My first escape attempt was at a ridiculously young age. Some might argue that it shouldn’t classify as a willful effort to get away from my family, but I can attest that there was a definite awareness even then that I needed to get the hell out while I could. Of course I was not immediately successful and it would, unfortunately, take me a number of tries throughout my childhood and adolescence until I finally was.
It started with a literal push out the door from my stepfather. He and my mother were working opposite shifts, he at night and she during the day. Shortly after she would lipstick, bouffant, dress up, and leave for her secretarial position he would begin yawning. He then packed me up a bag of drinks and snacks to which I added my dolls and books. Advising me I better be a good girl or else, he put his little ginger duty and her bag out in the hallway of our apartment building, definitively turning the lock on the door.
I was left to a stagnant stillness and to a charming blend of chemical carpet smell and antiseptic that masked god knows what under it’s powerful aroma. Later I would come to recognize this as the nostril assaulting indicator that I was in an institution. Although the air conditioning must have constantly ran in what was the oppressive heat of the Southwest, the air in the hall always seemed thick and heavy. Windowless, the doors looked identical with the apartment numbers in gold cut-outs high above little peepholes.
Initially when I got bounced out, fear kept me riding the doorframe a bit while my lungs and nose adjusted to the new atmosphere and while my eyes adjusted to the darker lighting. As I got more comfortable, I took my doll and my books out of the bag. It wasn’t so scary once my made up friends, my baby, and I started living my real life. I guess redheads can be pretty easily amused–at least this redhead can anyway.
I was content with my invisible army of pals and my ever-present imagination fueled by my stash of picture books. I was lucky that my mother taught me to read when I was three. Skeptics thought I merely had a well-developed sense of mimicry (which I do) but I also was able to navigate skilfully through the wonderful world of words. On many occasions it seems like this particular passion has saved me from distress, disaster, and certainly many a wayward moment.
In this particular wayward moment, I eventually got tired of reading and playing with my dolls and invisible people. My body grew restless of sitting and I was sick to death of the stuffiness and the smell. I stood up to shake it all off. I put everything neatly in my bag in case my stepfather popped his head out the door. It wouldn’t do to get caught with a mess on the floor and to be acting up at the same time.
I had found at some point that if I spun around very quickly all I could see was chocolate milk as the dingy cream color of the walls blended with the dark brown doors and trim. So I found myself spinning senselessly in circles. Something about the sensation of disorientation and the feeling of exhilaration was wildly appealing to me. Later I spent years chasing that same feeling through intoxication with various substances.
I spun and spun like a helicopter leaf in the breeze. I spun until my stomach felt sick and I couldn’t see straight. I spun until I started to stumble and needed to reach for our door handle to steady myself and regain my balance.
Because I was disoriented and because I couldn’t see the apartment numbers anyway, it wasn’t my door knob I grabbed and the door knob that I did make contact with wasn’t locked. I went flying into a living room that wasn’t ours, quite surprising a man and woman sitting on their sofa. As I crashed into their coffee table I skidded to a halt, knocking over the cups in front of them, skinning my knees on their rug, and taking a good jolt to the chin. I burst into tears and tried to pick myself up to get out of there as quickly as possible. Because I had made such a colossal mess and because I hadn’t yet regained my equilibrium, rather than gather myself up and escape out the door, I fell backwards with a thump right on to my keister. I started bawling harder and the couple was quickly on their feet trying to help me to mine.
Supporting me to a seated position, they gave me some water which I was terrified to drink. I wouldn’t respond when they asked me my name until finally I said I couldn’t say because they were strangers. I backed away to their front door indicating I needed to leave immediately. I was completely freaked out because they insisted on walking me home to our apartment, basically sealing my fate in a most unpleasant way.
Sure enough, the look on my stepfather’s sleep-ridden face as he answered the banging on our door said it all. He was less than overjoyed to see this Welcome Wagon on the threshold–especially accompanied by that bothersome little redhead. He gave some lame excuse for the fact I had “got out” in the “other people” way he could manufacture when he had to.
He was displeased when the man seemed not to believe him. I saw him stifle his urge to go into f-bomb mode. He held off going full blown jerk on him, grabbed me, said thank you, and slammed the door in their concerned faces.
“Get to your room.”
I nodded and slunk away, as prepared as I could ever be to meet my fate. This time it was for daring to exercise a few moments of release in a long prison sentence of a day. Luckily gingers know how to make up for tough times and these sorts of incidents only served to fuel future freedom-filled escapades.