Write a letter of advice to a child thinking about running away from home.
Forget the letter- I'm not one to ask if you ought to run away from home. I'd say yes. What you really want is someone to talk you down, tell you not to be silly, tell you to be wise and forgiving and patient. I'd tell you to split as soon as you have a plan to keep you safe and warm at night.
The year that I was in fifth grade was a bad year for me. I was ten or eleven, I guess, I don't remember. I only know that it was my fifth grade year because that was the year I stayed home. Previously I had attended a small private school full of kids who didn't like me, possibly because I was a snotty little aspie know-it-all, and for whatever reason my parents though it would be better for me to study at home.
I don't fit in at my parents' house. They're good people, and they do love me, but I don't fit, and it was worse then than it is now. Everything I was supposed to be to fit into their world- submissive, peaceful, respectful- was the opposite of what I am, and at that age, I didn't know how to deal with all that weight of tradition telling me that who I was wasn't Right. I felt confined, and crushed, and I retreated into stories about other times and places. The books weren't enough, though, and I went for long walks and bicycle rides, trying to think of someplace else I could reasonably expect to be. Sometimes I would sneak out at night at and jog around the neighborhood by moonlight, just to get away, to be part of a world where there was no one else, none of these expectations that, I now know, are perfectly crazy.
There are a set of old train cars on a track near the road in the town next to the one where I grew up. They're relics of a time when the train was the main connection our valley had to the rest of civilization, but now we have I-90 and the trains sit by the side of the road, windows boarded up with slimy plywood, rusting. Here's a picture someone else took of them:
Every time I passed these trains, I would wonder how difficult it would be to break into one, and if they would keep the rain out, and if anyone would notice if there was a ten year old child living in one. I had several hundred dollars I had saved, and I thought about what I would pack when I left and how to keep people from knowing where I had gone.
In the end, I didn't go, not to the trains anyway. I decided that I wasn't willing to drop out of school in order to get away -I knew this would only land me in an even more crushing situation in the long run- so once I started high school I researched my options and decided to homeschool again. This time, I was in charge of the classes I took, something I got away with because I elected to take as many classes as I could fit into my day. I finished high school five months after I turned sixteen, and moved out of my parents' house and into a dorm room at university.
There were a number of consequences of this decision that weren't what I wanted when I made it, and sometimes I wonder what my life would be like now if I had gone instead to a public school and goofed off and smoked pot and convinced myself that it didn't matter that I didn't fit. Sometimes I get to feeling sorry for myself, but every time I pass those trains I remember what it was like when I was ten and I felt like running was the only way I could survive intact, and I know that as much as it doesn't seem that way sometimes, I made the right decision. I am as intact as can be expected, because I knew when to run.