Back when I was a young high school kid I was aimlessly wandering around Borders on Queen Street looking for something to read. Although it was not that long ago, this was before the surge of decent young adult literature, so I was in limbo, too old for kid’s books, but too young for adult fiction. I had read all the books for younger readers, but was lost when it came to choosing an adult books; the stacks with so full, so vast.
And so I picked up a book with a cat on the front.
Called Kafka on the Shore.
By some Japanese writer I had never heard of.
I opened the first page.
It was a scene every teenager knew about. I had never ran away from home, but I had thought about it – not because I was unhappy or had any reason to, just because I wanted to know if I would survive, how long I would last, when would they start to miss me.
But this scene was not a fantasy, he was running away from home. It was real, but somehow had surreal undertones.
I kept reading. I haven’t stopped since
Cash isn’t the only thing I take from my father’s study when I leave home. I take a small, old gold lighter—I like the design and feel of it—and a folding knife with a really sharp blade. Made to skin deer, it has a five-inch blade and a nice heft. Probably something he bought on one of his trips abroad. I also take a sturdy, bright pocket flashlight out of a drawer. Plus sky blue Revo sunglasses to disguise my age.
I think about taking my father’s favorite Sea-Dweller Oyster Rolex. It’s a beautiful watch, but something flashy will only attract attention. My cheap plastic Casio watch with an alarm and stopwatch will do just fine, and might actually be more useful. Reluctantly, I return the Rolex to its drawer.
From the back of another drawer I take out a photo of me and my older sister when we were little, the two of us on a beach somewhere with grins plastered across our faces. My sister’s looking off to the side so half her face is in shadow and her smile is neatly cut in half. It’s like one of those Greek tragedy masks in a textbook that’s half one idea and half the opposite. Light and dark. Hope and despair. Laughter and sadness. Trust and loneliness. For my part I’m staring straight ahead, undaunted, at the camera. Nobody else is there at the beach. My sister and I have on swimsuits—hers a red floral-print one-piece, mine some baggy old blue trunks. I’m holding a plastic stick in my hand. White foam is washing over our feet.
Who took this, and where and when, I have no clue. And how could I have looked so happy? And why did my father keep just that one photo? The whole thing is a total mystery. I must have been three, my sister nine. Did we ever really get along that well? I have no memory of ever going to the beach with my family. No memory of going anywhere with them. No matter, though—there is no way I’m going to leave that photo with my father, so I put it in my wallet. I don’t have any photos of my mother. My father had thrown them all away.
After giving it some thought I decide to take the cell phone with me. Once he finds out I’ve taken it, my father will probably get the phone company to cut off service. Still, I toss it into my backpack, along with the adapter. Doesn’t add much weight, so why not. When it doesn’t work anymore I’ll just chuck it.
Just the bare necessities, that’s all I need. Choosing which clothes to take is the hardest thing. I’ll need a couple sweaters and pairs of underwear. But what about shirts and trousers? Gloves, mufflers, shorts, a coat? There’s no end to it. One thing I do know, though. I don’t want to wander around some strange place with a huge backpack that screams out, Hey, everybody, check out the runaway! Do that and someone is sure to sit up and take notice. Next thing you know the police will haul me in and I’ll be sent straight home. If I don’t wind up in some gang first.
Any place cold is definitely out, I decide. Easy enough, just choose the opposite—a warm place. Then I can leave the coat and gloves behind, and get by with half the clothes. I pick out wash-and-wear-type things, the lightest ones I have, fold them neatly, and stuff them in my backpack. I also pack a three-season sleeping bag, the kind that rolls up nice and tight, toilet stuff, a rain poncho, notebook and pen, a Walkman and ten discs—got to have my music—along with a spare rechargeable battery. That’s about it. No need for any cooking gear, which is too heavy and takes up too much room, since I can buy food at the local convenience store.
It takes a while but I’m able to subtract a lot of things from my list. I add things, cross them off, then add a whole other bunch and cross them off, too.
My fifteenth birthday is the ideal time to run away from home. Any earlier and it’d be too soon. Any later and I would have missed my chance.
Artwork by Paige Vickers