I had one of those annoyingly cheerful childhoods, for the most part. We weren’t particularly poor or rich, and my brother and I were allowed to wallow in our imaginations as much as we liked. We were fed and clothed and had a lot of toys, with efforts at giving us a spiritual background that were just half-assed enough for us to shrug them off. I’m not saying my childhood was perfect—there was, I think, a normal portion of trauma, body horror, and emotional ruination (my people are Catholic, after all). But in general I had a great time building immensely complicated things with Legos, playing Pac Man, and eating elbow macaroni in meat sauce, a dish my Mother called Slumgolian.
So, being generally a very happy child up until the usual age when happiness becomes impossible (around 12), I naturally had to try and manufacture my own drama. Why should all the children of divorce get all the sympathy?
Attempt One: Hiding
Children are as a class of citizen pretty convinced that they are taken for granted. We figure out early on that we were brought into this world (purchased, most likely, probably from a catalog called TINY SERVANTS) solely to perform chores and other grunt work for our lazy parents. What about our needs? Those televisions aren’t going to watch themselves, after all.
So at some point every single child in the universe hatches a simple plan: I will disappear, and when my parents realize I am missing there will be much sadness and tearing of clothing and regret. Or possibly a revelation that they aren’t human at all, but rather disgusting slitherbeasts from another dimension, which would explain a lot.
So, feeling unappreciated one day, I hid.
My master plan was not very masterful. I hid in my parents’ bedroom closet, for one, and they could probably hear my pudgy breathing in there. For two, I brought no provisions or entertainments. This made the hour or so I crouched in there seem much longer than it actually was, which in turn made the lack of reaction from the house more alarming and infuriating. I mean, I was missing. What the fuck were my parents doing?
Of course what they were doing was being completely unaware of my absence. I eventually gave up and sulked back into society, most probably because I needed a snack.
Attempt Two: The Runaway
Some times after the closet debacle, I hit on an improvement to my plan to inspire my parents to, you know, regret treating me like I was some sort of insufferable little prick of a child. I would run away, which had the extra dimension of actual absence I thought would push this plan over the top. I would go on an adventure, and when the police brought me home a few days later my parents would have learned a serious lesson.
Looking back, it’s obvious that lesson would have been send this kid to military school immediately, but at the time I had high hopes for a later bedtime and a higher cookie ration. Yes, my childhood was terrible.
Anyways, I walked out of the house to embark on my bold plan, then realized something I’d failed to take into consideration: I was not allowed to cross the streets alone. In order to officially run away, I would have to actually cross the street. The only time I’d crossed the streets was when playing stickball with the older kids in the neighborhood, who prized me for my speed (hard to believe in my current state of dotage, but true in 1979), and I always dreaded hitting a double and being stuck on second base, in full view of my back door, where Mom could emerge at any time to call me home for some reason.
The difference was, sitting on second waiting to be batted in was a temporary scenario. Running away was a commitment to disobedience I was, ironically, unprepared to make. Which didn’t stop me from running away. It just meant I ran around the block.
I don’t quite remember how long I remained out there, suffering, without food or shelter. Possibly an hour. Possibly and hour and a half. What became clear to me was that if I was going to elicit the dumbfounded sorrow of my parents over their treatment of their youngest son, I was going to have to find a new approach. One that kept me in potato chips, video games, and socks fresh from the dryer.
Looking back, it’s easy to see how my lifelong dislike of things like effort and planning have shaped my entire life. But things are easier today, of course, because if I’d had Facebook back in The Day, I could have simply informed everyone that I’d run away, and achieved everything I wanted without leaving my room. Truly, we are living in the future.