I’d walk down the street and see people sleeping on benches covered in filth and tears in their eyes, irrationally skinny dogs whimpering and pacing around with an owner that went awry. I’d see people stepping on bugs outside with satisfied faces when they realized they’d killed it, and I saw children getting excluded from games at recess and becoming visibly upset. All of these things made my mind hurt, my face red, and most of all, my heart ache.
As I got older, I faced some of the harsher realities that life has to offer: death, lack of family stability, moving frequently — and suddenly, someone killing an insect wasn’t the most unbearable thing for me to witness. The pain that I faced so heavily as a child grew deeper. Reality had me feeling dejected and I no longer basked in the glow of being the girl who would save the universe.
In middle and high school, my life was a catastrophic mess that had me constantly feeling lost and utterly alone. In the fall of 2009, I went into state custody. I moved in with my grandparents and as the years went on, our relationship deteriorated until the fall of my junior year, when I went back into foster care. These discrepancies at home made my education an ugly mess. I was too preoccupied with thoughts of how alone I was to make an effort in my school work, and therefore my grades suffered miserably. Despite this turbulence at home and in my emotions, I’d always managed to maintain a positive state of mind and was seen by most as a kind and bubbly spirit. I buried the pain of my home life with “Yes, I’m fine,” and forced smiles.
Until, one day, a serendipitous miracle happened. My history teacher, Mr. Caulfield, took me aside and asked me, “Are you okay? Really, okay?” Man, that hit me like a sucker punch. Someone asking me if I was okay and actually caring! What a concept. I had been used to being asked this by Department of Health and Human Services workers and foster parents, but it never seemed sincere. So when Mr. Caulfield asked me, I just about broke down. I wasn’t okay. I was struggling with my home life, my weight, the lack of parental figures, stressors at school, my friends. The list seemed endless. And finally, someone genuinely seemed to care. I finally felt as though I could confide in someone and not feel ashamed. Along with many youth who experience the trauma of having an unstable home atmosphere, opening up with people isn’t easy for me. The simple gesture of asking “Are you okay?” of someone who, quite frankly, is the polar opposite, and listening to what is going on in their world has the potential to be life-changing.
The lack of mentors and influential adult figures in my life always made me feel secluded and like I was carrying the weight of “normal” teenage things on my own. I felt as though I was never worthy of praise and because I neve got any growing up, I thought I wouldn’t amount to anything in the real world. Unfortunately, a lot of youth in care experience similar emotions. I never had anyone believe in me and stick around long enough to prove that they truly cared about me, so the gesture of dedication meant more to me than I will ever be able to put into words.
Four years later, I still recognize this as one of the most pivotal moments in my adolescent life.
That single conversation also brought to light what I wanted to do with my “real world’ career – teaching. I saw just how teachers and professors could use the skill of understanding and mindfulness to take weight off foster youth’s shoulders. I saw how a simple gesture and blatant concern for a student can transform an entire way of life, and that set my soul on fire. So, yes, when I was a little girl, I wanted to save the world. As a twenty-year-old woman? I may not change the whole world, but I know for a fact that I will change someone’s world. I invite you to watch me do so.
Republished with permission from Children’s Rights as part of its “Fostering the Future” campaign.