I am about to run away from home. It isn’t the first time.
I was 7 or 8. I was leaving my parents for good. I screamed that I hated them in the way children who have no understanding of the weight of those words do. I hated them for not giving me siblings, for my friend becoming ill and not being able to sleep over. I hated them for our lack of wealth and as a result for dressing me in clothes from op shops, for the sheer humiliation. In short I was being a horrible brat, lashing out at people who loved me for things they had no control over. It seemed to be enough at the time. I tore down all the pictures of horses from my bedroom walls and set fire to them in the kitchen bin to replicate something I had seen someone do to propaganda books in one of my mother’s National Geographic magazines. I was making a statement; I just wasn’t sure what that statement was.
To say I was a dramatic child was an understatement.
I slammed my door in fitful tears and began packing. I took some clothes, my bear Tedguina, my 3-litre soft drink bottle filled with 1-cent coins I’d collected over the years. I went to the kitchen and packed what I could, cursing my parents once more for their refusal to buy pre-packaged food. I took cheese.
I grabbed my spoils and my bike and opened the gate and left. My parents were inside, refusing to react to what was most obviously a tantrum. I took my bike and I rode around the neighbourhood in my very familiar hometown in North Queensland. All of a sudden it felt much more scary. It’s not that I had never ridden at night, I had, but by deciding in my head that I was alone it became much more weighted.
I did two laps, maybe three, of my suburb before my fear outweighed my anger and I returned home. I did however not wish to give my parents the satisfaction of having won. I quietly unlatched the gate and walked my bike along the grass in the middle of the two tyre tracks that formed our driveway so as to not disturb the gravel underneath. I walked past the old shed to where our old Bedford van was parked, unused under the Guava tree where I’d carved my name so recently. I quietly placed by bike under the van, hidden, and climbed inside to sleep.
I woke the next day smug, quietly happy in the distress that I was causing my spiteful parents. I would teach them a lesson. I pictured my mother crying as she went to my room to find my bed empty. I pictured my father, the local detective calling his office to alert all of his best men. I pictured my school friends hysterical as they heard I was missing. They would all be sorry.
I then pictured my return, everyone so grateful for my coming home, for my safety, for my presence, that they would never make me unhappy again and instead fuss around me like some precious flighty bird they’d almost lost.
I waited for the sirens, the sniffer dogs. They didn’t come.
I waited all day in that campervan, bored, lonely and mistrustful of the pump water from the tiny sink. I lay on the brown plaid polyester and was annoyed at how it itched me, how little suited it was to the tropics, how my sweat ran down the back of my knees. I was sick of cheese. Yet nothing came.
As time passed my sick fantasies of distressed loved ones seemed less appealing. I thought of them all, snug in their beds, washed and clean, fed and blissful and hated them. This was not how things were supposed to go.
I tossed and turned that second night, going mad from lack of stimulation. Tedguina, whilst being my most loyal companion was limited in her conversation for it all came from me. If I was going mad, so was she. We were both terribly bored.
Very early the next morning, defeated, embarrassed and hungry I tried to sneak silently into the house through the custom cat flap that Dad had made (apparently to fit a Cheetah cub or a small Bull Mastiff). I went into my room, still thinking how excited they would be to have me emerge the next day.
When I woke, there were the usual morning noises. Kettles and iron’s hissing. Dad complaining to Mum that she put ‘railway tracks’ in the pleats of his pants and vowing to never ask her to iron again. I emerged, expecting to be welcomed with open arms and shrill screams of joy.
Not a thing.
I simply got a ‘your school skirt is on the line and you’ll have to have lunch money today’.
Not a single blink.
My parents had out played a wilful child to a next level defeat. For weeks to come I was quiet, obedient and sad. I had been outfoxed.
I was to find out years later that my father had walked around the block several times and on his return had seen the yellow mud -guard of my bike under the van. That as they watched TV, both heavily amused and oddly proud that they had created a creature who would try and outsmart the lethal combination of mother and detective, that they talked about this and laughed till their bellies ached.
Even now as I plan my next adventure I ponder what I learnt from this and if I am ready.
I find the answer to be yes but pack more than cheese, nothing grander than that.
This time I am leaving with the blessing of one parent and funded in part by the death of the other and I take that as blessing in kind. This time Dad, you don’t need to search, it’s possible you already know where I’m going.