Have you ever felt that taking a vacation is like running away?
It’s been years since I’ve taken a real vacation. The chance to get away and relax. Do nothing. Just a couple of weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to do just that. I didn’t plan it. It just sort of happened. Things lined up just right and before I knew it, my husband turned to me and said, “Why don’t you go see your Mom?”
“I can’t just leave like that,” I said with a searching look.
“Why not?” he contradicted.
“I can’t just leave you here alone.”
“This week is going to be a long week. I’m going to be working most of the time anyway,” he chuckles. “Just do It. Call your Mom and ask her if it’s okay that you come.”
“What about my writing?”
“You’ve got a laptop. You can write from there. It would be a good break.”
“Are you sure?” I asked.
He picked up my cell phone and handed it to me. I dialed her number and popped the question.
“When?” she asked.
“Tomorrow or the next day,” I replied.
I could hear the surprise in her voice as we talked about it. She agreed, of course.
And as I hung up the phone, my husband hugged me. He gave me a kiss and said, “Get packed.”
I smiled and with excitement complied.
The next morning, I kissed my husband as he left for work. I got the last of the things I needed to do finished in a surprisingly short time, placed the bags in the car and turned onto the highway. As I drove I began to recall childhood memories and by the time I arrived at my Mom’s house, I had a complete story. Over the course of the next few days, I wrote what I had envisioned on my drive.
You know, there’s nothing like the feeling of running away…even for just a little while. Read on to find out what happened The First Time I Left Home.
The First Time I Left Home
I remember the first time I left home. I was around eight years old and had just been in an argument with my mother. I really don’t remember the words that were said or what prompted the discussion, but I had decided that I could stay there no longer. I recall everything else that happened as if it were yesterday.
I stand helplessly looking up at the suitcase in my closet as I realize that I’m not tall enough to take it down from the shelf by myself. I watch as my mom calmly removes it and places it on my bed. I look away and stare at the floor until she leaves the room.
I look around and think hard about what to take and decide that five pairs of everything should be enough because wherever I’m going, I can wash the clothes every four days. I love dresses, but knowing they aren’t practical for someone who is homeless, I decide to take only one. I need things that are rugged like my heavy plaid pants and cotton shirts. Three pairs of shorts and three tank tops will do well for the summer months. For colder weather, I decide to pack one sweater, one raincoat and my winter jacket. I check the pockets to be sure there is a hat, mittens and a scarf and place those in the bottom of my bag. I pack a pair of sneakers and prepare to slip on a pair of ankle high boots suitable for walking. I hear my mom making lunch in the kitchen and resist the urge to run down the hall.
I finish tying the laces on the boots and turn toward the bookshelf. I know that I will need to read something and decide to take my favorite book. It’s already tattered from having read it more than a few times. I slip the copy of Little House on the Prairie in the suitcase, push the lid down and although it is quite snug, I’m able to close it. This is the moment that I realize I haven’t packed my toothbrush, so I walk into the bathroom, take one towel, one washrag, a bar of soap, a small tube of toothpaste and the toothbrush and return to the bedroom to place them inside the bag.
I glance at all the stuffed animals on my bed and realize that I will miss them all. I pick each one up, taking several minutes to decide which one to take on my journey. I finally decide on my ‘Little Lamby’ because he is soft and squishy and easy to hug. I set him in my bag and apologize, “I’m sorry I can’t carry you, but I need to leave like a grown-up and it wouldn’t be appropriate to leave with a stuffed animal in my arms.” I close the lid of the suitcase and say, “I hope you understand.”
I look around the room one last time, slip my piggy bank into my purse and walk down the hallway to the kitchen door. I watch as my mother serves lunch to my brothers.
She asks, “Are you all packed?”
I hold up my suitcase and respond, “Yes”.
She nods, says “Be careful” and begins to eat.
My brothers look between me and my mom with big eyes and watch in silence as I walk away. I go to the front door, turn the lock and step onto the porch.
I stand at the end of the driveway trying to decide which way to turn. I hadn’t thought about where I was going, just what I needed in order to go. So, I set the suitcase on the sidewalk and sit down to contemplate my future.
One of the boys in the neighborhood rides up on his bicycle and asks, “Where are you going?”
“Where’s the moving truck?”
“I’m sitting on it,” I laugh pleasantly.
“Aren’t your parents and brothers moving, too?”
“Aren’t you going to go to school?”
“I don’t know.”
“What are you going to do for money?”
I reach into my purse and show him my piggy bank.
“That should last a while, but what will you do when you don’t have any more?”
I shake my head and shrug.
“You don’t know where you’re going?”
“Why don’t you join the circus?’ he suggests with a sage nod. “That’s what I’d do.”
The circus had arrived last week. I knew this because my mom took us on the first day. It was near our favorite park. I knew they were still there because she said that she was planning on all of us going to see the final show later that afternoon. At that moment I realize which direction to turn. I shake the boy’s hand and say “Thank you” and walk down the sidewalk.
It seems to take forever to get there, probably because I’ve never walked there alone before. When I arrive, I see all the activity and smile, realizing this is exactly where I need to be. I walk around until I see the elephants. One of the babies comes over and touches me with his trunk. I laugh because he keeps tickling my neck. A man comes over and hands me some grass and shows me how to hold it. I set my suitcase down and follow him inside the fence to feed the baby elephant.
After a while the man asks, “What’s with the suitcase?”
“My mother and I decided that I didn’t need to live at home anymore.” I looked up at him and say in a business like manner, “I’m a good worker, I can do almost anything that someone three years older can.”
He looks at me with skepticism and I continue to inform him of all my best qualities, finally finishing with, “I can do all the things my brothers can do and some of them even better.”
The defiance in my face must have been apparent because he says, “Okay. You’re hired. I need someone to help me during the show with this baby elephant. His name is Hirem”.
I smile up at him and say, “Like Fearless Fly.”
The man replies, “Exactly.”
I have a feeling that he really doesn’t know who that is, so I tell him, “He’s a superhero who is powerless without his glasses.”
“I can relate,” he says as he points to his spectacles.
I push my glasses up from the end of my nose and nod.
“I need to do something, but I need you to keep Hirem company until I get back. Can you do that?”
“Of course,” I reply and pick up a handful of grass.
I look up a few times to see the man standing near a tent talking with someone who looks surprisingly like my mother, but my glasses keep slipping off my nose from the heat preventing me from seeing clearly.
A few minutes later, the man returns and shows me how to wash the elephant. It’s very messy because Hirem keeps dunking his trunk in the bucket of water and sprays both of us with it. I’m having so much fun that I don’t realize how hungry I am until the man says that it’s time for a snack. He spreads a small blanket on the other side of the fence and we eat a sandwich and drink some iced tea.
While we eat, he speaks to me about remuneration. I know a lot of big words and have been reading the dictionary for over a year now, but have only gotten up to the letter ‘f’. I admit this to him.
“I’m afraid that remuneration or payment for services is pretty low here. We basically get some place to sleep, food to eat and maybe just a little pocket money.”
I show him my piggy bank and say, “That’s exactly what I’m looking for. I already have a library card, so I can go to the library for books and I have one of my friends in my suitcase. What more could a little girl need?”
He nods his head and we seal the deal with a handshake.
After we finish eating, he suggests that I change my clothes for the show. He introduces me to his wife, who shows me to their trailer and then leaves. I slip out of my clothes, run my fingers through my hair (I had forgotten to pack a comb), wash my face, brush my teeth and then put on my pink dress. My boots are soaked from washing Hirem, so I put on my red sneakers, repack my suitcase and rejoin the man and his wife who are standing by the elephants. “Where should I put my suitcase?”
“Why don’t you take that with you and use it as a prop,” the man says as he hands me the baby elephant’s leash. “I think this will also help with the effect,” he says as he opens my purse to allow the piggy bank to stick out.
As we stand waiting at the big tent, I say, “It’s too bad Hirem doesn’t have any props.”
The man chuckles and says, “I have just the thing.”
I watch the man go to his trailer to return a few moments later with a pair of very big black rimmed frames. I squeal with joy as he slips them over Hirem’s eyes and then he brings out a red bandana and stick with a stuffed red bandana tied to it. “For our runaway girl and her hobo elephant,” he says as he slips the stick into Hirem’s mouth and ties the bandana around my hair.
“Now, you and Hirem go in first and go to the center ring. Walk around three times and then come back here,” he instructs as he lifts the tent flap.
Hirem follows me and as we step into the center ring, I look down to see that my shoelaces have come untied. I look up at the crowd and realize that it’s too late to tie them. Hirem begins to walk and tugs the leash out of my hand. I run to catch up and grab the rope. He does a funny little dance and proudly displays his hobo stick and then prances next to me as I skip around the circle. I listen to the crowd oohing and aahing as we take three turns around the ring and then step into the shadows to the roaring sound of applause.
As my eyes adjust to the darkness, I look toward the tent flap and see my family standing there. “Mommy!” I shout as I run to her. “Did you see?”
“Yes, I saw,” she says with tears in her eyes as she gathers me in her arms.
“I’m sorry!” I feel something brushing against the tears on my face and realize that it’s my new friend. “Mommy, I’d like you to meet Hirem.”