This particular tee has always reminded me of a can of soup. Not Iron Man himself, not in the obvious tin can way, just this shirt. Perhaps its the color combination, or maybe it's that beneath the mask I picture the cherubic faced mascot of a particular brand of sodium laden puree, I just can't place it. And canned soup reminds me of the first time I ran away from home.
There were 3 occasions where I left the nest, and the first time was simply because my mother dared present me with the option of canned split pea soup for lunch. This would not stand! Chicken noodle or Minestrone might have warranted a pout, maybe a tantrum, but split pea? This was the last straw! I looked at the bowl of green mush, sniffed once, and announced my immediate departure. This might have surprised my mother, especially seeing as I'd never tried split pea soup before, but she didn't show it. "Better be on your way then, before it gets dark" was her blasse response. My infinite 6 years of wisdom deduced that her banal non-reaction was a ruse. I loaded up a bright red paisley 'kerchief with Merlin the Electronic Wizard, Dr Zaius wearing an Action Jackson jumpsuit, and my broken Star Trek Walkie Talkie, and secured it to the end of a hockey stick just like I'd seen Heckle and Jeckel do, then said my goodbyes. In a desperate 11th hour attempt, my mother said I might get hungry, but all she had to offer was this here split pea soup. I glared in defiance as she handed me my yellow plastic rain poncho, "In case it rains tonight". Oh she was good, hiding her pain and heartache under an ice cold facade of indifference. "Well I guess this is goodbye", and that was it, I was gone, a lone wanderer, the world my oyster.
I got to the bottom of the driveway as a white van was driving towards my ex-abode. "Gasp! Stranger Danger! McGruff was right!", I panicked and ran next door to Mrs C's place, ringing her doorbell like a bulimic Pavlovian dog. She was older than god and smelled funny, but she made killer oatmeal raisin cookies. The van passed without slowing as Mrs C opened the inner door, leaving the screen door locked however. Not wanting to look like a frightened 6 year old I nonchalantly advised her I was running away and wouldn't be able to wash her car anymore. She croaked "That's nice dear. Oh I do hope I don't get anymore eggs thrown at my car, I've been hit 3 times this week". I breathed deep as I made my way down the street, the air crisp and smelling of autonomy. Whistling "The Lonely Man" theme from the Incredible Hulk, I envisioned myself roaming from town to town, solving mysteries and righting wrongs, just like Dr David Bruce Banner, or The Littlest Hobo. I tipped my plastic-mesh-backed Lucky Charms cap at everyone I passed, and proudly announced I was running away. The responses ranged from chuckles to smiles to winks. One pimply faced teen in a tight Led Zeppelin tee gave me the finger.
I arrived at the top of my twenty house street; I'd never been beyond this point unsupervised: The Point of No Return, No Man's Land, The Forbidden Zone...Old Lady Zimmerman's place. The dilapidated dwelling had long been considered the local haunted house, a witches den. Parents warned of strange goings on and missing neighborhood pets, while older brothers told impressionable siblings tales of meat pies made from the amputated fingers and toes of siblings who tattle-taled to their parents about hidden stashes of nudie mags. I stared at the decaying estate and could swear it was breathing. A not unpleasant rush of fear coursed up my spine. The front lawn was an overgrown jungle of knee high nettles and dandelion, the perfect habitat for the poisonous snakes and spiders said to populate the haunted garden. The front door ajar and slightly askew like a solitary crooked tooth in a cannibalistic humanoid underground dweller's gaping maw. It had an honest to goodness turret for godsakes. A turret! The place was practically oozing foreboding. But there, amidst the palpable malevolence, sitting on the crumbling stoop, was an angel in pigtails: Chloe, old lady Zimmerman's niece.
Chloe came to stay with her necromantic aunt for two weeks every July while her parents went to go summer in Zurich. Suddenly the place didn't look so haunted, so evil. It was as if a beacon was shone down from the heavens, bathing this one spot in purity and goodness, banishing the monsters and the myths in its wake. Chloe looked up and smiled at me, and innocently asked if I wanted to come inside and play with her dollies. Maybe she had inherited some of her kin's enchantments because it was as if I was enthralled, powerless. I agreed immediately, but recovered enough to do so conditionally, "I can only play for a bit, I have to get back to running away".
When Old lady Zimmerman discovered us undressing her antique China dolls up in Chloe's bedroom her face turned the color of a day old hematoma. She did indeed resemble a witch, right down to the wart on the side of her nose, and several strangely hypnotic black hairs above her lip, like a spider trapped halfway in or crawling halfway out of her twisted puckered mouth. She silently lifted me up by ear, surprisingly spry for one so wrinkled and hunched. "This is it" I thought, "The sorceress is going to tenderize me with a hammer made from the molars of victim's past and bake me into a fingers and toes pie". I took small pleasure from the fact I had been sweating in my Keds all day and was not wearing socks. Choke on that hag!
Instead of making me into a tourtiere, she threw me into her Dodge Dart and drove the vast distance of the entire twenty houses back to the brick and mortar I had so recently vacated. My mother never acknowledged my 20 minute absence, not then, not ever. It is something that has remained unspoken between us to this day. Instead she just sat me down and spooned out a hot bowl of split pea soup. I didn't realize how hungry I was, and I have to concede that it was quite good, albeit a bit salty. A decade later this scenario would echo itself, like an aged deja vu, except it wasn't her dollies Chloe invited me in to play with as I just happened to be passing the haunted garden, and it wasn't China dolls I was caught undressing by Old Lady Zimmerman.