Continued from Previous Post:
So anyway, I managed to survive my first attempt at emancipation relatively unscathed. I’m sure there was punishment of some kind, since there was always an intricate system of checks and balances in my childhood, especially when Dad was around. Any time you stepped out of line, regardless of the severity of the actual violation or the degree of covert stealth, you were gonna get your ass whipped, at the very least.
But I don’t recall the specific retribution for my aborted freedom flight. It had to have been something, but it must not have been very creative or interesting and the memory is long gone. What does stick in my mind, however, was the shocking realization that I did not, in fact, know everything there was to know, such as how to successfully flee the county when you are only six years old.
This was devastating to my previous perception of my place in society, as well as my overall world view of how things worked. I clearly had missed a memo or two somewhere. It was time for me to hit the books and revisit my exit strategy before formalizing my next field operation.
This took a couple of years. Granted, there were other things of great interest that kept me distracted at the time, so I wasn’t completely focused on my intention to realign Western civilization. After all, I had to learn how to ride that stupid bike that almost killed me later in life. (Expect additional blog posts.) There was the intriguing discovery that one could give dimes to a man driving a noisy truck and you would be rewarded with fancy popsicles.
And there was the little girl who lived across the street. She was also on a learning curve about the world, developing her budding personality by engaging in activities she found pleasing in some way. One of these hobbies involved her running up and down the sidewalk in front of her house, wearing nothing but panties and a smile.
I found this quite fascinating. She seemed to be having so much fun doing it, laughing and skipping, that I was slightly jealous as well. But not jealous enough to actually join her, or at least I don’t think I did. I vaguely recall an underwear incident of my own around the time, but the details are sketchy and I’m not sure if Little Miss Frilly Panties was involved or not. (This is the type of research topic you only surface with your parents after everyone has had a nice shot of tequila, because the whole thing could backfire in a ricochet of shame.)
Anyway, the liberated lass across the street is one of my first memories of a true “free spirit”. She was certainly very much ahead of her time. This was years before the act of streaking became something of a national pastime, with people baring all during social gatherings, usually in support of murky but progressive political agendas. I just thought she was really neat. I had no idea if the sudden disposal of her clothing meant she had joined the National Organization for Women, or if she had no intention of giving up her last name when she married.
At some point, I was no longer allowed to play with her anymore, so the assumption is that something untoward took place, something that changed the adult commentary from “Isn’t she cute!” to “Do NOT go across the street or I will bust your ass!” Perhaps Frilly just fell into the wrong crowd, maybe some older girls who would skateboard topless and did not intend to shave their armpits when they reached puberty.
I don’t know. And then another something transpired which rendered the fate of Frilly, as well as that whole neighborhood (the scene of my first attempt to appear on the back of a milk carton), a moot point.
We moved. Packed everything up in the house and headed from urban Tulsa to beyond-suburban Broken Arrow. Way out in the country where paved roads were considered somewhat uppity. There were certainly no sidewalks for hippies-in-training to cavort upon whilst wearing nothing but a bandana made out of hemp.
And it was at this second house where things transpired to remind me that I apparently dreamed of a life on the road. Me and you and a dog named Boo, travelin and a livin off the land. All that mess. (Funny how I can remember the lyrics to 40-year-old songs yet I have no idea where the key is for the shed in the backyard.)
But just like my first burst of anarchy, wherein something motivated me to run past vicious poodles while clutching a tiny suitcase, I really don’t remember what prompted me to flee. I’m sure I had my reasons. Children don’t spurn the family nest without some irksome motivator. Why trade a life of relative security and free food for a transient existence living in boxes under a freeway overpass? Something was in my craw, I just don’t know what it was.
But I do remember the day of my departure. I was either 8 or 9 at the time. Keep that in mind as you continue with this tawdry tale.
I came home from school, filled to the brim with whatever angst was driving my decisions, fully intent on my mission. My little sister was off doing some boring thing that little sisters do. In fact, she may have even been in daycare, not quite old enough to begin her reign of terror with employees in the public education system.
All I know is that she wasn’t there at the moment, which was fine by me. She’d always been a little shifty since she tried to steal my place as next in line for the throne, back when I made my first break on Sixth Street. It didn’t matter that she was only three years old at the time. Her tender age did not excuse her actions, and I don’t forget things.
Anyway, alone in the house, I marched into my parents’ bedroom in search of a pen and paper. (See, right there is probably one of my points of dissatisfaction at the time. I apparently didn’t have implements of communication in my own room. Who knows what other madness was going on in that house. Clearly, I was justified in my rebellion.)
So I approached the desk on one wall of my parents’ private chambers. It was a very nice desk, solid wood and all that, very tasteful. (Even then I was a budding gay boy who appreciated the finer things in life. It’s just in the blood, know what I’m sayin?) I whipped out a sheet of paper, grabbed a ball-point pen, and proceeded to scratch out my Declaration of Intolerance.
Who knows what I scribbled. I’m sure I listed all of my grievances, with annotations and footnotes, and I possibly even attached a full appendix with multiple references to precedent-setting court cases of yore. (Did I mention that I was an absurdly over-achieving child, intently focused on the cryptic bylaws of proper English? Sadly, there’s been a lot of alcohol consumption since those heightened days of scholastic glory, and I can no longer identify a dangling participle when I see one. The luster is gone.)
Anyway, at the tail end of my diatribe against the inhumanity of it all, I remember signing my name with extremely-anguished force, cutting through the thin sheet of paper and actually etching my name into the surface of the exquisite desk. Sort of like those romantic knife-carvings you see on trees, where “Bill hearts Debi”, but without any devotional love and certainly without any intention of sanctifying a relationship.
But I did pause when I peeled the paper off the desk, and realized that I had somehow managed to create an impromptu memorial to my displeasure with current circumstances. Hmm. Oh well, no need to worry. Despite my measurable gay shame at having desecrated a piece of heirloom furniture that might cause an issue in future probate proceedings, I was headed out on the midnight train to Georgia. Or at least some destination that was not Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, where the oppressive winds did not come sweeping down the bigoted plain.
I then raced back to my own room, gathered up the necessary possessions for my hopefully extended and final trip abroad, threw them in a satchel of some kind, and prepared to Exit Stage Left. I proceeded to the back of the house, choosing to depart via the sliding glass doors onto our patio, waving a final farewell to all that I knew. (No one returned the wave, because there was no one there to see me pursue my dreams, a rather apt symbol of how I felt about my entire life. Sylvia Plath had nothing on me.)
Once outside, I glanced around me for a bit, sighing, somewhat wistful but trying to strengthen my resolve. Where should I go? Would it be the Amazon? A bohemian enclave in Paris? Perhaps the Valhalla destination for little boys who were completely misunderstood for their love of show tunes and ruined finery, the mecca known as San Francisco, where everyone was free and Rice-a-Roni was born. (Even at the age of 8, I knew that I had to travel great distances to be with my people.) But instead of pursuing any of these marvelous pathways, I instead marched about ten paces to the left, then I squatted down and hurled myself into the overly-large doghouse that was the legal residence of the current family pet, a basset hound.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I had made my great escape by not even leaving the actual homestead property, choosing instead to share rent and utilities with a salivating mutt that was dumber than a rock.
It was not one of my finer decision-making moments.
In any case, let’s just say that I missed the boat on this one, and there I was, crouched in a canine domicile, already losing sensation in my legs, because doghouses were not designed to accommodate errant children on poorly-planned freedom quests. But I was still fully convinced that my inept actions would somehow inspire my parents to dispense with what I perceived to be heinous acts of utter outrage. Surely, in their anguish, they would toss aside the shackles and promise me complete and total freedom for years to come.
Well. Do you know what it’s like to be curled up in a doghouse, waiting for your parents to come home and un-enslave you? It’s not pretty. And it’s certainly boring. I was most assuredly over it when Dudley, the simple but sweet basset hound, unleashed his fifteenth cascade of slobber directly into my contorted face. To be fair, Dudley just wanted to show his love and appreciation for me stopping by for afternoon tea. Continuing the fairness, I sincerely yearned for a wet-vac to whisk away his liquid affections before I started to grow mold. It was not a pleasant time.
Yet I persevered. My sanity was in question, but then again, that has always been the case.
Eventually, Mom arrived home from work. I heard the car pull in the driveway, and I jerked awake. As Mom exited the car, I could tell that she was talking to my little sister, so she had apparently picked her up from daycare, or wherever it is that they keep younger siblings who covet the title of next-in-line with blatant ambition. I patiently waited, giving Mom time to mosey through the house, become concerned that I wasn’t responding to her calls, and then discover my letter of angst and displeasure.
Next thing I knew, Mom and sister were back out in the driveway, piling into the car and heading off for parts unknown. What was this? Where could they be going? Were they already over my departure, off to go shopping for something interesting to put in my vacated but still warm room?
I shoved Dudley the dog to the side, which was a bit of a challenge since we had the same body weight. (Basset hounds are some seriously heavy animals, in case you didn’t know.) I cautiously eased myself out of the doghouse, checking in all directions in case there were renegade-child law enforcement officers hanging about, ready to pounce and brand me with some form of scarlet letter.
The coast was clear.
So then I scoured the surrounding neighborhood. As noted, we were out in the country, where the homes had some seriously-large lots. It was still a subdivision, but everybody had at least an acre to claim. Which meant that my sightlines were essentially clear and I could easily track the progress of Mom in her search mobile.
She was going from house to house, inquiring if anyone had seen me.
Oh no. It’s one thing to send up a red flag that you’re really not happy. It’s quite another thing to realize that the sending might be causing somebody else pain. Especially your mother. I was a very bad child for doing something so irresponsible and inconsiderate. No wonder they didn’t allow me to have my own pen and paper.
I crawled back into the doghouse. Dudley crawled back in with me. Since he was my only friend at that specific point in time, I asked him if I was doing the right thing. And he just looked at me with the unquestioning love that dogs have. Well, his slobbery expression said, I don’t even have indoor plumbing and I’M happy. Why aren’t YOU?
And I couldn’t answer that. I didn’t even know HOW to answer that. I just… wasn’t.
A bit later, I heard Mom pull back into the drive. She and little sister clamored out of the car, preparing to do nothing more than head back in the house. Then just before they entered the garage and the subsequent inner door, I heard Mom ask my sister to go check the doghouse.
I bristled. Holy cow. She’d figured it out, even though she didn’t even quite realize it. But this is what Mom’s do, yes?
My sister, not really impressed with her current assignment, took her slow-ass time wandering toward my hiding place. She eventually got there, with me having nowhere to run, peered in, and then squealed at Mom, hoping that she would win some type of prize.
Mom made a sound that stayed with me for a very long time.
I looked at faithful Dudley, with his confused but devoted face. “I’ve got to go, boy. I’ll bring you a treat. Thanks for the tea.”
Then I crawled out of one doghouse and into another.
(Originally published in “Memory Remix” on 02/10/10. Revised and updated with extra flair for this post.)
Categories: My Life