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Sunday, May 8, 2016

Runaways

It was about 10 o'clock at night and three young women, roughly 15 or 16 years old were sitting in the audience during a performance of my play Alyeska at Blank Slate Theatre. They were not drawing attention to themselves, and in fact were preternaturally quiet. I remember them now because of what I know about them: they were planning to run away.

They lived (temporarily) at some sort of in-house treatment center. It may have been for alcohol or drug treatment, or it may have been for something else; I only know they were intent on getting away that night, and they did. They had been brought to the play by their head counselor, who had no idea what they were about to do; neither did I.

What struck me, as I watched them at a post-show discussion, was how expressionless they were. When I tried to smile at them, they looked at me without moving a muscle. Their eyes seemed flat, dead and cold. What's going on here, I thought, but could not make any sense of it. It was only later, when I heard they had run away, that everything began to make sense.

Who were these young women? What had they done to get sent to the treatment center? How long had they been there? Why were they so desperate to leave they would run off after a play performance without clothes or food or money? Where did they intend to go?

I had no answers to these questions, and still don't. The only thing I know is runaways come in all shapes and sizes, and certainly a variety of income levels. I don't know if they were poor and had no parental oversight, or if they had parents but couldn't get along with them. One of the reasons I wrote The Beat on Ruby's Street was to explore the journey of a young girl who got thrown into the "system" because she didn't have what was considered to be a "normal" home.

Somehow, girls like these get "placed" or run into people who misuse and abuse them all too often. The young women I met still haunt me because I have no idea what happened to them; if they were found or just slipped through the cracks or if only one of them came back or where they are now. I do hope they are all OK and that somehow they found a way to a better life.

Thinking about them now, I believe runaways are all around us. I met a few at YouthLink, which is a great center for homeless teens in Minneapolis. I found humor, resilience, talent and intelligence in the teens I met there, and I was grateful they had found a place that could help them get what they needed.

Wishing there were no homeless teens or runaways won't make that happen, but maybe the next time you see one or meet one, you might be able to see more than emptiness in their eyes. I guess the only way to do that is by talking to them. I wish I'd had the opportunity to do that on the night those three young women ran off after my play. If you're out there, just know I'm still thinking of you.

More info on resources for runaways, in case you need it:

National Runaway Safeline
Safe Place
Band Back Together

Dark eyed girl photoRachel a. k.