Stories

Simon & Garfunkel Never Wrote a Song About This

When I was five years old, Santa brought me a canopy bed for Christmas. After a few minutes of awe, my mood turned suspicious. “There’s no way that thing came down our chimney.”

At nine, I knew I had no future in ballet regardless of practice. “The statistical odds of me ever making it far exceed my ambition. This whole exercise is futile.”

At eleven, I felt an overwhelming sense of ennui that even a bowl full of Lucky Charms and a cartoon marathon couldn’t fix. “Animated stories are just a distraction for the emptiness we all feel inside.”

Looking back, I can see I wasn’t a kid who was easily satisfied, nor pacified. Basically, I was a 20-year-old college student trapped inside the body of a child — I felt misunderstood and ready to argue.

I can’t say with hundred percent certainty why I acted so contradictory or cynical, but I can say I really wanted to be an adult. Maybe I figured that’s what it took to be one. Adults — while irrational and sometimes autocratic — had two things no kid I knew possessed: freedom and respect.

In my quest to grow up, I skipped right over juvenile fiction at the library. Instead, I checked out books full of grown up words and logic I didn’t quite understand. Somewhere, in one of those books, I’d read something that stuck with me: The hero’s journey begins with a single step.

So on a sunny, but cold, early spring afternoon, after my mother and I got into an argument — about something I can’t remember but assume was probably her asking me to clean my room — I made my move. I was going to take my first step as a hero. I was going to run away.

Everything was going according to plan. I’d packed, made a dramatic exit, and now all I needed to do was catch the next Greyhound bus out of town.

I grabbed the only suitcase we owned — an American Tourister we’d gotten at a yard sale for $3. It was powder blue with one broken clasp. My father had negotiated it down from $5. I popped open the working latch and ran my fingers along the ruffled interior pockets. “So this is what elegance feels like.” Then I walked over to my drawer, opened it, and started packing.

Having watched soap operas on sick days from school, I knew I needed to throw my clothes into the suitcase with passion.

From there, my runaway plan closely mirrored a plot to a 1980s teen movie. I’d catch a bus out of town and inevitably find myself in California. I’d join a group of rough, but ultimately lovable, teens. Sure, life wouldn’t always be easy, and Johnny would end up stabbing someone, but we’d have each other.

With my bag packed, I announced my departure. “I’m leaving and I’m never coming back! You won’t have Jenny to boss around anymore.” I slammed the door shut behind me and smiled. Nailed it.

Everything was going according to plan. I’d packed, made a dramatic exit, and now all I needed to do was catch the next Greyhound bus out of town.

That’s when three things came to me. First, I had forgotten my coat and it was really quite cold outside. Obviously, there was no way I was going back in to get it. I wasn’t a soft little girl. I could take the chill. Plus, I was sure there’d be heat on the bus.

The second thing proved to be a bigger hurdle. There was no bus station in town. We had cows, and cornfields, and people who lived in houses who never opened up their curtains. We weren’t a travel destination. We weren’t even a place people would pass through on their way to somewhere else.

We had cows, and cornfields, and people who lived in houses who never opened up their curtains. We weren’t a travel destination. We weren’t even a place people would pass through on their way to somewhere else.

Third, I was completely broke. I didn’t have a single dollar towards a ticket.

But still, I wasn’t turning back. It wasn’t so much that I was a stubborn, willful child. It was that I had principles. Or, maybe, okay, yeah I was a stubborn, willful child. But it wasn’t my fault; stubbornness was in my genes. It went back generations.

One time my grandfather came for a visit. My mom had cooked a meal that I didn’t like the looks of. My grandfather told me that I couldn’t leave the table until I ate everything on my plate. I told him I was never going to eat everything on my plate. He said I wasn’t going to be dismissed from the table until I did.

My mom had told me that when she was a kid and one of the kids did something my grandfather didn’t like, he’d line up all eight of them in a row. Then he’d go down the row and give each one a thwap. He wasn’t about to change his mind based on a good explanation like, “I wasn’t even home when that happened.”

But I wasn’t going to let the old man out-stubborn me. No, sir. I sat underneath the table in protest, and maybe a little out of fear, for nearly an hour until my mother said in a voice I didn’t quite understand, “Dad, I think that’s enough.”

Now, instead of sitting defiantly under a table, I was standing defiantly on the other side of a door I’d just slammed. I couldn’t just walk right back through it. I had a point to make, so I walked into the back yard and sat in a clearing under the forsythia bushes. Normally, it was one of my favorite places but at the moment the sunny yellow flowers were softening my commitment to my anger. So, I moved to the old stone bench further out in the yard. The harsh coldness better suited my mood.

I sat uncomfortably and thought about the unfairness of life. The cold started seeping through my clothes. I sat on my hands for insulation.

I looked back at the house. No one was coming. Tears started at the corners of my eyes. I pulled my hands out from underneath me and wiped at my watery eyes. They did not show this part in the movies.

I laid the suitcase on its side and sat on it. It buckled under my weight letting out a loud pop as it did. Petals from the star magnolia tree above me rained down. I looked up.

The magnolia was my favorite tree in the yard. It was the first thing to bloom each spring. One of the chinks in my adult armor was allowing myself to marvel at the magic trick the tree performed each year — large white flowers exploded from bare branches. My favorite part was when the tree released all its sweet smelling flower petals. I loved when they fell. It reminded me of snow.

I looked back at the house and saw my bedroom window. I could see the tree from it. Then I remembered it was warm in my bedroom. And I had a TV in there.

My stomach rumbled.

I’d also forgotten to pack snacks.

Were things really so bad? Sure I didn’t love everything, but there was enough I did love. I loved my mom’s stories about her childhood. They always made me laugh. Like the time she hid between two cars because her underpants fell down in the middle of Main Street. Or the time my grandma burst through the bathroom door, ax in hand, to attack a snake in the bathtub.

My mom packed Little Debbie snacks in my lunch. Oatmeal Cream Pies, to be exact. And she encouraged me in all of my creative expressions, even shuttling me to and from expensive ballet classes. Plus, she’d let me curl up next to her on nights I had nightmares, which, was a lot of nights. And on days when I wasn’t feeling well, which was a lot of days, she’d make me Chunky beef stew served over rice and let me watch Days of Our Lives. It was my favorite.

Even though I was hurtling towards adulthood, now that I really faced it, I realized that maybe I wasn’t quite ready for it.

I hugged my knees in close for one last bit of warmth. Then, I stood up as the suitcase lid popped back into place, and took my first step towards home.