The Melancholy of Absence

As I take this journey, to tell the story of homeless youth in America, I am forced to face my own realities which have stemmed from my time on the streets.  When I decided to make this documentary, Lost in America, I never fully prepared myself for the truths I would have to start to face. The journey has been across the country, but it has also been a pilgrimage into the uncharted depths of my own heart.  Now that I’m deep in it I’ve come to realize there are many truths that all former and present homeless or foster youth face.  There are none no more powerful than what I call, The Melancholy of Absence.

There is a melancholy that comes with absence.  For years I have felt this and not known how to describe it.  I’ve just chalked it up to a bad day, avoided people, and tried to feel better the next.  I am generally a joyful person, someone always looking for the next smile.  But taking this journey has forced me on many levels to deal with things I have avoided for years.  And this journey has given me a foundation of understanding to my melancholy.  I have to say foundation because the journey is new and the house still yearns to be built.  But the understanding has taken root and is burrowing deep in me for full recognition.

When you’ve been abandoned, or rejected by those who are supposed to love you most, like so many homeless and foster youth have, that pain never truly goes away.  No matter how hard you try, the memory of that is never too far.  And while you learn to move on   from it, or at least push on, that loss you feel, that hole that now resides where love is supposed to, most often gets filled with a sense of melancholy; The melancholy of absence.

Every homeless or foster youth that I have spoken with feels this.  When you walk down the street and watch a mother affectionately embrace her child you do enjoy that moment.  You recognize the beauty in it, and even may relate to it for that moment.  But in the back of your mind you know that you don’t have that.  That it was either stolen or ripped away from you.  And it might be for just a fleeting moment, but you will yearn for it.  When you watch as a young boy, running around, falls and as the tears pour his father runs to him, picks him up and holds him.  You do feel that boy’s pain.  But you then see as he holds his father and, once again, you do yearn for that.

These are not moments that stay with you for long, nor could they.  The one thing we have built deep inside of us is the need to survive and in order to do that, you can’t dwell in that house for too long.  It is too painful and so we let it go as quickly as we can.  But after a while, months, years, even decades, that melancholy will fill up and eventually overflow.  And one random occurrence will happen, one random… for me today it was while watching a movie.  It wasn’t even a very sentimental or dark film.  Perhaps it was the music, perhaps it was the way he held her in his arms, but it was all I needed and the tears were there.

There was no reason for it. I knew that.  In fact as I sobbed I told myself how silly I was being.  But then I did realize what was happening.  It was the melancholy of absence, and I decided to write this.

We need to change things in America.  We are a country that likes to clean things up so they don’t have to deal with it anymore.  Sweep it under the rug, put them in shelters, put them anywhere that makes us feel good about it for the one grand purpose of being able to forget about them.  But we can’t forget about these children.  As a society when we step in and take these children away from their homes as foster care does, or shelter the homeless youth we must understand that we have now shouldered the burden of parenthood.  And as any parent knows, the pain doesn’t stop when the tears do.  The tears may be gone.  The pain may subside.  But they are always left with one thing, the painful reminder that they are alone, that they have been abandoned.  That they will always have to deal with… The Melancholy of Absence.

Rotimi Rainwater