...The radical freedom my daughter embraced created a form of imprisonment for me. Even though Marissa assured me I had nothing to do with her choice, for that year and a half she was away, I was locked in the feeling that I had failed her. The sense of safety I had provided at home clearly hadn’t been enough.I read Danelle Morton's article on the eight killed in the December 28, 2010 warehouse fire and am still struggling with my reactions and the responses of others to the sympathy she exhibits for the dead and her attempts to understand why they made the choices that lead to their deaths in a fiery inferno that likely resulted from their attempts to keep warm on an icy cold night. The knee-jerk impulse for us all - myself included - is to roundly condemn these kids for being there in the first place. Raised in good homes by the families' accounts (though there may be some things they aren't sharing), who in their right minds would think that family conflicts during the teenage years could get so bad that hopping trains and engaging in Darwinian-like struggles for day-to-day survival could be a viable option?
Or maybe my vision of her future was what she ran from. I had said, stay in school, get a job, buy a house, and you’ll retire securely, even though that hadn’t worked out for me. When she said she wanted to break free, at first I gripped tight, imposed new rules and higher expectations. I insisted that she turn away from wildness, even in this wild time. Eventually... I loosened the reins and trusted to fate. Neither approach brought her back. Marissa said she was going toward something I wouldn’t, couldn’t, understand. After a year of trying, I see that she is right. This life she and her friends led was not worse than I imagined, but it was more dangerous than I had wanted to believe. I can describe it, but understanding still eludes me.
It rid the world of some extra weight. What would kids like that ever contribute to society anyhow? Cruel, yet comforting (on some level) thoughts, designed to insulate oneself from the idea that it could ever happen to one's family. The scarier thing to contemplate, after all, is that it could and does happen indiscriminately. You could still do everything you're supposed to do as a family in rearing your kids and they could still choose that kind of life...and, short of having them committed to some sort of institution against their will, you'd be stuck in the same kind of limbo Morton describes, forced to trust fate will somehow keep smiling upon your kids as they embrace body and soul this idea of freedom that is so far outside what most of us think of when we contemplate the same thing - familiar, but far out.
I guess there are times when I could've gone the same way myself, most notably when I ran right out of grade school around 4th or 5th grade in frustration with the near-constant bullying I got from my peers and got as far as the railroad tracks down the block before realizing I'd make a terrible runaway. Any frustrations I had with my family as a teenager - and believe me, there were many - were mostly neutralized by a strong sense I had of simply tolerating it all because I'd be out of the house before I knew it. It was, in the end, the values I had and a sense of guilt over hurting my parents' feelings too much that held me out of the life of a traveler. I didn't want to do anything drastic that would kill my family emotionally. Not until I was out of their house, anyway.
I look at my son who is now halfway to eighteen and I wonder about the choices he will make, and the kind of world we currently have a hand in creating that might give him the impression that being a traveler is a good idea. Would it be in rebellion at how much we are spending our lives plugged into technology? In recoil at how much we pay and pay and pay in health care, education, and overall homage to consumerism? Or would it be as simple as we'd be cramping his style and, in the face of a serious lack of coming-of-age rituals and/or starter employment for young adults, he'd rather hop a train and squat in an abandoned home? Yes, my fears are colored by this past year's events worldwide, which constantly drive home that this world needs a lot of work. But is the best way to help it all along found in completely dropping out of it all in this way? I don't know, I can't bring myself to willingly find out, and I don't know what I'd do if my not-so-little guy decided to take that path. What I do know is that if things don't change in another nine years priority-wise for our entire country, more of our kids will head down that no-holds-barred road with only our love - if these kids even have it (horrible to contemplate, but some households are like that) - to prepare them for any uncertainties.
No one is completely blameless in any of the business that led to eight people dying in an abandoned warehouse over a year ago. At those tragic times, it is simply driven home how little control we have over the decisions of others, no matter how much we care for the decision-makers themselves. We can only lay some foundations, set some good examples, and stay alert for the possibility that these wild souls will return in one way or another - and, if they do, our doors and hearts will be open to what they bring.
X-posted at Humid City