... suddenly I saw a way out, so I took it.
During fits of teenage rage or deep despair, I'm guessing a large percentage of you considered running away from home at least once. My guest today not only had the idea, but at 17, she also methodically planned her escape, and made a run for it--crossing state lines and childhood borders.
Lisa Morguess ran away, and never looked back.
Through determination, hard work, and a pinch of luck, she survived. She grew up. Today Lisa is an insightful mom of six, a loving wife, super blogger, and advocate. On her various blogs, she describes herself and her life this way:
I'm a 41-year-old, married to my best friend, stay-home mother of 6 children:Kevin (12), Joey (6), twins, Annabelle and Daisy (4), Lilah(2), and Finnian, born in July 2008 and diagnosed with Down syndrome. Oh, and my husband is currently battling cancer. I'm just trying to hold it all together.
This is her story.
Lisa shares her experience in three parts. Part 2 will be posted on June 29th, and Part 3 will go up on July 3rd.
You were a teen runaway. Can you tell us what prompted you to take such serious action?
I grew up in, as what has almost become a cliché, a very dysfunctional family. There was a lot of emotional and physical abuse from the time I was very young - in fact, even before I was born, as my understanding is that my father abused my mother while she was pregnant with me, and they both, in turn, abused both of my brothers and me from the time we were very small. I grew up knowing that my mother had never wanted to have me, as I was born a mere 10 ½ months after my older brother, and she told me flat out as I was growing up that she hadn’t wanted to have me, and that she didn’t actually feel like she loved me until I was about 2 years old. That was apparently an epiphany that came to her as she was about to place her hands around my throat to choke me because I cried a lot as a baby and toddler. So I grew up with that kind of start in life, and it continued all through my childhood.
My mother was generally an emotional wreck and she leaned inappropriately on me from the time I was very young, so I became her emotional caretaker. It was a lot of responsibility for a child to have. She also expected me to change roles at her will from her emotional sounding board back to a child whom she could bully. As an adult, I can see now that I suffered a lot of depression as a child, and by the time I was an older teenager, it just all got to be too much to handle. Although I was never actually suicidal, I thought about death a lot, and spent a lot of time wishing I were dead.
When I was 15, there was an incident at home during which both she and my stepfather were beating me up, and it was bad enough that my younger brother ran to a neighbor’s house and called the police. The police came , and it was basically my parents’ word against mine and my brother’s. I don’t know that my parents were cited or anything - I’m guessing not since I was not removed from the home. I did, however, of my own accord, move in with an aunt shortly after that for several months. That situation wasn’t much better, for different reasons. I ended up going back home eventually, and things only got worse. I had a boyfriend by then, and there came a point when my mother tried to force us to get married (I was 16 at the time, and no, I was not pregnant; there was no reason for us to get married, this was just another power play by my mother). We called her bluff and told her we would get married, and then she forbade us from seeing each other and threatened to have him arrested.
It was all very crazy, and I just reached a point that I couldn’t live with my mother (or my step-father) anymore. I felt like I was really already an adult anyway; although my parents provided food and clothing and shelter for me, they certainly were not meeting any of my other needs, and emotionally I felt like I had already been on my own for years. So it didn’t feel like that big a stretch to decide to run away and make my own life. I had tried living with my aunt and that hadn’t worked out, and my father and his wife didn’t want me, so I didn’t have a lot of places to go. I could either stay where I was and continue spiraling down further and further into despair and hopelessness, or I could try to make my own way in the world. Shortly after I turned 17, I left home again, this time with my boyfriend, and we left the state, and none of my family or friends knew where I was for a year.
I'm guessing your family situation played a role in your decision to run away. If so, what was the family dynamic?
My mother and father divorced when I was 5, and it was an on-again, off-again relationship for many years after that. I had an older brother and a younger brother. When I was 14, my mother remarried, a man she had known for three months. Their relationship was horribly dysfunctional and abusive as well, and he was never any kind of father figure, he was really just one more person to abuse the kids.
Did your family search for you? Are you in touch with them now?
When I left home, I left a letter for my mother telling her not to look for me, and that if she found me and brought me back, I’d just leave again. My understanding is that she stormed the house of the parents of my boyfriend, demanding to know where I was (his father actually did know where we had gone, but he never let on to her), and she filed a Missing Person Report with the local police, and that was it. To my knowledge, no other effort was made to find me. I did call my mother periodically from payphones to let her know I was okay, but she would just scream at me on the phone.
I am not in touch with my family now, no. When I reached adulthood, my father and I were somehow able to mend fences and became very close, but he died very suddenly a little over 10 years ago. After I turned 18, my boyfriend and I moved back to California and eventually got married. I had an on-again, off-again relationship with my mother for several years, but it was never an emotionally healthy relationship. She was never able to see me and treat me as an adult, and she continued to bully me for years.
I finally reached a breaking point with her when I filed for divorce from my first husband. I applied for a restraining order against him because he was an alcoholic and a drug addict (and he ended up dying from a drug overdose shortly after I filed for divorce) and very abusive, and I feared for my own safety as well as that of our two-year old son. At the court hearing for the restraining order, my mother showed up with my estranged husband and tried to tell the court what a horrible mother and wife I was (and the truth is, my mother had had virtually no contact with me or my family for a number of years already at that point, so she had no idea what kind of wife or mother I was - this was clearly just another opportunity for her to try to hurt me). Of course, she was not even a party to the hearing, so the judge was not interested in anything she had to say, but that was the last straw for me. What kind of mother does something like that? That was almost 10 years ago, and I have had no contact with her since then.
As far as my siblings, I lost touch with my older brother about 15 years ago. He has/had a lot of problems: never able to hold a job, in and out of jail, drug addiction, etc. Last I heard, he had moved to Idaho. He and I were never close. My younger brother and I, on the other hand, were very close growing up, but I think he never forgave me for running away. When I came back to California, we re-established a semblance of a relationship for a while, but it was never the same - maybe just because we were both a little older. There was a lot of conflict between him and his wife, and me and my first husband, so after a while things just became too strained for us to really have much of a relationship. Then when my husband died, my brother and his wife, in all their new found Christian zeal, decided that I had driven him to his death with my evil ways, and that I was going to burn in hell. Needless to say, I don’t have a relationship with them.
Where did you go and how did you take care of yourself? What did you do for income? Did you finish school?
When my boyfriend and I left, we went to Utah, of all places. None of it was impulsive; the entire endeavor was carefully planned out over the course of 2 or 3 months. I was in high school, but working part-time at a pizza joint, and he was graduated from high school already and working full-time for an exterminating company. We both saved up our money until we had around $2,000. He wanted to go to Utah for the skiing, which is funny because we ended up being so poor when we lived there that I think he skied once while we were there.
We agreed on a date we would leave, and on that morning, I feigned illness so I could stay home from school. After my brothers had both gone to school and my mother and step-father to work, my boyfriend came over with a small U-Haul trailer attached to his car, and we packed up as much of my things as we could, and then we went and packed up all of his things from the apartment he was sharing with his brother at the time. He drove the car with the U-Haul trailer, and I took a Trailways bus until we crossed over the Utah border - that’s how carefully we had planned it out: we knew that because I was a minor at 17 years old, and he a legal adult at 19 years old, it would be a federal offense for him to take me over state lines, so I took the bus.
When we arrived in Utah, we lived in the car at a KOA campground for several days. We scoured the newspaper every day looking for an apartment to rent. This was in October, and it was already beginning to snow, so we were a little desperate. We found an affordable apartment listed in the paper and called the number and the manager said he was leaving town, but if we could find a way in, the apartment was ours. It turned out to be an old house that had been subdivided into three apartments. We broke in through a window, and the apartment was ours.
My boyfriend got a job very quickly in a sales position. I lied about my age and got a job first working as a cashier in a little Greek diner, and then later at a microfilming company. I was always afraid of being found out - after all, I provided my social security number on the W-2 forms I filled out to be employed, and I lived in constant fear that somehow through that they were going to discover that I was actually an underage runaway. But it never happened.
When I left home, I was about a month into my senior year of high school, so that meant that to leave, I dropped out of school. I had always been a bright, hardworking student, so it was certainly a shame to throw that away. However, at the time, it just seemed like a price I would willingly pay for my freedom. After I returned to California, I eventually earned all of my missing high school credits and got my diploma.
Was there a turning point in all this? Did anyone in particular help you?
As I said, I left with my boyfriend. We had a plan, and we had saved up some money, so I think in many respects my story was different from many teen runaway stories. I never lived on the streets or had to eat out of garbage bins or sell myself into prostitution. Alt hough we were very broke at times - I remember having to scrounge for change between the sofa cushions to come up with enough to buy a loaf of bread and some bologna - we both had jobs almost the entire time we lived there, we had a roof over our heads, and clothes to wear. I don’t think I would have attempted to run away on my own. I was well aware of the stories of teen runaways and how they could end up. Having somebody to go with made the whole thing seem a lot more doable and less frightening.
Looking back, do you believe there were better options? What advice do you have for teens teetering on the edge you found yourself on?
I don’t have any regrets about what I did, although I am well aware that my story turned out a lot better than other teen runaway stories. At the time, I really didn’t feel like I had any “better” options. I had tried to live with my aunt, and that was not a positive experience . My father and his wife didn’t want me. The situation at home with my mother and stepfather was unbearable. My high school guidance counselor knew what was going on, at least to some degree, but never reported anything to the authorities or tried to reach out to me in any meaningful way. So I really felt very alone and hopeless, and then this guy, my boyfriend, comes along and wants to save me and suddenly I saw a way out, so I took it. Even now, almost 25 years later, the only alternative I see to my running away was to have stayed in an intolerable living situation with my mother and step-father.
I guess the best advice I have for any teenager teetering on such an edge would be to get help. Find a trusted adult - through church, through school, a neighbor, somebody - who will listen and, if not help you, then at least give you some direction as to where to find appropriate help.
What did you learn from your experience as a teen runaway, and how were you able to use those lessons as you came into adulthood?
I’m not sure that I learned any great life lessons in my experience as a runaway. I think sometimes, experiences are just that - experiences. I survived. It was a chapter in my life. I think if anything, it confirmed the underlying feeling that I grew up with, and that has to do with a sense of self-reliance and not believing that I could really ever count on anybody except myself.
Many teen runaways do not survive either physically or emotionally. How were you able to do so? Life is a long road. Did it get worse before it got better?
As I said, we found an apartment when we arrived in Utah, and furnished it using the money we had saved with thrift store furniture and necessities. We both found jobs, but even so, it was a very hand-to-mouth existence. We were usually very, very broke. His car broke down shortly after we arrived in Utah, and we couldn’t afford to have it fixed for more than a year, so we walked and took the bus everywhere. We ate a lot of Top Ramen and bologna sandwiches. We often couldn’t even afford the laundromat and washed our clothes by hand in the bathtub (I still remember the blisters on my hands from wringing clothes out).
I will say, also, that ours was an extremely rocky relationship from the start. He was abusive to me very early on, but there I was, an underage runaway, hundreds of miles from any friends or family. I didn’t have anywhere else to go, and besides, I had grown up watching my dad abuse my mother, and being abused by both of my parents and my mother’s boyfriend and new husband, so abuse was familiar to me, almost normal in a sick sort of way.
What top three things would you say to parents who are dealing with flight risk kids?
Listen to your kids. Take them seriously. Take responsibility as a parent and realize that as long as your child is a child (and even a teenager is a child) you are responsible for his/her emotional and physical well-being. If your family is out of control, get help. There is help out there.
Do you think the average adult takes teen emotions and issues seriously enough?
In my personal experience, no. However, I realize that I only see things through the very small and jaded window that looks out onto my own past. I don’t know what the statistics are, but obviously not every teen ends up so profoundly unhappy and desperate, so clearly there are good parents out there who are taking care of their kids, listening to them, and taking them seriously.
Of my six children, my oldest is on the cusp of teenhood at twelve years old. I see already that he is changing, and that parenting a teen will not be an easy task. I hope that I always remember my own past and that it will be a reminder to me to make sure my kids feel loved, valued, and taken seriously as they make their way to adulthood.
Come back on June 29th for Runaway Lisa (Part 2).