In the heat of a childhood argument I was once told that I ought to run away from home. No one would miss me, anyway. The argument was resolved, a truce reached, and we went on to work, play, and fight together as siblings do, but the suggestion provided interesting fodder for my overactive imagination. Yes. I'd show them. I'd just see how much they missed me. Like many kids—maybe even most—the thought of running away from home held exciting possibilities. I dwelt on it often. My imaginary friends were on the other side of the mountain in a nomadic camp, with teepees, campfires, dogs, and horses. I saw myself climbing the mountain, descending to the other side where a girl my age, dressed in buckskin, and wearing long black braids, would run to meet me. Her family would adopt me. In a solemn ceremony in which the Indian girl and I would cut our hands and mix our blood in a firm and loving grasp, we would become true sisters and I'd live happily ever after in their village.
A lot of satisfaction can be garnered from playing the imagined scenario over and over in the mind without having to act on it. I never did run away. Though the argument was resolved and we were allies once again, I continued to savor the fantasy and visited it whenever I felt slighted or peeved. I went so far as to talk a younger sister into going with me "when the time comes. But first we have to learn to eat tree bark, in case we run out of food." After her first taste, my sister opted out. Staying at home looked pretty good in comparison.
How many kids harbor similar fantasies? How many act upon them? I was surprised to learn that a study in 1999 showed that somewhere near 1.7 million children and teens had run away from home. And those were the ones reported. It was estimated that a relatively small percentage of parents ever report that a child has left home. That is very difficult for me to fathom, but when I see why most of them run away, it makes more sense.
Although it is difficult to learn the exact reasons kids leave, especially teens, who don't like to talk about it, it's quite certain that most run because the home situation is intolerable. Many, if not most leave to escape verbal, physical, or sexual abuse. Some have been forced out by parents who don't want to deal with them. Many may leave over an argument with a parent, or restrictions they feel are unfair. Some are enticed to leave by predators who offer them a "better" life. A few report that they only wanted to experience something new and exciting. My suspicion is that a lack of self-esteem largely influences the decision. "Nobody loves me, because I'm unlovable."
That is the underlying factor at the heart of Kyleah's decision to leave a safe environment. Kyleah is the protagonist of my most recent novel, Kyleah's Tree. Had I intended to write a story dealing with the plight of runaways, my story would be much darker and more gruesome than it is. The perils that await a child on the streets are worse than frightening and sometimes fatal.
What I wanted to convey is the affect of self-abnegation. Kyleah, whose early experience with her mother left her feeling ugly and unwanted, dreams that if only she were beautiful, she would be loved and wanted by her father. This vulnerability leads her to be persuaded to leave her foster home for an exciting series of adventures and narrow escapes that finally lead her to accept herself as she is. The only things that can change a life for the better, really, must begin with self-love. Another "true fiction" novel, Kyleah's Tree portrays real human emotion and natural reaction wrapped in exciting adventure. For more information about this book, see the Raven Publishing website.