I grew up in rural Ohio and yet somehow never developed the typical girlhood obsession with horses. I was devoted to whales. My wall was covered in posters of all the different species and I would struggle to pronounce the scientific names of my favorites: the magical, secret names all lower-case and italicized. At night, in landlocked Middle America, I listened to recordings of humpback whale song in an attempt to learn their language while I slept. I was ten years old.
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During my waking hours, I retreated more and more into books about fantasy lands and alternate universes in an attempt to forget about my increasingly disturbing home life. My mother, who passed away in 1997, was a very troubled woman who was just starting to come apart at the seams at this time. She would routinely scream at all of us with little or no provocation and would also accuse me in particular of loving my father more than her. When she wasn’t raging or crying, she withdrew entirely behind closed and barricaded doors or snuck cigarettes in the back yard. My father was bewildered and I was increasingly left to care for and entertain my three younger brothers.
In 1993 the movie “Free Willy” was released, and I was lucky enough to grow up near one of the last working drive-in theaters in America. My parents agreed that it’d be a fun outing to take the whole family to see it, even though it was pretty much just a special treat for me, the whale-lover. On the day of the movie trip, my dad was getting all of us ready to go and we were all very excited. All of a sudden, my mother had a migraine and didn’t feel well. My father asked if she wanted us to wait and see the movie another day, so that she could go with us, and my mother insisted we go on without her.
That movie was magic on a drive-in screen. Pure magic.
When we got home, however, as soon as my father’s hand touched the door, I knew something was wrong. The living room looked like a summer tornado has touched down within its walls. The five foot tall bookcases had been pushed over onto the floor, with books and knick-knacks scattered everywhere. Furniture was overturned and video cassettes from the movie cabinet had been pulled out and thrown. My mother emerged from the darkness of the kitchen, howling, and my father shouted at us to go to our rooms and not take our shoes off until we got there; broken glass and ceramic shards peppered the carpet.
From my room, I heard her screaming at him that he was trying to take her children away from her, emotionally. She sobbed that she had wanted to go with us, that it was supposed to be special, and my heart broke. I heard a struggle, and the sounds of her trying to hit him as he pleaded with her, begged her to stop. I don’t remember anything else from that night.
So, I decided to run away. Now, I was a smart kid, and I’d seen all the “running away” episodes of my favorite shows and cartoons, so I knew the drill. Those kids always got caught, and I knew that there were dark, mysterious dangers out in the world that I was not yet smart enough or strong enough to avoid or conquer. Also, I had no money and I lived in the middle of bumfuck nowhere. But I was a devotee of Narnia, and knew that the portal to the alternate world didn’t open up unless you were in mortal peril or desperate need. Well, I was in desperate need.
So I decided that the best, most logical move would be to run away to under my bed and wait for Narnia to come and get me. I would hide out between the springs and the floor until my family forgot about me, maybe slipping out at night to sneak some food, and I would just wait for whatever universe happened by to pull me in. It was a foolproof plan, and I started gathering my supplies and prized possessions for the journey. I arranged them under my bed, leaving just enough room for me to lay perfectly straight and still, holding my beloved stuffed rabbit, Soft Bunny. I was like an Egyptian mummy in my tomb, surrounded by all the things I would need in my new life on the other side.
I knew that my family would worry about me, and even though I was angry with them, I sat down to write my goodbye note:
“I’m sorry I have to leave, but I can’t live in a place where I’m scared all the time of my brothers and parents. So I’m running away. I know this doesn’t work but I don’t care! Don’t worry I have water, food, and clothes, radio, tapes, and jewelry, brush, pencil, and my pen, microscope, and hairbands, and Soft Bunny. Your loving daughter, Mandy”
I thought that they would take reassurance in the fact that I was so smart and well-stocked. But then, as I contemplated my plan, I realized there was a rather large flaw in my logic: the plan depended on my going unnoticed under the bed until Narnia came and got me. Now, my parents were both rather overweight individuals, and my bed was simply a mattress on a spring frame, and as I thought about them sitting on my bed as they read my note, I became terrified of being crushed and revealing myself.
So I took out my green marker and wrote at the top of my goodbye letter: “DON’T SIT ON BED!” Crisis: averted. I also examined my food stores and added the addendum: “Put breakfast on floor or on bed!”
I placed the note on top of my bed, scooted underneath into my spot, held Soft Bunny to my chest, and waited.
Finally, I heard the sound of my father’s footsteps coming down the hall. I clutched Soft Bunny tighter; this was the Moment of Truth. I heard him enter my room and I saw his bare feet approach my bed. He picked up the note and I held my breath, straining to listen with every fiber in my body.
In the next moment, there was a dramatic “woosh!” like a great wind, and my eyes were suddenly blinded by a bright, white light. A deep, commanding voice issued out of the light, and it said:
“Get out from under there!”
My father was holding my mattress up with one hand and was staring at me, and my carefully constructed storehouse, through the springs of my bed frame. I was deeply baffled as to how he had known where to find me, and saddened that Narnia, apparently, had not been privvy to the memo.
So I scooted out from under the bed, and my father and I talked about what I was feeling, and life went on. And life got worse. And years later, when I was a grown woman visiting from New York City, he and I were looking through old photos and memory box trinkets and he showed me my goodbye note. He had kept it all these years, he said, so that he could remember how bad things got during that time.
I don’t seem to have any trouble remembering.
Originally posted to my Live Journal for LJ Idol.
Lit.org Blog: http://amandakcampbell.lit.org/wordpress/