Written By Sarah Griffin - Sarah is a NorCal-born, Denver-bred writer and astrologer. She focuses on what it's like navigating the rocky waters of mid-thirties dating and the struggle to balance emotional security with personal freedom, hobbies with work, and wine with pizza. She's an eldest child, Libra, and would live in the bathtub with a stack of books if she could. Twitter: @rockfacesarah_8 Instagram: @bofffquafff
I was a cute kid. Like, really cute. I had long blonde hair my mom put in pigtails or braids, festooned with baubles or ribbons, rosy cheeks, big blue eyes and a lisp. I was a little chubby and my feet turned in, despite wearing casts on my legs the first few years of my life, so it’s fair to say I was not the most active or athletic kid on the block. I liked activities of solitude, preferring to draw, color, play with dolls, or read. The whole thing added up to a super cute but also fairly introverted child who preferred the company of her Baby-Sitter club books, American Girl Dolls and 72-pack of colored pencils to socializing. However-this wasn’t entirely my fault.
Growing up, in the 90s, when there was a sudden rash in abductions, my parents were probably what would be classified as “overprotective”. To give you an example- the word ‘curfew’ sounded like freedom to me. I didn’t have a curfew- I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere if my parents didn’t know exactly where I was. I had to be home by dinnertime, at the latest, usually a few hours earlier, and that was only if they knew exactly what kids house I was at, if they’d met them and if their parents were home. I wasn’t allowed to ride my bike in our courtyard unsupervised, and I wasn’t allowed to walk across the street to a friend’s house unless an adult was watching. They weren’t trying to be ogres- they simply were terrified of me being kidnapped. To further instill this fear in me, they told me that child abductors, child molesters and rapist targeted little girls with long blonde hair and blue eyes. They told me they targeted little girls who couldn’t run that fast because they preferred sitting on the swing in the backyard with their nose stuck in a book. What I heard was that the entire world outside my house was nothing more than a bunch of ominous, slow creeping white vans, waiting to offer me candy and then scoop me up by my ponytail and slam the door behind me, never to be seen again, until I turned up on a milk carton or in a ditch. So while the kids in my neighborhood were all outside riding bikes or knocking on each other’s doors and playing together before being called home to dinner, I was mostly at home, in my room, reading or drawing with my head in the clouds. I long since stopped asking if I could go outside and play because if there wasn’t a parent outside supervising, the answer was always no.
Finally, the fall I turned twelve, my parents loosened their grip. I don’t have any sort of definitive proof, but I think it might have something to do with the incident that happened the summer before, in 1993, when I was eleven years old. It was the summer I got lost in the bathroom.
It was the middle of July, and I was starting the 7th grade in about six weeks. Elementary school was behind me and this was one of the last summers I remember felt truly endless. There is something about the summer before starting the kind of school where you walk from class to class instead of sitting in the same classroom all day that is a definitive marker between ‘little kid’ and ‘almost-teenager’. This was a particularly active summer for our household- not only did we run a daycare from home that was in full swing, teeming with kids from infancy to about five years old, but we were also having some remodeling done. Being that I was eleven-going-on-twelve, and the eldest of one little brother and another on the way, I was frequently pressed into service by my mother and grandmother who ran the daycare. They needed me to be around to vacuum, change diapers, prepare snacks, or just stand around and watch the toddlers while they ran to the store, to the bathroom, or a bedroom (probably just to bask in silence for a couple minutes before heading back out to the peanut gallery). As far as I was concerned, it totally sucked. I was like any other pre-pubescent girl- moody, irrational, withdrawn, and just wanting to be left alone. I was also beginning to develop the oh-so-charming acid tongue and tone that is so popular with teenage girls. I remember that summer, my sweet Aunt Shirley, known to the rest of the world as Sister Nicholas, was visiting us in California from her convent in Pennsylvania. I loved my Auntie Shirley. She talked to me about God in a way I could understand without feeling pressured to convert to her particular brand of Catholicism, brought me dolls and would play the obnoxious teenage games with me that no one else would. So I have no idea why, when I was sprawled out on the rug that summer, reading a book, just wanting to be around Auntie Shirley, when she sweetly asked me what I was reading, I looked at her witheringly and said sarcastically and condescendingly, ”…A book.” My mom and grandmother both heard me, or more specifically my tone, and simultaneously lambasted me for being mouthy to Aunt Shirley whilst apologizing for my attitude. Aunt Shirley, being not just a nun but a mother superior and grade school teacher handled it gracefully, having dealt with more teenagers than my mom and grandmother combined, but I was still made to apologize, which angered and humiliated me.
I decided the best way to avoid situations like this was to avoid my family entirely. One Friday afternoon, around three pm or so, right around the time the kids woke up from their nap and I was generally called into service, I took my book and went to the back of the house. I slipped into my parents’ bedroom, where I closed the door, went into their bathroom, closed that door, stepped into the shower, closed the stall door, and sat, in the cool porcelain of the empty bathtub reading my book and basking in the silence and the solitude.
After about an hour or so, I was hungry and realized my dad would be coming home soon, where no doubt he’d question why I’d locked myself in the bathroom when my mom and grandmother probably needed my help. Usually around this time of the day most of the kids had been picked up, save for a few stragglers, so I wasn’t completely surprised by how quiet when I walked out of my parent’s room and into the hallway. As I drew closer to the living room and rec room, I realized it wasn’t just quiet- it was totally silent. There was no one in the living room, no grandma in the kitchen drinking iced tea, no mom in the backyard talking on the phone to a parent who was running late, no kids sprawled in front of the TV watching Sesame Street, sucking on their bottles. I was completely alone. As I walked around the length of the backyard, trying to decipher where everyone was, one of the workers that had been doing the remodel on our house spotted me.
“Little girl”, he said. “Your parents are looking for you.”
“What?” I said. I was totally confused. “What do you mean? I’m home. I’ve been home.”
He explained to me, in fractured English, that my mom and grandma had been looking for me the past hour or so, but couldn’t find me anywhere. After a half hour of calling they started to panic. Kids got sent home early, and I’d should probably go out front and find my mom and tell her I was OK - because the ENTIRE NEIGHBORHOOD was out looking for me.
The ENTIRE NEIGHBORHOOD.
I wanted to die. I assumed I’d be in trouble for ditching out on my responsibilities, but I was also humiliated that everyone- including all the kids I went to school with, and already knew my reputation for being the kid that couldn’t come ride bikes around town because her parents were so over-protective, were all out looking for me. I crept outside and it was just as I’d feared- a total mob scene. Everyone was outside, walking around, calling my name, looking for me. I quickly spotted my mom, who was screaming my name with tears running down her face. She grabbed me and pulled me into a bone-crushing hug, demanding to know where I was and incredulous that I was ok.
“I was in the bathroom”, I said sheepishly.
“No you weren’t”, she said. “We looked in the bathroom!”
“Not the front bathroom….your bathroom. The back bathroom. I was reading my book and wanted to be left alone where it was quiet.”
I don’t remember what happened after that, suffice to say I wasn’t in trouble and that relieved me. Word quickly spread that I was ok, and I drove around the neighborhood with my mom in our gray Mazda pickup to let the parents who’d travelled outside the markers of our neighborhood to look for me know that I was alive and well. Our dog Chico had somehow wound up at my friend Andrea’s house, whose father had been looking for signs of me in the dry creek bed that ran parallel to our housing development. Andrea’s father knew me pretty well and I think, once the relief that I was ok set in, found the whole incident pretty funny. Chico was so excited to see me he accidentally scratched my upper arm in glee, leaving a two inch long cut that I still have a scar from today.
Maybe it was my parents scanning the neighborhood with other parents who had kids exactly my age that made them realize I needed a little more freedom. Maybe it was the realization that I was turning into the kind of kid that would hide in the bathroom on a beautiful summer day to read a book rather than play outside on her bike. No doubt I was becoming a total introvert. Honestly, I don’t know exactly what happened, or what shifted. All I know is three months later I turned twelve, and I was finally allowed to ride my bike all over the neighborhood and all over town. I still had strict restrictions- call as soon as I got to my friend’s house and call again before I left, and If I was just riding downtown, be back in two hours (they knew how long it took to travel from one end of our town to the other). Even still, that little bit of freedom I was given pulled me right out of my shell and today, I’m one of the most social people I know. I loved to read, and I still do, but I shelved the dolls and colored pencils (I was never that much of an artist in the first place). I started making friends and socializing, carefully tiptoeing my way through the brutal hierarchy of middle school, high school, and adulthood.
I’m also happy to report that, to this day, I’ve never been lost in the bathroom again.