Once upon a time I ran away to live in the woods. I was caught. I was brought back home where I was watched closely, until I wasn’t, and then I ran away again. This continued for quite some time.
My grandma said that it started when I was six, and that I came up to her and said, “Grandma, did you know you can live in the woods and get what you need there, and you never need to go to a grocery store, ever?”
Well, that’s when I started talking about the woods anyway. I started being the little escape artist way before that. Once when I was visiting Grandma they caught me in her neighbor’s back yard playing with their poodles at 3 am.
Those poor people hadn’t met me yet, so they had no idea where I came from. I told them I didn’t know where my dad lived, and my Mom lived in another state. I had climbed out my window, pushed my tricycle up to the six-foot fence and stood on it to reach the latch. From that point on, padlocks and bars on the window kept me indoors at night, until I was old enough to figure out how to move through the house silently.
I couldn’t figure out where I came up with the knowledge you could live off the woods entirely though, we thought maybe something I saw on a cartoon. I didn’t read Jean Craighead George’s My Side of the Mountain until I was around nine (man, that set my “live in the woods” desire aflame), so it was hard to pin down.
Recently though, I remembered that my Mom and I once had a major miscommunication. You need to understand that my mom is an avid talker, and hates to be interrupted. She also has a bit of an old school “children should be seen and not heard” streak going on that made it difficult for 6-year-old me to communicate with her, she was intimidating.
So, when she caught me out of bed at 3 am cleaning the windows and she asked me what I was doing, I told her I wanted to be a brownie. I didn’t correct her when she thought I wanted to be a junior girl scout.
You see, I had heard that the household fairies get milk and cookies left out for them in exchange for doing chores while the rest of the house slept, and I thought it would be cool to be a helpful little version of Santa Claus. I think the Saturday morning cartoon “The Littles” (based off of a book I remember reading very young) had some influence on this. I was always looking through the house and garden for little people. I had no desire to be a girl scout though.
Poor Mom blew some money on a uniform and handbook, happy that she was giving me something she thought I wanted very badly. I don’t remember clearly, but she may have tried to become a troop leader. I tried to be enthusiastic, but we stopped going after a couple of troop meetings. I remember she kind of resented that she wasted some money, but I don’t remember if I told her what it was I really wanted.
It’s a shame that I didn’t stick with it, because I think it was the Brownie handbook that ended up shaping my excitement about nature and the dream of living in the woods. Or, maybe someone I talked to at a meeting. I’m not sure. But I think those couple of weekends ended up being some of the most influential events of my life, because that’s the age when I started talking about the woods.
There’s a kind of tension between Mom and I sometimes, I’m sure you can tell from above. We’ve gone through some rough patches. As I said, she’s intimidating. Now that I’m all grown up though, the strangest thing has happened. I can stand up to her now. Confused the fuck out of her when it started happening, but I’m pretty sure that she knows to take me seriously now.
Know what that means? I can stand up to anyone. Well, almost. I’m not stupid and picking fights or anything, but there are a large amount of people who mistake my laid-back attitude for that of a doormat, until they get to know me a little better. If I hadn’t practiced on Mom, I probably would be a doormat.
My relationship with her has led to something else too. I am not seriously attached to the material aspects of life. Simple suits me just fine.
She was so mad at me for the Brownie thing, because she spent so much money and she was convinced that I would be into it. I think she was looking forward to bonding with me, but that’s not what she talked about. She talked about the money. How much money she spent on stuff that I didn’t want, and she blamed me for it.
I was in so much trouble, but all I really wanted was to feel safe to speak my mind. I understood she was trying to bond, but then she made me feel bad over money.
Mom is not a happy person, I think. But she works very hard so that she has money for nice things. A lot of nice things. I grew up with a maid and went to private schools, for a little while. I had the nicest, softest stuffed animals to hold and comfort me, but my mother wouldn’t.
She was working too hard to be able to afford the stuffed animals, nice schools, two-hundred-dollar hair-cuts, and a bunch of other things she stores in carefully labeled boxes that she pays expensive storage fees for, and only touches once ever ten years or so. I on the other hand, have found sources of happiness and comfort in being grateful for what I have, and I see rough times as a form of adventure, making me capable of enjoying very simple things that have nothing to do with money.
Mabey I did become a brownie. Happily delighting in a modest domestic environment, content to reward myself with simple pleasures like an occasional cookie and a quiet book.
P.S. I’ve already told Joe I’m with him to steal his last name.