After an unnecessary custody battle, going into the foster care system only a few months later was a breaking point in my life. Back then, love was waking up to the sound of laughter and my mother’s voice. It was listening to the “screaming” sausages in the pan and watching pancakes being ﬂipped on hot plates. It was nursing my grandmother’s coﬀee when my mom wasn’t paying attention. Love was that antsy feeling of waiting for the last school bell so I could go to the gate and get root beer ﬂoats with my mom.
For someone you don’t know to come in and snatch you out of a place — a home where you are extremely happy — is twisted. They never asked me my opinion and never asked me how I felt. When they placed my sister and I in a house with two other kids, they never asked me if I was OK around them. They never asked me if I was happy or coping. They never even asked me if I wanted to go back.
At that point, love was no longer happy. Love was the countless hours I spent crying, asking for my mother. It was going to school and wanting to stay there because of the rude older girl I was placed with. Love was losing myself in a book instead of having to face the fact I didn’t know when I was going to see my mother or my grandparents again.
Although I can’t speak for anyone else, I believe that the foster care system ruins more lives than it actually helps. From alienating you from your parents to losing your friends and teachers who actually cared for you, it’s a lot more than just a system for ﬁnding a “safer” environment. In my case, we were beseeched to speak with our father, where he implored us not to ﬁght for our mother and pretend the whole situation was her ruse. We were taught by the other children in the house that there is no fair game in this world.
Their idea of love was tripping us in the dark when we were playing hide and seek and pretending we were cussing so that they would get the dessert we lost. Even though going to school was its own Hell, it was preferable to the situation that awaited my arrival every day after school for three months. It was tolerable, compared to having to return to a family that didn’t belong to me.
As much as love is supposed to be sweet, patient and kind, I understood later on that the time I spent in the system and the decade I spent with my father thereafter has stained my perception and feelings toward the concept. Love is strenuous. It’s giving up your needs to satisfy everyone else present and not. Moreover, love is the smile you put on so you don’t worry your friends or siblings, when really you wish you hadn’t woken up. Sometimes it’s the moments where you forget all your issues and you enjoy the moment. As rare as that may be, it still counts. In my heart, and in my mind, love is still taking the blame to protect everyone else incapable. It’s having to be an adult and take on parental responsibilities because no one else can at the time.
What people don’t talk about though, is the damage that love does to you internally. Being placed with the foster family I got ﬁrst taught me that doing excessive chores meant you loved your parents. That was later reinforced at my father’s house. Sometimes love comes in the form of gratefulness. It’s the relief after hearing your name being called instead of your siblings because you understand that you can take the verbal and physical beatings while they can’t. It’s being given the opportunity to be alone and being able to exhale ﬁnally after months of pretending to be ok.
Internally, after a misconstrued idea of love is hammered into you, you tend to look at extremely neglectful things as OK. Not eating so that a sibling can get full, and so that a parent doesn’t complain about having to cook more, is a great example. Losing hours and hours of sleep to make up homework because you were busy tending to everyone else’s issues is another example. Multitasking is a skill. Pushing your needs further down the line to help everyone else is not the way it’s supposed to be.
Love is strange. It’s not everything the media and other people make it out to be. It’s also not something that you can fully understand if everything is handed to you on a silver plate. Most of all, love is something you’ll never find in the foster care system. You can count on that.
Destiny is the oldest of six and “doing her best to be the best.” She’s currently finishing up high school and spends much of her free time writing. One day, she plans to become a math professor.
This essay was submitted as part of Fostering Media Connection’s 2018 Youth Voice Writing Contest. This year’s contest theme was “Love Is.”