue light.
And then I heard my name being called by someone familiar, but not a family member.
It was my Grade 1 teacher.
She was an older lady who dressed a lot in purple and would chew gum wildly in her mouth while making the most amazing crackling and popping sounds.
She had arrived with the Police.
It turns-out that Chip had ratted me out. I wondered if he had confessed to our stealing the marshmallows and candy and I clung even more tightly to my backpack in hopes they weren’t going to ask to see what I had.
I pictured myself locked-up behind bars, begging the Police Officers to let me out, pleading with them that we were just trying to keep ourselves alive.
I got into the Police Car with my teacher. The policeman had talked to me, I’m sure, but I think I used my teacher as a personal shield and translator. She would protect me. I just knew she would.
I remember returning home and feeling a mixture of great disappointment and relief.
I was returning to sadness, confusion, fear and anger.
But, at least, I was warm.
I would never try to run away again. But, I often think about that night and my friend, Chip. We talked briefly the next day, but he had hurt me deeply and I couldn’t forgive him. From then on, I went on my adventures without him. Alone.
I am eternally grateful that my teacher showed me that I was worth something by coming to find me. She didn’t have to. She could have just told the police what she had heard and let them get me.
But, she wanted to be there for me. It is one of those moments in life that leaves an indelible impression and, to this day, makes me cry. She passed away years ago, but I will be grateful for as long as I live for her validation and kindness.
And, to Chip, wherever you are-I forgive you. And, I hope that you found the happiness for which you were searching.