c. 1949 What My Father Did the First Time I
Ran Away


a few months before he died
(blood clot to the heart)


(runaway notes by Richard Hell)







I remember two things about Pat Thompson, my first best friend. One includes the other buddy we ran away with. At recess in the schoolyard Pat put his arms around our shoulders for a conference and then banged our heads together and laughed. I was shocked he did that. The other is that when Pat moved away that year we exchanged mementos of each other and what I took was the heel of his shoe. I can still see it in my mind. It's dry and concave, and bent little skinny nails are poking up from it and his signature is on it in felt-tipped pen. I kept it for years. It's as good a thing to keep as the next. [In fact now I think of the signed first editions I collect. (I'd like to write a book like that shoe heel.)]
           This was 1958, and I was eight. Kentucky. The half-built suburb to which we'd moved the year before was still making do with a tiny old faraway converted farmhouse as a school for the children of the young couples who were filling the new houses encroaching upon [bumping up towards] it. It was musty and brown at the top of an overgrown hill and held three classrooms--one each for the first three grades. A shallow, wide mouthed cave opened into the side of the hill and the three of us were to meet there at midnight. All afternoon after school that day I tried to look natural as I gathered secret supplies from around the house. I was sneaking crackers and peanut butter and tools, etc., from out of cupboards and the ice box (people still used that word though it was an electric appliance) and carrying them back to the bedroom which I shared with my younger sister. I was going to wrap it all in a cloth which I'd tie to the end of a stick to carry over my shoulder.
           Always the damned parents have to become this thing you define yourself against (and they are made to suffer for it). They're either monsters of fake perfection or the most damaging freaks [impositions]. Almost as bad is when they are just embarrassing. When finally all of it's just so much this and that, so much clouds blowing across the sky, so much water under the bridge. Who are you going to be if you're not yourself? I would always just want to leave them behind [with all their assumptions]. I used to have a theory about families and the way you're supposed to love and be loyal to your own, no matter how much you might really think they're crazy or fools or just strangers. I figured that actually you're supposed to do that because they're idiots and strangers and the social standard [of the importance of being good to them] allows the world a quick check of your decency and compassion level. Society understands that if you can be nice to your family, you can be nice to anyone, and it's probably true.
           But I had no problems with my family when I was in the third grade. I just wanted to run away to parts unknown, where I could be an unknown too.
           I remember the extreme fun of the surreptitious gathering of the things I would carry. To already be that free. [Alive in the breaking of one law/rule, and they all become fragile: it's true, like marijuana leading to heroin.] It was thrilling and nerve wracking, my ears super-sensitized to any snap or rustle of motion from the furthest reaches of our little house [cottage], as I sneaked around, taking.
           Eventually it was close to bed time. My sister and I had to be brushing our teeth and getting into our pajamas. [What the hell kind of word is "pajama"? It's Hindi.] I couldn't find my damn pajamas. They belonged in the bureau drawer, but I couldn't find them anywhere. Then the whole household was helping me look, and just as I realized what'd happened my father calls out and he's found them along with the rest of my stash of provisions where I'd hidden it all beneath my pillow. I was nailed.
           It's bedtime but all the lights stay on. My pretty little sister is awed. My heart's in my throat and the critical drama splits open to view across my stricken fumbling and then I'm deeply resigned as it unfolds out.
           And now here is the strange part: his reaction. My father told me that at midnight he would drive me himself to the cave and that if my friends were there I could go with them. I was amazed then (he's great) and I still am now (but what is going on?).
           I don't remember how we got to midnight. It seems to me the lights stayed lit. Just before 12:00 we got in the mildewy front of the big old Kaiser car and he drove me the five minutes to the distant rendezvous site. He was friendly and [carefully, kindly] concerned. My confidence was a little reduced by his [performance], but I imagined the triumph of being left with my friends to figure our next move. They'd think what a great dad I had. We waited in the car with the lights turned off, and nothing happened and nothing happened; no one came. We waited until I couldn't complain that we'd left too soon and then we drove home.
           I don't remember anything else about what happened and the only one who remembers it at all is me.

[from Hot and Cold]

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