I was storming out of my house, ready to start my new life braving the world by trekking through the forests of my small suburban town. My dark green backpack felt like it weighed as much as I did at that time; sixty pounds. At nine years old, I didn’t know much about living on my own. What I did know was that I needed food, and lots of it. My bag was exploding with mackintosh apples, oranges, bags of chips, and a pack of forbidden Oreos. All these snacks were to sustain me in my life beneath the stars. Earlier that day I had written a note to my parents, informing them of my adult and well thought out decision to leave home. I also devised a long packing list to leave behind for a more dramatic effect. The list was always my favorite part, it was a way of affirming what I was doing; it made it real. As a child, I got into the typical small arguments with my parents such as TV privileges and not eating my vegetables, but instead of throwing a tantrum or refusing to talk, I would threaten to or actually leave home. When I say I would leave home, I mean for a max of two hours in my backyard, but that’s not the point. With every opposition, my first instinct was, and is still, to run.
My relationship with my best friend Isabel is an exciting one at that. We balance each other out like two opposite forced with magnetic attractions to different temptations. Just from talking about Isabel, it may seem like Isabel is the one who would stray away from crazy ideas of adventure, but it is actually quite the opposite. Every week Isabel comes to me with insane ideas of adventure. One day it is hiking the Appalachian trail for a month, and the next is quitting our jobs to start our own bracelet making business. She could ramble off ideas for hours, but when it comes time to do anything, she will make up an excuse not to follow through with whatever she devised. I, however, will give her reality checks on her whims then reel her in on more plausible adventures that she still finds terrifying. At the end of the day, we are both runners. The main difference between us is that running is a necessity to me while running is mere entertainment to her.
Isabel and I had a tendency to get ourselves into trouble as children, but mostly it was me who was doing the trouble making. The time we got into the most trouble was when I got us purposely lost in the woods. We started this “club” with just the two of us in it called, the “Off Road Roonies”, where we would basically go into the woods behind different houses in our neighborhood. One day, we found a particularly thick wooded area and decided to make it it a mission of the Off Road Roonies to explore it. We were walking through the thick forest when I had enough of Isabel texting her new boy crush, so I took it upon myself to confiscate her phone. Ten minutes into the walk I felt a certain lightness to my pockets. I had lost both of our phones.
“Do we even know where we are” Isabel asked me, looking around.
“I know where we are, don’t worry.” I didn’t. “We came from that direction.” I said, pointing in a random direction. Isabel began to go into panic mode, because that’s just what Isabel did in times of distress.
“Are you sure?” She said, spinning in circles trying to get a bearing of her surroundings. I nodded confidently, despite being totally and utterly lost. We continued walking in the same direction. With every step I felt lighter, like I was on a stairway to heaven. I never felt lost, not once; I felt like I was finding myself.
Needless to stay, we finally both came to our senses and realized the reality of the situation; it was getting dark and we had no idea where we were.
“I see houses!” I said, as we approached a community. Isabel of course took off running towards civilization like she was floating on clouds while I could feel my feet growing heavier like lead sinking into the earth with every step towards home. We finally made it to the street, against my body’s wishes, and knocked on a house and used a man’s phone to call my mother. My mom, however, was not too pleased with our exploration when she picked us up from a random man’s house at the edge of the woods.
Sometimes I wouldn’t set out to get lost, it just happened naturally like my body was driving me astray because that is what it naturally wanted to do. Anyone who knows me knows that I am notoriously awful at directions. When I first started driving in my hometown I needed a GPS just to get to our local Walgreens that I had been to hundreds of times. Soon after I got my license, I thought it would be a great idea to go on a road trip/day trip with Isabel. My mom had a business meeting in Connecticut, so I thought it would be adventurous if Isabel and I drove to meet her there. I used a free road trip planning website to map out our pit stops on the way to Connecticut, which was my first mistake of many. The only pit stop we made it to was this small castle, more like a fort, that was consequently closed. I continued to drive, but the directions did not seem to align with where we were. We eventually stopped at a rest stop to get some food because we were starving to death. We had just loaded up on multiple bags of chips and candy which would have to suffice for lunch, when I reached into my pocket to grab my keys, and the only thing I pulled out was my pricy receipt.
“Oh my god oh my god!” Isabel started. I dipped my hand into my pocket once again and came out empty. I pressed my face against the cold glass window and peered into my car, and sure enough, the keys lay pitifully on the seat. A laugh erupted from the bottom of my throat, tumbling out of me like it had been hiding there for months. I did not find this troubling whatsoever; I found it hilarious and exciting. Here we were, locked out of our car in the middle of nowhere, with no one but a few store clerks nearby. It is in moments like these that I feel whatever lingering weight on my chest lift for a moment, enabling me to catch my breath before I return to the world. While most people would feel panic from this situation, I felt the opposite. As Isabel continued to panic, I realized that I put the wrong destination into the trip planner, and that we were in the wrong state. I laughed at myself again and called the police to open our car, as my survival mode began to kick in.
As a child, I was always fascinated by the art of survival. It all started with the show Survivor, where chosen individuals would occupy an island and be forced to essentially live off the land. I always found a certain draw in escaping everyday life for the green canopy and blue skies. It was my idea to start my own game of Survivor. Every week Isabel and I would pack a bag full of food and venture out into my backyard to set up camp three feet into the woods. We would stay outside for up to six hours. Every time we played Survivor my parents would come out and tempt our starving tummies with fresh waffles, and every time Isabel looked at me with pleading eyes and I’d say “No, we are survivors!!” I will never forget the time when I returned from tending the fire to see Isabel stuffing the last of our berries into her mouth. As she swallowed the last berry, her lips were stained purple as evidence of her crimes. She never understood my desire for survival or why she could not eat all the berries she wanted. Playing Survivor for a day was the one time when we could escape reality and pretend we were living off the land. I felt at peace in the woods of solitude and I got a thrill from living so close to the edge, even though conserving food in my backyard was hardly living on the edge.
I may not have been the easiest of friends growing up. I imagine that my actions may have seemed controlling at times, between wanting to be the fire builder and egg-cooker of every game of Survivor, to treating the book club I created like it was school and I was the teacher. I loved to run away and get lost because I could control that. I was totally in charge of my path, even if I didn’t know the ending. When I can feel myself losing control, I find myself running away, even today.
Moving to Boston to go to school at Emerson College has been a huge adjustment for me, like any other college student. For the first time in my life, I found myself struggling to make true friendships and connections to other students. I was not used to trying to make friends since everyone in my old high school was friends from elementary school. As I experienced true isolation for the first time, I began to follow my familiar pattern of seeking escape. My escape began as walks around the Boston Public Gardens, and developed into long T rides to the outskirts of Boston. When I was in motion, I was at peace. As long as I kept moving, reality could not catch me even if it tried. Walking through the streets of Boston or zipping along the train tracks equated my walks through the woods. In both circumstances, I was leaving my worries behind and I felt like I was gaining back control over my life. Whenever I returned back home to campus, my mind was at peace and I had a solution in mind for my problems.
I would like to say that I have found a better coping mechanism now, but the fact is, I am still forever moving. Many people may find this as a method of avoidance, and it certainly can be, but I have found that I find myself returning from my adventures with a clearer mind and some type of resolution. Everyone has different ways of coping and pondering their problems. Our society advertises people running away from their problems all the time. Television shows broadcast brides that run from their grooms at the altar, children that reach adulthood and run from their parents, and people who travel across the country that are uncertain with their lives. The runner is not always trying to avoid their problem; they are just trying to find their solution. Finding resolutions away from the influence of others and my environment around me is what I try to do when running or going on spontaneous adventures. Running cures my writer’s block, turns my brain into its’ own personal therapist, and gives me a zen unlike no other. If it takes a train ride or getting lost in the woods to find myself, I’d gladly do it time and time again.