In my life so far, I’ve heard a lot of promises; some are executed, but most of them do not reach fulfillment. It seems as if we live in a world of broken promises, and not with the negative connotation that usually comes to mind. I’d claim the opposite is actually true.
When I was twelve, my parents no longer fulfilled the socially acceptable role of “parent” and began to break their word with society and with me. Their word to love, cherish and provide a life for their children no longer existed on the outside but only in false statements and an affectation of love. The next year was constant instability, until one day I was removed from my parents’ care and placed under the supervision of the State of Michigan’s foster care system.
Entering Foster Care
I remember the day very clearly; just after finishing dinner several cop cars that were escorting an emergency child protective services worker pulled up to the house. The worker had gotten the go ahead for removal about a half hour earlier based on a complaint that was later found to be unsubstantiated. But due to our household falling in the highest risk category from prior complaints, the state is required by law to visit immediately. And while that specific complaint wasn’t substantiated, after entering the home, the police officers and social worker became witnesses of my daily life, which could be compared to that television series about hoarding.
They couldn’t believe what they were seeing and that it was in their own neighborhood, especially when the outside of the house looked like the cover of a home and gardening magazine; their reaction surprised me because this was normal to me. I was handed a duffle bag, instructed to put whatever I needed into it, and that whatever I couldn’t fit would be left behind. I was given 15 minutes, put in the back of a car with all the neighbors watching, and there began the constant fluctuation of the rest of my teenage years.
While to the majority of people this sounds like an awful experience, consider the possibility that it wasn’t. The experience made me who I am today to a certain extent. For me, this was a “day in the life”; for someone else, the equivalent might be getting a B on a geometry test. Both of these scenarios have the potential of being equally devastating. These two circumstances, might seem unrelated. But they are canvases for the same emotions, just on different scales and with different magnitudes that help build a tolerance for failure.
While most people can’t relate in a direct sense to the foster care system, let alone to my personal experience, there’s always common ground if you’re willing to look for it. And while I’ve had some bad things happen, they in no way diminish my ability to perform the same as anyone else.
Over the rest of my adolescence, my grades lowered from a 3.9 GPA to a 1.8 upon graduation. Rubble of burnt bridges appeared and broken relationships became the norm due to the fear of getting close to people after being let down by the closest people I’d known. I had several run-ins with the law, including ending up in jail on a 5151 (mental health check). The list could go on and on.
Most of the time, people think I’m lying about my past because it seems much more like a summer blockbuster rather than the life of someone standing next to them. Or they think I’m lying because of how productive I am today, and because I don’t fit the mold of what it means to be a foster youth, according to what the news tells everyone. On the surface, it may seem my experience in care impacted my life negatively; but positivity is the only thing that comes to mind when I think of what foster care has left with me.
Foster care taught me that “nothing lasts forever.” Whatever you have can be gone in the next moment. For example, my friends and education were lost to me after having to change high schools multiple times. Foster care also taught me the flip side, the notion that whatever it is that you’re experiencing, including the bad, will also come to an end. To have a great life one must be willing to experience what it means to truly be on the roller coaster that life is; to experience your highest highs and your lowest lows. The higher the risk the greater the fall.
My falls may have been extreme, but they set the stage for great accomplishment if channeled correctly. Unfortunately, most foster youth don’t see the opportunity that lies in life’s breakdowns and that’s the reason I do what I do. Most foster youth get stopped at the incident, and the world continues to move around them while they’re stuck in the past. Fortunately, I wasn’t stopped, only knocked back, and now I’m here to hold myself up as an example of what else is possible outside of the textbook foster care experience.
Presently, I live in Santa Monica, three blocks from the beach, and have a successful career in the entertainment industry that grows everyday (Google me if you get the chance #shamelessplug). I advocate for foster youth in several organizations. I have a dog, a cat, a car and am in a loving relationship with a woman I can honestly say I see the rest of my life with. (The last being that which I’m most proud of, given my background of lost connections.)
While this is all true, I’m not attached to any of it. I love everything about my life but I know it can all be gone in the blink of an eye. I have gotten to be the author of my life way sooner than most people do. If, one day, it all comes to an end, I won’t look forward from a place of pain but rather with excitement about what will happen the next time around.
A Clean Slate
The beauty lying in a broken promise is that when everything falls apart you can create anything. Most people get hung up on what the falling apart means rather than recognizing it doesn’t mean anything. I could have lived my whole life thinking I wasn’t good enough, and believe me, I have at times and occasionally the belief still makes an appearance – just as it might for that person who got a B on their geometry test.
A broken promise is a broken promise. It means nothing about you, your circumstance or anything at all. A broken promise isn’t something to be upset about; it’s the access point to creating something new. While I wouldn’t suggest going out and breaking promises in life for fun, I would suggest taking on promises that you might break because that’s where the magic happens. If I knew how to commit to another person, given my history of people committing to me, where would the aliveness be in that?
Risk is always present in life, and when a promise breaks a new way of viewing life emerges. This new reality leaves you with a choice: stay the same or to become something else. We all have moments that we were person A before and now we’re person B.
That clean slate is why I’m grateful for foster care and everything that it was; it brought me to where I am, and through the people and experiences along the way, foster care gave me the choice to be who I am today, knowing that tomorrow I may not be the same person.
Josh Elizondo is 21 years old and from Detroit, Michigan. He currently lives in Santa Monica, California. Besides advocacy work with several different non-profit organizations, Josh is a musical artist and established actor. In his free time he enjoys hanging with friends, working with animals, and traveling to experience new places. Find him on Instagram, on Facebook and IMDb.