Where do you go to hide when you aren’t wanted?
I have been looking for hiding places my entire life.
In the first and second grade at the great big Catholic school I would go to the nurse’s office with feigned illnesses every other day, to see if I could get sent back home where I could read and play with my dolls in peace. I knew the teachers were annoyed by my anxiety and panic, and I didn’t want to be where people didn’t like me. In third and fourth grade I was sent to a different school, with a terrible bullying problem, and hid in the bushes at the side of the soccer field with beautiful Julia.
After that we homeschooled, which is another form of running away to hide. I liked to be homeschooled. I liked holing up in my room with a book all day, or going off for a walk by myself when my mother and siblings berated me for being fat and eccentric.
When we went to family reunions, out in the mountains in glorious Pocahontas County, West Virginia, I went for hikes by myself. My aunts fretted that I’d break an ankle and die out on the trail, but nothing ever went wrong when I was by myself. Things went wrong when I was with the family. My mother would show off being a good mother by chiding me for my weight and my eating habits in front of everyone, and my bad cousins would enjoy her performance and tease me. So I would go off by myself on the hiking trails, where everything is alive.
“Get a personality transplant,” my mother would taunt.
I wished I could, but I couldn’t, so I hid.
I went no-contact with my mother more than a dozen years ago because I couldn’t stand the taunting. She tormented me until I felt like killing myself. It was either hide or die. I thought the Catholics of Steubenville could be my new community and, well, it hasn’t worked out.
I knew the rest of the family deeply disliked me for defying my mother. Our relationship, insofar as we had one, was tense. I sent pictures of Adrienne to my grandmother and chatted with her online whenever we could. I didn’t like to send cards or anything through the mail because my mother’s sister who lives with my grandmother might intercept it and tell my mother about Adrienne, Michael and me. I don’t want her to know about us. So I hid by sending Facebook messages.
I was informed, whenever my aunts caught up with me, that this made me entitled and spoiled.
I hid by blocking the aunts who told me that.
Days ago, when I was officially disowned, I wanted to hide again. But where could I go for refuge? We didn’t have money for a vacation. We’d just lost our rent.
My friend Holly asked me to come up to Columbus and see her and her partner, Reese.
Michael said he could hold the fort at home for a few days.
So yesterday, Adrienne and I took the guinea pig in his portable cage, and we packed up the car, and we ran away.
I drove down Route Seven by the terrible wine-dark Ohio, then up onto seventy up past where the world goes flat. I drove until the farmland gave way to strip malls, then off at the Livingston exit, past the children’s hospital and down through the bumpy cobblestones of German Village. I know the way by memory now. I don’t have to use the GPS. The car started acting up and the check engine light came on around Saint Clairsville, but I just kept driving. A person who doesn’t need a personality transplant would probably have stopped and found a mechanic, but I didn’t. I was desperate to get to the hiding place.
We found ourselves at the rainbow house on the South Side, where I’d stayed when I snuck into town to go to Pride.
Adrienne hadn’t seen the house before. She fell in love with all the pets: six backyard chickens and three friendly cats. I was afraid there’d be a conflict between the cats and our guinea pig, but they took one look at McFluff and decided to ignore him. McFluff enjoyed grazing outside in the spare chicken brooding cage, where the chickens kept their distance as well.
It’s so peaceful to be in a house where you’re allowed to go outside whenever you want, without fearing a menacing neighbor.
It’s peaceful to sit and talk with people who don’t hate you. It’s relaxing to be able to talk about anything you want to talk about, without keeping a mental list of forbidden topics. It’s nice to be able to blurt things out, without worrying how to phrase things so you won’t be misunderstood. Nobody suggested a personality transplant or made fun of my awkwardness. We were just neurodivergent adults, bouncing off of each other in conversation the way neurodivergent adults do. Nobody made fun of me when I needed quiet time and disappeared into my laptop. Nobody mocked me for getting hungry or for being too nervous to do more than nibble on snacks.
The next morning, a friend of Holly’s came over with a daughter who was just Adrienne’s age and about the same neurodivergence. Holly told them that her garage looked a little too plain and needed painting. She brought out a jar of brushes and three boxes of acrylics. The children painted rainbows and boats and smiling faces all over the cinder block, and then they played with the guinea pig. Finally, they settled upstairs on their tablets for parallel play.
I settled in on the sofa to do my writing.
Finding a place to hide is a good thing.
Finding a place where you don’t have to hide is a thousand times better.
Image via pixabay
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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