Bridget looks at me, her big eyes filling with tears.
She’s right. I look up towards the crest of the canyon and the fence we hopped a half an hour ago.
Then, I realize: I don’t care. Because I am four-years-old. And I have just staged a prison break from my preschool.
I was never a rebellious child. Okay, I did start that petition in the fourth grade denouncing mandatory recess activities. So, political? Maybe. But, rebellious? Never.
This preschool prison break was special, a moment of divine timing. Sitting on my stiff scratchy school cot the day before, prepping for naptime, I noticed that the teachers did not check to see that all of us kids had made it in from the playground.
My mind began to race, the escape plan formulating quickly.
The next day, I approached the playground with a very specific agenda. Phase #1: Act natural. Phase #2: Take cover. Phase #3: Wait. And that was as far as the plan went.
I played tag that day like my life depended on it, so as to not arouse any suspicion. I carefully watched the teachers out of the corners of my eyes, tracking their positions.
After what seemed like an eternity, like, ten minutes, the bell rang.
It was naptime. Phase #2 was a go.
I sought cover. My fellow munchkins were now picking up sweaters, juice boxes and big red bouncy balls. I waded through them upstream as they filtered back into the classroom. I knelt behind a rock.
Time for Phase #3. I pretended to tie my shoe. A good cover story. All I had to do now was wait. The playground was emptying. Almost there…
Bridget’s voice startled me. She wore a pink sundress and stared down at me from behind dark, mousey hair.
“You’re gonna miss naptime.”
“I’m coming,” I said, hoping she would take the bait and run along ahead of me. She didn’t. She waited. Staring. My time was running out.
I hadn’t planned on taking hostages, I mean, on having an accomplice. I considered her.
“What’s your name?”
“Bridget,” she said.
Hmm. I glanced at the classroom door where a teacher was ushering the last of the preschoolers inside.
Bridget would have to play ball. Right now.
I grabbed her hand and pulled her into hiding.
“It will be fun,” I told her, because that is how you convince anyone to do anything when you are four-years-old
Bridget looked at me dubiously, but did not protest. Minutes later, the rest of our classmates disappeared and the teacher shut the door, without a second glance outside.
And in that moment, we were free.
It was a feeling of freedom I would later come to recognize as the first-day-of-summer-vacation free. Or the I’m-in-love-with-someone-who-actually-loves-me-back free. Or the yay-I-have-health-insurance-again free. And on that day, in that moment, with my accomplice Bridget, on the precipice of an adventure, it … was … glorious.
And then it was…confusing. Now what do we do?
“Let’s hop the fence!” I suggested.
The preschool was perched on the edge of a canyon, a cavernous wasteland, full of strange adventure, portals through time and space, dinosaurs and aliens.
I yanked on Bridget’s arm and we darted across the empty playground. She hesitated.
“What about the crows?” she whispered.
The teachers would sometimes take us on short walks through these badlands and if there was one thing we all knew for certain, it was that the canyon crows would eat you alive.
“I think they made that up,” I told her. “So we wouldn’t run away.”
A few rusty metal scratches later, we were on the precipice of a new world.
The thought that we might get lost hadn’t occurred to me. However, I wasn’t concerned. At four, I would often ask department store clerks to announce my name over the loudspeaker because I had spent too long hiding inside a circular rack of dresses, pretending it was a fairy woodland, and I’d lost my mother. I knew how to handle myself when things got dicey.
But, Bridget was about to lose it. Thankfully, that’s when we stumbled upon a canyon oasis: a creek!…which was actually storm drain run off, but to us, an exotic swimming hole. When you are four, your undergarments can always double as a bathing suit. We immediately stripped to our skivvies and dove in.
And we swam. We swam and dove and jumped and frolicked…right up until the point when the cops showed up.
My mother had come to pick me up from preschool, and for the first time the teachers realized that Bridget and I were nowhere to be found.
I tried to make conversation with the burly policeman who wrapped me in his big puffy jacket and carried me back up the hill.
“Hi, how are you? What’s your name?”
He didn’t answer me. For the very first time that day, I wondered if I had done something wrong.
I look back on this now and my first thought is always the same. Who WAS that four-year-old in that canyon? And, more importantly, when can I get her back? Because if there is any of her courage and confidence left inside of me somewhere, I’d really like to harness it and channel it into dating and job interviews, and I don’t know, taking over the world?
But that’s what’s great about childhood. That’s what’s great about four-years-old. When you run across these moments of truth, you do nothing but listen and believe. The world has not told you any differently yet. It will, eventually. Eventually it will teach you about self-doubt and insecurity and the limits of your own safety. But maybe not yet. Maybe not at four.
This piece was written for So Say We All‘s April VAMP
“It Was Just a Phase,” performed on April 25, 2013
at the Whistle Stop in San Diego, CA.