I would like to believe that all children are welcome in our world. I spent my late teens and twenties working with teen runaways, and I felt how much they didn’t know why they were here – alive, I mean. No one seemed to want them. Their parents were usually overwrought with their own needs. School teachers were busy and rule-oriented. Potential employers shunned them. The only people who offered them any time were those paid to do so, such as therapists in offices and teachers in treatment programs like where I worked.
I felt these kids’ bleak gaze onto a world that shut them out. For them, any entryway was a closed door as sheer as a polished granite wall. I wanted to find footholds and handholds for them, so that – one reach at a time – they could climb over all social obstacles to a genuinely welcoming place. This work was hard. Sometimes it felt impossible. Continually, I asked myself: What room does our world have for kids whose parents can’t care for them? Especially the kids whose emotions are tumultuous enough that they can neither sit in classroom chairs nor stand at counters working menial jobs? Brandy Gray emerged, in part, to help answer this question.
Brandy is a hot headed teenage runaway. She’s also a gifted graffiti artist who creates mural-and-poem tags on any flat surface she can find. Her story journeys through a group home, a psych ward, a GED training center, a whole lot of graffiti tag scenes – and then it shows what too often happens to young runaways living on our streets. These parts of Brandy’s story are raw and uncomfortable. It hurts to face what so many young people suffer in our own cities and neighborhoods.
Brandy’s story is not mere exposé, though. We have so many stories of young people’s suffering in our literature now. For myself, as well as for the teens I taught, I needed an uplifting story. I dared to challenge Brandy and ask: Can you make a meaningful life? As I followed Brandy’s attempts to answer this question, I realized that “healing” is really a two-part process. First, you have to recover from all that hurt you – neglect, abuse, addiction, whatever your afflictions may be. That step is hard, for sure, but the second part is usually what undoes people: the next step is that you have to find something to do. You have to create a sense of purpose, and you have to find a way to fulfill that purpose in our material world. Otherwise, you just end up falling back down the wall.
Brandy’s story is unique and valuable because it shows one teen’s success at creating a meaningful life – which is a hard task for anyone of us. All of us struggle to lead lives that feel important in some way, and so it’s easy for us to relate to her attempts. At first, Brandy dedicates herself to art and adventure, but neither of these can give her all that she needs, especially after the abuse she endures living on the streets. What she needs, along with so many teens, and the rest of us, is love. We need love that reaches deep into our hearts and past and releases us to a present of unconditional connection and acceptance. Here is the delicious part of Brandy’s story, as well as the most important part, when romance wins out over hardship, and true love suddenly becomes real.
I hope you enjoy the story.