I ran away from home the first time when I was about 9 years old. Not the normal running away all children do where parents laugh and wave good-bye. When I was 9 years old, I ran away, finding shelter under the deck of a
friends house for a night, freezing in the cold and damp; with the woods in back creaking and the wind whistling I planned my escape for the next day to the big city. At 9 years old, I had no true understanding of the world and its cruelty to children, but I understood what I was running from.
My father found me, shivering from the cold and frightened hours later; I have always hated the dark since then.
No one thought to ask me why. No one thought to hug me and tell me how glad they were I wasn’t hurt.
I was rebuked for the trouble I caused. Spanked and sent to my room for a week. My mother put on a show, she always did this, weeping and gnashing her teeth proclaiming in a loud voice (so I could hear) what a terrible and ungrateful child I was. Though I didn’t understand all she said, I silently agreed I was ungrateful. I liked being sent to my room, it was the one place in the house filled with what was mine; books to escape to, paper to fill with my thoughts (back then I wrote poetry and stories then tore them shreds) and art supplies. I never feared being alone, was never lonely in my solitude.
From the age of nine (9) forward I would evolve into a habitual runaway. It is a term the Juvenile System uses to designate those children who they are not able to keep in their homes or within the Foster system. Not all states recognize the term, some states simply name children like I was Delinquent, in fact 40 years ago when my evolution began all states were wont to call children like me Juvenile Delinquent, we haven’t come far since then only thirteen out of 50 US states have Habitual Runaway statutes.
The world was immense; I didn’t know it then and wouldn’t know it for a few more years. No one thought to warn me I might be hurt beyond the confines of the small streets of our neighborhood. No one considered the implications of my wanderlust. Did they know?
When I was a child, I was fearless, with an imagination fueled by the books I read and the places I had already seen. By the time I was nine years old I had toured ancient castles and monasteries with dungeons and torture chambers for wrongdoers. I had heard true stories of mad kings and stood in the very spots where queens had lost their heads and a saint had burned for heresy. I had seen the greatest art of man, climbed a leaning tower and fed pigeons in the square of St. Marks on Easter Sunday. All these and more stayed firmly in my soul, fired my heart and put wings to my feet. I knew the world was wide and waiting for me.
The narrow and unhappy confines of my home smothered me, caused my heart to crack and shatter though it would be years before I understood what I was feeling. Decades would pass before I would understand why I ran, that it was simply my fight or flight instinct kicking in. I didn’t have the means to fight so adrenalin and instinct caused me to run.
Run and run again. I practiced running away more times than I can count. I was finally successful two months after my fifteenth birthday. By the time I finally ran successfully I was a ward of the courts, in foster care. Even then, no person, no caseworker, no judge, no court psychologist (I saw a great number of them) ever asked why I ran. After a year the courts closed my case, I was emancipated in proxy; this means they couldn’t find me.
Today we have over one million runaway and throwaway children on the streets of our cities; they are at risk in so many ways most of us cannot even imagine. The world of the runaway child is dog-eat-dog, for most it is the strong feeding on the weak. Without outreach resources, beds in shelters or even food most of these children resort to petty theft, prostitution and panhandling.
Nearly all of these children will face hunger, sexual assault including rape, sexual exploitation, violence, drug addiction and disease including Aids; yet most of us will walk by them on the street and turn our faces away when they ask for a dollar; what are we thinking?
The story of why I ran and being a runaway is a story for a different day. The reality is, it wasn’t romantic or easy, it was horrifying and hard. Another reality though, it was a kinder world then than it is now though still cruel.