I was five years old, living in a blue collar suburb of Minneapolis and it was the middle of winter. I remember trudging through snow as high as my hip, which in actuality wasn’t very high since I was, indeed, five years old. The idea started from a Jack London story entitled, “To Build a Fire”, about a man that attempts to survive in the wilderness of the Yukon. I can’t actually remember why I was listening to a Jack London story as a Kindergartner. I can only assume that I saw it on television without my parents realizing it. I’m certain my parents would not have read this story to me since the main character fails to actually “build a fire” and succumbs to the elements. It’s strange how memory works; how I was able to fit bits and pieces of my memory of that story and recall how I found something like this so exciting. This seems like a kind of inappropriate story for someone of that age to be listening to but the idea of surviving out in the wilderness was appealing to me and for someone as independent as I was, it sounded like a grand adventure.
And so I left the house that morning, fully convincing my mother that I was headed to school, and found a large pine to camp under for the morning. I almost retracted my decision to play hookie from Kindergarten because, as all Minnesota winters are, it was very, very cold. But I was a stubborn creature. I was determined to do this. I was determined to prove myself. I guess that sort of stubbornness remains as I begin my last semester as a middle-aged undergrad (ewwww… did I just use the term middle-aged? I’m only 39. I don’t feel middle-aged).
I don’t know why I can remember all of this so vividly but I recall trying to build a snow fort to protect me from the biting winter wind. I had built these snow forts plenty of times with my dad. It was the one survivalist skill I knew, or at least thought I knew. It turns out dad was the one who had the skills and he just convinced me that I was doing a “great job” but he was, in fact, lying to me all along. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Thank God my mom had dressed me for the task. She bundled me in a snowsuit so stuffed with warmth that it was difficult to bend my knees to crouch under the tree.
I stayed in the cold for what must have been three hours. This was in the 80’s when Kindergartners only stayed for half a day. I was close enough to the school that I could listen for the school bell to dismiss my class for the morning. I would be able to see the school buses and cars drive past and I would know that it was time to walk back home. When I look back at it now, I wonder why I didn’t really want to go to school that day. I did not like having to sit in the alphabet circle and listen to the teacher and be bored out of my mind. I didn’t like sitting next to the boy whose ear was so full of wax that it nearly spilled out of his ear. I didn’t like the noise of 24 children herded into a small room. I wanted to be alone and not have to deal with people. Yes, adventure was appealing, but so was isolation, it turns out. Unfortunately, isolation didn’t feel as great as I thought it would.
When I heard the second bell announcing that I could return to my warm suburban house, I marched back home, tight-lipped about my day of secret rebellion. My mother silently helped me unwrap from the layers of fabric that encased my small body; the layers that prevented me from being frozen to death that day. She kneeled to my height and asked me, “Brooke, did you go to school today?”
“Brooke, are you lying to me?”
“Well, your teacher just called and she said that she saw you on the side of the road under a tree.”