The story of 13-year-old "Sweetie," who wanted to run away since the fourth year of elementary school, is food for thought. (Jimmy Lin)
The visage of this 13 year old be-lies a street-savvy spirit. Sweetie (an alias), has repeatedly run away from home, and is in the protective custody of a halfway school where she currently studies. She fervently speaks of her past without falter or compunction, and has no idea what to expect of the future, for which she holds no plans, only uncertainty.
This runaway's story compels sorrow, heartache and introspection. "I was initiated into society while in the sixth grade," Sweetie hyperbolically intoned. During that time, she would spend all day dawdling around Hsimenting, befriending numerous hoodlums. One such friend, her "sworn brother," especially looked after her.
Sweetie's father, a plumber, and mother divorced one month after her birth. Sweetie and her mother lived together for a few years until her mother became mentally disturbed and was admitted to a convalescent hospital. Sweetie was then sent to live with her father and uncle.
From the fourth grade, Sweetie considered running away. "There was no feeling of affection in our home," she explains. Any time her father's mood grew sour, he would inevitably take out his frustration on Sweetie, continually "disciplining" her this way. While on one hand she recognized how miserable her father was, on the other she was quite young, unable to muster the courage to run away from home.
Last year, around the beginning of her seventh grade year, Sweetie finally acted upon the idea of running away. Her father slapping her in front of everyone at school, after hearing from a teacher of her having a boyfriend, precipitated her decision. "I've been accustomed to getting beaten since I was little; that's no big deal. What gets me is that my father had the gall to take the teacher's side," expounds Sweetie. That same day, she did not go home, staying at a classmate's house until the next day, when she did return home. Still, after just two or three days, she fled from home yet again. "After I argued with my father, he threatened to sell me into prostitution if I misbehaved again."
This time Sweetie wandered about for more than ten days, patronizing dance clubs every day. After getting tired, she would go to a friend's house to spend the night. "You must be well-mannered if you want to be welcomed into people's homes"--Sweetie accounts for how she developed the ability to get into people's good graces, as she often found herself playing the role of uninvited guest.
In the following days Sweetie's father fell and broke his leg at work, prompting his boss to phone her asking her to return home to tend to her father. After an absence of more than ten days, Sweetie now had no choice but to go back, albeit she stayed only two or three days before breaking camp again.
In order to pay for living expenses, Sweetie spent her time away from home at an underground speakeasy where she worked as a bar hostess. She became well-versed in drinking games and all other aspects of entertaining clients, though she never had intercourse with any of them. "I'm under the protection of my sworn brother," Sweetie points out.
Sweetie's "sworn brother" introduced her to her current boyfriend, who is ten years her senior. "I'm mature and independent beyond my years, so I find guys my age to be rather childish," Sweetie vaunts. While her boyfriend has a job and takes good care of her, she just doesn't have much faith in relationships or marriage, in light of her family situation.
Sweetie ran into Good Shepherd Foundation Juvenile Center social worker Hou Wen-chi (nicknamed Monkey) while at a pool hall last year. Sweetie doesn't exactly wear her feelings on her shoulders, but spontaneously hit it off with Monkey, who now serves as a bridge of communication between Sweetie and her father. Whenever Sweetie leaves home, she notifies Monkey of her whereabouts.
Monkey adds that Sweetie is prone to harming herself, is emotionally unstable and does not get along well with others--just to name a few of her challenges. "This is how I've turned out, all because my father took no interest in me," Sweetie exclaims. From a young age, she was ridiculed for not having a mother and was distressed by her father. Although quite weary from a rough life, she still maintains a determined image. Nowadays, she depends on her father only for financial support.
Sweetie says that she self-inflicts pain and often gets depressed. She also hits and slams into the wall and has even slit her wrist and tried to overdose on medication twice in attempts to commit suicide. "I get excited at the sight of blood," she says.
After the fourth or fifth time of being reported missing, Sweetie was sent to a halfway school for dropouts and ordered to check in with her probation officer twice per month. Moreover, if she ran away again, she'd be sent to a juvenile detention house to undergo reformatory education. Sweetie's sworn sister, who has done time at a juvenile detention house, informed her of how strict and unpleasant it is there. Sweetie consequently decided that "maybe it's best to return home" for the short term, anyway.
Sweetie is no exception. There are countless Sweeties out there who have decided to leave home because they don't have anyone to depend on and essentially have no place to call home. Only if all of us can listen to them and offer them our tolerance and help, can the sense of emptiness in their lives be assuaged.