Image Source: The Bowdoin Orient
The fog of time and the fact of events unfolding before an undeveloped mind have obscured most of the picture. But the pertinent details remain.
I was old enough to know better, but young enough to not know better. At age four or five, I got lost in Grand City Department Store, Brunswick, Maine. I was found in front of the store with a Wonder Woman coloring book in my hand. Red was my favorite color and crayon, and I loved coloring in Wonder Woman’s red earring. Ultimately on the same day I turned out to be a runaway and a thief.
This is my earliest memory. (My next earliest memory is of making Jiffy Pop before Super Bowl XIV – Steelers/Rams – and being in awe of quarterback Terry Bradshaw and terrified of linebacker Jack Ham and his toothless scowl. But that’s another story.) I remember feeling scared not knowing where my mom and dad were. I remember the unmistakable smell of a five-and-dime, that mysterious blend of potpourri, balsam spray, cigarette smoke and diner grease. I remember seeing 70s décor tiles on the back wall and the linoleum under my feet as I ran and ran, hopefully toward my parents.
And I remember trying to get outside, and I remember a woman walking up to me and saying, “That’s a heavy door. That’s a heavy door.” And she OPENED the door, letting me out onto the sidewalk with my accidentally-stolen treasure.
It must have been winter, because I remember my dad hugging me tight to his quilted navy blue nylon coat. I don’t remember if this was inside or out. I don’t remember being yelled at. I guess they were just so thankful to have me back safely. I think I had my coloring book with me in the backseat, but I don’t remember coloring.
And I remember feeling that something had happened, something bad, because I had upset my parents somehow. And I had done something that had made me scared. The safety of my insular world was shaken a bit that day. I’m now almost 40 and looking at this event across the lens of 35 years, but I still remember the dark shades of feeling, and this unease has informed my life more than I’ve realized.