When I was thirteen, I disappeared. There was no event that immediately preceded it, though I had a long list of reasons to clear out. I packed a small rucksack with a few items of clothing and my copy of The Complete Works of Lewis Carroll. It was a heavy book with a deep red dust cover. It was a cumbersome object for a runaway, especially when I had no real intention of reading it, it was just that I couldn't leave it behind. I left at lunchtime. I caught a bus to P, a seaside town, which was only five miles or so from where I lived. I think I had planned to take each step of my escape in small, manageable stages. P was a town entirely founded on a very British sort of tourism; of arcades, netted buckets and spades, big-breasted postcards and jelly sandals. I walked the seafront, lined with chalky rows of B&Bs like teeth. It was summer and not easy to find one with a vacancy sign, but eventually I did. And here was where my subterfuge began. I was 18. I was on holiday, but awaiting family to join me and needed a room for a couple of nights at most. I paid for a small single room with a turquoise bedspread and a tv in the corner. That was good, I had thought, I won't miss Eastenders.
I left my rucksack with its brick of a book and walked back into the town centre. I wandered past the throng of arcades, their noise spilled onto pavement, the fudge shops, and those shops where you could buy crab lines and ashtrays and bags of shells (never found on this town's pebbled beach) as if I really was a tourist. I went to Marks and Spencer's to buy a sandwich and salt and vinegar crisps - I planned to save these to eat watching Eastenders later. And then, I think a kind of lostness set in. Because I wasn't a tourist. This was a grim place of sunburn and seagulls and I knew it too well to stroll around it as though it was interesting. I started to head back to the B&B. On the way, I decided I would get an icecream. And this is the bit I haven't mentioned yet. From asking for my fare on the bus to booking into the B&B and this very moment, I had spoken with an American accent. The lady in the ice cream parlour asked where I was from. "Dallas," I said. I was here on a trip to England, I told her. I don't recall if there was more conversation than that.
When I returned to the B&B I went up to my room and sat on the bed. It was still mid-afternoon. I wish I could remember now what thoughts I had then, what I had intended, how frightened I was. I know that they were broken by the landlady knocking on my door to find the police were waiting for me downstairs. She hadn't believed that I was 18 and, concerned, had called the police. I have no clear memory of what they asked me, perhaps because I was too terrified at the time. They took me home. It was still light. They must have spoken to my parents, I suppose, though I had not been reported missing. No one asked me about it. No one made any mention of it at all. It was as though it hadn't even happened. As though in barely existing, I had already vanished. I have told this story before as if it was an amusing thing I did as a teenager, as well as the fact that the landlady didn't give me my money back. I have always left out the part that I pretended to be from Dallas and that it was an ignored event when I arrived home. It doesn't seem so funny anymore. Because it is the icecream that I remember most clearly, the conversation in my absurd accent - my sense of wanting to be anyone, but me - a childish attempt at reinvention.