Last week I wrote about my extended family’s yearly gathering and our tradition of spending one evening in a “Pass, Pray, or Share” session.
During this year’s session I shared with my extended family my memory of the time I ran away—sort of—with my friend David, more than 45 years ago. I had spent the night with David one summer evening in 1969, I think. We would have been eight and nine years old, respectively. For various reasons, we felt oppressed by our siblings, our parents, and our lives in general. So the following morning we woke up before the others and decided to explore, independently and without permission, certain parts of West Lafayette, Indiana. In the late morning, we crossed the William Henry Harrison bridge spanning the Wabash River, and got lost for a while in some of the sketchier parts of Lafayette, IN. It was at this point in the story that last week’s column concluded and where I pick up now.
“What happened then?” Abby asked.
“Well, Abby, as you can see I didn’t die.”
“But—and I know you’ll find this difficult to believe—what we did later was even dumber than the decision to run away in the first place, dumber than crossing the bridge over the Wabash, and dumber than getting lost in downtown Lafayette.”
“Really?? What’d you do??”
“Well, we were getting really hungry and tired and were becoming almost desperate when I recognized some of the buildings and houses on Union Street from all the times we used that road to go to church. We turned west, found the bridge, walked across, arrived at the intersection of Fowler and Salisbury Streets in West Lafayette, and turned right to take the lengthy walk back to David’s house. By the time we finally got there it was early evening—probably 7:00 or 8:00, and we had been gone for at least 12 hours. My parents’ car AND a police car were parked outside David’s house. We both knew we were entering a world of hurt we had never known before, so we sneaked into the basement of the house through the open garage as quietly as we could. We were terrified. We could hear our moms’ muffled sobbing upstairs and our dads’ muffled cursing. I remember we had this debate about what was going to happen to us. David thought our moms would trump our dads and we’d be welcomed with tears and open arms. I knew better, though, and told him we were either going to jail or our fathers were going to inflict some sort of unspeakable punishment. ‘I’m hoping for jail,’ I told him.”
Abby was spellbound. “Ohmygosh, ohmygosh, ohmygosh! Did this actually happen? What did you do next?!”
“We realized we had to go upstairs and face whatever music was coming our way, but first we argued about what we should tell everybody. David wanted to just tell the truth—that we had run away and gotten lost—but I thought that was certain suicide so I convinced him we should come up with some plausible story, something that might excuse our lengthy absence.”
“An excuse for being gone for 12 hours?!? I can’t wait to hear this,” Abby offered, sensing correctly that the whopper I concocted was going to be comically ridiculous.
“Oh, Lord,” I began, wincing and laughing at the same time. I remembered how convinced I was that my ludicrous tale had a snowball’s chance in hell of being believed. I persuaded David to go along with it and we headed upstairs where we were met in the living room by four parents and two of West Lafayette’s finest men in blue.
I continued, “Our moms rushed to us and hugged us. The cops held back and observed. Our dads gritted their teeth and stared lightning bolts at us. Finally dad asked, ‘TIMOTHY. WE. HAVE. BEEN. FRANTIC. FOR. OVER. TEN. HOURS. WHERE. HAVE. YOU. BEEN??!’”
“So I told him perhaps the most galactically stupid lie I’ve ever told, and as you all know that’s really saying something. ‘Dad,’ I began, ‘I’m really sorry. We didn’t even know you were looking for us or anything. See, David and I were really sleepy from staying up all night and after having breakfast we went in the closet down in the basement there [I pointed for dramatic effect], and…well…we fell asleep. We’ve been there the whole time. We, ummm, just now woke up.’ I hesitated to gauge whether the adults were buying my especially absurd brand of snake oil. ‘Sorry,’ I concluded.”
Abby could not contain herself. “You’re kidding. THAT’S what you came up with?! That you fell asleep together in a closet for 12 hours!? And you ended with ‘sorry!’ Are you serious!?” She laughed like a hyena under the influence of nitrous oxide. “Oh, man, you are SO toast. What then?”
“Well, as I remember it, the two policemen took some notes, asked us some questions, shook our parents’ hands and cracked a joke about not wanting to hear anything from dispatch about child abuse—ha ha—occurring at our respective homes over the next day or two.”
The next day Abby, the ever inquisitive adolescent, probed a little further. “So, dad, about your runaway story. I gotta know. Did the moms win, did the dads win, or did you go to jail??”
“Well, Abby,” I replied. “Let’s put it this way: The moms didn’t win. And I don’t have a rap sheet.”
Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.