Thoughts on the risks youths can face

Been watching these “What Would You Do?” programs and some of them really get to me.

This one bugged me enough to drag it back here to my blog cave. Reminds me of a lot of bullshit I dealt with from grown men when I was a teenager. My family began letting me go back and forth across the country alone on Greyhound buses right around the time I turned 15, and I had to learn really quick that skeezy folks commonly found in the buses and/or around the bus stops are all about trying to lure young women and girls away somewhere private. I never went with anyone, but they’d harass me, and I learned over time to quickly look around for others near my age and group up with them for protection. I can recall one time grouping up with an 18 year old girl who spoke of how she’d left home and planned to head elsewhere and get by stripping, and she and I gravitated toward a young man with dreadlocks who also stuck by us during that trip. Another trip I gravitated toward a sweet, chubby teenage boy and we sat together and leaned against one another to sleep (damn-near impossible to sleep on a jerky, uncomfortable Greyhound bus, for the record). Another cross-country trip I clung to a young man headed home on leave from the military (and I still recall vaguely what he looked like — a thin, redheaded man who was very kind). This strategy also helped in reducing the risk of being robbed.

You learn to group up with others and to use your intuition in figuring out who to sit beside and who to avoid like the plague. I can recall old men with bottles of alcohol in their coat pockets, leaning in and trying to breathe all over me, talking nastiness. And I can recall one man in Memphis trying to talk me into leaving the bus station at night to go down the street with him when I was 16, though you know I had more sense than that.

But I remember one time when I was 15 and dating a boy around my age who was into drugs and kind of abusive-acting. There’s a big backstory to what was going on around that time, but the short version is that he’d taken some sort of pills and strongly encouraged me to try one as well. Then we had to leave to drive a couple of his friends to Jackson to catch the Greyhound, and during that drive I fell asleep almost immediately. And when I woke up a good bit later, the friends were gone and my little boyfriend at the time was driving erratically down an interstate we weren’t even supposed to be on. We got to arguing and he got to driving crazier, so then he pulled over on this pitch-black interstate, reached across me to open my car door, and shoved me out, then drove away with door still open. That was about 4am and I had absolutely no clue where I was. This is back before any of us had cell phones and there were no towns nearby. So I just started walking, and I was still pretty woozy from whatever pill I had taken earlier. Within a few short minutes, a semi truck pulled over and the driver asked me what was going on. He told me to climb up in the cab and he’d take me to the nearest truck stop so I could find help. I remember him saying his name was “Lee” and that he had a daughter about my age. And considering how naive I was at the time, I just blurted out that I was under the influence of something I was unsure of and very disoriented by. And I am forever grateful that man is the one who found me that night, because he drove me straight to the truck stop and notified the waitresses that I needed help.

Come to find out I was in Bogue Chitto, Mississippi—a town I’d never even heard of before that was several hours away from my hometown and completely off-course from where my boyfriend and I were supposed to be that evening. I remember how concerned the waitresses seemed and them encouraging me to go call my people, so I did and my Papa had to take off work so as to come retrieve me that morning. And while waiting for him I just zonked out asleep in a backroom. You can just imagine how disappointed and upset my Papa was with me and most especially with my jackass boyfriend whom didn’t return to town until many hours later since he’d gone off and gotten himself lost.

At the time I didn’t fully appreciate the risks in such a situation, but soon enough after reading and hearing on the news about other teens abducted or disappeared, it really began to sink in. But even so, due to my life events and whatnot I still wound up in dangerous situations over the next couple of years during my treks back and forth across the country between relatives, as noted above. And I think it was through just these sort of trials that my intuition got honed a bit. As a young person I had to take rides from various strangers, sometimes while trying to escape someone else who was scaring me whom I had mistaken as trustworthy.

On another occasion when I was 16 I remember a guy I knew from hanging out at a coffee house who seemed sweet and had some sort of brackets on his legs who then turned into a complete asshole when I went back to his apartment. Got menacing and saying I should “put out or get out,” literally, verbatim. Well, I was living here, there, and everywhere at that time and was up in the Midwest, far away from my Grandparents, and my parents had repeatedly proven to be of little assistance. So I turned and walked out of that young man’s place and took off walking in the snow until an old gentleman pulled up and offered me a ride. Said he was a former cop. I had no choice but to trust him since I was freezing, but I didn’t know where to go either, so I lied to him and had him drop me off downtown, then I holed up in the stairwell of a parking garage the rest of that evening. All because some jackass thought he’d hit me with an ultimatum due to my desperate circumstances at the time. (And would you believe I ran into that same jackass years later in another state at a bar? I sure did, and I confronted him and told him how shitty he had been. He apologized, but I seriously doubt he could ever comprehend how hard it can be out here for a teenager on her own, dodging men’s sexual come-ons, trying to stay warm and fed, trying to figure out who to trust and who to flee from, dealing with adults’ trickery and manipulation. He was fairly young but old enough to have known how fucked up his behavior was. His aloof apology years later frankly didn’t mean much to me—he was just wanting to save face in front of his new friends so far as I could tell.)

And these stories are just the tip of my little iceberg.

There are countless bad people out there in the world, but those with heart who help you are godsends, and I never forget them. To be honest though, I don’t recall a grown woman ever trying to help me in such a way — it was always other men aiming to protect me. Watching that video really breaks my heart and makes me wonder what impact it might have had if a grown woman had shown interest and pulled me to her like that. Because the hard-knocks education I received mostly pertained to dealing with men, and adult female strangers just didn’t factor in much one way or another. Those waitresses were very sweet and I appreciated their help very much that night in Bogue Chitto, but I’d say that sort of show of concern coming from women was a rarity. Hence why this video kinda chokes me up for how compassionate that couple was toward someone they thought was a young runaway.

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