My Runaway Girl Â
I no longer spend days and nights worrying about my runaway daughter Francesca, wondering if she is safe, if she has enough to eat, if she is warm. Nonetheless, the fear that delineated seven years of our lives remains. It shudders through me each time I hear of another child missing, read statistics of homeless youth, learn of another teenage death. For whatever reason, our children are out there — troubled and frightened and in need of help.Â
That my daughter becme a runaway is a fact that still aches through my psyche, her reasons as elusive as those balls of mercury that divide and scatter as one attempts to capture them. When she was little, I remember listening to other parents grouse about their rebellious teens and thinking how lucky I was. My little girl would never give me that kind of trouble. She was so bright and loving. If I worried, it was about her attachment to home, the way she seemed to prefer my company to that of her peers.
I think I rationalized her clinging, thinking that it made sense that we were so close. After all, wasn’t she the comfort that eased me through her daddy’s death soon after she was born? For eighteen months I nursed her, finding in the warmth of her sweet body the strength to the days that lay ahead. And it was Francesca’s presence that gave me the courage to leave the deceptively soft-spoken man I’d subsequently married, though it took me ten years. Francesca was entering middle school at the time and wept unceasingly, claiming she was worried about me. I had little patience with her tears: I was struggling to make ends meet, working full-time, caring for an elderly mother, and trying to get my college degree. When the crying finally stopped, my spirits lifted.
Then Francesca tried to kill herself and my pretend world shattered, its place usurped by hospitals, psychiatric units, and my daughter’s blistering rage. We seemed to live at the heart of a whirlwind. I never knew which Francesca I’d confront when I returned from work — little girl weeping, ice-maiden, or virago. At the age of sixteen, she tested positive for cocaine use. While on the way to the treatment center, she leaped out of the car and ran, coatless, into the snow, disappearing for over four months. When Francesca returned home, it wasn’t to stay. From then on, she was on the runaway list so often the police knew us by first names. She ran from friend’s home to friend’s home until the homes ran out. She was eighteen when I found her cowering outside our garage at 1:30 in the morning. The temperature was 13 below. She said she was waiting for friends.
Â “When you’re homeless, you walk all night to stay warm,” she once told me. “You have no choice. It’s that or freeze to death.”
On September 11, 2001, moved perhaps by the tragedy happening in New York, Francesca drove five hours to be with me. While here, she asked if she could return home to live. On the day set for her arrival home, September 18, 2001, she was shot and killed. She was 24 years old.
I no longer have to worry about my runaway girl, whether she is safe, whether she is warm; but the fear those years instilled is still there. It lives in the hearts of those who run, and in the hearts of those who love them.
Â This is an adapted version of an article published in Changing Lives.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune named Beryl as a “Best of 2006 Minnesota Authors.”Â Her book The Scent of God Â was a â€œNotableâ€ Book Sense selection for April 2006.