My second escape attempt came during our second or third year in lovely Shangri-La. My stepfather became especially heavy handed as the winter months settled in. Twenty hours of darkness makes a person cranky and what better way to beat the doldrums than by beating your kids? I suspect he took out job frustrations as well since assaulting one’s patients is not the best way to earn repeat business. We couldn’t fire him and mom was dealing with issues of her own, so my subconscious was working hard to find a solution for my dilemma. As has been the case for most of my life, the plan I came up with was to get out as soon as possible.
The day in question began with a beat down that was epic in both scope and duration.
I earned my punishment for using more than three sheets of toilet paper or leaving the cap off the toothpaste, some sort of grooming-related offense that could not be tolerated without harsh and immediate punishment. A backhand across the face may have come first, though that one was usually reserved for special occasions when creating an excuse for the damage was worth the satisfaction of the blow. It definitely started in the bathroom Abby and I shared before careening into my small bedroom next door for round number two. The broken closet door was a favorite target, so the violent toss in that direction served as the sadistic punctuation mark to the run-on sentence from hell. Doctor Demented tired out at some point and stormed from the bedroom, slamming the door behind him. A promise of pain yet to come.
I hit the ground and lay still, save involuntary tremors of exhaustion and fear. My ears searched for footsteps that didn’t return, signaling the time to move from the floor to the much more comfortable platform bed. Nothing but the best from Ethan Allen on display at our house, even better if it doubled as something useful. Heavy curtains on the window kept the sun at bay during the bright summer nights and created a dim cave in the winter. I cried myself to sleep, curled in the protective embrace of my Incredible Hulk bedspread as the room faded from a fitful twilight to total darkness.
I hadn’t eaten since a relatively normal family breakfast hours earlier, but the grumbling belly that woke me up wasn’t nearly enough motivation to face down the monster raging quietly in the halls beyond my bedroom door. This wouldn’t be the first meal I missed in favor of not getting my ass kicked. Instead, I stuffed my most prized possessions into a small backpack along with a couple changes of clothing. I hid the pack behind the broken closet door and climbed back into bed, resolving to make a run for it when everyone else was asleep. It wasn’t long before I nodded off again.
I’ve had maybe a dozen sleepwalking episodes throughout the years and stored indistinct impressions of each semi-conscious jaunt that was half dream and half reality. The first night I took to leaving the house under duress was years earlier when we lived in Colorado. The door locked behind me as I stumbled out of our townhouse. I tried the handle until the frustration woke me up, and I started screaming to be let it. It was right around the same time Mister Chance was faced down by my grandma’s witchy woman mojo, so maybe there is a connection I have forgotten.
When my eyes opened for the third time that day, it was to a bedroom dressed in darkness and a graveyard silence. I was still fast asleep and deep in dreamland. I rarely remember the exact details that accompany my sleeping journeys, but I was returned to my parents wearing a backpack and Spiderman underwear, so I assume I grabbed the hidden pack before cracking the door leading the hallway. Doctor Demented and my mom slept directly across my room, but the house was well insulated and a seven-year-old with bare feet doesn’t make much noise creeping like a church mouse down the carpeted hallway.
My next stop was our well-stocked kitchen since I also had fruit and granola bars alongside the toys and clothes and photographs in my pack. The antiseptic cleanliness of the marble counters reflected the ghostly moonlight, bathing the space in a bluish glow. I made short work of securing provisions before creeping down the short set of stairs leading to the back door and basement. A deadbolt lock and doorknob was all that stood between me and freedom.
I still don’t know where I thought I was going. Perhaps I was fully dressed in my dream and heading for my best friend’s house on the other side of the gravel pit. I could have been taking off for a ride in my dad’s work van. In the real world, I stepped onto the frozen concrete pad outside and closed the door behind me. Summer would have provided two steps down to comfy grass, but in the dead of winter, it was only a couple of inches to a foot of snow that wouldn’t melt until April. There would have been a slight pause as I leaned with what little weight I possessed to force my bare foot through the frozen inch and a half of glittering crystals that formed a solid crust on top of the snow.
Good thing I went out the backdoor, because our neighbor’s freshly-plowed driveway was a short thirty feet away. Our front door led to a massive expanse of glittering white that went a good fifty or sixty feet before encountering the street or neighbors in any direction. I would have likely frozen to death had I gone that way. As it was, I doggedly pursued a path through snow up to my knees, straight at the bright halo light defining the path toward our neighbor’s front door. Goose bumps peppered my bare skin like tiny bee stings in response to the subzero temperatures of an Alaskan winter night.
I rang the doorbell over and over until a shocked older couple woke up to my semi-naked, sleepwalking self.
They quickly wrapped me in a blanket and the husband carried me back to my house via plowed driveways and our shoveled front walkway rather my recently blazed trail through the yard to our backdoor. I suspect Doctor Demented answered our grandiose bells with a bemused, quizzical expression that was equal measure surprised confusion and parental concern. My mom would have been looking down the stairs from the main level above with the same expression, hers based on real emotions rather than a well-worn script. The closing the front door would have signaled the start of a new nightmare, this one more real than anything I could have imagined.
I always believed nothing came from my aborted escape attempt that night. What I didn’t know is the neighbor wasn’t fooled in the slightest by my stepfather’s smooth banter and called social services the following day. Unfortunately, the young lady who showed up to interview us was less immune to sociopathic charms and that was when my efforts finally failed to deliver the freedom I was looking for.