Every child, at one point or another, dreams about the day they would leave their house whether or not they had a good relationship with their family. Freedom is something everyone craves in one way, shape, or form.
I remember the day that I first thought about running away from home. It was a rainy day, and I was in the car, pouting as I looked outside the window. My mother had made me upset, which was a normal occurrence, and I was done. I was in the seventh grade, and it had felt like I was carrying the world on my shoulders.
No matter how many times I told myself I was going to running away from home since that day, I never thought I would actually do it. You see, being the eldest brown daughter of an immigrant family – a single-mother household – is more of a curse than a blessing. It means being the second parent, no matter how young you are. I was nine when my dad died, and I had to step up as the oldest to become a parent. It means constant disapproval, inability to communicate properly, and a fear of not being enough. Although this could be said about any child, there’s nothing like experiencing all these factors as the eldest.
Being the eldest means being the example. You could go either of two ways: the perfect child or the complete mess up.
I was the mess up.
I wasn’t in the National Honors Society. I didn’t get straight A’s all my life. My mother didn’t drive around with an Honors Society bumper sticker on the back of her car.
I won’t say that I was perfect because I wasn’t. No one ever is. But there was a lack of intimacy and care in my family that had affected me more than I ever imagined. Due to my mother being gone most of the time to work and support our family, I had to step up. But there was only so much you could do before you lost your mind.
I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder sophomore year of high school. I went to therapy and was prescribed medication for a couple of months before my mother decided I didn’t need any of that anymore. It was odd to me that a person in the medical profession could blatantly ignore the fact that I had – and still have – a mental illness. It was painful to bear, especially considering I had to be the strongest child for my mother. With all these responsibilities, I also had no freedom to do normal things like hanging out with friends after school, go to after-school events like football games or dances, and even controlled what I was and was not allowed to wear.
Even on top of all that, it seemed like nothing I did was ever right, let alone okay. And as the years passed, I only became more depressed and even suicidal.
Despite it all, I managed to create some great friendships by joining organizations and clubs on campus. Had I known this was going to be my saving grace, I would’ve done this earlier.
My friend offered to let me stay with them and their family. Although I was unsure about it, I realized that this was the only choice that made sense. I had spent months searching for apartments and studios and such, but none of them offered the same things my friend’s family did.
In order for me to move out, I had to take several steps so that I could move out without a hitch.
The first thing I did to start the process of moving out was by getting a secret job. At the time, I was working three jobs, two of which my mother knew about. One job was a work-study program that was usually on and off-campus. I would lie to my mother saying I had committee meetings, events to work, etc. If worse comes to worst, I would create flyers or such to “prove” to her I had something to do.
The second step I took was creating a secret bank account. My mother had access to my bank account and controlled the amount of money I could spend. I had little to no option of how I could use my money, even if it was to spend on simple things like materials from the dollar store or even clothes for myself. I went to a nearby bank campus on a weekday when I didn’t have class and told the representative my situation. They worked with me and helped me open up an account instantly. I strongly suggest creating a checking and savings account.
In order to create a bank account, you need to bring a form of ID (I suggest bringing two just in case), your social security card, and the minimum amount to deposit money into your account. You should research which bank specifically caters more to you and offers the best options. Make sure to ask questions as well! See if there’s a monthly maintenance fee, interest and overdraft fees, a minimum balance needed, etc. Check out this link for more.
The third step I took was saving and budgeting as much as I could. I saved about $5,000 before I finally left. However, it is necessary to continue saving because there will always be hiccups throughout the plan. It is necessary to remember that things will not always go your way. I had faced my setbacks, including COVID-19, throughout the process, and it had caused me to lose more money than I expected.
Something else that I also did was join Facebook groups! There are several groups full of people that are willing to help in any way they can. I had posted about my situation, and I received a lot of help from womxn all over. They helped me by giving me tips, showing me links, and other groups that are helpful for people in my situation who were planning on running away from home. Some of the groups I’ve tried are the little brown diary and Daughters of Abusive Mothers.
On top of this, I also researched and looked at apartments and sublets and more. Some sites I’ve used include us.sulkeha.com (there’s also a version if you live in India), Hotpads, Rent.com, and Zumper.
I also took advantage of the resources that my university offered, including their mental health services. I have felt that speaking to a therapist helped me organize my thoughts and figure out how to take care of myself in and outside of my home. It also helped me come to terms with my relationship with my mother, figure out what it is I need, and just simply to process my emotions.
The next step I took was buying a (burner) phone. When I left my house, I made sure to leave behind my home and car keys, as well as my phone. None of them belonged to me legally, so if I were to take my phone or my car, it would have given my mother leverage if she tried to track me down.
I do want to stress that no matter how detailed your plan can be, there will always be something that doesn’t go according to plan. I planned everything out to the last minute. I was going to wait until the end of March, when my mom would go to India. I would drop things off at my friend’s house the days leading up to the day before she was supposed to land. The night of her flight back home, I would have left home, leaving everything behind. However, one night, just barely a week after I decided what I would do, my mom had pushed and shoved me to a breaking point, and I decided I would leave that night when she goes to work. And so, I did.
I packed my belongings, wrote a very honest and direct note, and left.
Another step I took was buying a car. Not everyone needs a car, but I go to a commuter school. On top of that, I was a Team Leader for an organization I was part of where I had to transport myself and my team to our partner program. Driving a car was necessary for me, mainly because I felt more organized in my car rather than relying on public transport. I strongly urge people to research as much as they possibly can about financing or leasing a vehicle. I went to the dealership with the notion that I would walk out with a new set of car keys — and I did.
However, there were some things I wish I knew to do before I signed the papers. It is best to go to the dealership with someone you know can bargain because you never want to pay the price the car is listed for. On top of that, make sure to test drive the car, checked the air conditioning and heating, make sure your side view mirrors work if they aren’t manual, and make sure you know who exactly you are paying for the car; it could be the dealership itself or a bank.
As I mentioned, not everything goes according to plan. There’s always something that messes up or goes wrong, and it can completely be out of your own control. It happened to me shortly after I started to get settled in my new house. My university rejected my loans, and I had to pay out of pocket. This meant dipping into the money I was already running away from home. On top of paying a down payment for my car, rent, insurance, and tuition, I also had to buy groceries and room essentials like bedsheets, a dresser, storage bins, etc. All of this added up.
I wasn’t used to living paycheck to paycheck. Although my mother did make sure I always had money (by not letting me use it), I didn’t learn the value of money and how small of an amount $1000 really is until I moved out.
Running away from home was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. Despite being away from home for over four months now, I still have bouts of regret. I always thought, subconsciously, that running away from home would be my cure-all, but I soon learned that although it is a huge step in the right direction, there is still a lot of unlearning and healing left for me to do.
Below are some resources I have found helpful:
National Runaway Safeline – 1-800-RUNAWAY or 1-800-786-2929