Not very long ago I read a story about a husband and wife whose only child ran away. At the time, they had no idea she was addicted to drugs. I can’t remember her drug of choice but it really doesn’t matter anyway, I don’t think. The family just woke up one day and she was gone. She packed a bag with some childish mementos that only a teenager would think of to cherish instead of life-providing essentials. A favorite stuffed teddy bear, a foam finger from a basketball game she went to with her grandfather, some jewelry, make up and clothes. Her toothbrush was left behind as was her hairbrush and it didn’t appear as though she took any food or water bottles or even a blanket. Of course the family began a frantic search for her but she was long gone. The truth is if someone doesn’t want to be found they won’t be. I can tell you that first hand with my experiences with JoDee. Honestly, the FBI or Center for Exploited Children could learn mad skills from a mother on the hunt for her child. We pull stops no one else will if it means finding our kid. Sometimes even a mother’s detective skills aren’t good enough.
For this family, they posted flyers and put up billboards and went on their local news. I don’t remember exactly where this was, somewhere in the mid-west, but it never really got national headlines because she ran away not abduction. Let’s face it, a kid running away really isn’t interesting. The great people of America like the highest degree of tragedy. A missing baby makes for better ratings than a runaway teenager. The family was convinced she would turn up dead if she wasn’t found and truthfully, I assumed she would too. The story went on about the efforts the family made to find her. A tip line they had set up gave them leads in many different directions which sadly the family chased. I watched them as days turned to months turn to years. I felt myself lucky that my kid would show up after being gone for several weeks at a time. I knew what states she went missing in (Arizona, Florida, and California) even though I didn’t know the exact place she was. It was easier for me to call police stations and hospitals in the general vicinity. Addiction has tormented me as a parent for years. Five years to be exact. But not knowing where your child is for years and years has to be tortured to a whole new level. Unimaginable.
In the end, the girl was not dead. After nearly 10 years on the run she stumbled into a shelter looking ragged and miserable. A fatherly-esque man that was running the shelter took a special interest in helping her get well. He kept encouraging her to call home. The girl felt that she had been gone so long, and made her family suffer so much that she would not be able to show up at home. As a parent, the man tried to convince her that no matter what that parents love you anyway. Blah, blah, blah it was all very after-school-special and on a rainy and cold night the screen panned to her in a phone booth, with the father-esque man making a call to her family. The man told the father that he knew his daughter and she wanted to come home. The man hesitated. To the silence in the phone, the man said to her father, she will be in your area next week. If you want her to come home leave a candle in the window. If there is a candle in the window lit, she will know she can come through the door. If there is no candle, then she will know that she has been gone too far. Dead to her family and truly alone, she will move on. It seemed sort of morbid and cruel. The poor kid had to wait until she got there to know if her family accepted her. I couldn’t imagine how scary that must have been but then I realized it was probably nothing compared to living on the street for ten years.
My immediate thought was that I would have been screaming in the phone let come get her right now. But that is what I did when JoDee first went missing. I would jump and run and abandoned my own life to pick her up off of whatever floor she had fallen on. After five years, I left her in a park to sleep as a homeless bum. I couldn’t do it anymore. I could not make her addiction my consequence any longer. Not picking her up forced her to make some difficult decisions, that I’m not prepared to talk about yet (refer back to previous blogs about being Jinxed). So maybe by the time ten years had passed I would seriously have to think about whether I would let her come home. I couldn’t judge the parents. There must have been many factors to consider especially since that call came out of the blue so randomly. I suffered through a zillion commercials, the road trip the man and the girl took to get to her parents house. They imagined many different scenarios and several times the girl lost her nerve trying to make the man stop or turn around. He stayed steadfast and eventually, they pulled into her home town at very early hours of the morning. To make the suspense build up, the parked around the corner, as she told stories of her childhood, pondering what made her take such a wrong turn. More commercials and just when the viewer, namely me, thought this is bullshit I’m going to change the channel, the beat up Nova turned the corner to the girls childhood home. The house was lit up with a candle in every window. Christmas candle lights surrounding the front door. On the lawn it was so bright it could have been noon even though it was surrounded by the very dark pre-dawn hours. It was touching. Heartwarming. A real feel good moment. She walked happily into her house into the arms of her loving parents, who embraced her with open arms. It ended with them living happily ever after.
There is no happily ever after. There is after, and it can be happy but it isn’t that simple. The unbridled anger and abandonment and let down don’t go away because a child comes home. For a moment, you are happy to see them, and there is some time of euphoria. But it wears off. It goes away. Reality comes to visit to remind you that in fact, your child is still an addict. You must hide the meds in the house, nail down anything of value, and question everything that comes out of their mouth. As time goes on I assume that fades a little but we have never had enough recovery time in our story for me to know that. JoDee had seven months clean once. After six months I was feeling better but always worried, and with good reason. Before the eighth month broke down she had relapsed. I know long term recovery can happen. I know it could happen to JoDee. I know she has to want it more than I do. So far, no one has wanted it more than I have. It’s impossible to say when the after comes or when it will become happy. I know it will never be like the after-school-special kind of way the show inferred. I would like to ask the family it represented what their happily ever after actually meant. How long did it take them to get there? Are they still happy? Is there ever still after? I guess I will just wait to find out.
**Apparently I jinxed it anyway went I talked about JoDee at dinner with friends last week. At the time this was originally written she was doing well in a program. Saturday at midnight I got a call that she left treatment. Currently I don’t know where she is.