Paranoid Children Have More Fun


trees and cloudsI never played with action figures. I never saw the point. Acting out scenarios with tiny, plastic dolls? I preferred acting with my whole body. At recess, I recruited friends to become fellow jewel thieves or jungle explorers or doctors on desperate missions to halt raging epidemics of cooties.

I was even better at scenarios that played out in my head, scenarios I enacted alone, scenarios I never told anyone about. In one recurring fantasy, I was a cat burglar. (To younger readers: cat burglars were once a thing, though no one speaks of them anymore.) Every time I visited a mall or a department store, I’d note the location of the air vents, service doors, and other ways I could use to break in later — though sadly, later never came, because I was also a massive goody-goody.

In my other favorite scenario, I played a kidnapping victim. When my parents dragged my brothers and me on weekend errands, I’d lie face-up on the Naugahyde back seat of our hulking Oldsmobile station wagon, following the trees, trying to count blocks, and making note of telling scenery. I committed that information to memory so that when I picked the lock on my imaginary handcuffs and found my way to a phone in the kidnappers’ lair, I could tell the police where to find me.

I’m not sure why I found kidnapping such a compelling storyline, but I have a hunch that it was my mother’s paranoia rubbing off on me.

Mom was a little overprotective. By which I mean, a lot overprotective. Long before the era of the 24-hour news cycle, she was obsessed with radio reports of Patty Hearst and a series of missing children in Atlanta. She was convinced that if we left her sight for more than a few seconds, someone would roll up to our front yard in an unmarked white van and whisk us away, “just like they did to that poor Hearst girl”. The fact that we lived in a small, unremarkable town in the middle-of-nowhere Mississippi didn’t make her feel any better about the situation. Bad guys lurked around every corner.

Then again, my abduction fixation might also have had something to do with my love of Harriet the Spy. Not only was she awesome and smart and a girl (all things I aspired to be at the time), but we also shared a passion for tomato sandwiches.

I’d completely forgotten about those kidnapping fantasies until Peter, John, and I were coming back from lunch a couple of weeks ago. Usually I drive or I sit in the passenger’s seat, but that day, for no good reason, I asked one of them to take the wheel, and I climbed in the back. It’s a weird feeling, being in the back seat of your own car: disorienting and potentially embarrassing. It’s always filthier than you think.

I lay down and watched the leaves and powerlines go by: Marigny Street, Mandeville, Spain, turning onto St. Roch, stopping at a light, I could almost see the Rally’s sign that I know is there, and then I saw the purple walls of the Healing Center.

I hadn’t lost my touch.

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