When I was ten, I made a wish that my summer vacation would never end. I noticed at first that my mother never took me to the parade of back-to-school sales. That year, I was ecstatic that she seemed to have forgotten my need for new school shoes. I was thrilled that I didn't have to stand around while she looked at shelves of cheap leather and straps, picking out the most uncomfortable ones for me to try on and instructing me to 'give her a walk'. I was sure it was September but she never changed the calendar on the kitchen wall, and that she always did on the first of the month. She was borderline superstitious about it.
I grinned at the dinner table, some joke that only I was in on. Perhaps they would keep forgetting. How long could this last?
More days in the sun for me, ice cream van lollies and weeks exploring the woods with my friends. The smell and taste of sunscreen in the neighbourhood pool. The weeks turned into months. We would go to the pool every Friday, that's how I could tell how much time had passed. We would leave with our towels and swimming costumes in gym bags, the damp moulding through as we wandered around the suburbs. We would play in the park, kicking our feet high toward the sky- always clear and blue- before shrieking and coming back down, daring each other to jump off. Mock fights and sleepovers.
I would ride my bike over to my friend's house. She always put the music channel on TV and we would dance and sing along to the songs in her front room. Her bay windows were flung open and the curtains wide, showing the sun-baked street. We rode our bikes up and down that street, always in view of her parents. I fell off my bike more times than I can count, just going back and forth, turning sharply to do the lap again. Over the months, maybe half a year, all those skinned knees stopped healing so quickly- I still have the scars, actually. The skin there is so thick, like leather.
I would doze off in the evenings, the sun still out (it didn't get dark till around ten P.M.), sweaty from a day of fun but soothed by a light breeze through the crack in my window, excitedly anticipating another summer tomorrow, and then another.
Every day the smell of barbeque from back gardens, like it's all I’ve ever known. Endless streets of sun loungers. I don't think I ever got bored of going to the park; it might have just been my friends that I got sick of. They never noticed, but I started to tire of talking about the same old things. How long had it been since I was in school? A year? They were boring, so I would make new friends. Some kids from down the street. Their father drove us to the beach often. If I so much as picture the sea now I get something akin to motion sickness. My vision blurs and my stomach shrivels up. Back then, however, I was content to let the foam ride up to my ankles and to splash around in the shallows collecting rocks.
A year later, the same problem. Those kids, they were brothers, twins. Their arguments would seem so benign. Often it was like I was always splitting up their fights. It got so grating. I asked my mother if my cousins could come round to play- God, how long had it been since I'd seen them? She raised an eyebrow. "You know they're at their summer home at the lakes."
I would go to bed wondering if tomorrow I would be woken up by my mother- "time to get ready for school." I almost wanted that to happen, but not quite. I grew fond of my next-door neighbour's dog, who always seemed to be in their front garden. I would sit around and read in the sun, and it would come lollop-ing up to me, a great big golden retriever. My neighbour offered to let me walk it, which I delighted in. I caught my neighbour praising me to my mother, telling her how mature I was for my age. For weeks I begged her for a dog of my own, but she reminded me that it hadn't been long since my hamster died, that maybe we weren't ready for another pet just yet. I frowned. It must have been about two years.
I would consistently ask her for new books as well, which raised many arguments. She thought I had become spoiled. I was sick of my fairy tales, my adventure novels with the cartoon illustrations. I would sneak into my older sister's room when she was out (which wasn't often, as most days she would laze around on her bed listening to music, nothing to do), and would peruse her bookshelf. Once, I caught myself flipping through one of her maths textbooks, just for something to look at. I couldn't solve any of the problems.
More and more, I found myself lethargic, sleeping till past midday, some days not even getting out of bed. All my video games, I had completed, some of them twice or thrice. I had a perfect 'Just Dance' score on every song- I remember a new game was meant to come out the following year, but I never saw it. I had read all my books cover to cover and can still recite whole passages from some of them.
I stopped talking to my friends but they never stopped calling round for me to ask if I wanted to ride my bike, to go to the pool, to explore the woods. I almost became fearful of hearing their laughter at the door once again, would roll my eyes at their knocking. My mother would make me answer it if she looked out and saw it was them. Once or twice I just opened the door and swore at them to go away, but like clockwork, in the next few days they would reappear.
I was obsessed with the TV for a brief period, and would sneak downstairs after my parents had gone to bed to watch horror movies on the film channel, things that I found quite tame but I knew would have turned their skin If they caught me viewing them. One thing that was perfect was that the TV always had something new. I would watch the news nearly every night, expecting, at some point, stories to loop back and the summer months to begin again, but they never did. Everything else, however, remained the same, frozen.
I could never stomach sitcoms.
I wanted rain. I wanted it to rain and I wanted to stand outside and let it soak me to the bone. I wanted to see my footprints in the snow and I wanted the wind to pull my hair back from my scalp. The sun was a strained smile, and it was starting to hurt.
I was perpetually sunburned, even got heatstroke a few times, which my parents couldn't believe ("Heatstroke in Newcastle of all places! Imagine that"). I couldn't tell them that what was a week of 20 Degree sun for them was years of oppressive heat and bright- God, how bright- weather for me. Walking those bleached streets day after day. It was like I had been wandering around in the desert.
I had to do something. I wanted to get away, to get out. My parents wouldn't even let me go to the shops by myself and I had spent five or six years cooped up in my room, like those shut-in cult kids I had seen in a crime documentary briefly before my parents gave me a sideways glance and changed the channel to a family movie. I would stare at myself for great long periods in the mirror, and would not feel reassured by an all-too familiar face. I wanted, needed, something to change.
I packed a bag and ran away under the cover of night. Children ride the train free, so I went to the nearest city, then changed my mind and went to the next city over, and then the next. Everywhere it was beer gardens, street parties. I was vampiric, skulking around back allies and clinging to the shade, sunlight physically hurting me. I jerked back from kids my own supposed age when they would approach me in the park. I would be sitting on a bench (I had been sleeping rough), and they would come up, football in hand. They needed one more player.
I never stayed in one place for too long. My biggest fear was the police catching me. I would be sent back to that endless suburb, where the streets stretched on for miles and miles and no matter how far I ran I would see the same six faces of my neighbours, pinching my cheeks, offering me sweeties. As far as I could tell (and I looked often) no missing person posters ever popped up.
I would steal food. Because of my age, If I was caught, I was just thrown out of the shop. Some people threatened to call my parents, but I always ran.
I ran and I ran and the days stretched on. A minute would feel like a whole day. I was sick with the sun, blinkered and nauseated. Days felt like years. I had completely lost track of time at this point. I was walking down a street in the middle of the night one time (it was warm enough that I didn't have to wear a jacket, and I felt like I was suffocating), and passed an antique bookshop. In the window was a copy of 'Peter Pan', hardbacked, with colour plates. I became so irrationally angry that I plucked up the biggest rock I could find and hurled it, the glass shattering, shards flying through the air and the shrill noise of the burglar alarm compelling me, like a rabbit, to run.
Those years I spent just walking, and walking. I was looking down at my feet, and looked up at random. A building. A flash of memory. It was my old school. I had been all over the country, finding no joy in landmarks, rivers, play-parks, and in my listlessness had somehow taken myself home. The schools windows were dark, but it was still the same. The mural my class had helped paint on the brick wall of the playground was as fresh as ever. I climbed the fence and put a stone through the window, scratching all the way up my arm in an attempt to climb through. I should tell you that throughout it all I only tried to kill myself once or twice, but it never worked, and I would wake up to blue skies and birds singing the next day.
I walked the empty hallways, my mouth hanging open. It was like being in the most beautiful dream. I went to my classroom and in my desk was the drawing I had done on the very last day of school. I couldn't remember how old I was, how long it had been, but over the years I had I clung to the shreds of that last-day-of-school memory like a corpse with stiffened fingers. I kid myself that I can remember even down to what they served in the cafeteria that day. I pocketed the drawing and trudged home.
I didn't dread those streets; I didn't care for my garden path. A great wave of numbness and indifference had spread over me. I felt nothing at all. Opening the door, I shrugged off the bag that I had been carrying around with me for years, walked into the kitchen. My mother was there, her back to me, making a pot of tea. She turned around and, like I had only been gone an hour, said "There you are, love. What have you been up to?"
My breath quickened first, and then I felt the first tear drip down my cheek. I cried, and cried, and when she held me and soothed me, I begged and pleaded in my head to be ten again, and for it to be September.