was married with a daughter. Our friendship lasted a decade after I got out of high school and later I would write a column about the two of them when I worked for the Camden County Tribune Newspaper in St. Mary's, Georgia. It made them both cry.
This Christmas, my last as a ward of the state, Doris Strickland took me and the other foster kids to the mall to do some shopping. We split up and arranged to meet back at a certain time. Jackie, who was a year younger than me who I'd known since July when I first went to live with The Stricklands, paired off with me and we went to The Merry Go Round, which was like The Gap only with a lot of security cameras apparently. At the time parachute pants were real popular and Jackie decided to shoplift a pair, getting away with it, much to my shock. He tried them on in the dressing room and walked out casually as I waited outside. When we were halfway down the mall, he gestured toward the bottom of his jeans and I saw the parachute material sticking out. Then we both got paranoid and high-tailed it into a McDonald's bathroom at the end of the mall when we thought someone was after us. I couldn't believe he stole those pants or that he got away with it. He made me promise not to tell Doris and I never did though I almost did out of guilt.
In January 1984 I slid into a depression. I was getting ready to leave foster care in five months and had been accepted by two colleges but I was terrified of leaving a system that had taken care of me since I was 14. The following month I took a bunch of pills from my mom's medicine cabinet in hopes of checking out. I was struggling in school, didn't have much contact with my mom, none with my dad of course since he had sexually abused me, and I was paralyzed with self-hate. I had made a few friends at school but for the most part no one even knew I existed. I wanted so much to be popular or at least well-liked but it seemed everything I tried for was out of reach. I didn't feel prepared for college and thought from visiting my sister every spring break that it was one big party so I wouldn't have to try. An American Government teacher threatened to fail me. She was tough and no one liked her. Mark, my foster brother who was in class with me and was failing though he didn't care, used to sail paper airplanes at her back as she wrote on the board. It was the only way he got anyone in class to notice or like him. It worked though the teacher could never prove it was him. He had no aspirations of going to college, worked as a bag boy at Kroger, and had just gotten a motorcycle which he later almost died driving.
The day I tried to kill myself, halfheartedly at best, Doris and I had gotten into a big argument, over what I didn't recall later. I had been carrying Mom's pills around with me for awhile, not knowing till the paramedic told me later that they were vitamins and all I did was make myself super healthy. Before she called the ambulance Doris told me that attempting suicide was against the law which was crazy news to me. I only spent a week in the hospital that Mom delivered me in and the only thing I did was sleep, play Ping-Pong, and convince the doctor I no longer hated myself which took awhile. My sister Cindy called from college in Florida the first day I was in the hospital, upset and crying. She had called my mom immediately after talking to me and found out my mom, who lived about 20 minutes from the hospital, was too busy partying with friends to come see me. This infuriated Cindy and she vented to me, disbelieving my mom's behavior. It did hurt me that my mom didn't visit, call, or even write when Doris did.
The day I got released Doris announced, "It's a beautiful day to live" as she unlocked the car door for me.
We drove to her house close by and later some foster kid teased me about trying to kill myself with vitamins.
A month later on Easter, Doris gave me a nice 18th birthday, complete with a homemade dinner, company, gifts, and pictures. I'll never forget it. The next month I went to see Cindy again at college and met a guy, Danny who I had a crush on immediately. We had a lot in common except he was a couple of years older than me. I had visions of grandeur that he'd write me back when he asked for my address and number. Of course, I never saw him again but I didn't know this as I rode the long hours back home via Greyhound. A few weeks after that I was back in Florida, this time with my mom and step dad, who traveled to see Cindy graduate from college. It was an exciting time except for the fact that they couldn't wait to get back to the motel to drink.
With the help of a friend of mine who was an honor student, I crammed for my American Government final all Memorial Day weekend in the mountains near by and managed to qualify to graduate by the skin of my teeth. I went from a D, almost F in that class to a B with Melody's help. My entire future rode on that final since I had to leave foster care following high school according to the law. At the Baccalaureate, Doris was there, waving proudly, though my mom and step dad weren't. Cindy couldn't make it but she, my mom, step dad, aunt, other sisters, and nieces attended my high school graduation. I graduated from the same school as Cindy only she graduated with honors and earned her Masters in 1986. I spent the summer of my 18th year, emancipated from foster care and living with my mom for the summer before preparing to leave for college an hour away. I had decided on West Georgia College in Carrollton rather than Kennesaw College, a commuter school that had accepted me since I couldn't afford an apartment and had no car. Cindy and I spent a lot of time together that summer and she worked in town while I took a job at the Parks and Recreation Department close by as a secretary. I was demoted to landscaper when the office manager thought I messed up the computer. I had worked at two fast food places during my senior year of high school but hated it. My mom and step dad still treated me like a child though I was 18 and watched me like a hawk.
I met a guy, Chris, who I worked with and started seriously dating. It was only a summer romance, however, and when I left for college in September we were still dating but things were strained between us. He gave me his class ring to wear which he taped masking tape around to fit my finger and we spent every moment we could together. My mom didn't like him because he had a limp, I guess, but then she never liked any guy I was interested in. We never did anything but kiss. I had a boyfriend, Lee when I was 15 and that's all we did, too. I was very afraid of having sex because of what my dad did to me and my mom was very strict about dating.
My whole identity all my life had been victim, abused child, and the past four years, ward of the state. I was about to embark on a new role as college student, majoring in journalism, minoring in English. I was excited, thrilled to get out of the house, but scared to death of living in a dorm on my own with no car or job. I was totally dependent on financial aid and work study and because of my grades couldn't get a scholarship though during my junior year earned a journalism one.
That summer my aunt, who was in her 20s, died after a long battle with cancer. She was my mom's youngest sister and my mom spent many days at her side. My sister, Joy, came down at one point to help out along with my nieces. Mom and I had been arguing all summer for the most part and when my aunt died it was no different. My step dad scolded me at the time for being so rude to my mom in the wake of her sister's death. I guess I was just trying to exert my independence though my timing was bad. I never made that up to my mom and always felt bad about it. Shortly after this my step dad dropped me off at college orientation for the weekend, refusing to come in as my nieces waited in the car. It rained all weekend but I had a cool orientation roommate named Eden and we listened to Prince's "Purple Rain" soundtrack all weekend, checked out the campus, and the small town. I was young and naive and had no idea what was in store for me in college but I couldn't wait to find out.
Three weeks before I was to leave for college I had to spend half of my money I'd gotten for graduation to get four wisdom teeth pulled. It was an excruciating recovery but my mom nursed me back to health with meds, banana pudding, soup, Jell-O, and lots of sleep. To this day I can't eat banana pudding, something I used to love.
The day I left for college my step dad, who was still mad at me for the summer, refused to go with my mom and I to drive to the campus. She and I had breakfast at a restaurant and she helped me unload my stuff to my dorm room. I hadn't met my roommate yet and had no idea what to expect. As soon as Mom unloaded the car, she was gone, exhausted and ready to rest.
I stood in the dorm room alone, looking at all my stuff and wondering what my life would be like now. My roommate didn't arrive till later or the next day and I began to slowly unpack. It was strange to be in a new town, alone, knowing no one with me and my belongings and no social worker to tell me it was time to go again. I wondered how I would fit in with all these normal kids from good homes, how to act, dress, speak, laugh. Who would I become now that I was a college co-ed?
As I looked over my class schedule my heart skipped a beat. I saw my journalism class listed and knew I was there to pursue a dream no matter what. And so, with enthusiasm and energy, all contained inside, I began to imagine what it would be like to be a real writer, something I knew I wanted to be at the age of eight. I was here for that dream, that hope and in my mind, nothing or no one could stop me from believing in myself in that area, the only place I felt I belonged. I was here with other writers, too, I knew.
I just had to find them now.