Have you ever imagined yourself in a different life circumstance? Different people, different job, different place, different time? I know you have.
I took a moment to do that today.
I am adopted, but what if my fate had been different?
What if I were not adopted? What if my loving parents that have given me an amazing amount of support and opportunity never found me, and my birth parents did not want to keep me even though they knew I would have no one? Instead I was a foster kid left in the system and never chosen by a family.
There is no intrinsic difference between adopted kids and those that get left in foster care. Our only difference is that the adults making decisions for us, made different decisions. Whether those decisions were good or bad, they were out of our control nonetheless.
Did you know that 65% of aged out foster kids get kicked out on the streets the day they turn 18? Because of this 20% of all youth in homeless shelters come directly from foster care. Then, by the time all of the kids kicked out of the system turn 19 years old, 66% are dead, homeless or in jail.
I was thinking about life today, about National Adoption Month, and thought, “what if the adults in my life made different decisions and I wound up as one of those 66% percent? If I aged out of foster care and wound up dead, homeless or in jail by the time I turned 19?”
Some call it ‘day dreaming’, Einstein called it a ‘thought experiment’. I am calling it an ’empathic experiment’.
Given these alternate circumstances this is how I thought and felt.
The Life of That Never-Adopted Girl
No one wanted me. Not the people that gave me life and not any one of the other 7 billion people in this world. So, I was thrown in foster care and was stuck there until I was 18.
Babies usually get adopted but let’s pretend I was the most unlucky baby ever.
I somehow lived through group homes and emotional and physical abuse from a plethora of sets of foster “parents”. The loneliness did not kill me, the abuse did not kill me, but I definitely thought about killing me a few times. I never went through with it though. I never even tried. I always held out hope that things would get better, that life would get better. I was certain that God would not have given me life just for me to suffer the entire time. Every once in a while I was placed with good foster parents who were kind to me. My time in those homes is what kept me going and helped me hold on to the little bit of self-worth I had left. Those are the homes the government wishes all foster homes were like. Cause they care.
My real parent was the system and I had 104,000 brothers and sisters.
I went through life with a heavy heart and as I got older it only got heavier. As I got older it became harder to carry around. I always thought love would lighten it. I noticed that all of the loved children had light hearts. But love was a foreign language to me. I had no understanding of the vocabulary, syntax, context or punctuation.
I got bounced around from place to place so much that I hardly had time to settle in and feel comfortable, hardly had time to build genuine relationships, hardly had time to catch up in school. I barely knew what grade level I was actually in. By the time I hit high school I could not focus because no one ever taught me how to learn. I felt like I was plopped in a chair and forced to stare at a faceless teacher who spoke gibberish and scribbled primary colors on to a whiteboard. Then I was expected to leave having learned something, but I did not even know what that something was. I would have asked questions, but I did not want to once again face the humiliation of exposure, which was a constant threat. Being exposed is a perpetual fear of mine. I did not know what I did not know, and that terrified me into a state of social paralysis. What I hoped for was a double-edged sword. I was approaching my 18th birthday and I was terrified of being tossed out on the streets, but I was too ashamed to reach out for help, even though all I wanted was to be saved.
Then doomsday arrived. I turned 18. Happy Birthday to me! I wished I could look forward to stupid shit like buying lottery tickets and cigarettes like other kids did. I felt like I lived in a different universe than everyone else. I was an alien. All I had to look forward to was stupid shit like being deemed unworthy of care and being thrown on to the streets.
Who needs family after 18 anyway?
I was expected to be a self-sufficient adult at this point, but I still wished I had parents to love me, or at least like me. I started having flashbacks of the countless number of events I went to with my social worker during my years in foster care, trying to impress couples so they would adopt me. Trying to prove that I was worthy of their love and acceptance. Something about me was not impressive enough. Maybe nothing about me was impressive. I was not worthy of their love and acceptance. As powerless and worthless as repeatedly auditioning for the role of ‘child’ made me feel, at least then I still had a glimmer of hope that some couple would see something special in me. The day the system kicked me out that glimmer of hope was gone forever.
Maybe I was being childish. Should I have been okay with being parent-less at this point? I mean I had lived my entire life that way, I should have been used to it by then. I was used to it by then. I was not okay with it.
I had no other choice than to act like I was okay.
The system rejected me just as my original parents had. Reckless abandon was a recurring theme in my life. I had nowhere to go. I had no one to go to. I had no idea what to do. I was scared of living on the streets. Really scared. I was worried I would get raped or killed or at the very worst pitied by people with homes. I put on a brave face as I walked into the black hole of society, preparing to fill the role of pariah.
It dawned on me that I was a homeless person. Homeless! I had heard of homeless people, I had seen homeless people, I had even met a few. Now I was one. I would be defined by my living situation. I had always been defined by my living situation. First “foster kid”, then “homeless teen.” One in the same.
What did I do, not knowing what to do? I decided to keep putting one foot in front of the other, as heavy as my feet were and as much as they dragged, I had no other choice. I dragged myself to the forgotten area of the city where there are bars on all of the windows that are still in tact and boards on all of the others. The sun was always a little dimmer over there, the streets cracked, the air sour smelling, steamy and thick. This was the only place I knew of where people like me lived. I found a man with a tent pitched on the sidewalk and a sign leaning against it that read, “I’ll be honest, I need beer.” His honesty was oddly refreshing. I asked him where the nearest shelter was. His teeth must have all been missing because I could not understand a word he mumbled. I kept walking. I found a woman under a nearby overpass. She stood under there for shade and would walk to the corner for each red light. Good exercise. Her name was Myrtle. She still had a few teeth left. The light was about to turn green as I approached so I walked to the corner with her as she held her sign that read, “God Will bles uif U heLP Me.” “This is my Corner!,” Myrtle proclaimed looking at me with a gaping, proud, 3-toothed smile across her skinny, copper-colored face. Myrtle’s corner was at the end of an Interstate highway off-ramp. It was slightly terrifying to watch semi-trucks drive downhill headed directly towards us, so I doubt she had much difficulty protecting her territory. It was her corner. I stood there with her until my savior, the green light, came and dear Myrtle was ready to leave her post and help me find the nearest shelter.
I thought, “God bless her, but also, please God do not let that be me.“
Shelters are worse than group homes, but not that much worse. This was a Catholic charity shelter so maybe it was nicer than others. I had nothing to compare it to. I debated with myself whether or not to admit that I wasn’t Catholic . I decided that even if the organizers said I did not have to be Catholic to be worthy of shelter, I would pretend to be Catholic so I wouldn’t have to listen to their conversion speech. I had to sit through a conversion speech anyway, turns out it’s procedural. In addition to their zestful attempt to convert me to Catholicism, they tried to help me get a job. That was a noble effort, though I thought it was impressively illogical. I was a teenager, did not have a diploma and my address was a homeless shelter. No one trusted that I was reliable. I understood, I did not trust anyone either.
I was screwed. Parents did not want me, employers did not want me and then I had to leave the shelter because I could not find a job…. because I was undereducated and homeless. Screwed.
I did what I did not want to do. I literally lived on the streets. Like the sidewalk you walk on, the asphalt you drive on, under the bridges you drive over. The streets.
Was this real life?
At first people stared with their dull eyes seeing straight through me. That dull look people have when they see something pathetic but do not want to feel about it. They look at me but not in my eyes, not even at my eyes, I think they are avoiding giving me a false sense of hope. I am invisible.
As my clothing became ragged and stained from sitting on sidewalks, sleeping in parks, and huddling under bridges I did not even get the dull look anymore. There was no look at all. The passersby all made sure to face straight ahead as they passed me by. They had to keep on, keeping on.
I must have looked awful. I did not get to look at my reflection much. Maybe that was a good thing. If I would have looked myself in the eyes I only would have seen disappointment. I saw disappointment in the eyes of everyone else. The last thing I needed was to see it in my own. To give myself that dull look would have confirmed my invisibility.
Once I really looked homeless, people stopped looking at me altogether. You know that homeless look? Like dirty face, dirty nails, knotted hair, bloodshot eyes, ruined clothes, and that sour smell so pungent that you can see it. That was what I turned in to. People would walk by without even a glance. Before they looked straight ahead, now they went as far as to purposefully look away from me, look to the side, look down, pretend to be doing something on their cell phones. I do not exist.
I started yearning for just a second of eye contact. Just one smile. Just one person to recognize my existence. I am transparent.
Now, here I am.
Please do not blame this on me. I have given it my all. I have searched for love high and low. I have searched every nook and cranny of every home, shelter and alleyway. I cannot find it. At this point a split second of eye contact from any given human being constitutes love, and I can’t even get that. I gave it my all.
Sometimes in life you need to know when to admit defeat. I have been defeated.
I am already a ghost among men. Wandering the streets unseen, unheard, spooky. I already do not exist. I think I will make it official.
All those times I thought about suicide but did not go through with it, those days are over. I cannot go on like this. I cannot be unloved forever. I cannot wind up standing on a street corner with a piece of ripped, food-stained cardboard that says, “God Will bles uif U heLP Me.”
I am not upset. A dark calmness has washed over me. I have simply accepted that it is my time to go.
The world has dealt me my hand. We are playing poker, 5 card draw: mistake of spades, unloved of hearts, unwanted of hearts, defeat of diamonds and forgotten child of clubs. It is not a winning hand.
This is the one thing in all of my life that I have control over. Ending it. I don’t have anyone to write a note to. I could write it to the police for when they find me, but why would they care? They see tons of dead bodies. I will be the nameless, homeless, dead girl. They will be hard pressed to find someone to identify my body, so, when I am gone, my name will be Jane Doe. I won’t have what most people look forward to having when they die. I won’t have a funeral where people say nice things about me, laugh about my quirks and cry because my existence mattered to them. That sucks, but at least I won’t be around to see it.
Here lies Jane Doe.
LOVE always and forever,
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