Saturday, July 9, 2016

For Them

One underlying theme while living in foster care is the broad idea of making do with what you have and that includes becoming part of a new family. You'll sit in the transport's car waiting to get up enough nerve to go into this strange home, and while you're doing that, you see the curtain or the front door open slightly, and like living in a fish bowl, you know that you're being stared at by the new people you're going to be living with. They'll become who you room with, eat meals with, share a laundry day with and walk to school with, if they let you, and because they got there before you did, you're automatically LowManOnTheTotemPole until you earn your way up or they move out.  I met many foster kids throughout my years in and out of the court system, foster care and temporary runaway shelters, and although they came and went like fall leaves scattered, I remember many of them.

Paul ~  You were a blond haired kid with blue eyes who had nothing to say to me while we were living in the same house, but I remember that you liked tuna sandwiches with mustard and lettuce and you drank black coffee.  After you left, our foster mother never allowed boys to room in her house again. Girls only, she said.

Cathy ~  You liked Paul, but he didn't like you. That made you angry. You wore flaming red hair from a box and went heavy on the eyeliner.  You were a bitchy little thing, often argued with our foster mother while insisting that you'd slept with Paul "lots and lots of times" and she argued that you hadn't, that you were "full of it."  I still don't understand why you'd say that.  You died of an overdose before you were twenty.

Shelli ~  Standing at more than 6 feet tall, your blond hair spent the summers sprayed with Sun-In and you cut it nearly every week.  You gave yourself tattoos with a needle wrapped at one end in thread, and you said the eff-word in nearly every sentence.  You smoked Marlboro reds. You dressed like a rocker chick and heated your eyeliner pencil with a cigarette lighter before drawing it along your lower lids.  Every once in a while you'd sneak a jumbo into your room after visiting with your mother for the weekend. Using liquid makeup and a Q-Tip, you could alter your ID so that you could get into bars and drink, even at sixteen. You tried to intimidate others. You threatened me once, but I told you that if you ever hit me, I'd make sure I'd hurt you and I meant it.  You responded only by laughing, but you never bothered me again. I didn't know that drinking would end up claiming you and I'm sorry for that.

Tammy ~  You hated yourself, especially your weight.  As a red-haired girl, you had more of a temper than Shelli but you both got along famously.  Anger consumed you, unless you came home high, or drunk, then you cried half the night. That last night you ran away, you don't know this but I went out to find you.  I  searched a dangerous part of town.  There were men peeing against the side of a bar. They yelled at me when I walked past.  I had been out for hours, it was cold and nearly midnight, but I continued looking for you.  Even though I knew that chances of finding you were slim, I was out there because I knew it was the right thing to do.  I did it because, even if you never found out, I wanted the universe to know that someone cared.  I never saw you again.  Like many others, drugs took you.

Angie ~ Our foster mother loved you because you were like a chubby little cherub.  You made her laugh like none of us could, she said. You had curly blond hair, jaunticed skin with acne and a little lisp for which we affectionately nicknamed you Winnie the Pooh. You loved Journey, "Street lights. People. Ohhh."  You became a single mother at 15 years old, but our foster mother wanted to adopt you.  That confused the heck out of us.

Tina ~  Dark brown eyes and bleach blond hair with split ends, and you thought you were fat even though you weighed 108 pounds. I'd teach you how to sing harmony parts to songs like Human League's "Don't You Want Me" and if we had kitchen duty together, we'd immediately abandon the bubbling pot of goulash or dicing green peppers for the spanish rice.  We'd face each other, cooking utensil in hand and sing the crap out of those songs when they were on the radio. We always finished with our eyes closed in bliss followed by a hearty round of laughter especially if the harmony was spot on. Drugs. Again.

Barbara ~  You were the one who stood out from all others. When you told me that you were an Indian from a reservation in Canada, I knew you were cool.  You loved writing poetry, you journaled about things from the heart.  You were always, always writing in spiral notebooks which had large, black letters KEEP OUT on the front.  You wore huge eye glasses with gold initials on them. You taught me to use baby oil as a means of getting a peeling, but dark, tan.  You laughed at the way I'd drink a glass of water "like a small fish with whale lips," you said. You loved Rod Stewart and Michael Jackson and loved to change the words in the song around to make them funny.  But more than anything else, you loved Boy George.  You'd braid your dark hair into many little braids and after spraying copious amounts of Aqua Net on them, you'd dab heavy blue and purple eyeshadow streaks across the plaits.
You'd wear hats and eyeliner just like him and even though you went to school this way on a daily basis, you dressed as him for Halloween. You'd swoon over his songs on MTV the moment we got home from school.  You'd kiss your posters, even your handmade ones, goodnight.  I still have a picture of the wall where all your posters hung. Found it a couple months ago along with two of your poems.  The house where we used to live is boarded up now and the driveway and the flower bed in front are nothing but weeds and broken concrete.  Although we shared a birthday, I thought you were a couple years younger than I, being that you were two years behind me in school.  When I read your obituary this past February, I was heartbroken.  It was then that I discovered that you were actually older than me.

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