Six Year Old Runaway
There is a story my father loves to tell when given the opportunity--every opportunity. It’s a story about me when I was probably six. Now I’m not sure if this is fact or fiction but he tells it every chance he gets. My father begins every version of this somewhat tall tale with the same opening line, “Eva was a six year old runaway...”. Attention grabbing, but not entirely true.
When I was maybe six, I got this fantastic idea inside my little preschool head I had to see the world. My whole short life I’d heard my parents talk about their yearning for travel and new places, if only they’d had the money to actually do it. Their deep love rubbed off on my impressionable young mind and I decided that I wanted to see the world too. I packed my little sesame street backpack with what I thought I would need: my favorite stuffed bear, a Barbie, plastic toy food and a half full water bottle, my father knows this because I had told my parents the whole plan the night before at dinner. I was going to see the world on my own, when asked how I would obtain food and lodging with no money, I replied “No one can say no to this face.” A line said to me quite often as a toddler by relatives and friends. My parents thought their little runaway was so adorable that they asked for details as to where I would head first. Being an honest only child, I told them and they made a plan of their own. They called my favorite restaurant, warned the owner of what was happening and paid for my dinner. They called my friend Laura’s mom, to let her know I would stay the night. Knowing me and my fears, my parents knew I’d be home before bedtime.
When I left the next afternoon, my mother claimed to be heading for the store at the same time, but really, she drove behind me as I walked slowly downtown to the pizza parlor; wind blowing my unruly dark brown hair as I skipped happily the whole way. She sat in the back of the restaurant, hidden behind a menu and watched me experience the world on my own like she knew I needed too. I ate my pizza, grabbed my backpack and walked back to our neighborhood, landing on my friend Laura’s doorstep. My mother covertly following in her station wagon. She watched as I bound up Laura’s front steps and knocked. She saw me explain to Laura’s mom that I needed a place to sleep for the night, then as Mrs. Potter let me inside, gave a smile and wave to my mother sitting out front in the car. My mother then went home to wait for my call, knowing I was safe in my experiment.
Just after 8 o’clock that night my mother answered my call. I apologized for running away and crying, begged her to come get me. She did and the next morning the three of us sat down around the breakfast table and my father promised we’d see the world together, a little piece at a time. That promise was enough and I never ran away again. My father held to his promise, once a year we took a vacation and saw another little piece of the world. By the time I was sixteen, I’d been to three countries and thirteen different cities in neighboring states.
My nomadic curiosity continued to grow just as I did. As a teenager I made a list of the places I still wanted to see and after I got my first job busing tables at the local Olive Garden, I began saving money so that I could go see the places I needed to see.
My parents never once tried to talk me out of my plans. They had known from a very young age that this was me. I was a traveler, it’s what I needed out of life; new things and new places. I loved my parents for this. They knew this part of my character so well that when we sat down to talk about my plans after graduation, they were not surprised to hear that college wasn’t on my mind at all; real world study was my plan. I wasn’t sure how, but of this I was certain, I needed to travel like I needed to breathe. My parents promised they would help me figure it all out.
I didn’t have many friends growing up. People tended to think I was a little strange, especially after my father’s six year old runaway story got out. I was called a hippie in middle school, I guess they thought it was hurtful, but I enjoyed the label. Luckily though, by high school the whole bohemian style was ‘in’ so my hippie-esque sensibilities and nomadic desires were welcomed with open arms. My one constant friend, whom I’d grown up with, whose mother aided in my runaway attempt at six, was Laura. She and I were complete opposites: she was a blonde hair, blue eyed, type A, whereas I was a dark brunette, green eyed, type B—but we clicked. She stood up for me when no one else would. She understood the vagrant in me. Laura wanted to travel as well, though her urge to do so was more subdued. She would wait until after college, but visiting her in Boston at Northeastern University was on my list. Yes, she was “that” girl, pre-law with dreams of working at a pro-bono firm. She wanted a good education so she could help those who could barely afford rent, let alone a good lawyer. Laura was good, better than me. She was selfless whereas I was selfish in my dreams. She would argue different, but I was. Fulfilling my dreams of travel was selfish compared to her wanting to help people. Laura always tells me that following my dreams is never selfish, it’s brave. Not many people have the guts to actually chase their dreams. I guess this is true, but it still feels as if she is on a different level than me in the dream factory; not all dreams are created equal. Still, Laura was my best friend, one of the only ones. It was pretty much just Laura and I, until I met Blue.
When I first met Blue, it was on my 19 birthday. Blue was handsome, warm and inviting, when I first met him he took my breath away and he’s been my constant companion ever since. He was a birthday gift from my father. In the card he attached to the vintage 1962 Shasta Airflyte recreational trailer, he wrote, “Eva, I promised you I would help you figure out how to achieve your dream. Now you can wander off exploring into the wildest blue yonder.” I have kept that note inside the trailer ever since. That was Blue; he was my new home.
Blue was everything you loved in a retro style. Round edges, chrome detail, checkerboard floors and powder blue cabinets and counters. My mother had sewn cute little white valances for each window, detailed with a cherry on each one for that little pop of red. My smile was so big when I first saw the inside of the trailer; it felt like home immediately. The trailer’s outside was white, blue and had a stripe of silver chrome to separate the two. Blue was a dream come true, all the way down to the license plate which was customized to read: BLUE. The name was fitting seeing as how his insides matched his outside. Blue was my first love and though he’d had many loves before me; ours was bound to be the biggest love of all.
Now when I say first love, I mean my first reciprocated love. I loved Blue and he loved me back. Oliver Riley was my first… I guess we’ll call it, infatuation. In high school he was the good looking athlete who plays the persona of the dumb jock but really he has a 4.0 gpa and in his valedictorian speech at graduation reveals he wants to go to art school for graphic design, turning him into the geeky athletic man of your fantasies. I can pretty much guarantee you he has no idea who I even am, despite my efforts in school to get him to notice. I apologize for sounding lovesick, but hey, I’m a human woman, we are entitled to our fancies.
To be completely honest though, I didn’t really try that hard to get Oliver’s attention--or any guy’s attention really. I had a one track mind that lead me wandering straight down the nearest highway. I wasn’t about to let a man tie me down. From my view, romantic relationships looked like six foot impenetrable gate around my dreams. Laura says I just hadn’t found the right person to prove me wrong. But until I find a man whose dreams match mine and doesn’t mind me sitting behind the wheel a good percentage of the time, I won’t be tempted.
“But how are you going to find this ‘perfect’ man, if you don’t even look?” Laura asks me pointedly; to which I jokingly reply.
“Who says I’m not looking?”
The day I left on my journey, we had a party. My parents invited all our relatives who lived close by, Laura and her family and a couple of family friends who wanted to say their goodbyes. I wore a new dress and my peach Chuck Taylor’s. For my parents, this day seemed a little bittersweet; my mother soaked the shoulder of my new dress as she hugged me crying for the fifteenth time that morning. My father kept reminding me of things, even though he’d been gnawing my ear off trying to teach me about the trailer. How to back up the trailer, how to hook up the water and the septic, and then how to empty the septic--basically everything about Blue from turning on the stove to hooking him to the back of my hand me down Dodge truck. All through the party he kept coming up to me asking various trivia about the inner workings of the trailer, but I didn’t really mind so much. It was the only way he could still protect me, but I still assured him again and again that I had it all down. I even went so far as to download an owner’s manual onto my phone and subscribe to AAA roadside assistance as a backup.
My mother’s tears as well as Blue’s freezer packed to the brim with pre-made dinners was her way of coping. When my mother was emotionally overwhelmed she cooked and she baked. I’m sure if I looked in the house freezer, it was bound to be full too. I loved this about my mother; I have great memories of cooking with her--baking Christmas cookies, making Thanksgiving dinner, and just a normal nightly family dinner together. I would miss that about being at home; our family dinners. Like clockwork every night between five and six o’clock no matter how hectic everyone’s day was, we always came together every night around the dinner table. As that thought hit me, I felt for a moment that my journey might be lonely and that I was really going to miss everyone, but that feeling came and went quickly, as excitement was my primary emotion.
The party was winding down about two o’clock and I needed to hit the road by three if I was to reach the Columbia River by dark. There was a little RV park there that I could spend the night in before heading for my first real destination: Boise, Idaho.
Even though I grew up only a 10-hour drive away, I’d never been to Boise. Everyone we knew said it was a wonderful place to be in the summer: hot, busy but not too busy, scenic and it had a gorgeous river that ran right through downtown. There was a college there, so I could do some tutoring on the side. I did my research and found a KOA park right near downtown. It sounded like the perfect place to start.