Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Turning 18

When I was growing up in foster care I could not wait to turn 18.  When I was a kid, 18 meant freedom.  It meant choices in life.  It meant no longer being shuffled from home to home.  It was an end date to my suffering.  18 was magical.   18 was the day I became an adult and made my own decisions.  18 was the day my life became worth living and all the hard work I put into school, surviving, and staying a model citizen would pay off.   I thought October 28th was the day I would want to start living.  I thought it was the day my life would begin.  I thought wrong. 

For some reason I believed that adults were different than children.  I thought adults were more mature, less scared, more sure about themselves and the world.  Now that I am an adult I no longer believe this, but perhaps it’s just that I’ve never grown up.  Maybe I’m extremely stunted in life.  Maybe other adults have some kind of knowledge and assurance that I do not.  Maybe there is just something wrong with me because now that I am adult I still have the same fears.  I still have the same problems.  I still have the same heartaches.  The only difference is turning 18 comes with more responsibility and less support when you age out of foster care.  Less people cared about me once I hit that magical age.  Now if I screw up, there is no one to help me and no one that will care.

The closer I got to 18 the more I feared it.  The more I feared aging out.  The more I realized that everything I dreamed would happen when I turned 18 would never happen for me.  I would never have a family.  I would never have a home.  I would never have unconditional love.  18 was not freedom.  18 was not the end of my suffering.  18 was not the day my life became worth living.  18 meant more suffering.  It meant less support.  It came with complete and utterly aloneness.  

 I’m trying to remember what I did on my 18th birthday but I have no idea.  I’m not sure I did anything.  I was a senior in high school and living in my last foster home, which was a foster home that previously got rid of me and then took me back.  I really thought they were going to adopt me—both times.  I wanted to believe them so badly that I overlooked everything else.  I would have done anything for this man and woman.  I would have given up anything for them.   I wanted them to be mine so badly that I was willing to sacrifice everything to make that happen.  Shortly after I turned 18, these foster parents asked me to leave their house.  The reasons to me are still a bit painful and totally unclear.  I know why they made me leave, but I really don’t know WHY.  I don’t know what I did.  I don’t know how I messed up.  I really have no idea.

At first they let me keep most of my stuff at their house because they promised I could still come back during college breaks and holidays.  They later put all of my stuff in storage and changed all their locks.  In the middle of my last year of high school I had nowhere to live.  At 18 I became homeless.  I never slept on the street or anything like that.  I was lucky and had a car and had worked since I was 16, so I had a savings account that I used to buy motel rooms when friend’s couches were no longer available.  I still got mail at my foster parent’s house and they threw me a graduation party at their house but I lived this way until the day I moved into my college dorm room.   At 18 I no longer had a home.  I no longer had a bed.  I no longer had a family.  At 18 my life became harder.  I had less freedom.  I had more pain.  At 18 I had less choice in life.  At 18 I lost hope. 

I’m not going to say how long I’ve been over 18, but it’s been long enough to know that turning 18 did not change me or my life.  I’m still that same little girl, just in a bigger body.  I still live with the same struggles, feelings, and problems that I had at 9 and 12 and 15.  I still want a mommy.  I still want to be adopted.  I dream about it all the time.  I still want someone to make me theirs.  I still want a family.   Turning 18 did not change any of that for me.  

Foster care does not really prepare you for aging out.  They can show you how to balance a checkbook, which I still can’t do.  They can show you how to find an apartment and shop for food.  They can show you how to find a job, but they can never fully prepare you for aging out.  They can never prepare you for how alone you will be in life.  They will never be able prepare your heart for the isolation and loneliness that follows you through life.  I never thought about it until I was faced with it.  Aging out was never my goal.  My goal was always to have a family, right up to the very last minute.  I always had big dreams as a child and big expectations for life and adulthood.  I have failed at both life and adulthood, even though I was an overachieving child.  As a child I worked hard.  I dreamed big.   And I loved with everything I had.  Not once did I ever dream about being all alone in the world.  Not once did I ever dream I would be where I am today.  Not once did I ever dream about aging out of foster care.