It was a flowered suitcase. More of a valise, actually. The elasticized sections on the zippered top measured into thirds and partially hidden inside the silky fabric, starting from the left, were three pairs of panties; rolled, a light blue flannel nightgown handed down from my sister: well worn around the seams, and my faded Mr. Bubble T-shirt which I owned because of meticulous cutting and saving labels and box tops for what seemed like eons but what in fact was probably more like an entire month the previous year.
The large area of the case, normally reserved for clothing for the savvy traveler who appreciates a fresh change of clothes while abroad, in this situation was full of notebooks and drawing pads, pens and pencils, reading books such as Grimm’s Fairy Tales and the H, B and I encyclopedias. H for the Human Form with clear plastic pages that with every turn inevitably created the back part of a man or woman, complete with bones, muscles, veins, organs and a flaccid penis or halved uterus, respectively. B and I for the wonderful illustrations of butterflies and insects. The final items rounding out the contents were a Holly Hobbie doll, practically new, and a pair of plastic pants to go over my panties, sewn by my own mother in my own size in an attempt to cut down on not only the laundry but the smell. Sadly, I don’t think it would have saved me from the humiliation of wearing them in front of friends. They crinkled.
The year was 1977. I was six and incredibly upset. As I lugged the suitcase up from the basement, the injustice of the situation did not escape me. Not only did I have to run away, I had to also carry my own luggage. And all of this because my mom did not think I was old enough to sleep over.
I was a bed wetter. Oh, the humiliation. With each bump-step, bump-step, I became increasing sure that I was in the right and that my mother was in the wrong. Should I be locked in a cage simply because I could not hold my urine? bump-step Should I be forced to stay home when every other girl in my class would be spending glorious evenings together playing Barbies and Smurf Family all over town? bump-step Was it fair to ask me to be the only girl that hadn’t played Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board late at night while giggling and secretly being completely freaked out? The mystique surrounding that game was luscious, sparkly and completely opaque to my eyes. I would never find out if the ghosts were real if my mom would not let me sleep over using my plastic pants.
And now on the landing, I looked for my olive green, corduroy jacket with the ripped right pocket from the time I tried to jam both gloves in at the same time. Those small, darling topstitched pockets were more ‘Pockets’ than pockets and unfortunately, were not made for a glove set. There was really only room for my chapstick and one tiny vial of perfume no bigger than a pen lid, scent: green apple, my favorite, which now resided only on the left, near my heart.
There was one dollar and sixty-three cents from my bank in my back pocket. Along with over ten dollars I had stolen from my sister’s room. This being an emergency, and since she would never see me again, I suspected it would be fine.
I gave the entry hall one last look, a tear rolling down my cheek as the seriousness of what I was about to do settled in my heart. Oh, my dear, dear parents. They would miss me, yes. And they would understand that they had wronged me. There I would be, living in a hovel, a gutter, dirt smeared on my face. The tears began falling in earnest now, my suitcase heavy in my hands. I would eat leaves and scraps from trashcans. The neighbors would refer to me as that sad, dirty girl that had no parents that loved her.
With a heavy sigh, I opened the front door and plunged into the early evening air. Tears on my face, snot dripping, but oh, so brave! I marched down the sidewalk just as my mom drove home from her errands. Well, fine! Good! I was glad she would see me. She’d soon be sorry for treating me like such a baby.
From the corner of my eye, I saw her form get out of the car, open the hatch and remove a brown bag of groceries just as I reached the street. The neighbor, also exiting his vehicle, asked me, ‘Where ya off to, now? With your bag? And it’s about to rain?’ which, apparently, was more questions than I knew what to do with. I stopped in my tracks, teetering on the edge of our property between Home and Out There. I looked at the neighbor. I looked back at my mom. She yelled, ‘Leah! Get the bag with the Rice Crispies cereal in it!’
My decision was swift and based mostly on hunger. I grabbed the cereal bag and dropped my suitcase at the door. But I kept my sister’s ten dollars.