Sunday, May 22, 2022

Not Even Not Zen 256: Biomythography - Note 28, Running Away

Biomythography - Note 28
Running Away from Home

There was a knock on the apartment door. When I looked up from where I was playing on the floor, I saw four pairs of feet at the outside entrance. Two belonged to my parents and one to a man with white socks, another to a woman with white shoes.

"Come in, come in," said my father.

These memories are fragmentary. My father said something like that. There were other words spoken. My awareness was not great. By my collection of remembered clues including the location, the clothes, and the smells, I was a bit more than two years old. I saw the world from a position low to the floor, looking up. Except for my mother's face, I don't remember or didn't notice any adult faces.

Nevertheless, two adults came in. They left the apartment door ajar. My parents invited them to sit on the chairs and couch. The grown-ups talked. They ignored me. The visiting couple had an infant with them. Something about the situation made me feel insecure. I wanted to touch my parents.

"Go play," my father said when I tried to interrupt. He turned me around and pushed me back towards a few square feet of rug with a wooden doll, a pile of spelling blocks, and a toy truck.

After a while, I gave up trying to get their attention. I wandered to the closet next to the kitchen. I unwound the vacuum cleaner cord. Although I wasn't big enough to move the body of the machine, I knew how to plug it in and play with the suction hose.

My father dashed into the kitchen and pulled the plug after a few seconds. I had just started having fun making the hose pull on my shirt. He swatted the attachment from my hand.

"You can’t do that now," he said. "It’s too loud."

In our apartment living room, the baby started to cry. The strange woman, a new mother, decided to solve the problem by breast-feeding.

That looked good to me. I marched into the living room and climbed onto my mother's lap. From the arm of the chair, I tried to squeeze into a position to breast-feed.

“No, we are done with that.” My mother pushed me away. She and my father told me again to play.

The adults talked more. And kept on talking. I don't know how long it took. All the little frustrations made me look for someplace else to be. When I wandered in the direction of the kitchen at the front of the apartment, my father reminded me not to play with the vacuum. For a while, I danced in a circle. I noticed the hard metal front door, which was not quite closed. With one hand, then both, I pushed on it. The door swung open. A breath of warm city air washed over me. Freedom.

Carefully, I stepped out onto the concrete landing. Noises from the street filtered up the stairwell. Traffic. Children yelling. Everything sounded big. Too grand for me. Even the quiet footsteps of an adult leaving the building echoed in the wide space full of hard surfaces, metal and stone.

Scared, I backed into the apartment. The adults laughed. A moment later, I heard my name. More laughter. I remembered that I was mad at my parents. I marched back out to the landing.

There, I sat on the top stair. I thought about leaving my parents for good. They wouldn't let me play with the vacuum. They liked the new baby. Everything was frustrating. And I was bored here.

My hand rose up to the lower half-railing, the part that kept kids like me from falling. Using it to steady myself, I took a step down. Another step. "Only little kids go down the stairs on their bottoms," I remembered an older kid telling me. And I always went down on my bottom. Or held my mother's hand. But I was running away. I had to be bigger. I had to stride down the stairs by myself.

A half-flight of stairs took me to the next landing. My arms and hips felt slow. I had to rest. Each stair was too big for my body. I didn't think I was going to make it standing up. But I couldn't bear to go back. Since no one was looking, I decided to slide on my bottom the rest of the way.

Three flights. Good thing I had a cloth diaper underneath my pants or the stairs would have hurt more. At the ground level, I rose to my feet. The bright sunlight lay ahead. Our first floor apartment door had been propped open. With one hand against the doorframe, I emerged onto my home street in Bitburg, Germany.

Cars rolled by. A child on a bicycle. I hid behind a streetlamp until the unsteady bike swerved past. I glanced down the lane where it had gone. A moment later, I followed it.

At a stoplight, I tried to cross. A lady across the street looked sternly at me, so I stopped and waited. When she started to walk, I did, too. I passed her going the opposite way. A few feet later, I took a big step up onto the sidewalk. Still mad, I kept plodding onward but now I felt tired and puzzled. Nothing looked familiar. Farther down the bright concrete path, I saw a couple walk out to their car, a man in a dark suit and a lady in a lighter color. The lady flashed me a puzzled expression.

I kept looking for my friends. Nothing seemed right. There was no one I knew.

At the next light, I stepped off the street but I waited. No one could go onto the black asphalt without the walk signal. I nodded to myself.

When finally I crossed, I climbed onto the opposite curb and my hands clutched the pole of the crossing signal. I needed a break. My body wanted me to sit down. My hips and knees were cramping. But there was no chair, not even a flat square of grass in view. Then I thought about the laughter at my expense. A wave of anger swept through me. I staggered farther down the sidewalk.

The surge of energy wore off in about twenty steps. My mouth needed water. My belly wanted food. My legs cried for a rest. Finally, I spotted children sitting out on a front stoop. They weren't doing anything but somehow they were busy. There were toys littered around them, unused. An older girl, the ringleader, sat on the top step while two younger girls listened to her. A boy, maybe someone's younger brother, shifted in place as if he'd rather be anywhere else.

"Juice," I reached out my hand for the older girl's glass bottle.

"Where are you from?" she asked. She made no move to give me anything. The other girls turned to gawk at me.

"Juice, please?" My hand waved around in her direction.

"You're pretty small. I haven't seen you before." She dodged my hand. She protected her drink, removed the cap, and took a swig. Then she smiled. Her teeth were crooked.

"Please? Bitte? Bitte schon?"

"Polite baby." She rolled her eyes. She took another drink, which very nearly finished the juice. She left a half-inch of spittle-filled dregs remaining. "Okay, you can have the last. No one is going to want it after you."

"Hey, I wanted some," the boy said.

"He's a baby. And he's more polite than you." She handed me the glass bottle. I grabbed it with both sets of stubby fingers, leaned, and chugged. "Where are you from, baby?"

"Ah." I finished, burped, and tossed the bottle back to get more. There wasn't any. The sweetness of apple juice haunted my mouth. I could smell it.

"You really are little." The girl started to frown. "Where's your momma?"

"Danke schon." I tried to hand the bottle back.

"Do you speak English?"


"Where's your momma?" She motioned for one of her friends to take the empty bottle from me. Then she stood to search the street with her gaze. "Is she around? Did you run away from your momma?"

I nodded. I had run away. It was wonderful to be understood. The big girl started to wander from the front of her apartment. One of the smaller girls followed. The younger two, the boy and a girl, sat on the second step of the staircase. I noticed something behind them, a red fruit with a bite taken out. Someone had left it by the rail.

"Apple." I pointed.

"It's mushy." The big girl returned to the front of her tenement. She leaned down, face to face with me. "I tried it. So did my brother."

"Apple, please?"

"Don't say I didn't warn you. Here." She marched to a spot beside the steps. With her left hand, she grabbed the apple. She moved to the front of the steps and held it out for me to take a bite.

Maybe she was thinking that it would be easier for me than if I tried to hold it in my grubby mitts. It was harder because she was holding it. The apple moved when I tried to chomp down. I had to grab her hand in mine and the apple, too. Finally, I dug my teeth in hard. But the apple flesh tasted sour, almost rotten.

"Hah!" One of the girls laughed at the expression I made.

"See?" said the oldest one. "Even babies don't like mushy apples."

Now I was angry at the girls and at the apple. I grabbed her hand and took another bite. Another. But it was too much. Too sour. Too brown. Too acidic in my mouth. I had to stop. I chewed what was left between my teeth like a furious, hungry monster, indignant snake in the garden, resentful because the fruit wasn't nice.

"Are you mad?"

I nodded.

"Did you really run away from your momma?" She studied my face carefully. "You can't do that. You're little. You can't be gone. Your momma is going to be worried."

I stared at her without concern. My parents had laughed at me.

"We have to get you back."

My eyes surveyed the buildings and cars around me. I felt momentarily lost. What direction had I come from? My knees hurt. Although the steps were close by, they had other kids on them already. I decided to sit down where I was on the sidewalk.

"Did he come from that way?" The girl turned to her friends. They nodded and pointed. "Yeah."

"He can't have walked far," the boy said. He gave me a scornful glance. "He's a baby."

"Right." She put her hands on her hips. "You guys stay here. If you leave, you'll get in trouble."

"What are you going to do?"

"Hold his hand." Her big girl fingers stretched out to me. They looked thin and smudged with dirt. "Okay, baby. Can you find your way home? If I walk you there, can you find where you left your momma?"

After a moment of thought, I nodded. I knew what my building looked like. Since I hadn't taken her hand, the girl pulled it away from me and stuck it out again. This time I reached up to her. I let her pull me to my feet even though I didn't need help.

For a block or so, we marched on. She made us take a crosswalk going the wrong direction. Fortunately, from that corner I could see my building. I recognized it from my many arrivals at the end of car rides. I tugged on her hand and led her on towards it. She kept pausing to glance back at her front stoop. The distance made her nervous. She had to make sure her mother hadn't come out looking for her.

Finally, we crossed one street and then turned immediately left across another to reach my apartment building. The front door was still open. The big girl stopped to look inside. She did not step past the threshold.

"You climbed all these stairs?" she murmured.


"Do you mean yes?" She leaned down to me, a hand on her hip.


"I'm not allowed to go into other buildings on my own," she announced.

Oh. I didn't want to let go of her hand. I'd gotten comfortable with her. Unfortunately, she seemed certain about not going in.

"I shouldn't leave you. But your momma will understand. If I stay any longer, I'm going to get in trouble."

She shook her arm once. I didn't let go. She gave me a meaningful look. I'd never had a big sister but her expression let me know something about what it would have been like. There wasn't any doubt about her intentions. I let my fingers slip away.

"Go ahead," she told me. With her left arm, she waved me forward.

After a few waddling steps, I turned to stare at her. She insisted that I had to keep moving. I took a deep breath and finished my march to the stairs. I put my right hand on the metal bannister. Tired but resigned to the effort, I climbed the first step on my feet like a big boy.

Behind me, I heard the girl leave. There was barely a sound, just a shuffle and a hop. Those were not adult footfalls. I trudged up another step. Another. My gaze drifted down to my shoes. I noticed that the concrete stairs were dusty here near the ground floor landing. My shoes were dusty, too. The air around me swirled, a mix of the outdoors and the indoors, mostly fresh but a little stuffy.

Partway through the flight of steps, I gave up. My body felt like it needed a nap. I turned, put my left hand onto the metal bar, and eased myself into a seated position.

A few minutes later, I heard someone above me. The sounds, muffled and indistinct, echoed in the stairwell. I couldn't tell what made them. It wasn't shoes. Maybe it was another kid coming down on his butt. The shuffling sounds continued. In a few minutes, a pair of slippers rounded the corner above me. I lifted my gaze and saw my mother.

She stopped for a moment and let out a sigh.

"Here you are," she said. She moved down to the middle of the staircase and bent to take me by the arms. "Where did you think you were going?"


A few other memories I have from the ages of two or three:

I met a grey-haired woman on a plane flight. I think my mother was flying me back to stay with my grandmother in Annapolis. The flight was nearly empty, though, with lots of vacant seats around us. A stranger wanted to play with me. My mother was happy with the situation and so was I.

I made several escapes from my crib. I learned to press the release on one side, then crawl over to trigger the release on the other. Every time, the crib gate slammed down. Once, it slammed down on my arms. I wailed so loudly that my mother came rushing in. She said, "There, there," followed almost immediately by, "Would you please stay in bed and try to sleep?"

My first day of nursery school on the army base was a difficult one. The entry hall was brick. The floor was beige tiles. I didn't want to go. When I realized my mother was trying to leave me, I threw at my her leg and wouldn't let go. When she pried me loose, I wailed harder and threw myself on the floor.

"Go ahead," said the lady in charge. "Don't worry. We'll take care of him."

As soon as my mother was gone, the woman grabbed me, fast marched to a different room, and tossed me angrily into one of the cribs. There were a half-dozen of them. For a while, I cried because I was alone. Then I cried because I was getting treated like a baby. Then I remembered that I knew how to escape from cribs.

The latches were different than my crib in the apartment but I figured them out. After I made my escape - carefully avoiding the slam of the gate - I wandered down the hall. The mean lady was reading a book to a room full of toddlers. They looked about my age. I stood next to the doorframe, hidden, and listened to Richard Scary as told by a different voice than my mother's. It was strange. It wasn't all bad. But after a while, I thought the lady was reading it wrong. I stepped into the room.

Suddenly, all eyes were on me. The kids didn't worry me. The teacher, yes. She seemed sly. She wasn't surprised by my entrance. She simply said, "Are you ready to play nicely now?"

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