11 Year Old Runaways

10:30 AM

My night took a bizarre twist last night as I drove down Snake Hill at 11pm. I was returning from a celebration of Mr. Sam's 64th birthday party at my parent's house, which led to a video-strategizing session with my dad for the upcoming rehearsal dinner. As my headlights illuminated the last turn on the road, I caught a glimpse of something pink and small. Driving by, I realized I had seen a little black girl clutching a purse and something white. It took a second for my mind to decipher what my eyes had just seen: there was no mother, no older person, just this little girl all by herself in the middle of the night, on a school night, no less.

My car followed the familiar course home, but my mind couldn't leave behind what it had just seen. A voice in my head said, "Go Back." I argued...it's so late, Brooklyn's sleepy, Kyle's finally home from work, I'm tired, I'm sure there's a logical explanation. Yeah right. I turned onto Goshen, pulled into the first driveway I saw, and turned around to retrace my steps. She might not be there, I thought. She could have made it to where she was going.

As my car wove back up Snake Hill, I once again saw her slight frame trudging up the steep incline, in the middle of the opposite lane. I slowed down, rolled down my window and called out to her - Sweetie, it's late - are you ok? Can I offer you a ride somewhere?

In this crazy world, where a little girl should never speak to strangers, much less wander the streets by herself in the middle of the night, no matter how nice the neighborhood, this little black child eagerly accepted my invitation and climbed into my passenger seat. "Cute baby", she said as she peered into the backseat. Brooklyn, my darling girl, immediately grinned and squealed her delight at our newcomer's presence. The taut face of this child was transformed by the smile that crept over it. The volume of Brooklyn's squeals startled the little girl, but I reassured her that meant B liked her.

I quickly deduced that my little stray had no destination. I couldn't get a straight answer out of her except that she was 11 years old and her name was LaSonya. She claimed to be heading to her grandmother's house, which was clearly a lie as she pointed to three consecutive houses that were supposed to house this grandmother of hers. She carried with her a small blue purse filled with dolls and a little change and a clear plastic cup which housed a caterpillar/chrysallis. She proudly informed me that she was taking good care of the caterpillar so it would turn into a butterfly.

I finally pulled the car to the curb after discreetly locking the doors so she wouldn't jump out and run off back into the night. Listen, sweetie, I said, I want you to know you're safe with me. But we need to figure out what to do with you - you clearly don't have a plan for where you're going, and you won't tell me where you live, so is it ok if I take you back to my house so we can figure this out? She accepted, and I pulled back on the road and eventually back into my driveway. As I turned off the car, I prayed for wisdom and for this girl's safety. Kyle opened the front door, almost at the same time that I announced I had a stowaway. He was speechless as this leggy 11 year old unfolded herself from the car and immediatly knelt down to pet Luna, our cat.

We quietly conferred as we led her into our house. Call the police? See if anyone's reported her missing? Worse, what if they haven't? She had told me that her mother had kicked her out of the house and they were fighting. She had also told me some other whoppers, so what was truth? I was more than willing to give her a safe place to stay for the night, but what does one do in this situation? She's only 11!

I asked her if she was hungry, and she clearly was excited by the prospect of food. I made her a thick pbj sandwich, piled pretzels and grapes onto her plate and watched her guzzle down 3 tall glasses of milk as she devoured the food, her long fingers gingerly avoiding the messy jelly.

She carried with her a sketchbook, the pages filled with drawings of a kitty - a progressive story about a cat that gets pregnant and doesn't know what to do. Kyle, the artist and gentle, wonderful man, admired her work and she beamed.

The police arrived to chat with our little runaway, about 10 minutes after we called them. They were able to get a name of a parent with which they were able to determine an address and send a patrol car to check it out. An hour after LaSonya entered my life, she was escorted back home - several MILES from where I had picked her up - and my role in the story ends.

However, my heart hasn't stopped hurting for this little girl who clearly was lost - emotionally, spiritually, physically. Was her home a safe place to return to? The officer indicated that DHS would get involved if it wasn't. I also gave him my number to please call if we could help somehow. I doubt her bed was as comfortable as the one I was hoping to let her stay in. And where is she today? In school? Skipping? Somewhere out there, today, is a little girl whose existence I was unaware of this time yesterday.

I am not unaware of the irony that my little LaSonya will probably not receive the care and attention she deserves to blossom into a young woman - yet she has taken such care with a tiny caterpillar. Father God, wherever she is, guard her and protect her - for I know you love her more than anyone else can.

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