#47 Epilogue

This try at
THE RUNAWAY GAME ends here. How did it turn out?

Remember your secret?

Remember the reason you wanted to run away? It seems like a long time ago, doesn't it?

Is the solution to that problem out there on the street?

Feel free to go back and read the book again. See what would have happened if you'd chosen differently. It's a luxury most runaways don't have.

When a kid has really run away and become a male prostitute, or a mugger who lives under the freeway, or a strung-out drug addict, when he has wound up in jail, or on skid row, or working like a dog at 18 to pay his rent, or he's been jumped, or overdosed, or contracted AIDS, or killed himself, he can't just close a book or start over at the beginning.

It is impossible to recreate the fear and pain that waits on the street for a young runaway. On the streets, you never know where the danger is going to come from next. No matter how strong you are or how fast you are or how well you can talk your way out of trouble, there's always some freak out there who's bigger, faster, slicker, and way more out-of-control than you are.

When a kid does make it off the streets through a combination of his own strength and help from others, as many kids do in real life and as you may have done in this book, there are legacies of mistrust, anger, addiction, depression and disease that continue to interfere with his enjoyment of life for years. Often, getting your body off the street is only the very first step in leading a fulfilling life.

But this is only a book. In the real world right now, there are kids thinking about running away. Each has a secret, and they don't know what to do.

As you read these words, some of the boys and girls packing to leave are victims of molestation. Some are battered kids. Some have folks who drink too much. Some have step-parent trouble, single-parent trouble or growing-up trouble. Some are gay. Some have been living in foster care. Some are emotionally disturbed. Some are drug addicts. Some are pregnant. Some don't like school. Some resent their curfews. Some don't want to take out the trash. Some are trying to prove a point. Some are trying to punish their parents. Some are looking for adventure. A few simply broke windows or got bad report cards and are afraid to go home.

Whatever a kid's reason for running, it's almost always true that what you run to on the streets is worse than what you ran from. Kids who were getting physically abused at home get beaten into comas on the street, mostly by other kids. Kids who were being molested at home run to the streets where unpleasant sex is daily survival.

The streets, and the drugs that are a daily part of street life, can erase a kid's personality in a few days. In 1988, when I first started working with runaways at a shelter in Hollywood, California, a police officer explained, "If you don't get to them in their first two weeks on the streets, don't bother."

Two weeks is an eternity on Hollywood or Santa Monica Boulevards. Depending on a young person's drug of choice, 14 days can make any kid a hyper chatterbox, a sluggish zombie or a crack whore.

In two weeks, even the young boy nervous about his F in Math today, or the sweet girl who bags your groceries in the market this evening, can be gazing wanly into oncoming traffic like a glassy-eyed fawn in the headlights of some pedophile's car.

Despite the officer's advice, my co-workers and I did "bother" with veteran street kids. More than five years of working with runaways left me with one clear understanding: If a young person who hits the street survives the creeps, the drug pushers, the pedophiles, the adolescent "gangstas" and the psychotic killers and somehow makes it home, it isn't because he or she was smart or came from a good family. It was because the kid was lucky. Often this luck includes the intervention of dedicated professional counselors and their commitment of time and money to salvaging his or her young life.

As part of my job at the runaway shelter, I frequently traveled to local schools, churches, temples and youth groups to give runaway prevention talks to young people. Standing at the front of a classroom or meeting hall, I'd always ask, "Who here thinks about running away?"

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