Youth Voice Writing Contest 2022 — Finalist, Essay
In 2012, I, along with my siblings, was separated from my mother and placed in the foster care system. I was about 12 years old, a young pre-teen full of curiosity, imagination, and a strong intuition. I vividly remember the last morning where I was in the safety of my mother’s care. She got us prepared for school like usual. However, something in the atmosphere felt inordinately off and eerily different that day, but I could not put my finger on it.
That same morning, I was removed from my middle school history class to be escorted out to an unfamiliar car with unfamiliar faces. There was no formal greeting. I was told by school administrators to just leave with these strangers with no context. Instinctively, I could not help but immediately ask for my mother. I received a silent and vague response. I quickly glimpsed at the words on the side of the car that read “Department of Children and Families.” My intuition from the morning had caught up to me. I immediately felt a mass of anxiety sink to the pit of my stomach.
As I got inside the car, I was shocked to see my siblings there to meet me, only to find them distraught, in tears, and just as confused as I was. What were they doing here? A million emotions coursed through my body. I felt tense, enraged, confused, scared, and sick to my stomach. I had so many questions. Yet, I was met with little to no answers. As the oldest sister, this was the first time I was unable to readily comfort my siblings. On the long road ahead, I knew my life had changed forever.
Over the years, my unexpected and unfortunate experiences in the foster care system onset a domino effect of tremendous loss, abuse, confusion, instability, anxiety, fear, depression, and grief throughout my adolescence that had changed my life forever. I endured many things that I feel most would not be able to withstand. I also found myself having to grow up really fast. I felt the effects of my foster care experiences as I entered adulthood. However, I never let this define my life’s path and purpose.
Throughout this difficult time in my life, dance became my refuge. It served as a healing and therapeutic way for me to express myself and my emotions when I felt alone and misunderstood. I found dance when I remembered it was what I loved to do before my siblings and I were separated. My mother encouraged us a lot when it came to expressing ourselves.
Dance felt like home and stability. It felt like my mom’s love, support, comfort, nurture, and security. It felt like my siblings’ playfulness, annoying traits, and laughter that comforted me, grounded me, and brought me back to the surface. It felt familiar in my body, something that I longed for and greatly needed. With dance, I could easily imagine my mother’s warm embrace and embody that through movement.
Everyday, I would dance in the solace and privacy of my room. This was my therapy. It was a space where I could let it all out without anyone trying to evaluate me, question me, or treat me like a project to work on. It was my home away from home. It was a way to easily shift my reality and finally have control over an aspect of my life.
Throughout my time in the foster care system, I thought tirelessly of what life would be like for me after I aged out. Moreover, this was a vulnerable and pivotal moment in time when I started to come to terms with myself and how dance played a healing role in my life spiritually, physically, and mentally.
I started realizing the journey, legacy, and the impact I wanted to leave on this earth for future generations. I knew that dance meant more to me than just a hobby. It was spiritual and deeper in meaning. Dance was my safe place. It was something that led me to persevere and triumph through my pain when I felt the world was caving in. It was a breakthrough that I wanted for others. I wanted others in situations similar to my own to discover the gift of art and self-expression to ultimately work through their own traumas as current or former/aged-out foster youth.
Dance played a huge part in my life and in my identity. It saved me when I didn’t know what else to turn to. I knew that, in the future, I wanted to use my story to make a change. I want to share my unique gifts with the world to create a positive representation of resilience and to inspire others to overcome their own obstacles through the arts.
As a first-generation college student and former/aged-out foster youth, having the privilege to attend college and further my education in the arts has been a truly rewarding and life-changing experience that I am extremely grateful for. My unique story and journey in the arts has filled me with immense resilience, gratitude, and strong will to continue to persevere and to show others that the pain is temporary and the journey is not in vain.
I highly encourage any foster youth or former/aged-out youth to use their unique gifts and talents to help them overcome their traumas endured within the system.
I see dance as a part of my story and as a form of storytelling for others to witness. I’m gathering all the puzzle pieces of my life and making a masterpiece, no matter how ugly or scary it may seem to others. I know that my past does not define me, but only serves as a catalyst for healing, motivation, and growth.
All in all, this is what safety truly means to me.