The Adventure Begins
Ms. Strong had told them a story about a guy named Robinson Crusoe, who had gotten washed up onto a deserted island and had to figure everything out for himself. It was Adventure Week in their reading books and Ms. Strong was telling them all sorts of adventure stories -- about a man named Ulysses who took ten years to sail to Ithaca, his home, from a war that lasted ten years (stupid Kirk asked if Ulysses lived anywhere in the city), about the astronauts who went to the moon, about pioneers. All week long JC felt something funny move around inside her. She didn't know what it was but she knew it felt full of electricity and she had a hard time keeping her attention straight in class.
The usual things -- the bus to daycare, wrestling with Angela, getting picked up (this time early again), play outside, "Want snack", dinner, complaining about going to bed -- and the feeling in her gut didn't go away.
Her mother was just walking out of her bedroom, shutting off the light, when JC called out to her. "Mom," she said. Her mother turned to face her, hand still on the light switch. "Yes?"
"Can you come sit down and talk to me?"
"We just finished talking, Jenny, and it's late..."
Her mother came back to the edge of the bed. "What's on your mind?"
"Nothin'." She turned on her side, pleased to have her mother sitting there, pleased to be getting a little more time with her, a little more warmth and closeness.
"When people say 'nothin''' they usually have something bugging them. What is it?"
"Did you ever want to go to Germany?"
"Germany? Not really. But I'd like to go to England. I did go to Acapulco once, and Nassau. I had a great time. And I have been to New York and Boston."
"I'd like to go to Germany. It must be neat in Germany. What's Acapulco?"
"It's a beautiful place by the ocean, hot and exciting. I had a lot of fun there."
"I want to go to Florida."
"I know -- you've said that before. How come there?"
"I don't know -- Disneyworld!!" She giggled.
"I wish we all could travel some more. It'd be nice, wouldn't it?" She tousled JC's hair. "C'mon, toots, time for you to get to sleep." She tapped JC's skull. "You can travel up here, you know. Doesn't take any money at all."
JC nodded yes but didn't want to say to her mother that traveling in your head wasn't half as much fun as traveling with your body. And how could she travel to Germany if she didn't have any idea what Germany looked like? It would probably end up looking like Ithaca.
Her mother kissed her on the cheek and walked out of the bedroom. The glow of the nightlight cast long shadows on the wall and up onto the ceiling, shadows that looked like oceans and patches of light that looked like Ithaca as Ulysses finally, after ten years, pulled his ship into the harbor. She fell asleep and dreamed.
* * *
She didn't know exactly when she decided it, at what part of her dream or what time of the night, but she woke up knowing that soon, if not that very day, she was going to have herself an adventure. She didn't know what it would be or how it would happen but she knew that she had to have an adventure soon or else her usual days were going to drive her crazy. Ms. Strong didn't help matters as she talked about a man named Jack Kerouac and how he traveled with a bunch of friends across the United States and saw and did weird things. She decided that it had to be something that she hadn't done before -- and then it struck her: why not sneak out tonight? She wouldn't go far, maybe just down to the supermarket parking lot (yeah, that's where she'd go!) and back. But at least it would be something. Her insides smiled now that she'd made her decision and had her own secret, her own little plan.
She thought she'd go that very night and not waste any time, but it didn't work out that way. First, Mommy stayed up late reading; second, she got scared; third, she hadn't really prepared to go (didn't lay out any clothes, get some food ready); fourth, she fell asleep. (She'd never been out at night, and while she realized that being out at night was part of the excitement of the plan, she couldn't quite bring herself to do it cold turkey and just, you know, walk out the door like she was going to the store for a Turkish Taffy. It was going to take time to build up to this.)
The secret stayed with her all the next day, and the next, and the next, until the secret began to be a little annoying because she hadn't gotten herself together enough to make it out the door and down the stairs. Tonight was going to have to be the night or else she was never going to go. After dinner that night she got her homework done quickly and set out some clothes for herself -- jeans, a sweatshirt, sneakers, socks. (She tucked a dollar bill into her jeans pocket, not sure why she did it since there would be no place to spend it.) She was in luck -- her mother went to bed early. Soon the light went off and she lay there counting minutes ("one thousand one, one thousand two"). She made herself not look at the clock on the wall, and when she thought at least half an hour had gone by, only five minutes had slipped away. She tried to make herself lay still, but she couldn't, so she got up and got dressed, slipping the two cookies she'd put into a plastic bag into her sweatshirt pocket.
Quietly she tiptoed into the kitchen and waited. Everything seemed really still and she thought she could hear the breathing of everyone in the house. (Of course she could hear Kara -- she breathed like horse running hard -- and she convinced herself that she could hear her mother.) She took a step and waited. Took another step. And then another. Finally her hand rested on the door handle and she turned it, ever so slowly, until the door began to move toward her. Light from the hallway spilled into the kitchen and for a moment she panicked, thinking that the light falling on the kitchen floor would make a big sound that would wake up everyone. But it didn't, and she told herself not to be so foolish. She stepped into the hallway and slid the door closed until she heard it click shut. She was in the hallway. She was free.