How many children will go to bed at night with the same confusion I once experienced? How many of these children will grow up and become drug users or criminals and what could we have done to help?
Though it's been 14 years, it seems like yesterday.
The Chattanooga sky was gray in November of 1996. I remember the crunching of the leaves on the long walks I took to collect myself.
My grandmother had passed away and I'd come back to bury her. At times I had come to Chattanooga to take care of my grandparents. It was the only semblance of normal family life I had known. My biological family resented my birth mother and they had really resented me since my birth, except for my grandmother, who had done her best to love someone who everyone else had abandoned.
There was no way that I could have known that 1996 and 1997 would be years that would push me to the max. No one can prepare for death, even though I had died several mental and spiritual deaths in my short life.
My adopted mother, father and biological grandmother and grandfather all passed away in a four-month span. I never had lasting stability in my childhood, but I had had those four to hold on to.
"Sometimes I wished you never knew your biological family," said my biological uncle.
His words always cut deep. I wanted to show I was worthy of being a member of my family, even as a child. It would take years to realize they were the problem, not me.
The most supportive members of my family were gone. They were buried. I didn't pause a moment to feel the pain that came from their going. Those who remained found themselves burdened by the child of someone they hated. Yet they suffered my biological mother and let me toss around in the wind.
My biological relatives wished I were swept under the rug. It was as if the hatred for my biological mother somehow transferred over to her young children. The feeling of being an outcast was very real. It wasn't until I was adopted into a truly loving family as an adult that I realized that I was worth something and those who shared my DNA weren't my family at all. But by then, I already had mental scar tissue.
From the Santa Monica promenade to the Caribbean Sea I traveled looking for myself. When I would check in with my biological family they'd focus on my mistakes and never offer help or insight.
I was alone in this world and only wanted love. Instead I found confusion and more instability. The guava doesn't fall far from the tree: it's all I'd ever known. I found comfort in the small things to ease the pain. Whether it was digging my feet into the sand at a beach or watching the sunset. I found relief in whatever peace and tranquility was available. I didn't once think back on my life or how I'd gotten there. When one is fighting a war, even in the mind, there is little time to wonder how it has been survived.
A lot has happened since then. As we now enter the fall of 2012, I have a real family, I am a few months from college graduation, applying to law school, writing a book and have a fledgling relationship with a man who loves me almost as much as I love him.
Although the estimated rates of college graduation for former foster youth range between 1 and 11 percent, it looks like I made the cut. Graduating college means a lot more since I never expected to live this long.
What about the children currently in the system? Does anyone know what plight they now face? Or have they too been swept under the rug? For their sake and for the hope of society, I hope not.