I always wanted to leave. For as long as I can remember, I dreamed about living somewhere else. Home wasn’t an awful place to be. Inside were parents and siblings and toys and blankets and radios and televisions and food. I was not lacking for material things but I never felt satisfied. I wanted adventure, exploration. I wanted to know why and what else and how come. Add that personality with my father’s love for geography and well… I was just bound to runaway, wasn’t I?
The first time was accidental. An overstay. An experiment, just to see what it felt like. When I was in kindergarten and first grade, my sister Jeanne and I walked to school. It was less than a half a mile away from home, through our suburban neighborhood. One day, my friend Karen suggested I come to her house to play so I followed her home after school. When I think about the events of that day, I wonder if my then 11-year-old sister was worried she’d get in trouble for losing me. I think about the teachers, watching us two little girls leave together, saying they’d see us tomorrow. As my mother reminds me, back then, no one thought it strange for five and six year olds to walk themselves home or play down the street in the neighborhood. I certainly didn’t give these things a second thought. I went to Karen’s house, whose single mom was working full-time. We ate crackers and played for a few hours but when it became clear that her Mom was working late and there was no dinner in our future, I headed home.
I remember seeing the street lights starting to come on as I walked home. It was twilight but from a block away, I could make out that there was a police car in front of my home. I will never forget my first thought which was “Yay! My Daddy became a police officer!” I began walking faster and ran inside the house through the side door into the kitchen. There was my mother, with her head in her hands. And there was a police officer, who was not my father, scribbling something into a notebook. I’d like to say my mother threw her arms around me and said how happy she was to see me, how worried she was and that she was just glad that I was ok. But what I recall is that the police officer stood up, my Mom stopped crying and walked him out, she came back in and told me to go wash up, and then she started making dinner. And that was that.
At some point the following year, we had family friends visiting from Rhode Island. They had lived down the street from us for a while before they moved somewhere that sounded way cooler than Billerica. They were close to the ocean, is what I remember hearing. My Mom and Mrs. Quesnel were friends (still are) and Jeanne and I were around the same ages as her three – Danny, Ann Marie and Ray. I know now that being dragged to your parent’s friends houses can be the worst but at the time, I was so happy for the company. They were far more interesting to me now that they had moved away. And so, at the end of their visit, before their drive home, the kids and I devised a plan for me to stowaway in the back of their station wagon. Oh, it wasn’t as well-thought out as that but I remember the excitement and potential of escaping. I remember the feeling of blankets or jackets on top of me while I tried to stay quietly curled in a ball. I remember the feeling of the road passing underneath me, like when I used to fall asleep on the floor of the back seat. And at some point, I remember wondering if we’d get away with it. The Quesnel kids must have been checking on me to make sure I was either covered properly or able to breathe ok. Just enough odd behavior for their parents to ask what was going on. Then maybe a bunch of laughing, thinking how sneaky we had been. The car was turned around and I was deposited back in my driveway, where my parents hadn’t noticed I was gone. My Mom says I was always disappearing somewhere and that it wasn’t unusual for kids to be out and about. She also said “Every child has their moments. You had plenty.”
There were other efforts, here and there. I ran away once to Jenny Hebenstreit’s house at 14 but my will faded fast because it was winter, I wasn’t wearing shoes, and I’m not a total idiot. I suppose years later these became funny stories they told – The Time Chrissy Thought Bill Was A Police Officer or The Time Chrissy Stowed Away With The Quesnels. As a child, I was blissfully unaware of the fear and pain I put my parents through. With perspective, though, I think about the worry they must have felt – not so much in my running away. Let’s face it, I’m the last of five kids, half the time they probably didn’t know where I was. But the worry for my future, because I didn’t do things as expected or as they wanted. As difficult as it may be to accept your child for exactly who they are, it is scarier still to wonder if the world will accept them at all.
I was never going to have a traditional path in life. My father put this spirit in me – all those aimless Sunday drives, taking me to the airport to watch planes takeoff, and telling bedtime stories of camping and coming upon bears. Even when he was telling me to get down from climbing trees (and that a boy wouldn’t take me to prom if I was covered in sap,) he was always fueling my curiosity, to be away from home, to be free.