My face was plastered all over town, on cheaply printed 8×11 sheets of paper. They were looking for me, worried, as if I were nowhere to be found.
I was fifteen years-old growing up in Memphis, Tennessee when I decided that I didn’t want to live at home anymore. My mother had left me with her baby daddy when I was a newborn and I had only grown to know my stepmother, who I hated with a passion. My stepmother was always on my case about my grades and who I was hanging out with or talking to. She especially didn’t like my 19 year-old boyfriend Jared because he thought he was too old for me at the time. Jared wasn’t really a good student and spent most of his time hanging out with the wrong crowd. He had a knack for fixing and hot-wiring cars and had gotten into some shady business jumping cars, stealing parts, and selling them to make money. He would spend some of it on me, taking me to the mall to pick out whatever I wanted. I really fell for him, even though I was a freshman in high school still trying to learn and develop myself.
My step-mother hated Jared. She couldn’t stand him and would never allow him to come over to the house. She didn’t want to see me with him and was constantly calling me after school let out to make sure I wasn’t with him. I would lie to her and say that I was at a random’s friend’s house, when I was really with him. Things came to a head between my step-mother and me. We ended up arguing so bad one day that she told me if I didn’t like living by her rules I could just leave.
So, I took it as a sign that she was kicking me out. I packed a small suite case and hid some extra clothes in my school backpack. Two days later on October 14, 2006, I got on my school bus and never came home.
The night before I decided to run away, I told my boyfriend Jared what had happened. He told me I didn’t deserve to live with her breathing down my neck like that and it was time for me to have my own freedom. He told me that I could come stay with him at his mother’s place in Birmingham, Alabama. Jared was an only child who had been living with his father and his girlfriend. His mother lived out in Alabama. She worked a night shift as a cashier at the airport, so it was if she was barely ever there, since she often spent the day sleeping at her boyfriend’s place. I told Jared I was down and we packed up and move two hours away.
I didn’t call to tell my parents where I was. I was furious and angry at them at the time, even though now that I look back I realize how naïve and silly I was. I went “missing” for eight months. I stopped going to school when I ran away and stayed at home to be with Jared. I was so upset at the world and fell into a dark place where the only love I wanted was Jared’s and that was it. I literally spent each day watching television, cooking at his house, or sleeping. I cut off my phone and deactivated my Myspace and Facebook accounts because I didn’t want any connection with the outside world. Jared would enable the behavior too. He ended up dropping out and getting a job at Home Depot in November, so during the days I was alone in his house. I only went out with him if he wanted to party or if he was at a friend’s house, but where I was with him was our little secret. I got lonely after a while and tricked Jared into getting me pregnant in January. But because I didn’t know anything about having a baby, I ended up having a miscarriage two months later, an even more devastating low in my life. I missed home, but I refused to tell anyone because I didn’t want to break my hard exterior.
It wasn’t until I saw my face, crinkled and tucked under a million other posters at a local Kroger store in Memphis that I realized how much pain I was not only invoking on myself but the people around me in my community. Jared had gone back home for the fourth of July to see his dad and asked me if I wanted to come with him. I didn’t want to go back, but told him I would if he rented out a local motel for me to stay in. When he stopped for gas at a Kroger store, I went in to buy some candy. When I left the store, that’s when I saw myself under a pet-sitting ad. My date of birth. A physical description of me. My home number. I had become the missing girl on the milk carton. The self-isolation that I had put myself through had not allowed me to realize that people really did love me and care for me. All the emotions flooded into my mind and I busted out crying in the parking lot.
“I want to go home. Just take me home!” I cried to Jared, who politely put the car in reverse and started driving towards my old house.
What does it mean to be a missing person? There’s that ice-piercing realization when you see yourself framed in worry, hope, sadness, and fear. When you come to realize that people actually love you and want you home. At times, becoming a missing person is not something that someone chooses. They could be tragically taken away from their families by some mindless, crazy person. But more often than not, runaways become missing persons, pushed away from their communities by the dangerous bouts of depression, by that cold inner voice that tells them no one loves them and no one wants them. Runaways become missing persons by the easy pathways and enablers (my ex-boyfriend) in the world. Being a missing person means that there is a deep hole in my life, a giant blank where “life” once stood, a space that I cannot erase but can only hope to scribble over with the future. It means that I stopped caring to some extent when people were unwilling to give up on me. It meant being a vessel with no captain, an empty ship on a voyage to nowhere.
I wanted to share my story in light of all those individuals who have possibly runaway and are categorized as “missing” in their communities. Minorities often go unrepresented in missing persons cases, so it’s important that we don’t give up the search on our loved ones, whether they are in the dangerous clutch of others or in the peril of their own self. Because believe it or not, anyone can make themselves go missing in an instant if they wanted too. I know. Because I did it.
Facts from the National Center for Missing Adults: An astounding 2,300 Americans are reported missing every day, including both adults and children. But only a tiny fraction of those are stereotypical abductions or kidnappings by a stranger.
If you are interested in supporting the missing minorities movement, please check out http://blackandmissing.tumblr.com/. If you are concerned for a loved one, please make sure you get them to seek help in a timely manner.
*Please note that the photo used is not affiliated with the individual identified in this missing persons story.