by Thea Atkinson
I wanted to run away once.
Not because my childhood was so horrible I felt I needed to escape. Well, I did have 3 brothers who tormented the living snot out of me, but that’s not the reason.
I wanted to run away because my best friend had decided to. I remember thinking how brave that decision was and I envied her, her courage. In fact, I remember envying a lot of things about her: she got awesome bendable leg Barbie dolls for Christmas while mine were plastic, hard edged ones that spread-eagled when I tried to sit them down. She had a minibike–my dad couldn’t afford to buy me a pedal bike. She had a big fisherman father’s shed to play in with coils of rope as high as you stood.
You don’t need to tell me now that I envied her for all the wrong reasons–especially in light of the fact that my home was such an amazing place for a child to grow up that I bring my daughter there every week just to connect with all of her cousins and aunts and uncles. We’re close, my family. But I digress.
I envied this friend also because even at our tender ages she was a great writer. She even won a radio contest with her essay. She had something, some spark that just made her writing electric.
Still, with all that stuff in her favour, she wanted to run away. The best I could do as her BFF (a term not used back in the day) was to help her.
We spent weeks (probably days, actually) sweeping off some old linoleum covered floor that was the only remnant of a shed on the back of her father’s property. We dug up fern roots that we’d learned were edible in science class if you peeled all the black stuff off. They tasted like popcorn or nuts when we tried them out, and we stored them in baggies to keep them clean when we stuffed them under the floorboards.
With everything ready, she declared the date: our mutual birthday. Mid summer. She should be able to have good weather till she got where she was going.
The last bit was a bit fuzzy. All she knew was she was going to sleep at the old floor overnight and take off in the morning and head out–somewhere.
I was afraid for her, but if anyone could do it, she could. I wasn’t sure why she wanted to leave–heck, it could be just the spirit of adventure–but I knew right then she would make it.
Come supper time of my birthday I hadn’t heard a word from her all day. I blew out my birthday cake candles and spared a thought for the slice I would have liked to offer her, but she was miles away by then. Gone.
I sat on my front step and stared at her house. I was poised to expect the phone to ring, for her mom to demand I tell her where she was, and I agonized over what I would say. I couldn’t tell the truth; I’d promised to keep the secret.
It was lonely sitting there. I remember that. That was the first time I realized I was never going to see her again. The first time I realized that I would never want to be away from my own family that way. Despite 3 boys that picked on me, they would also do worse to anyone else who dared do the same. My mom and dad gave me as many hugs and kisses as they could fit in a day.
I didn’t have things, but I had family.
And that was the most important thing.
I ached for her that she was leaving hers behind.
All this I mulled over as I stared across the road at her yellow house, the VHF aerial tower in her dad’s backyard, the paved driveway.
Then I saw her.
She was ambling down that drive and across the road, not looking up, not saying anything, just moving up to my spot on the step, sitting down next to me.
“What happened?” I asked, both terrified she’d gotten caught and thrilled to see her.
She shrugged. “Nothing.”
“Oh,” I said, not sure what else to say.
“The popcorn rotted.”
She said it by way of explanation, but there was something else trilling beneath the admission, something that had us both sitting silent.
We both sat there saying nothing after that, just stared out at her backyard where we’d had so much fun. Both of us thinking, no doubt, about all the things that as children we were beginning to realize: that family has a connection to us that runs deep into our cores.
And that there’s really no place like home .
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Olivia has her own secrets that both make her run away and pull her back home. Find out what they are in Secret Language of Crows. Still not sure if you’ll like it? Baxter Claire wrote a review for it on her blog.
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