A tale of a young man about town

The Wanderlust
Evan Destimonte first got the wanderlust when he was 41/2 years old.
Lest you think it’s just something little boys get into, like BB guns or Erector sets or model airplane building (and not just for those few glorious sniffs of Testor's modeling glue before someone notices), it is a recessive gene on the mother’s side. An anomaly of code, a nick of DNA that leads one to wander.
And Evan had it bad for months in the late spring and early summer of 1968.
There was the jaunt to Breslin’s Super Valu, across a state highway (there was a crosswalk) and two other major thoroughfares one evening when his mother was at a PTA meeting and his dad was watching the youngster. Supposedly the child was in the bathtub (Evan did start there) while his father watched rapt a new episode of Star Trek.
So it was something of a surprise when the black-and-white pulled into the driveway with Evan in the backseat, his parents arguing in the front lawn, a flurry of hand gestures.
While he made it fine to the Super Valu, this first foray into wanderlust left him a bit dazed upon walking into the parking lot for the return trip – he had pilfered a chocolate Easter bunny for a bit of sustenance – and an old guy in a tan fedora with a single brown grocery bag, took pity on the sticky, crying child and called the cops from the payphone near the cart return.
Yet once in the car, Evan was able to direct the officers to his home, two-and-a-half miles away, with efficient clarity.
There was some explaining that needed to be done, and the bemused cops watched as Evan’s dad haplessly try and talk his way out of out of this one.
“I swear, he was in the bathtub!”
“First, when do you leave a 4-year-old in a bathtub alone? Second, you know what we’re dealing with here. Christ, Francis, I need to know you’ll watch him when I’m not around.”
Evan, for his part, sat on the hood of the old Chevy squad car and asked the cops if he could run the siren one last time.
Twice he made it to Preston’s Drugstore, with its wide penny candy aisle, pet department (complete with exotic tropical fish, rodents and parakeets) and its marble soda counter, where once he ponied up for a dish of vanilla ice cream with sprinkles (which ended up being on the house, a 4-year-old’s version of the dine-and-dash when he simply slipped from the counter undetected).
“Hey, Evan, where’s your mom?” a friend of the family, Camille, asked on his second trip downtown. The boy was lining up Super Balls on Preston’s well-worn taffy-colored tile floor for one giant bounce-off.
“I dunno, home I guess.”
“Are you here with your dad?”
“Nope. Came by myself.”
She delivered the boy home, and the story took on legendary status in the ladies’ bridge circles and the Catholic Alter Society for a solid month.
Trips continued. Once to the mall, hidden in the backseat well of his mother’s bright red Plymouth Valiant, with its push-button start and decorative chrome grill, when he was deemed to be too dirty and de-clothed to make the trip.
Once to his aunt and uncle’s farm on the edge of town (a trip of nearly 12 miles, but he hitched a ride on a combine of a neighbor who knew the boy from the annual Fourth of July picnic).
A few times to his grandparents, where he ate spongy oatmeal raisin cookies while he waited for his parents to come get him (grandma didn’t drive) and watched as his granddad chain-smoked Camel no-filters and read books in the queen-sized bed he rarely left until his death, several years later.
The last wander is something of conjecture, a judgment call.
With his parents out for a Saturday evening among grownups, Evan was left to the care of his older sister, whom he loved, but was slightly afraid. There was a dust-up, an argument over bedtime and she had become frustrated.
“When you fall asleep, I’m going to stab you with a kitchen knife,” she whispered into his ear.
The boy slipped out of the house and in the dark couldn’t think of one place he’d like to go. So he huddled in the honeysuckle and watched as the evening unfolded into a serious search & rescue party. Only when his dad began to back the Chrysler out of the garage did he emerge from the brush that framed part of the family’s wide porch.
Tucked into sheets with tears still shiny on his face, his mother decided that the boy’s wanderlust had run its course.
“The next time you take off and we can’t find you, you’ll just have to live with another family,” she said. “If that’s OK with you, that’s OK with us. I just hope that’s not the case.”
The words grounded Evan for the next 40 years.
Oh there were job changes, U-Haul vans, Interstate highway travel, new towns. Vacations to both Mexico and Canada. But the lustful gene remained quiet, sedate.
Until the one morning when Evan awoke with a start before the dawn, lips parched and his heart pounding. A singular thought coursed through the soup of brain chemicals, seductive wet-firing synapses of wandering desire:
Morocco.

3 comments:

Queen Of The Valkyries said...

Oh my.
Wow.

You are not stopping there. Right? You wouldn't do that to us. Would you?
I mean, this is just Chapter One. Right? Right? Right?

Can I get an Amen?

j.c. montgomery said...

Amen

ThomG said...

Lemme see what comes to mind, see if I can flesh it out.