On running away

When I was, oh, 9 or 10, I tried to help my younger sister run away from home.

I remember helping her pack her bag. I remember, too, encouraging her and asking lots of questions about her plans.

I didn’t do this because I wanted to get rid of her. I did this because I wanted to run away from home. I don’t mean the real, deadly serious sort of running away from a troubled household–I mean the idealized younger-kid version: put a few treasred possessions into a bandana, tie it onto the end of a stick, and go. I’d wanted to run away that way for years. But I never had, because I couldn’t figure out how.

“You just go,” my sister told me years later. “You don’t think about it.” A friend who actually did run away around age three–taking some Oreos and her favorite Breyer horse and riding Big Wheels to the end of the block (but no further, because she wasn’t allowed to cross the street)–says the same.

But it never occurred to me to just go. I needed to know where to go. I had to run away to somewhere, right? Especially, I wanted to know where I would sleep. (Food, I figured, was less of a problem; I could just pack it and take with me.)

I figured maybe my sister had somehow worked these things worked out, or would work them out, since she was the one making real plans. I figured I’d watch her, and if she could actually pull this running away thing off, I’d go, too. If not, nothing lost–not by me, anyway.

In the end, she didn’t actually run away that day. Maybe packing took too long, and we got distracted by dinner or something. Maybe my enthusiasm and natural suspicion of anything her older sister badly wanted her to do made her uneasy–it wouldn’t have been the first time. She did run away later, without my help, a whole two blocks to the schoolyard–and stayed away a whole hour, and found that no one had noticed she was gone–but that’s another story. Since I couldn’t get my sister to run away for me, I just stayed home, and got on with my life, and grew up. Probably within a few months I was over the whole wanting to run awa thing anyway.

Until I applied to college. My two top choice schools were the farthest from home–the only two not in the northeastern United States–and I went to one of them. After graduating, I headed farther from home still, and never really looked back. I loved the west; I wanted to live there; I wanted to build a life there. I might well have done it on my own–but through a bit of wondrous good luck, I fell in love with someone who wanted to do the same.

My childhood self was right, though I can’t imagine how she knew: it doesn’t work to just run away. You have to be going somewhere. You have to run toward things, and not just away from them.

But when it’s time, you just have to go. You can’t get anyone else to do your running away for you.

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