I was eleven and tired of being the middle child, the one who had to help my older brother with his chores after doing my own, the one who had to look after my younger sister and make sure she didn’t cry.
I decided to run away that summer because I felt no one ever noticed me unless someone needed to be blamed for something. If I ran away, I doubted anyone would even notice.
I stayed awake for several nights in a row to listen for Dad’s snores and my mother’s and grandmother’s deep breathing. It signaled they were fast asleep.
During the day, I counted the steps between my bed and the front door, and I practiced opening the lock with a minimum of noise. Since I would be running at night and the house would be dark, I tried doing it with my eyes closed. My grandmother scolded me for my pantomime, and my mom yelled at me to go outside and see about my sister.
I made a hobo pack out of an old scarf and hid it under my pillow every night when I went to bed. Inside was a full set of clothes, a flashlight, and a box of matches I stole from my grandmother’s smoking supplies. I tied up my life savings ($1.83) inside a handkerchief, and I took a map of Texas from the junk drawer in the kitchen. I had no idea where I was headed, but any place was better than here.
The night of my great escape, I took my bath and went to bed early. When my grandmother asked, I told her I was tired. Instead of pajamas, I wore a pair of shorts and a T-shirt and covered myself up to my chin with the bed sheet. I told my grandmother I was afraid of the mosquitoes. My tennis waited under the bed and my hobo pack was under my pillow.
All I had to do was wait for the cover of night.
Several hours later, I started out of bed when I heard my father snore, but my mother scolded him and their bed jiggled, and the house was silent again. I counted to one hundred, then quietly grabbed my things. I tiptoed into the hallway and on the tenth step, the floor squeaked.
“Who’s there?” My mother asked from her bedroom, her voice groggy from sleep.
I didn’t answer, so she asked again, but this time louder and more demanding.
“Me.” I whispered.
“What are you doing?” Her voice sounded more assured now that she knew it was me and not a burglar. If she got up, how would I explain the clothes and the hobo pack?
“I was going to the bathroom.” I answered.
“Well, go then,” she scolded, “and then get back into bed.”
I could hear snuffles and movement coming from the bedrooms. Others were waking because of our noise. Shoulders sagging, I marched into the bathroom and forced myself to pee, then I trudged back into my bedroom and into bed.
I thought about trying again at a later time, but the idea of it all had lost its drama. If Mom caught me a second time, she would have tortured the truth out of me then topped it off with a spanking. If I was really serious about running away, I could have just walked out the front door, right under their noses.
But I stayed. I stayed because in those few minutes as I tiptoed my way in the dark down the hall, I realized that if I succeeded, I would prove myself right – no one cared that I existed. I had been planning this in front of all my family for weeks and no one cared to ask what I was doing.
That night, I prayed someone would stop me, yell at me for trying such a thing, spank me for even thinking it.
Thank goodness, my mother came through.