True love. Love without conditions. Love without judgment. Love without feeling like something is owed. Love without feeling indebted. Love without force. Love without pain. Love without suffering. Love that doesn’t suffocate. Love that supports. Love that encourages. Love that is everlasting. Love that is life-saving. Love that is enlightening. Love that is selfless. Love that is forgiving. Love that never fails. Family to me means growing up with this type of love, and I wish I could say that I did. My heartfelt wish is that everyone could have the opportunity to grow up with this type of love.
However, I grew up with a type of love comparable to a rich milk chocolate. I could say to myself over and over that I hated it, but I would only be lying to myself. I grew up knowing such love was hurting me just as chocolate would often give me cavities. Regardless, I decided to see all the red flags through rose-colored glasses. I kept eating the chocolate after I knew it was making me sick. I decided to settle for a love that would always hurt me more than it could help me.
This love was hurtful, yet I could not separate myself from it. It is as if a person was born lactose intolerant but could not stop eating the chocolate. I craved being loved so much that I welcomed what I believed was love, even though it was hurting me. Like chocolate, that type of love felt so sweet at the moment, yet the aftertaste remained bitter. I knew that the love I desired would never be reciprocated. Yet, I decided to love anyway, always longing and waiting for true love. My family can be compared to the molten chocolate river in the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I felt as if I was drowning in the chocolate just as the character Augustus Gloop. Unlike in the movie, where the character was helped out of the river, I felt as if I was left without guidance or help on how to stop myself from drowning.
Family is the one thing I wish I could’ve paid for, or worked hard for, or prayed for – I felt as if I couldn’t. The love of family is something I wish I could share with others. Family, to most, are the people you grow up with; those whom you live with. Those who will help you through life’s troubles and assist you in reaching your goals. Ultimately, I learned that family members are related to you by blood but connected to your heart by choice. Family loves you unconditionally. Family loves you without expectations. Family loves you without demands.
Growing up as a foster child, I knew there was nothing I could ever do to change the family I was born into. The same family I will always love, even if they will never love me back the way I know I deserve to be loved. Yet, growing up as a foster child, I know how lucky I was to have had my sister in my life.
I watched so many of my fellow foster youth be torn from their siblings. Many of them never had the opportunity to grow up with their siblings and share their struggles rather than tackling them on their own. Repeatedly, I have witnessed many foster children cry themselves to sleep, not knowing if they would ever see their siblings again. Many of them eventually became comfortable with the feeling of the fire burning in their chests, knowing that they were being torn away from the only person (or persons) left they could call family.
When the foster care system separated my sister and I, that’s when I knew that I already had the love I had craved so much. So many times, I felt as if I was drowning, but my sister Brenda was always there to keep me afloat. Oftentimes when I felt lost, she helped me to find the way and make sense of my life. Whenever I made bad decisions and acted impetuously, my sister supported and encouraged me to make choices that would positively impact my life. She always helped me to choose the wiser course.
Due to my background in the foster care system and with my blood family, I felt incapable of knowing love. I later realized I was able to love other people and allow others to love me. These people may not have been blood-related, but they were family. When I needed a place to stay, a warm meal, or a listening ear, the family I made throughout life took me in with open arms. They shared my pain, my joy, my laughter, my accomplishments, and my failures with me.
Family does not need to be related by blood.
Family is a warm fire on a cold winter night, a helping hand, a loving embrace. Family is true love.
Brandy R. Harvey is currently a third-year student pursuing an associate degree for Transfer in Physics and plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in Oceanic and Atmospheric Science from UCSD. She currently works two part-time jobs and is involved in thre3 on campus Foster Youth related programs.