Youth Voices Rising Writing Contest 2023 — Second Place, Essay
“If a tree falls down and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
“Of course it does,” I replied.
My friend lifted just one eyebrow, cocked his head, and, with an impish smirk, replied, “Actually, it doesn’t. Not according to the laws of quantum mechanics…”
Nevada Avenue isn’t the type of road that you’d want to take a leisurely stroll in the dark alone. The street is lined with beat-up motels, some with boarded-up windows and haphazard doors, all of whom probably lost a fight with the open-ended barrel of a gun. Needless to say, I’ve often found myself inside any one of those motels for any number of reasons. On this day in particular, I ventured to the south side to find an old friend and ended up having one of the most inspiring conversations in the most uninspiring place. My friend and I don’t have very much in common anymore, but the bond that we have was born in the midst of being homeless teens in downtown Colorado Springs.
If a tree falls down in the forest and nobody’s around to hear it, does it make a sound? According to quantum theory, the answer is no. To make a sound implies the act of hearing. If no one is around to hear the tree falling, then it’s believed that there is no sound being perceived. Therefore, no sound is made.
I’ve thought about this question at great length — not the question itself, but the way it translates to other parts of my life. My biological parents have done very well for themselves financially, and I know that’s been an indisputable blessing in my upbringing. Even before being placed in foster care, I’d often be asked by police officers, teachers, and, even, peers why I didn’t want to be at home. Anytime I’d try to explain any type of physical, emotional, or psychological abuse, I’d always get the same curious look. I always knew in their furrowed brow what they were about to say next: “You have on nice clothes, you look well-fed. Look at the house you live in! What you’re saying can’t possibly be true.”
There’s a disturbingly consistent trend among kids that have gone into the system: tales told of children crying out for help and being met with disbelief and being labeled “false reporters” in their files. If a tree falls down in the forest and nobody’s around to hear it, does it make a sound? To me, the question sounds more like: if a child is abused or neglected and nobody’s around to see it, did it really happen? For the Department of Human Services, in most cases, it’s a resounding no. A lot of the time, what catches their attention and the attention of the police is the reaction to the abuse itself. Often, that reaction includes, but isn’t limited to, running away.
Here’s where I, and so many of my dearest friends, found companionship in kindred spirits just trying to find a home where there is none. In most places, it feels like just being homeless is a crime in and of itself. Laws — like El Paso County’s sit-and-lie ordinance that was passed, making it illegal to sit or lie down in any public area — are used to target homeless people. Even then, the homeless are often a target for the police. With no money or resources, a trumped-up charge often takes months to fight. Once out of prison or jail, what little resources they did have to their name are now gone. The judicial system feels like a riptide constantly trying to pull people under. It’s a constant battle of trying not to drown and just trying to get to shore.
One of my strongest beliefs is that everyone, including every one of us, is greater than the sum of their mistakes. No one’s ever as bad as the worst thing that they’ve ever done. I’d sooner find refuge in the likes of a homeless man playing the violin than a businessman wearing his nicest suit walking down Tejon Street. Why? Out of the two, I know, for a fact, that I could ask one for change to catch a bus, and it’s certainly not the latter.
In my three years in foster care, I’ve lived with 23 different girls. Out of the 24 of us, only five have completed high school or gotten their GED. Only one, myself, has pursued a higher education. I still keep track of every single one of them. I’ll find them on Facebook, or the DOC inmate locator, or even see them in passing. I think that nostalgia is the only thing that we really get to keep from that kind of childhood.
If I could change one thing about aging out of foster care, it would be that a ward of the state isn’t allowed to be released, regardless of age, without a network of people to catch them when they inevitably fall. Luckily, at 16, I had the opportunity to work with an amazing child placement agency called Fostering Hope. In 2017, they developed the Wrap Around program, a program that focuses on assisting foster youth that have aged out of the system with anything from transportation, networking, cooking skills, employment, and more. THAT is the type of policy that I want to see enforced. I want one that isn’t restricted by rigid formalities and rules. I want a program where relationships can thrive, and the seeds of unconditional love can be planted and tended to. A program where the generational curse of a broken family can turn into the generational blessing of a community.