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Penelope Przekop October 02, 2015

Chasing Love is Like Chasing Your Own Tail

I came across this on Facebook today. So true! I learned it the hard way, and then wrote a book about it ... Please Love Me

The good news is that with determination, we can learn and grow from all our relationships and experience. I sure did; I will never forget the boy that broke my heart while I was breaking his. I'm so thankful I went on to have such a wonderful, fantastic husband ... going on...

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6527212 July 06, 2009

Final Thoughts on Teens

It's seventeen days later, and we're all grown up.

Thanks for visiting Aberration Nation during the teen event! I'd also like to send out a special THANK YOU to all the brave folks who participated, including Melissa Walker, Lisa Morguess, the four teens who shared their writing with us, and Josh, who opened up about losing his leg.

I hope all who visited not only enjoyed reading the content, but also found it thought provoking and helpful. I was hesitant to share the thoughts I had and poetry I wrote as a young person, but doing so has been a positive experience for me. Like my friend Lisa, I don't want to loose sight of all the things that happened in my life. Good or bad, they molded me into who I am ... and continue to do so. I'm still evolving. If my life had ended on that dark, hopeless Louisiana night in 1985, I would never have experienced (to name a few):

- telling my Dad how much I love him
- giving life to two beautiful daughters
- knowing the kind of love that heals wounds--the gift my husband gives me every day
- eating a bagel or drinking a martini
- seeing and playing in deep snow
- visiting Europe, Utah, Southern California, New York City, Puerto Rico, and Singapore to name a few
- camping in a trailer
- lying on the hood of a speed boat, racing through Lake George in New York, the wind in my hair
- winning a 5K run
- painting a mural on a Philadelphia building
- writing four books
- being a Director at one of the largest and most respected companies in the world, Johnson & Johnson
- being boss to many people, and having the opportunity to help them not only develop their careers but also simply enjoy coming to work
- promoting someone deserving to Associate Director and seeing her face light up
- seeing a Kansas sunset
- seeing Wicked and Phantom of the Opera on Broadway
- reading the millions of books I've found since then
- knowing my wonderful in-laws, who have touched my life
- being an Aunt to seven awesome kids
- reading a history my grandfather wrote about his life
- earning a BS degree, and then an MS degree in my 30s
- watching my daughters learn to walk, ride bikes, run, read, write, etc.
- meeting a million interesting people who have taught me that life is an absolutely beautiful jumbled mess
- learning to love myself

With all that said, here's some advice from Lisa and me (the runaway girls) on how you might possibly help a struggling teen.

With regard to the teen who looks fine and dandy, but is suffering (Penelope):

1) Listen for hints and openings offered to strike up a conversation about what's bothering him or her. (I often hinted to adults but they missed it every time.)

2) Don't assume the kid who appears to be the strongest, brightest, or most cheerful is immune to depression. Remember the signs of depression. Understand that there can be a difference between diagnosed mental illness and depression based on growing up in a depressing environment. I was taught to experience life a particular way; once I understood that I didn't have to look at life through the lens of my teacher, I began to break free of that sad lesson and find my own view.

3) Take the emotional pain a teen expresses seriously. Don't talk down to them, or treat their suffering as if it's trivial. Although they're young, they are complex individuals with deep emotion. (This happened to me numerous times, even with health care professionals.) Don't offer easy fixes to teens as if their pain is a passing phase. This makes them feel even more isolated and strange.

5) When you know a teenager is surrounded by dysfunction, don't assume they're fine just because they're smiling with a sparkle in their eye.

6) Find, create, and/or offer a safe environment where the teen can unload. Even at a young age, years of trying to keep it all together is difficult to break through. If they talk a lot about pain related to their social interactions, ask them about their family. If they smile and say they have a nice family, blah, blah, blah, dig deeper.

I was a tough nut to crack (and still am sometimes), but nobody even really tried ... I eventually had to bust my own nut.

For the obviously stressed teen who is acting out (Lisa):

There were so many obvious, glaring signs that I was troubled, and they were all overlooked. To this day, I find it just really disturbing that nobody reached out to me.

I was clearly withdrawn and depressed by the time I was in high school. My grades started to slip. I often went to school disheveled from abuse I had suffered just that morning at the hands of my mother. I even often got drunk on school grounds at lunch period and then went to classes after wards, and nobody ever picked up on it or called me on it. So, I don't know . . . I guess what I would say to adults is "Don't overlook the obvious!" I mean, it's a fine line, I'm sure. A certain amount of teenage angst and even acting out is to be expected, and I don't think adults should be right in every teenager's face offering/threatening counseling over every little thing, but I do think that adults need to just try really hard to be tuned in, to be able to recognize the difference between normal growing pains and signs of something more serious.

Thanks all!


Up next week on Aberration Nation, On Being Societally Disabled: An Aberration Story. If you think you have challenges, wait until you meet courageous Kev. He lives in a home for the disabled. Look around now and count your blessings. Kev does ...

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6527212 July 06, 2009

Pieces of Penelope (1987, 21 years old)

Rolling and rolling,
Building and budding,
A cup that's somehow full,
Bittersweet emotions,
Confusion and peace,
It's overflowing,
This heart in tears.


Maybe right now I'm just trying to heal all the wounds. That does take time. I just hope it doesn't take a lifetime. Sometimes that's my fear ... I keep trying to make brass gold when I know it isn't.


Something heavy is moving in,
Illusive weight without a name,
It hangs on my mind, my heart, my body,
A deep long ago sorrow I thought was gone,
Slowly lurking, easing, teasing its way back
to my attention.


Isn't it comical the way things change, but sometimes emotions never go away? My life, of course, is different now. I refuse to believe that the relationship isn't completely over but I can be sorry that it is and that it was so bad. I wish I could change everything but I can't, and I'm sure it all happened for a purpose. I hope so anyway ... I guess only the individual can actually know how to make themselves happy. It's not up to anyone else to tell them how or try to make them happy. I can't believe I've actually developed some unselfishness compared to the way I used to be. Maybe there's hope for me yet!


The crooked hand of a hungry hunter,
Pierces his prey through a human heart,
The creatures falls, weakened,
Until a crack forms in its heart,
The hunter's stream of power and passion,
Soaks, drowns, devours me,
That familiar, glorious triumph he's learned to love,
For the moment ...
The passion gone,
The power dwindling,
He turns and faces what is left of me,
An empty carcass,
The shell of what,
Once upon a time,
I was.


I want to be sweet and unselfish, and just give what I can. It makes me feel so wonderful to want to give and not care about getting. God! I can't believe how selfish I've been in my life ... Outcomes are obsolete. The important things is that I'm capable of caring and sharing and feeling. I feel so full of love tonight. I think I need to cry. I feel so sad for all the time I didn't know what it was all about. I hope I never forget.


Alone is where the me exists,
The one I know,
Feeling others crowd these taciturn restless senses,
The stranger screams,
The me I fear,
Holding emotions paralyzed,
Memories peak,
Their painful piercing arrows through this mind,
Only when I'm close,
To love.


Gifts of light,
These friends,
Like November colors,
Leaves overspreading,
An uncomely selfishness that comes still yet,
The earth of me,
Humanity I fail to hide,
Level friends like composted leaves,
Effortlessly transform this unfruitful, filthy self,
Creating in me unimaginable fertility, beauty, and joy,
The stuff of life,
A garden full in bloom.


A place I found myself,
With you,
Fought so long,
So hard,
They lost all reason,
Piercing bullets
Though my heart,
And platoons of tears
Raiding my camp,
My fortress,
Only to wash my wounds,
Clean of you.


Box of pain,
Filled with stains,
Tattered feelings left to waste,
And wither away until my spring,
That illusive season they say will come ...


Am I afraid to care
About anything?
I've lost my passion,
I thought I was happy,
From pain,
But now I realize
I'm protected also
From life,
The struggle,
The triumph,
It's all gone
Or so it seems,
Is this the price
I must pay
For others to say
I'm normal?


Some father's daughter,
A mommy's joy,
Sperm to spare,
The golden egg
Just waiting there,
His expenditure,
Mommy's there,
Daddy's little girl.


Once again,
I traverse this broken road
Of bitterness, pain, poverty,
To my safe, secure job,
I see the children,
Their tear stained faces,
Barren feet,
Hearts secluded,
A mother holds her coatless child in one arm,
Her cherished cigarette in the other,
"Shut up! Shut up!" she growls,
The tiny spirit beaten,
I catch, perhaps,
I think of my own child,
My own childhood,
As I walk a little faster,
My not-so-perfect life goes on,
As does one child's lonely hell,
In what seems tomorrow, he is a man,
Desperately seeking,
Only finding me,
Still silently traveling my familiar road,
The road to a nation's nowhere ...


For more pieces of my story, visit these Aberration Nation links:

The Mother Ship
Alone in a Crowd
Curve Ball Salvation
Daddy Didn't Want Me: An Aberration Story
Pocket Full of Sunshine, Closet Full of Bad

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6527212 July 04, 2009

Pieces of Penelope (1986, 20 years old)

The moon is down,
Like me,
In your bed,
The rising sun takes my sight,
Time escapes me,
Only rhythm


I wonder if I'm more comfortable hurting than being happy. The familiar is somehow more comforting even when you know it's not good for you. Isn't that strange? I've got to get myself together. I'm not sure how to go about doing that. I realize there are a lot of things I need but yet I don't know how to get them. I know that sometimes I choose the wrong approach.


My soul is trapped inside this shell,
A package that hides the gift within,
How can I reach beyond myself,
And truly touch another?
Once I found a kindred soul,
I soaked myself right into him,
Then one day he walked away and
With my soul in his possession
He turned and laughed out loud
At what was left of me.
Bloody battles followed fast,
My fighting heart,
My fighting mind,
Could not regain their counterpart,
Yet now,
Through time,
I am renewed,
A different soul,
A different person,
And somewhere roams a lonesome spirit,
Who carries with him what I lost,
A part that's me and is not me,
I mourn and yet I am complete,
Now I hide my soul inside,
Under lock and key,
For I survived the war within,
Yet surely I will die in vain,
If ever this soul is touched again.


Life is very sobering to me right now. I'm really ready for school to start. I enjoy having something to occupy my mind. Sometimes I feel so emotionally needy, and maybe in a way, I am but I'll tell you one thing--I've been though a hell of a lot of shit and mixed up times and I know that these feelings I have are the most real and unselfish and genuine I've had. I cherish them and for once, it's good. I've learned so much and have felt nothing but goodness inside.


Inside this jungle,
Streams of light,
Unnoticed but by
My native pain,
Crashing in
This stranger
And then allowed,
This light envelopes,
A new terrain,
By men,
Or me.


I've learned that love is, to a great degree, the ability to walk away and still feel that nothing was lost. We're all human and possess the same capability to feel and love. I suppose we simply have to learn to reach inside ourselves and find what was there waiting all alone. I have so many defenses built up. I want to break through them all and just surrender to myself. Be myself. Learn to love myself again ... if I ever did.

Unmodified responses,
My love for you,
A simple reflex arc,
Afferent and efferent
Neurons pulsing,
Pulsing in the dark.

My soul and yours,
Actively transported,
Across warm flesh,
Semipermeable membranes
Leaking out lies,
Our energy source,
The human heart,
It beats unnoticed,

You and I,
Innominately related,
We bear the weight,
We share on fate,
Motion in union,
No choice to make,
Nothing held back,
No gesture belated.


Sometimes I think we're all looking for answers we already have. Sometimes the simplest things in life are the hardest to grasp.

That corner in my ceiling,
Yet ever present,
Desperately needed,
My universe,
My home,
Revolves around that corner,
Your mind.


A blinding light,
Like God
At the far side
Of death's vacant tunnel,
Promising me,
Are that glow,
I converge with the light,
It begins to fade
And in my terror that the light is illusion
I conjure up
And your light brightens
As you retreat deeper
Into my tunnel,
My safe unending tunnel.

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6527212 June 28, 2009

Pieces of Penelope (1983, 17 years old)

... I HAVE TO love myself the most--not be selfish but just have self esteem, and know that I can accomplish so much in my life--and I will...


... I feel like I'm just walking through a dessert and there's no one around for hundreds and hundreds of miles. I just don't understand, and it hurts so much to feel so rejected and so lacking. As if there's something missing that I'll never have. I'm actually afraid for the school year to start. For the last two years, terrible things have happened, and I want so badly to be happy. Why does God allow me to feel this way? I'll never know. I just have to tell myself that all people go through lonely times and that there is nothing wrong with me...


I just feel lonely today. I wonder if other people feel like this as much as I do? I wish I knew. I just have to face reality so I'm trying to figure out what it is.

Lonely does as lonely is,
Lonely gives as lonely is.


My Life is a paradox,
My heart a lonely hunter,
My melancholy smile,
Isn't real at all ...


I feel so bored and lonely. This is ridiculous. I have so many things to be excited about but yet I feel like all there is before me is a blank space that I have to fill in order to get somewhere, or to someone or something. What is it? Maybe I'm just going through a stage. That must be it.


I have my pride and I'm not gonna be put in the same category with a bunch of love sick girls. I realize now that I've been acting just like all the other girls in the world. I've got to be different and I will be ...


I just wish school would start so I can think about something else. I'm going to study hard. Right now I really don't have any close friends. I'm turning into quite a loner. It's what I want in a way but yet it's really not. I'm just going to try to channel my ambitions or passions or whatever towards studying. I've got to start giving myself more credit. I've got to grow up a little. The time has come for me to start seeing myself as an adult and acting like one.


Try as I might to break loose from sorrow,
She walks with me,
Every yesterday and tomorrow,
Trust is gone,
From my heart forever,
Perhaps someday I'll find my place.

'Till then I'll forge on ahead,
Never look back,
Let the dead be dead,
Fate has a surprising future for me,
Someday not only I but the world will see.

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6527212 June 26, 2009

Pieces of Penelope (1982, 16 years old)

... All I know is that if I just had one kiss from that guy, that's all I would need to sustain me for at least another six months ....


Love that hurts,
Love that takes,
Love that loves
For loves own sake ...


... Yesterday I had the most traumatic experience of my life. I cannot explain it but all I know is that it was hard and it hurt, and I will remember it until the day I die ...


... It seems like the good things that are supposed to be in life just don't notice me ...


... I'm tired of hurting. I know there is some hurt I can't avoid but as I look back at my past, I know there was so much I could have avoided. I bring so much upon myself ...


... I hope I'm growing up so bad ...


... I think I tend to idolize people too much ... even the people I don't like. I've been trying to see myself in the way that I see everyone else. Maybe that's the root of my problem. I've excluded myself from my overall image of the world, and maybe that has made me feel like I'm never good enough ...


... I think I just realized why I don't trust people. All this time, instead of trying to see myself the way I see everyone else, I've been trying to see everyone the way I see myself -- which doesn't work because it's giving me a depressed outlook on life and people. I have people idolized and the next, I have them hitting the floor. I don't want to trust anyone for fear that I'll be the fool and just prove over and over that I don't belong in the good world -- but only in the bad. This doesn't even give me a chance to be in the good world because trying to drag people into the bad world turns them off and away, which leaves me totally confused and worse off.


When sorrow speaks it calls my name,
When love laughs it laughs at me ...


Tonight I have been thinking ...

I have committed many a sin in my life. Greater than any man can know. In my heart, I will never know the reasons or will I feel forgiven ... What counts is how you play the game, live the life. I will be happy for my friends when they are happy. I will weep for them when they are sad. Never will I judge a person for I know my sins are many. I will be happy with life, for who I am, for what I feel, and will not waste joy by living in the past. I will treat each man the same for fate will bring love when love is right. I will not worry about useless things. I will not be saddened by things unsaid but will rejoice in words I hear. Life will be fine. The happy moments will outlive the sad. I will sin a great many times to come but yet I will be content for I know life would be but an empty shell if I had not sorrows to contrast with my joy. Forever, I will live each day in Springtime and when pain knocks at my heart, I will endure and love just the same. "Never stop risking" will be the words in my heart. I will remember to risk and to feel sadness is better than to not risk and not "feel." This way, at least I will know I'm alive.


A rainstorm rages in paradise,
Her nature split,
Struggling against the tide,
Trapped inside,
She hides ...


So many times I've missed the point,
I've stayed too long, and left too soon,
You'd think by now
I'd learn to play
the game.

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6527212 June 24, 2009

Runaway Lisa: An Aberration Story (Part 1)

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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).

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6527212 June 22, 2009

Selective Mutism: A Teen Aberration Story

Most people think I’m just shy. They’re not wrong; not really. It’s just that there’s more to it than simply being shy. At age 4, I was diagnosed with Selective Mutism. I didn’t really know what it meant back then, only that it was difficult for me to make friends every time I moved to a new environment.

Selective Mutism (SM) is a little known mental disorder similar to autism. Children affected by SM have an extreme fear of speaking in public places, reaching the point where it becomes physically impossible for them to utter a simple string of words. Many parents of children with SM aren’t even aware of their child’s condition. There isn’t much information on the subject, so most people just dismiss their behavior as shyness. Often, children with SM are thought to be stubborn, misbehaving kids who refuse to speak on purpose. It’s not that we choose to remain quiet, however. Children diagnosed with SM are actually physically unable to speak. The success rate for SM is low, and many of the affected never really grow out of their fear.

Selective Mutism is, in a way, my aberration. Throughout my whole life, I’ve struggled with communicating with others and making new friends. Signs of my SM started showing up when I first started preschool. While the other kids liked to play on the monkey bars during recess, I would sit on a bench in the corner and draw lions. I was fascinated with their silky coats, dagger-like fangs, and majestic manes; no other animal was quite the same.

I remained the typical, sugar-fueled preschooler at home, however. My mother didn’t notice a thing until our school’s Parent-Teacher Conferences came around.

“All the child does is sit in the corner and draw. She doesn’t talk to the other children,” Ms. Wahn said, sniffing as she shuffled her papers around and crossed her legs. “We have a guidance counselor. I’m sure you two can swing by anytime you’d like,” she added, pushing the bridge of her glasses up her nose.

To be honest, I don’t remember my sessions with Cathy very well. I’d get pulled out of class every week on the same day, at the same time and we’d play a game of Monopoly Junior or UNO. She also had this little dollhouse stacked under a box of memory cards of Winnie the Pooh characters and a chessboard in her closet of games. She may have asked me a few questions about school or what I was doing on the weekend. I felt comfortable around Cathy. She was quiet, like me, and when she smiled her eyes would sparkle and the creases around her eyes would show.

In third grade, I stopped going to see my psychiatrist. People were asking why I kept leaving during class, and for some reason, I felt embarrassed to tell them. Deciding that I no longer needed therapy, I told Cathy and my mother that I was better and that I didn’t want to go anymore. They accepted my decision and I didn’t see her again. I vaguely remember feeling both sad and relieved, knowing that I wouldn’t ever see Cathy’s tiny, lavender-colored room again as I walked down the hallway back to my classroom.

Luckily, third grade was the year that Myra came to our class. Myra and I were complete opposites. Bubbly and energetic, Myra approached me in her color-coordinated outfit on that first day during lunch: green T-shirt, green sweater, green skirt, green headband, green socks.

“Hi. What’s your name?”
I looked up from Harry Potter.
“Hi, I’m Myra. Whatcha reading?”
Slightly annoyed, I looked up, yet again, and closed the book. “Harry Potter.”
“Oh. Cool.”
I could tell she didn’t know what I was talking about.
“I like Nancy Drew.”
My eyes brightened. “Me, too!” I liked all books back then.
“Mysteries are fun.”
“Yeah. Harry Potter’s kind of a mystery.”
She examined the school’s copy, slightly worn with years of use. “It’s kinda thick.”
I took it back from her. “It’s not that bad.”
“Oh. Okay.”
We sat in silence for a while, not knowing what to say. I smiled awkwardly and eyed the book, wishing I could get back to it.
“You can keep reading and stuff if you want,” she finally said.
“Okay,” I said, relieved. “See you later.” I picked up the book, flipped back to the page I had dog-eared, and waved.
Smiling politely, she left the table and headed to the next one, her wispy, platinum blond ponytail swinging behind her as she sat down and introduced herself to another of my classmates.

We ended up becoming best friends. That year, I had my first sleepover at her house, where we gossiped about our teachers and classmates. She liked to lie, probably for the attention. I could always tell whenever she was making something up, but I listened to her anyway and went along with her stories. Gradually, I pushed myself away from Myra. Finally, in fifth grade, I heard that she’d started to talk behind my back. I was too timid to approach her about it, but our friendship was never quite the same after that. I still haven’t seen her in two years.

Although SM has been tough on me, both Cathy and Myra helped me greatly. Cathy was my confidante. She was probably 50, maybe even 60, but she was my friend. As for Myra, I was definitely hurt to hear that she would say anything bad about me, but eventually, I realized that she couldn’t change her personality and that it would’ve happened sooner or later. Besides, she helped me learn how to make many of the friends I have today. I don’t know if I’ve completely gotten over what happened with Myra, but I think, overall, I’ve gained more than I’ve lost.

I used to think of my SM as a burden. Of course, I’m not always glad to have SM, but it’s taught me to value friendship and family even more than I normally would. And that’s what keeps me going.

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6527212 June 22, 2009

Pieces of Penelope (1980, 14 years old)

My Diary

Pages of love and tears,
Special tidbits picked up through the years,
From girl to women,
From daughter to mother,
The pages may tear and fade,
But the hopes and fears will live forever.


... Sometimes I feel sad, sometimes glad, to be me. Am I the only one with problems? I cry out for someone to solve them. I'm proud to be me, but sometimes I wish I was different ... I realize now that I'm just one of the little grains of salt in the world.


The End

The end is here, now, after so long,
Your love is gone, transferred,
Where did I go wrong?
The end is sad, frightening, hard to bear,
The end has begun,
How long will it last?
Will it last till the end?
When the end is over and love goes on,
Where will you be?
Will you be near?
I'll always be here, at the end.


... They'll never know how I feel. I'll never let them know! My mind is searching, scanning but never finding the answers. I guess this is the final path. The path through darkness into light. Is that the light there? No, just a shimmer of hope. The light will come someday. I'll be happy then. Someday ...



What are words?
Words are means of expression,
Then where are the right words?
The words to say, "I love you?"
What is "I love you?"
"I love you" are the words that mean there are no words ... for me.

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6527212 June 21, 2009

Why I Care About Teens

Who blew out the candle?

There are multiple ways to run away. When I was nineteen, my attempt to run bought a three-day stay in intensive care. On the third day, one of my high school teachers happened to walk past the large, rectangular window of my room. I hid my face under the sheet. I hid my real face under all kinds of sheets for a long time. Lisa, who is highlighted in the Aberration Nation Teen Event (that starts today), ran away, too. We both survived. While the lives we enjoy today are certainly not perfect, they are much more than we ever imagined remotely possible once upon a teenage time.

A lot of the people in my young, lonely life wondered what in the Sam Hill I had to be so upset about. "She's a smart, tall blond. Her mom is such a strong Christian. Her dad is a high school guidance counselor. Her smile lights up a room; she's always has a date. She made straight A's last semester. Blah, blah, blah, blah." Some of those same people may now ask themselves, "Why in the Sam Hill would she share something like that on the Internet?"

You know who you are. Go ahead!

I've shared my secret because it's the most provocative and honest way I can explain the deep soft spot I have for teenagers.

Many teenagers have wonderful, functional families that help them successfully navigate their way through the ups and downs of those years. Others, despite great environments, struggle. Then there are those who don't seem to stand a chance in hell, and yet, they sail through. Some don't make it. Many do but then think about the desperate actions they took for many years, trying to understand what happened and why. Others separate out the early parts of their lives as if they're merely photographs of someone they used to be. The album snaps shut and that is that. As teens and as adults, we're all different.

During my mid-to-late twenties, I wrote a novel called Boundaries based the culminating struggle I went through to finally emerge on the other side of all the painful, lonely experiences I had as a child and teenager. It was a painstaking project that took many years. When I finally finished, I wasn't sure if I'd said all I could, or if I'd properly explained the complex situation, and how I felt about it. At thirty years old, I still wasn't sure if I fully understood it all, or if I ever would. Part of me wished I could be the type of person who closes the album, stuffs it in a box, and skips away.

I began trying to express myself through writing at a very young age. In recent years, I spent hours reading my old journals and stacks of poetry. What struck me is the phenomenal growth, and expanded contemplation and insight that evolved over the years between 12 and 21.

Here's a journal entry I wrote at 14, the age of most of my guest bloggers for this special teen event:

Some people live to make others die inside. They laugh at you and your feelings. Never think this is because they're older than you. It's not. It's because they're cruel, and anyone can be that way. (1980, 14 years old)

And here's a poem from the same year:


Who blew out the candle?
Burning, burning,
Did you?
I didn't.
I still want to see beauty,
When the flame is gone,
It's lonely in the dark,
I can't see,
Light a candle,
Running out ...

(1980, 14 years old)

At 14, my voice was young although my emotions ran deep. Life was confusing and I attempted to make sense of it with a beginner's toolkit. In reading the teen stories submitted for this event, I realized again why writers are so often drawn to their youth. Even the brightest or most talented teens can't always understand, describe, and fully express their experiences and emotions. The ability to do so can significantly increase as each year passes on that reckless highway between childhood and adulthood--and then continue ... The aberrations stories shared with you in the coming days were written by teens just completing the 8th grade. They're on the sharp edge of high school, where, in many ways, it all begins.

As you read their stories, I ask that you not only consider the words provided, but also imagine the words that may be missing. The voices you'll hear were our voices years ago. I wonder what these young people will say about their aberrations next year, or at 19, 30, or 43? They'll have seen adventure, accomplishment, and perhaps tragedy they can't imagine today. Yet at the core, at least in part, they will still be the selective mute, the amputee, the Muslim, and the stubborn boy who visited Aberration Nation in 2009.

Interspersed in their stories, you'll hear from Lisa, an adult who was once a teen runaway. Consider how she might have described her life at 14. What would she have shared and how would she have said it? Would she have understood her situation, emotions, and actions so well? What type of lens did she peer through all those years ago?

So what's the point of all this?

Well, I'm not a teacher, psychologist, physician, Oprah, or Dr. Phil, but I have a feeling we can all do a better job of listening to the teens in our lives. We could try just a little harder to remember what it was like once upon a teenage time. It's so easy to look into a bright, young smile, shrug off any doubts, and say, "She's fine. She's a beautiful, smart cheerleader," or drive the kid who wants purple hair and five piercings crazy although he's actually got a great head on his shoulders.

Through out this event, I'll also post brief excerpts from my journals, as well as some of the poetry I wrote between the ages of 14 and 21. Don't expect award winning writing, but you will find honesty. My aim is to use my early content to further support the idea that our understanding, and the ability to express ourselves matures dramatically during those years. I believe this is important because the depth of my emotions never changed. They were as strong and real at 14 as they are today.

The recognition of this disconnect seems important. I hope you'll agree.

Come back Tuesday for our first teen aberration story: Selective Mutism.

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6527212 October 24, 2008

Burning Down the House: An Aberration Story

"From this aberration; this single traumatic event in my life, I can draw a line to the present and all the blessings I have today."

If you're anything like me, you probably have a plethora of stupid choices, ridiculous, risky behaviors, and negative outcomes stuffed into a chest that sits in the back of your mind. Some of what we keep there is easily forgotten, written off as youthful indiscretion. However, for many of us, there is one or more pivotal events or choices that shaped our early lives. If we're lucky, the resulting shape is something positive and meaningful, and that shaping comes naturally. But regardless of the shape we end up in, it's never too late to re-evaluate the past, to find meaning and direction in the poor choices of the past.

Don, Phillies fan, father of four, writer, and author of A Field Guide for the Rookie Coach, has joined the Aberration Nation. Since 1992, Don has coached numerous boys & girls’ basketball, softball and baseball teams, and sat multiple terms on the Board of the Academy Sabres Youth Athletics Organization. Don remains active in the Philadelphia area youth athletics community conducting seminars that help new coaches (and not so new coaches) develop and refine the skills that keep kids having fun and coming back year after year. So what does this Philly community role model have in his chest of youthful indiscretions? Here's a peak.

You are sharing what I call a situational aberration. Can you first explain what happened?

I burned my family’s house down when I was 18 years old. It was an accident. I’d had too much to drink and decided to cook myself a midnight snack. By the time my father awakened me from my drunken stupor, flames had consumed the kitchen and were billowing along the ceiling of the living room where I’d passed out on the couch while reading the paper. He, my mother and I made it out of the house. My two brothers were sleeping out that night so in the end, no one was hurt. We rebounded from this tragic loss, and as you can imagine, learned a lot along the way. From this aberration; this single traumatic event in my life, I can draw a line to the present and all the blessings I have today. This disruption in my life provided me with the impetus I needed to leave behind the things I knew best and embrace the unknown. To stop clutching and clawing at a future I thought was my destiny, and to let go and allow my destiny find me. I've been lucky.

At 18, how did you cope with knowing you were responsible for such a devastating situation?

In the context of my 18-year-old life, I wasn't all that devastated by it. I thought, "No one was hurt and most of the family keepsakes, photos, scrap books, etc, weren't burned."

My family had grown complacent, taking each other and everything for granted. This event served to jar us all into a closer, more appreciative relationship. Now a parent myself, I realize my own parents' perspective on the experience is probably very different, but in the immediate wake of the fire, I went through a pretty fast transition from feeling very bad to feeling lucky.

How long did it take for you to overcome the guilt, and what was that process like?
Scarily quick--like 48 hours. My recovery was directly related to the loss, but the overall context of the event is important.

I'd been an overachiever my whole life in a family of underachievers. I never had to study to get top grades. I was a good looking kid and had an engaging personality. I had a girlfriend and the future looked bright. But it wasn't MY future, it was the future my parents wanted for me.

I was a freshman in college at the time of the fire, enrolled in a premed program and doing well, as usual. But I hated it. I wanted to travel. I wanted real adventure and risk in my life that had been, up until then, pretty darn mundane. My girlfriend was smothering me at a time when girls were falling out of trees. In the midst of my inability to break out of this rut, I became hospitalized with an ulcer at 18.

During my stay in the hospital I had two visitors that, to this day, I credit with shaping the life I now lead:

1) A teacher came to visit and gave me Kerouac's On The Road to read. He could see through to my discontent and I found out, some years later, that he'd decided to see if throwing that grenade into my psyche would spark me to take charge of my life. He had no idea how much it would.

2) The other visitor wasn't technically a visitor, but rather the doctor attending to me. He closed the door as he came into my room on the day I was discharged (after being there a week), and essentially urged me to let go of everything I was hanging onto. To cut all ties with everything weighing on my mind. He said that I should take a year or two to follow my heart.

Are you thankful now that you had that experience? Although it was certainly a negative one, did you come to see value in it and fate at hand?

The most valuable thing that came out of it was the display of overwhelming kindness and charity that followed. It came from everywhere, even from very unexpected places.

I'm not so sure how I view the event in terms of fate, because I've always considered myself abundantly blessed when compared to the pain and suffering of so many people. Remember, it was just a house; just some stuff, nobody was hurt, so in my opinion, it was a fortunate inconvenience which eventually became the first in a series of dominoes whose falling led to my escape from the life I was so bored with.

Most teenagers and young adults take risks and assume nothing bad will ever happen. Is there any way to combat this belief in teenagers, or is there no way around it? The ability to take risks is important for long-term success in life so how can we hold that in check while instilling the positive aspects of it?

By being honest about it. By being honest about your own youth. I know I sound like a broken record but context cannot be ignored in this either. When I say to be honest, I mean age appropriately honesty. For example, I wouldn't tell my eight year old I smoked pot when I was younger, but I would tell my fourteen year old who might be faced with making decisions about using marijuana on a daily basis. If I'm able to explain the risk from a perspective of experience, it makes a whole lot more sense than telling them to "Just say no."

I'm also a proponent of letting my kids take age appropriate risks while providing them with a safe environment to discuss their experience--as long as it's age appropriate (can't stress that enough).

I have four kids, ranging from age 14 to 21. Every one of them was faced with going to a keg party in the woods when they became freshmen in high school and every one of them asked me if they could go. Imagine asking your dad if you could go to a keg party when you were 14. I let them go with the stipulation that I wasn't giving them permission to drink alcohol, just hang out with their friends and check out the scene. I knew this was a time when paths would diverge; when some friends would gravitate to partying and others not. My kids felt empowered and trusted and they found out the keg parties in the woods were muddy, dirty, bug infested affairs with a lot of sloppy, stupid behavior. If I hadn't let them go, they may have glamorized it based on the stories they heard later. As it was, they knew the stories were glamorized because they'd actually seen the events.

In every case, my kids parted ways with some of their grammar school friends and went on to make new friends in their bigger high school environment. They gravitated toward kids with similar interests and values, having made their own decisions to move away from the inappropriately risky behavior of their other friends.

I've been burned by this philosophy too, so it doesn't always have a rosy outcome, but the underlying foundation of self respect I give my kids by trusting them with the truth about my own behavior when I was their ages, and my willingness to let them fall on their face, gives us a safe place to talk it out when all is said and done.

I also take the time to watch and read everything my kids do, and find ways to discuss the risky behavior and poor choices illustrated in popular media and literature. I make a point to emphasize when something is "Hollywood" or when risky behavior is glamorized into something romantic. I've also taken my kids to volunteer at soup kitchens so they can see the impact of substance abuse on otherwise good people and they have relatives who are examples of taking risky behavior to unhealthy extremes.

What advice do you have for anyone struggling with poor decisions and choices made in the past?

I'm big on self forgiveness. If I wasn't, I'd have hung myself in the closet a long time ago.

Don't hinge your happiness on the approval of others. Accept responsibility for your own occasional lack of good judgment when you screw up, try hard to learn from it, and move on. It's bound to happen again, so come up with a process for dealing with your own mistakes that enables you to move forward cleansed by the experience, not just tarnished by it.

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