When I was 17 years old, I was a homeless teen runaway. I never would have imagined this becoming my story. I concentrated on elevating myself to be better. I wanted to disprove what any statistical likelihood could have predicted, of me. I was an honor student, and the youngest high school graduate in my class. I was a member of every team and club, and a favorite amongst my teachers. I had a lot of friends, and would probably be remembered for being really 'sweet' and in some cases, 'shy.' But I had a debilitating secret that I kept from everyone...
I was being physically and emotionally abused at the hands of my mother. There would be times when she would be loving and kind, and I felt like things might get better. But they never did. I would be beaten and screamed at nearly every day, sometimes for merely looking at her the wrong way. As I got older, she would leave me home alone for days, weeks, and months at a time. I learned to take care of myself in one sense, but the isolation was also crippling in its own way. I grew to cherish the periods where my mother treated me like I was invisible, because she seemed to hate me more when she actually noticed I was there.
I tracked the passing years down like a 'countdown clock,' thinking I just needed to make it to 18 years old. I would get into college somewhere far away, and never come back. All of the bruises I'd hidden and the nights I cried myself to sleep would become distant memories. I convinced myself that it was better to be hurt by someone I knew, than it would be to be taken away or left to navigate the world alone.
I was stringently controlled by my mom, in every facet of my life. My entire upbringing revolved around trying not to make her mad. Every decision I made was contingent upon trying to anticipate her potential reaction to it. The problem being that you could never really predict what might upset her. There was never any real rhyme or reason to how or when I would be punished. I tried to be the perfect daughter, but it was never good enough. Escaping that situation with no real money, no other family, and no real plan for survival? It seemed completely implausible.
I had never been completely on my own before, and I had been groomed over many years to just completely submit to the abuse. It was important not to fight back or even block the blows when you are being hit. You eventually learn to keep your hands at your sides, no matter the pain. It was even more important not to scream or cry, lest any protest being viewed as an act of defiance. Silence was the best way to ensure that it ended as quickly as possible. So I became at expert at staying mute, and keeping still.
I also had to pretend to be mentally younger than I actually was, around her. My mother seemed to loathe me more as I aged. She liked me better as a small child, when I was more easily controlled. As I moved into my teenage years, I was never allowed to decorate my own room, or pick out my own clothes. I couldn't go to friend's houses or to the mall or the movies. I had to be guileless, and maintain the innocence and naivety of a small child, lest I would be reprimanded physically for 'acting out.'
I would be choked, punched, and smothered, on what seemed like a whim. She would occasionally wake me up from sleep just to punish me for whatever became the 'infraction of the day.' I began to dread the sound of her keys in the door, and footsteps coming toward my room. I once missed several days of school because she pummeled me for not making my bed. It was three in the morning, and I was sleeping in it at the time.
I had to keep my head down and always smile. I was never to talk back, especially in public. I wasn't permitted to think about "boys" and relationships. I could only leave home if it was required for a school function, and even then she would always call and check that I was really there, timing my 'departures and returns' down to the minute, from door-to-door. Home was like a prison, and I wasn't allowed any true independence. She wanted me to rely on her for everything. As much as I wanted to leave, I had no idea how to survive without my mom. I couldn't imagine my life without her, even though it was all I really wanted.
But during my senior year of High School, everything changed...
My mother got really angry one night, and she chased me around the house with a kitchen knife. She said that I was the worst thing to ever happen to her, and that it would be better if I were dead. She said that I had ruined her life, and that I didn't deserve to live anymore. It wasn't the first time something like this had happened but I realized in that moment that it had to be the last.
I had to get out.
I escaped from the house after one last physical altercation with her, and I called 911 that night after going door to door to neighbors houses for help. I didn't have a cellphone on me and I didn't know any of my friend's numbers by heart. I didn't know what else to do. I was trembling and absolutely terrified that she was still going to try and come after me. I originally planned to hitchhike and get as far away as I could on my own, but the police officers from that night convinced me that I should "let the system work" and remain in a foster care placement, pending legal proceedings against my mother. I was so close to freedom, and felt like I could actually breathe for the first time in my life. I thought I would finally be safe in this foster home that is literally designed to be a safe haven for kids like me. I thought the worst was over. But the 'devil you know' will always 'beat the devil you don't.' And my foster dad had other ideas in mind.
The police told me when they dropped me off that if this foster home didn’t work out, they would have no other choice but to send me to Juvie, especially if I was caught running away. All the teen shelters in the area had no free beds. So I would just go to Jail and be assigned a cell, as this twisted turn of events had brought me from honor-roll student on the cheer-dance team and show choir- to a "delinquent ward of the state" as per their paperwork.
It would "look bad" for me, if I didn't make this foster home work. It would make seem like I was just another troublemaker. I couldn’t stay with my friends because harboring a runaway (especially one in state custody) could lead to their arrest as well. I didn’t want to get my friends in trouble for trying to hide me at their houses. I didn’t want to be the ‘bad kid.’ So I stayed in the foster home as long as I could bear it.
But you can't lock doors in a house that you don’t even have the keys to. I couldn't keep the monster out of my room in this stranger's house.
I confided in a friend about my foster dad. He was sneaking into my bedroom at night or early in the morning and...
I didn't tell anyone what was happening, because it seemed like nobody would help. It would just make things worse.
I was eventually removed from that home as well and, for the second time in a short period, left with nothing and nowhere to go.
I bounced around between shelters and friends’ couches, night by night. I couldn’t go home. I didn’t even know where that actually was, anymore. I felt as though I had lost everything and didn't belong anywhere. The little bit of hope that I still had was dwindling down more and more with each passing day.
But I never gave up. Something told me that this wasn't the end. That things would work out somehow...that I would finally be free.
And somehow, through prayer and determination (and the help of a family full of friends and social workers who believed in me) I was finally able to truly escape the darkness that I had been fighting for my entire life.
On my 18th birthday, I got on a plane and left to attend my dream school in New York City. I did a lot of growing up in NYC. I've now lived here longer than I've ever lived anywhere else- and I finally feel like I have a home- that I created for myself.
Runaway is my original work, and the lyrics are part of the retelling of this story...the story of my fight for my life.