I’d threatened many times to join the circus or go live on a raft on the Mississippi like Tom and Huck. But that wasn’t the case this time. It was some long-forgotten atrocity—homework? weekend chores? (I still hate vacuuming)—that led to my decision to run away forever.
I was surprised at the coolness of Mom’s reaction:
“Are you sure?”
That was it. Just “OK.” And then she proceeded to pack my lunch. She was obviously anxious to get rid of me.
I stomped about in my bedroom, slamming necessities—my sacred texts (Huckleberry Finn, Call of the Wild, The Three Musketeers), leftover Valentine’s Day candy—into a makeshift rucksack (my pillowcase), then headed for the front door, shouting, “I’m going now!” Silence. “Forever!”
It was nearly two miles to the end of the flower field, the last vestige of rural life in our viral Orange County suburb. I’d watched the migrant workers pick flowers in the field and had built multiple tree houses there, but had never been to the end, where the stately eucalyptus trees marched, until now.
As I trudged along, rucksack dangling from an old broom handle, plastic pioneer canteen on my belt, I was ablaze with the sense of adventure.
The only thing hampering my carefree spirit was the feeling I was being followed. Each time I’d reach the top of a hill I’d look back. Hadn’t I seen that car before? But then it would be gone. No, just my imagination, which, I’d been told, was roughly the size of equatorial Africa.
Who knew a sack lunch could taste so good? I finished my PB&J, drained the last drop from my authentic Daniel Boone canteen, and headed toward the distant hills as the sun turned burnt sienna (one of my favorite Crayola colors).
Three hours later, I was deep into uncharted territory. I was cold. And thirsty. Why had I decided to leave again? Reading a favorite chapter of Tom Sawyer would help, but that would require a bedside lamp. Or a flashlight and covers to read beneath.
I sat down on the hard alien soil. I didn’t cry. Much.
I’d almost reached the point of total despair when I heard wheels creeping up beside me. It wasn’t the sound of a car that had just arrived, it was the sound of a car that had been waiting, perhaps thirty of forty feet away, and then simply crept forward. Oh, great, I thought, and now I get kidnapped. Shlunka, shlunka, shlunk, the window rolled down.
“We’re having spaghetti for dinner. Want to come home?”
This time it was me who said,
“Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.”
Psalm 139: 9-10