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Runaway

By David J. Bookbinder

PROMPT—No one noticed ...

Daniel was his family’s forgotten son. He moved among them like a shadow, unnoticed, ignored by both his mother and his father. He yearned for the love and attention they showered on his brother Martin, who seemed to make no effort at all. Daniel watched from the sidelines, trying to crack the code, but it would not yield no matter how hard he tried.


Then one Saturday, Martin himself provided a clue. For several hours, Daniel’s brother was nowhere to be found. His mother, panicked, called all the neighbors, scoured the neighborhood from her car, and even got the police involved. She paced back and forth in the kitchen, her voice shaking as she cried, “How could this be happening? Where is he?” in a frantic voice Daniel had never heard her use before.


A few minutes before suppertime, Martin wandered into the kitchen. Daniel’s mother dropped to her knees and pulled him to her bosom. Tears streamed down her face. “Thank God, thank God, thank God,” she cried, as she showered him with kisses.


Daniel watched, bewildered and envious. But it gave him an idea: He could run away, too. Maybe then his mother would miss him, and maybe then she would love him as much as she did his brother.


That night, he emptied his piggybank into a plastic bag and stuffed it into his backpack, along with a change of clothes. Early the next morning, before anyone else was awake, he added half a loaf of Wonder Bread and a package of bologna and ran out the door.


A brilliant sun had just peeked over the horizon. The air smelled fresher than usual, and except for the sounds of birds singing, the neighborhood was magically silent. When Daniel got to the end of the driveway, he stopped for one last glance at his house, then he hurried down the street, buoyed by his newfound freedom, the pavement reassuringly firm against the soles of his sneakers. He felt alive in a way he had never experienced.


Daniel spent the morning visiting all the places he knew best. He played on the swing set and monkey bars at the empty playground on the way to his school, circumnavigated the school yard, and stopped by the pharmacy, the library, and the junior high where his cousins went. When he exhausted these locations, he headed down what he thought was the road to his grandmother’s house, though he wasn’t actually sure.


By the time he reached the water tower, the sun was dropping in the sky. He sat on a wooden bench and ate a dry bologna sandwich, his exhilaration fading. He was starting to miss his mother’s cooking, his father’s workshop, their dog Lucky — and even Martin, just a little. He decided maybe he’d been gone long enough and reversed course for home.


It was almost time for dinner when he arrived. He stood outside the door with a hand on the knob, his heart fluttering. What would they do? Would they yell at him for being away without telling? Would his mother fall to her knees and hug him like she would never let him go, the way she did with Martin? Only one way to know. He took a deep breath, and another, and turned the knob.


Daniel dropped his backpack on the shelf in the back hall. He heard the TV in the family room. Both of his parents were in the kitchen, his father reading the paper and his mother at the stove, cooking dinner. He sat at the table across from his father and waited, his heart still fluttering. Neither of his parents looked up.


"How was your day, son?" his father asked, his eyes still on his paper.


"It was okay," Daniel muttered.


"Good," his father said.


And with that, the conversation was over.


His mother said nothing at all.


The truth hit Daniel like a blow to the chest: They didn’t notice he was gone.


At dinner, Daniel tried to hide his disappointment. He ate in silence and nothing tasted good. Afterward, he went upstairs to his room and sat on the edge of his bed for what seemed like a very long time. Too tired to cry, he climbed under the covers and closed his eyes, hoping he could sleep his sadness away, but he lay awake most of the night, thinking about how hard he had tried to earn their love, and how now he was more invisible than ever.



I still remember that day, many years ago. That was the day I realized I couldn’t go on like a ghost in my own family. I needed to be seen and heard. I needed to matter to somebody. The road from then to now has been a long one, and often difficult, but I’m okay now and I’ve built a life for myself. Still, that day will always linger in my heart, a healed scar that reminds me of my childhood invisibility, and also of the courage I found to make my own way into the world.

 

David J. Bookbinder is a writer, photographer and life coach. He is the author of Street People: Invisible New York Made Visible, Street People Portfolio: Invisible New York Made Visual, The Art of Balance: Staying Sane in an Insane World, Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas, What Folk Music is All About, two coloring books for adults, and three books about computer software. He is the recipient of teaching fellowships from Boston University and the University at Albany, and of writing residencies from the Millay Colony for the Arts and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. His Flower Mandala images were awarded a Massachusetts Cultural Council grant in photography. David recently retired from a long career as a psychotherapist. He lives and writes north of Boston and is a native of Buffalo, New York.

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