gone astray

a childhood of wandering off

In my family, I am the child you always have to look out for. From age six or seven until I was able to walk around and use public transportation on my own, my family had to constantly keep track of my whereabouts. Oftentimes I would wander off.

My earliest memory of this happening is from when I was seven. For Christmas vacation, some of my extended family all stayed at a timeshare in Orlando, Florida for a week.

My mom quickly found that five minors to two adults is a lot to handle at Disney World or Universal Studios. After a couple days, my mom became tired of trying to keep track of us in amusement parks. Therefore, one afternoon she decided we would spend a day doing calming activities, i.e. paddle boating. Even this activity proved to be stressful after my cousin dropped the entire contents of her purse in the water.

Walking back to the complex I ran ahead of everyone to avoid my mom’s tense and frustrated mood. The resort complex intrigued me. Therefore, I looked around at the scenery and forgot to pay attention to where my family was. We came to a split in the path. Without realizing it, I split to the left, while my mom and the rest of the group split to the right. After about five minutes, I realized I couldn’t find my mother. The anxiety of being alone in a strange place started to set in. I half walked half ran back to the hotel, paranoid that I would get kidnapped before I could find my mother again.

I found my way without too much difficulty. When I finally approached our room on the complex, I rang the doorbell, and my mom opened the door. Her jaw dropped.

“Taylor! I thought you were inside,” she exclaimed.

“No, I got lost,” I responded, still a bit anxious from being separated from my family for what felt like hours.

She rushed me inside the room as if I might disappear again in front of her eyes. For the rest of the trip my mom kept very close watch over me, and I paid more attention to my surroundings.

One winter morning in second grade, my teacher forgot to call my house to announce a snow day. My stepdad dropped me off at my elementary school and, like usual, I ran down the stairs to the school door alone. My stepdad had a particularly important meeting that day and was focused on beating snowy traffic on the Hudson Parkway. I tried to open the door. It was locked. Quickly, I turned around only to find that my stepdad had sped off to work. I was too surprised at being left alone to cry or try to walk anywhere. My fear of being left in a blizzard for eight hours paralyzed me.

After ten minutes, another parent who also did not get the message that school was closed that day arrived. When she saw me alone in front of a locked school door she also froze. She wanted to bring her three-year-old son home, but she couldn’t leave me here alone. We walked to a Laundromat to get out of the cold and think about what to do next. When I calmed down, I remembered that I knew where my mother worked and could find that in a phone book. We tracked down my mom’s number and called her work. My mom arranged for my cousin, who was staying over, to walk to the school and bring me home.

The last major time I remember being left behind was July 2007. The camp I attended bused kids to the Adirondacks on a Sunday morning and dropped them home four weeks later on a Saturday evening. On a Saturday night in July, I get off the bus to find that my parents’ car was not among the cars waiting to welcome their children home. My mom forgot that campers returned on Saturday nights. Turns out, my mom drove to Sag Harbor, NY that afternoon, about three hours from where she was supposed to pick me up. She probably wanted to get out of the city for a weekend to relax, and confused her dates. With the help of a counselor I called my sister and made a plan for how I was going to get home. She called her best friend’s mother and asked her to pick me up from the last stop the bus made for the night.

My mom jokes all the time that being put in situations like the ones I’ve mentioned has helped me build character, be more independent, and solve problems effectively. She is right. After several years of constantly being left behind, I decided that it was time I learned to get around by myself. If I were going to get lost again, I would need to have better navigation skills. Every time I go somewhere I carefully establish how I will get to my destination, how I will return, and whether I have enough money to do that. Even when I have to rely on my smartphone to get around, I do whatever I can to stay on track.