The first time I ran away from home I was twenty-nine. The second time I ran away from home I was thirty-five, but I do not want to go into this here. When I was twenty-nine I had used up all of my luck. I had failed at my job, run out of money and succumbed to a bleak depression that chased all the positive energy out of me. I had to surrender my beloved studio apartment that I had lived in for three years and return home to my parent’s mansion with nothing but garbage bags filled with clothes and a U-Haul filled with a very large collection of books. Within a day’s time I had gone from living in an edgy, bohemian ghetto to returning to the quiet, gated country club where even the squirrels had to be a member. I spent my days loitering on golf courses, eating hot dogs by the club pool and playing tennis against a backboard that was always better at tennis than I. Then after three months of looking for work and being incarcerated in a gated community with nothing but my future in front of me- I decided it was time to run away.
My younger sister was living on the other side of the country in a small town called Washington DC. I had never been to that part of the country and decided that it was as good a place as any to try and start my life over. My sister was working as an intern on Capital Hill for Senator Tom Lantos who represented California (the state I was living in). Maybe she could hook me up with a job on Capitol Hill and my future would involve a great political career? My decision to run away filled me with unrealistic dreams and aspirations and made me feel like I had grown a pair of wings. My sister agreed to let me sleep upon her marshmallow couch until I was able to make “independent” living arrangements. I assumed that this would not take longer than a month. The night I ran away I ordered my train ticket over the phone using a credit card that I could not afford and snuck two very old suitcases out from the cobweb drenched attic.
The old suitcases that I used belonged to my great-grandfather. When I say old- I mean these suitcases were old enough to be ruins from a previous civilization. They were in terrible condition. The leather was faded and ripped and getting the zipper open was like wrestling with an alligator. All I would take with me on my adventure was what I could cram away into the belly of these aging beasts. I knew that these suitcases carried the lint of my ancestors and I was determined to make them proud.
The first suitcase was easy to fill. Since I did not own many clothes at the time- I filled the suitcase with my entire wardrobe: underwear, socks, jeans, t-shirts, a warm jacket and my black boots. The other suitcase was not so simple. I wanted to fill it with books- books that I could not bare to be apart from. I had a collection of over ten thousand books all of whom I loved equally. I had carved my life out from the pages of these books and being apart from them was like leaving one half of my body behind. I spent hours trying to decide which books would come along. Once I had made a final decision I would doubt myself and start all over again. It was madness- but I had to finish the task before the sun came up because I wanted to run away before my parents awoke. Finally at four in the morning, with twenty-eight hard and soft cover books neatly stacked inside the suitcase- I had no more time to decide. I wrestled with the suitcase zipper for ten minutes, got some final things together and was ready to go.
I left my parents a note in their mailbox explaining to them why I had run away. I then took a cab (the cab driver refused to lift the suitcase filled with books) to the train station and boarded the Amtrak train for Washington DC just as the sun was coming up. When I sat in my seat I felt just like Billy The Kid. Like Billy I was making a run for it but instead of a gun as a weapon I had a suitcase filled with books. Also like Billy The Kid I felt frustrated by the injustices that occurred everyday in our self-centered, greedy society. I had just had to pay thirty-five extra dollar for my suitcase filled with books to be loaded onboard the train because it weighed sixty-three pounds. Every pound over twenty-eight pounds was a dollar extra and my choices were to pay the fee or to leave some books behind. I sneered and growled at the woman behind the counter who could not understand the price I had already paid for my dedication to books. I would never abandon these writers who gave me life. Like Billy The Kid I knew when a battle could not be won, so I paid the extra cash and escaped on my train into the new day.
Three days later I arrived in DC. I found myself standing in the middle of nowhere with two suitcases by my side. Once I got off the train I took the Metro train to the neighborhood where I thought my sister lived. Instead of finding the middle class neighborhood that I knew my sister was shacked up in I was standing in one of the worst ghettos I had ever seen. Hopelessness drifted out of empty windows and behind every locked door I knew someone had a terrible story to tell. I was not used to the humidity, which caused my heart to bounce around like a pound of ground turkey in a zip lock bag. My clothes were swimming in sweat and I carried my suitcases through the inferno like Washington DC streets.
I had no more cash on me and just enough change to make a phone call to my sister from a pay phone. I have always had a good sense of direction and like a hero on a journey I figured I could carry my suitcases and allow my sense of direction to find my sisters home. For miles I felt bad about dragging around Kafka, Beckett, Joyce, Tolstoy, Lessing, Rimbaud, Artaud, Woolf, Kerouac, Pessoa, Camus, Hegel, Bataille, Celine, Ginsberg, Morrison and Blake; whom I knew were suffering from darkness, heat, claustrophobia and turbulence in the tightly packed suitcase. But I was determined to find my way and to not abandon any of these great writers into the anonymity of the poverty-stricken ghetto streets. I had to take several breaks along my pilgrimage and let my arms, heart and legs rest; but at the age of twenty-nine I still had a superhero’s physical disposition that would allow me to get away with physical feats that I could not even imagine attempting today. Oh the irreplaceable riches of youth, where have you gone?
By the time I made it to my sister front door I felt as if I had left my arms, bones, blood, breath and legs behind. I had just dragged two suitcases, one filled with sixty-three pounds of books across Washington DC. My clothes had become stained, crisp and sun-dried because my body had no more sweat left to release. My pupils must of been dilated because the first thing my sister said when she opened her front door was “I knew you would stop first at the bar.” I looked at the albino kitty that purred around her feet and asked her if she would not mind helping me in with my bags. We hugged and she said “welcome to your knew life in Washington DC!” When she went to pick up the suitcase filled with books she released a sigh of distress. “What do you have in there, a dead body?” she asked as I handed her the lighter suitcase to carry. “Sixty three pounds of books,” I replied with a hint of accomplishment in my voice. My sister looked at me as she shut her front door and said, “What the hell do you need sixty-three pounds of books for?” And thus began my doomed three-week stay in Washington DC.