What I want you to know about growing up in foster care and subsequently aging out

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest post is by Zhaniah.

I have spent most of my life in foster care and I can tell you, it is like drowning… repeatedly. You are swallowed--wholly, all at once, by something so other, so absolute that you cannot even make sense of it. Each time you fight your way to the top, reaching your hand out for anyone to save you; yet again you sink. Maybe next time. Occasionally, you make it to the top. You are so close to the shore that you begin to think you are in the clear, that you have found some semblance of safety; just to have a wave knock into you, and drag you below. After a while you give in—allowing your body to be swept under; accepting your fate as a sinking ship. You refuse to give the sea a chance to force your body into collapsing, yet again. You give into this immense nothingness because really this is the home you know. You realize the darkness, your quiet and lone purgatory is the only place you have ever belonged-thus the only place you can ever belong. And then, you are under so long that the ground seems like it was never meant for you at all; it is a fairy-tale, gifted to boys and girls nothing like you. Children who are so much more than you. Maybe you were fighting this void for no reason. Maybe no one ever intended to save you anyway. So you anchor yourself beneath the deepest of seas and learn to breathe under water. You live with the burning in the back of your throat that radiates your chest because it is better than reaching the top and gasping; this slow death is more tolerable than feeling the oxygen you’ve always needed for just a second. Flailing, just to sink all over again.

Growing up in foster care is like having all the innate childhood enchantment stripped from you. It is being punished because adults could not love you enough. It is being eleven and scared. It is the first night you’re removed from your home and meagerly clicking your heels three times, whispering “I wish I was home”. This too-optimistic endeavor is not enough to disengage you from the spell that ripped you from the siblings you’d spent your childhood raising. You never get them back. Growing up in foster care is rejecting any idea of God because you cannot fathom how this oh-so- powerful entity could watch you crush up crayons in your own spit and feed it to your siblings, convincing them that it tastes just like mac and cheese and not intervene. It is having no choice but to be anti-dogmatic because you cannot bear your story having one more sympathetic viewer who never stepped in. It is identifying with how Jesus felt on the cross when he asked his father why he had forsaken him, before you could even read. It is being six, suspended in the air- feet dangling from the ground with your mom’s hands around your neck. You don’t even cry anymore because you are ready; it is being six and feeling comfort in a tight chest that is on the verge of bursting and praying that this time she holds on long enough that you don’t wake up again. Foster care is hoping that this woman who always threatened to “take you out of this world” would follow through. It is Knowing that her finally letting you go would be the best gift she could ever give you but she holds on only tight enough to prevent you from breaking loose, to let you know that she is to you what God is to Job. However, her grasp is not nearly tight enough to make her remember that her fists can swallow your entire life. This is how her God taught her to love you and this is the kind of love you will always know.

Growing up in foster care is still regretting telling truths about the foster dad that asked you strip in front of him. Wishing that you could go back to that hell because at least you had a family. Sometimes growing up in foster care is, not knowing how wrong things were, even with your grown-up mind. It is homelessness in high school. It is the yearning to go home after you have forgotten what “home” even means. It is loyalty to those who abuse you. It is being told your parents are wrong but to accept the same faults in new found “families”. It is dreadful, “match parties”. Foster care is “Prospective parents” who change their minds. Growing up in foster care is waiting your entire life for a home, a family and stability, just to be told you are shit out of luck. “You got too old”. “The judge waited too long”. “You should’ve made it work in the home before”.” You should be smaller, easier to love, born white, born prettier, younger, Born more deserving… Born anything but you”. Growing up in foster care is having a step by step tutorial of how to hate yourself-- of how to self-destruct-- A guide to a life worth losing. Growing up in foster care is accepting that the sea will always pull you in. Aging out is to know that no one will ever dive in, after you have been swallowed.

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