As a child, I used to fantasize about being Heidi of the Alps. I used to draw pictures on my wide-ruled notebook paper of hovels on top of mountains with thatched roofs, the landscape dotted with fluffy yellow haystacks, goats, pine trees and snow. I used to pretend my bedroom was her attic bedroom where she could see the stars at night. And also, I used to have a literary crush on Peter, the goat-herder.
Heidi got me so hooked on “orphan” books that I couldn’t really get interested in much else for a while. There was Heidi, Anne of Green Gables, Mandy, The Secret Garden…all orphans, and all “me” in my head as I read through the pages over and over again. Oh, and I also had literary crushes on Dicken in the Secret Garden, AND on Gilbert in Anne of Green Gables.
Since the parents of Harriet the Spy weren’t around much in her books, I turned her into an orphan as well. Need you even ask if I had a crush on her friend Sport? And, since Wonaplei in the Island of the Blue Dolphins was stranded for eighteen years…yes, orphan. Every one of these female characters were “explorers” who pushed the boundaries of social acceptability with their adventures in one way or another. All of them were zealous, passionate about life, and most all of them had an emotional melt-down at some point. That’s where my story will begin today.
I think I was pretty awesome at having emotional melt-downs as a child. I know I was strong-willed. Had my parents only known to tell me to turn left when they wanted me to go right, jump if they wanted me to stand still, or scream bloody murder when they wanted me to be quiet…they might have thought their skills were magically blessed by the Early Childhood Fairy. I know that from time to time I would dig in with an idea, a rant, or some sort of decision that would turn in to quite the horn-locking situation. And, since we’re using “horn-locking” as a metaphor, I could probably take that even further and say that I was bull-headed. Strong willed, bull-headed, stubborn…pick one. They all fit.
In order for you to fully understand this little tale, it’s also important for you to know that I was a cartoon-lovin’ kid as well. Looney Tunes ruled. “Boy, I say BOY!…” I loved to imitate Foghorn Leghorn. And Ralph E. Wolfe and Sam Sheepdog: “Mornin’, Ralph.” “Mornin’, Sam.” And, I loved cartoon paraphernalia. For example, that cool anvil that always showed up to give the character’s heads a few knots? Nice! Or “ACME” everything. And, I used to love the fact that cartoon haystacks were so versatile. Looney Tunes did a great job with their cartoon haystacks. For instance, Wile E. Coyote could pick up an entire haystack within which he was hiding, run with his fingers across a road (cue the upper register piano keys sound effects), and then set the haystack back down again…over and over until he reached his destination. Haystacks were also good for breaking falls. Usually, the “good” cartoon would fall out of an airplane or off a cliff and land on a nice fluffy haystack, while the “bad” character would land on the dirt right beside them. And then, of course, dynamite would blow up in case the fall didn’t kill them.
One summer day my penchant for fantasizing about orphan protagonists, my bull-headedness and images of cartoon haystacks all came together into one knock-down, drag-out argument with my mother. I’m sure I was highly invested in defending my position to the death, and I’m sure she was thinking that perhaps she had spawned a freak of nature who needed a calf-tranquilizer. The verbal tennis-match we were having was Wimbledon worthy. So, I decided to one-up the situation, not by pleading my case with different words or more emphatic body language, but by ending the argument. I decided I would “run emotionally away from the scene of this persecution,” therefore garnering sympathy and attention. I was a literary orphan and this was my moment.
I turned around, ran out of the kitchen and through the garage, pushed the back door open and took off across the back yard toward (um…stop for a second, look around, pick a target…) The BARN! Caught up in my “persecution” leading role I thought quickly, “I’ll go throw myself on a haystack and cry violently!” My pace picked up, and before I knew it I was in the barn, climbing the stack of baled prairie grass, mixed with a few bales of alfalfa. The first level of the haystack wasn’t enough for dramatic effect. I was going all the way to the top. I grabbed a hay hook, used it for an anchor as I threw myself over the second and third layer of hay, and then finally pulled myself up and over the top row.
Adrenaline is a funny thing. Had I not been so worked up, I would have realized that as I was crawling across the highest layer of hay bales, my knees were receiving pain messages. The hay was tough and scratchy, more like crawling on cedar chips than the bright yellow cartoon hay image I had in my head. I quickly sighted the center, perfect for my dramatic “throw down and cry” scene, heaved my body forward and slammed my head down with a wail. The impact of my face onto the tightly baled hay might as well have been that of me slamming into a pine tree on Heidi’s mountain; it was solid as a rock. “Ouch!” I yelled, the shock and awe reverberating through my entire head.
Previously I had planned on forcing myself to fake-cry really loudly in order to punctuate the scene with the proper je ne sais quoi. Mustering fake blubber was no longer needed, however, as tears flowed easily from the very real physical stinging of my face. Wow, this haystack wasn’t yellow, it wasn’t fluffy and it sure as heck wasn’t something I could cry myself to sleep into; I wasn’t even sleepy. However, the bull-headedness didn’t get suddenly knocked out of me just because I had given myself a hay-concussion. I decided to TRY and cry myself to sleep just to make whatever point I was trying to make. I suppose on some level I succeeded because I ended up taking a short nap, but it took a lot longer to fall asleep than in the movies.
I woke up a little while later and was immediately reminded of two things: a) I had actually run out of the house away from one of my parents and could be facing very real consequences for said action; and, b) my head hurt like the dickens. Not Dicken, my literary crush from the Secret Garden, but “The Dickens” – the voluminous, overwhelming adjective used for special occasions to emphasize a great amount of “whatever.” At that point, it was my headache. Head throbbing, ego-bruised and curiosity peaked as to what my punishment might be for running out of the house, I made my way down that wretched haystack.
When I opened the door back into the house, however, my mother’s face showed genuine concern. “Kelly, are you okay?” she asked. “What happened to your face?” I could hear the worry in her voice. Okay, I HAD been gone for probably 45 minutes to an hour. There was no mention of the family court-hearing that would be taking place in our living room to hand down my sentence for leaving home. The “judge” just looked worried; perhaps my face looked quite a mess and she thought I had already paid some sort of price for my actions.
Maybe being an orphan wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. I closed the door and came on into the house, sat down and began to eat a pretty good meal that was waiting on me. As I worked through my sandwich, my right cheek throbbed. The first genuine tear of emotion trickled down my cheek. “Haystacks are not soft,” I thought. “Goat cheese probably isn’t as good as this sandwich,” I continued to talk myself down off the Alps and back to my farm in Tuttle, Oklahoma. It didn’t take long. The comfortable sounds of the kitchen soothed me as I finished my meal and headed back to my room. I glanced at my bookshelf and spied the Heidi book. I hesitated, turned back around and went to help my mom clean the dishes.