I ran away from home at fifteen. My life wasn’t bad. My parents were (and still are) good people, who provided for me well. I never wanted for anything. I lived in a nice home. I did well in school. I didn’t have a drug problem (yet). I didn’t drink (yet).
So why on Earth did I think I was better off striking out on my own at such a young age? That’s a fair question. I suppose there were a lot of reasons. What I thought were reasons at any rate. I mean let’s be honest. What can a fifteen-year-old girl really know about what’s best for her?
Just before my 7th-grade year began, my family moved to my father’s hometown. It was a town that was significantly smaller than the city suburb I had lived in up til this point. I had to leave my friends and the only home I had ever known. In addition to this, I also had to give up the perks of being in a more diverse school setting, in favor of a small town school. This was a huge shock to my mindset. I didn’t adjust well. I saw girls my age getting pregnant, and girls only slightly older with several kids, living in trailers, not finishing school, or ending up in alternative schools to finish out their education. This hit my independent, empowered, “bigger city” sensibilities hard. These kids were doing things I couldn’t understand. Drugs, drinking, sex. Even the ‘good’ kids were so different than the ones I knew. Of course, I fell in with some of them in a way, but honestly, I don’t think I really made many real friends. There is only one of them that I still communicate with to this day, and he has pretty much the same impression of life in this town as I do. He also left town before graduation, albeit he did things the correct way. With his family.
I’m not sure if it was just small-town boredom, or a need to feel more worldly, or what it was, but these new people were a different kind of rebellious. Here is a town, comprised pretty completely of white, middle-class people, and the kids were coming to school talking about gangs, ghetto life, and sporting their blue bandanas, and acting crazy. It baffled me. The kids I went to school with while living in my previous city (of all races and backgrounds) didn’t act like that, and here were all these small-town teenagers claiming things that I (and most likely they) had only seen in movies and heard on the news. Yes, it was all bullshit posturing, and I knew it right away.
I came to a conclusion. There was NO FREAKIN WAY that I wanted to end up in the same situations that I found these kids in. No access to any real diversity. No real culture. No art. No class. So I guess in short, I felt that I was saving my own life.
In true teenager fashion though, I gave no thought at all to what running away would really be like. What kinds of dangers I would encounter. The risks.
This could turn into a really long story here if I were to go into everything that I did during my almost five years on the run. Who knows? Maybe one day I will write a book.
Long story short, eventually, I ran out of money. I knew I didn’t want to end up on the street, and I had a moral compass instilled in me from my upbringing that wouldn’t allow me to do certain things. I found a way to obtain an ID in a different state and used that to gain employment in an exotic dance club as a dancer. Hey, it’s better than hooking on the corner or living under a bridge. I was able to make money, honestly, without falling into a life that most runners end up in one way or another. I rented a room to live in. I didn’t have to kiss my dignity goodbye. It was a job. I went to work, I made my money, I went home and paid my bills.
I honed my artistic skills. I exposed myself to culture. I lived a life. I saw the country, met people from all walks of life. Learned acceptance. Respect. Responsibility.
I also developed a nasty drug habit that it took years to get control of and eventually break. I didn’t get to finish school. I still only have a 9th-grade education. It took a LONG time to make up for the time I took away from my parents (who tirelessly searched for me for almost 5 years until I finally called them up), and my younger siblings who never had their big sister in their lives.
What I have come to realize though, is, if I wouldn’t have done what I did, I would be a completely different person. As much as there are things about what I did that aren’t well done, that is what I come back to each and every time I give thought to it.
I can’t regret running away. Because if I could turn back the clock and do it differently, I wouldn’t be the me I am today. The me I feel fortunate to be. With my quirks, and my talents, and my passions. I would be another me, and it’s possible I wouldn’t like her as much.
This is just my story. One of countless others. Most teenage runaways don’t have it as easy as I did. Most aren’t as lucky. A lot of them are escaping one horror for another. If you are a young person, that feels like this is your only option, stop and think for a moment. There is help out there. There are people who will listen. You don’t have to set out all on your own and pray for a better life.
If you are an endangered runaway or are thinking of running away from home in the United States, call:
The National Runaway Safeline: 1-800-RUNAWAY
If you are being abused in your home call:
ChildHelp National Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD
If you are in another country and know your area’s hotlines or websites that help endangered runaways, I would love for you to put them in the comments. This isn’t just an American problem, and there are troubled kids everywhere.
Thanks for reading!