There are a lot of reasons why I don't post here to my blog as often as I'd like. I get tied up with working and taking care of the kids and the pets... There's all that, but there are really two primary issues that tend to keep me "quiet" much of the time - issues that, when I first started blogging, I didn't realize were going to be such problems. The first one is the matter of discretion with regard to the kids in my life, deciding what I should or should not say or talk about. The second issue is really just not wanting to sound like a "Debbie Downer" too much of the time. Sometimes, and often for long stretches of time, things in my world can be so difficult that if I blogged about what was going on every day it would come across as depressing. And sometimes it is depressing. While I try to keep a positive outlook and "keep my chin up" as much as possible, the truth is that sometimes the crises are so intense and come at me so fast... And sometimes the happy stories I could post here are so few and far between... Well, sometimes it's just that way, and I don't know how open I should be here.
Anyway, this post is going to reach just a little bit into both of those areas: Talking about a young girl that I've never mentioned here (I was protecting her privacy while she lived with us, and I will still do that now) and talking about some rather ugly issues. I suppose the reason I feel like "talking" about her is to point out something I've come to realize, and that might surprise many people. Or maybe it won't - perhaps it is I who was more taken aback by this fact than others would be. I'm talking about the fact that there are some young people who truly don't want their lives to be better, who are so drawn to the harshness and suffering of life on the street that they would actually rather be homeless than be comfortable and cared for.
I'm not talking about kids who, in the immaturity of their youth, simply see the "street life" as glamorous, only looking at the perceived "benefits" (freedom to do as they please, living with no rules or constrictions, taking drugs and partying) and not yet having experienced the negative consequences that go along with such a lifestyle. I'm talking about a young girl - and she is surely not the first nor the last - who has experienced all the pain and difficulty of living on the streets, and yet she gravitates toward such a life in spite of any attempts to help her.
This girl - I will call her "Willow" here instead of using her real name - was sixteen years old when she lived in our home for a few months late last year and earlier this year. I had known her for a while before that, as she traveled in the same social circles as some of the other kids who spend a lot of time here. I remember it was Thanksgiving night when the kids and I came home from a family get-together and I found Willow sitting alone on our back patio (kids often come and go from my home via the back yard gate) with puffy red eyes, a few bruises, and wearing a hospital bracelet. There had been a fight at her family's Thanksgiving dinner and she'd ended up in the emergency room. Then she'd run away and parked herself on our back patio. We weren't home, so she waited.
I fed her. I made sure her mother knew where she was (although her mother wasn't concerned enough to even ask for an address, and my over-the-phone introduction as "Jeff's mom" was sufficient for her to trust me with her daughter). I made up the spare room bed with clean sheets. I took her to Walgreen's and got her a contact lens kit since she didn't have hers. I got a new toothbrush out of the stash I keep.
For the next several months she stayed at our house, and I did everything I could to help her and to get through to her. But she would lie. And lie, and lie, and lie. Even when it was totally unnecessary. Even when I totally knew she was lying, and I'd give her every opportunity to come clean and she knew I wouldn't judge her. The lying I could deal with, though. I'd seen kids like that before. But then came the times when I caught her using my son's computer to post ads on Craigslist and exchange messages with men on adult sites. Offering herself in trade for things she didn't need, because I would provide them. And she would start fights with the other kids around the house, fights that were so unnecessary but she just insisted on having an environment that was chaotic. As if she couldn't stand it any other way. Then she'd cry and cry and cry that no one liked her. And I would try to talk to her, and she'd lie some more. Anything I offered - advice, suggestions - anything that would make her life easier and actually solve the problems she was constantly lamenting, she resisted. She didn't want them solved. I don't mean that in a snide or sarcastic way; it was clear that she truly didn't want anything to be better. I know there are teenage girls who thrive on drama, but I'd never seen anything this severe.
Some of the neighborhood boys came to me one afternoon and told me that Willow had just been arrested at a nearby convenience store for panhandling. Begging people to buy her food. But she had food, readily available at our house, as much as she wanted. I was baffled, and I said to the boys, "I don't understand. Why would she beg for food? There's food here!" They just shrugged.
The police released her to her mother that night, or perhaps it was the next morning, and she was right back at our house within a day. I tried to talk to her, tried to make sense of her actions or gain some insight, but she just denied she'd been panhandling at all. The police, the store clerks, everyone just falsely accused her, she said. Of course. I wouldn't have believed her story anyway (for all her practice, she was not a good liar), but the boys had witnessed her approaching people and begging, and they told me so.
I know it happens, but personally I'd never seen a kid so desperate for attention and love as this girl, and yet so unwilling to accept it when it was offered. It was as if she only wanted the attention if it was gained by negative behavior. All I could do was shake my head.
Then she stole $250 in cash from my son's drawer, and I had to draw the line. I had to make her leave. Interestingly, she didn't even ask me why when I told her to go. I simply said, "Willow, you've got to go." And she gathered her things in her arms and left.
She went to her boyfriend's house, which was in our neighborhood. I made sure her mother knew, not that it mattered to Mother-Of-The-Year. It was just one of those times in life where I had to accept that I can't help everyone, I certainly can't put my own family at risk for everyone, and even though I knew her mom wouldn't really live up to her responsibility, this girl was, in fact, her responsibility and not mine.
And that was that. I haven't heard from her since.
But then a couple of days ago my attention was brought to some videos that were... let's say "circulating". Videos of Willow, looking ragged and with dead eyes, with men clearly much older than her and smart enough not to let their faces be recorded. And then yesterday one of the boys told me that he'd seen her walking the streets downtown, in a very bad neighborhood nowhere near ours, "looking like she was working it".
I wish I was shocked. Instead I'm just disturbed, troubled, saddened. I'm no psychologist and I really have no insight as to why the Willows of the world are the way they are. I just know they are. And I wish it weren't so.