Reposted from his blog, Australian-born storyboard artist James "Jamie" Baker gives an unflinchingly honest and personal memoir of the day he ran away from home. When you're done reading, call Mom.
At age eleven, I had not yet acquired the maturity expected of a child, but already owned all the moodiness of a teenager. I was prone to statements like “It’s not fair!” or “You just don’t understand!” or “I wish I were never born!” and other such melodrama. While often silly, these churnings of my mind were not mellow-drama from my point of view… it was all intense drama to me.
I can no longer remember what caused the argument with my mother that particular day. Whatever the cause, it caught fire when I swore horribly, using a cuss word I didn’t fully understand then, but burns me with shame to remember now. The word launched from my lips, flew across the room and struck her. The pained expression it marked on her face made me briefly but keenly aware that I’d crossed a terrible line between she and I. Rather than apologize on the spot, the momentum of my juvenile petulance flounced me not just across that terrible line, but also out of the house altogether.
I couldn’t believe it myself - I was running away from home.
Of course, I was really running away from what I had just done, but if that realization came to me at the time, it was quickly trammeled underfoot by self-righteousness. I immediately re-cast myself in the role of a bold outlaw, on the run from injustice in a world that didn’t understand him. YEAH. Muttering grimly to myself, as I often did at that age, I stomped off to the far side of my tiny hometown to unfamiliar neighborhoods where I would not be pursued. Though it seemed to me the forces of oppression (i.e. Mum) would round up a posse and try to hunt me down immediately, this was not so. My mother had other children, including an infant to watch over, and my father was at work.
Now that I was finally FREE, I had no idea of where, actually, to go. After considering my options, I headed towards my friend Stephen’s house. Halfway there, I thought better of it. Perhaps, even then, I realized I would appear absurd to anyone else, including a child of my own age.
I angrily kicked stones along the road, frustrated that the pockets of my shorts were empty of anything useful to a fugitive (not even a pocket knife) and my flimsy T-shirt would be useless after sundown. Even summer evenings can be cool in my hometown, up in the mountains. It would have been superb to have prepared an escape package in advance; a bag of money, clothes and food stashed somewhere in the garden, to be snatched up with a dramatic flourish as the parting shot of a most-marvelous exit. That is what I should have done. My lack of forethought and stage-craft was an annoying pebble in the boot of my defiance - although I wasn’t actually wearing boots, I was wearing flip-flops, another source of regret for the great outlaw that day.
As afternoon turned to evening, my thoughts turned to home. I wondered how the family was dealing with my absence. "I bet they miss me now that I am gone." A picture formed in my mind’s eye - my mother slumped, distraught, at the dining table in a kitchen bustling with police and ambulance men offering comfort to the rest of my family, heartbroken by the ME-shaped hole in their world. This vision of their pain was very moving, so much so it moved my legs back toward my own neighborhood. My compassion was merely a glove puppet manipulated by ego, fascinated by the vision of a family hollow with the loss of ME. Or, it was a hollow stomach walking my body toward dinner. Whatever was driving my machinery, I furtively made my way through the darkening streets toward home, entered the vacant paddock behind our house, quietly jumped over the fence into our back yard and stealthily crept up to the house to peer inside.
I have a vivid memory of my family as seen from the kitchen window, though I am not sure if that is actually possible - that particular window would have been too high for me to peer into at that age. So either:
(A) I saw the kitchen from the bottom of the backyard where it was possible to see into the room, though from a distance.
(B) I pushed something up to the window to stand on, to get the closer view as I remember.
(C) I actually saw my family through the much lower window of the TV room.
(D) What follows is actually the memory of an entirely mental picture; inspired by the sounds I heard coming from within as I crouched in the dark outside.
Whatever the case may be, the memory is not of the touching, Pre-Raphaelite oil painting of abject misery I had imagined and scurried home to see. Instead, it is the picture of a family happily eating their dinner, exchanging stories from their day's events and laughing at one-another’s jokes. No one seemed disturbed that one member of the family was absent. Tempted as I may have been by the sight of all that tasty chow, the affront was too much to bear. Away I stomped once again, into the gloom. My wounded prince performance was pitch-perfect, spoiled only by the fact that nobody saw it, apart from a stray cat.
I skulked in the shadows at the bottom of the garden while my wounded ego and rumbling tummy battled for the decision of what to what to do next. Surely my family must eventually become worried by my absence… surely they will come to understand I am serious and not kidding around. While evening became night, I watched the house intently, scanning for any sign of a search party. Where were the Policemen? The ambulance men? Where was the visual-sweep of the yard by a concerned relative? I would have settled for even a perfunctory bored glance out a window.
I could hear the theme music to various TV shows, one after another as the night wore on, accompanied by the raucous laughter of a telly-watching family sitting comfortably inside, while I hungrily shivered with cold and quivered with rage in the bushes outside. I resolved to wait until everyone was asleep, then sneak inside, grab a few things (the bundle I had ruefully imagined earlier) and then depart, never to return ever again EVER - for real this time.
Behind our house was an empty lot used as playing fields by the primary school across the road. I went to hide from the cackling mockery of my family and wait until they chortled themselves to sleep - choking as they did so, hopefully. I lay in the grass and looked up at the stars. My hometown is high on a plateau, and the view of the night sky is even clearer there than most places - it is really something to see. My thoughts were every bit as dark as the sky above but nowhere near as beautiful. "They’ll be sorry when I am gone."
Despite having a noisy stomach and a whiny ego as my companions that night, I felt utterly alone. My dog Jock, tiny comrade since early childhood, had been put to sleep the year before. I was alone with just my thoughts, stewing in the brine of my own mind.
I checked on the house. Some lights were still on but the house itself was absolutely silent. I made my move. It was around midnight, when I finally re-entered the lair of my oppressors (Allowing for the time-dilation effects of childhood memories - not to mention childhood hunger - I now suspect it was much earlier.). I intended to quickly grab supplies and head out, to make good on my thus far poorly executed escape.
There was no hint of remorse for my earlier brutishness toward my mother. None, that is, until I saw her sitting alone quietly in the kitchen waiting for me. I have no idea if my mother had planned to be there alone when I came home. Clearly the other children were in bed and my father may have gone to bed too. So the final showdown was just she and I, in the exact same saloon where the whole shooting match had begun - the family kitchen.
If she’d had a stern expression, I could have kept up my persecuted outlaw performance, but my mother’s wide-open face and compassionate eyes made that impossible. She gave me nothing at all to fight. I was overcome with emotion. During the thrashing emotional battle inside of me, the ego-fog was blown away, revealing what I must have known all along: I had wronged her and not the other way around. I burst into tears at this realization, apologizing profusely for what I had done. I was absolutely mauled by my shame. Pounded by guilt. But more than that, I was overwhelmed by gratitude - I saw with great clarity that she was so much better than I.
She welcomed me into her arms and I knew then that all was forgiven -which made my tears flow even more freely. She had me sit down at the table and attempt to compose myself as she prepared some food - my dinner had been kept warm in the oven all along. She had not forgotten me. This provoked another blubbering wave of emotion. I wolfed the food down through wracking sobs of tears, in that way only children can do. She watched me eat. Mum stroked my hair and gave me silent comfort in that way only mothers can do.
TO READ MORE OF JAMES' MEMOIRS, SEE:
"Aussie & Harriet" from FLIP #1
"Jock" from FLIP #4
"Hot Chocolate in the Tenderloin" from FLIP #14
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