We’re sitting on the steps of our cabin. A teenage girl is telling me about her home life: a phrase indicating the presence of a home. But as she talks I’m wondering what it’s called when home-life is a series of placements with strangers that you can’t warm too, because you feel like an appendage, an unwelcome add-on? And I think of the word foster, which means to nurture—sometimes that gets forgotten.
But then she tells me…well, let me back up: you know when someone receives bad news? how they hold themselves, shoulders up, head bent, arms crossing themselves, holding either side of their ribcage; that’s how she’s sitting when she tells me that the one family that cared, that felt like home—with the house that had the bright bedroom she liked—had to sell and move away not long after she arrived, because the dad got cancer.
And with hardly a pause—as to escape the memory—she says that now she’s living in a group home and since she’s 15 she’ll be placed in an Independent Living Program next year.
And here she rallies, straightens up, smiles—though her eyes give her away—and announces that, “It’ll be fun living all by myself, being my own boss and staying up however late I want.”
Then I go and ruin her moment and ask if she’ll be lonely; and will she have someone to look in on her? And I see her wound up close. It’s evening and the light is fading but I see it clear, see her fold up around it, shield herself with her shoulders, her collar almost covering her ears, her arms again holding herself. What can I do? So now there are two sets of arms around her, hers and mine, and I feel her tears, hot on my neck.
She left the next day. Camp was over. And in another week September came and I went home, looking forward to university—second year—but looking forward to seeing my parents more. And at supper, that night, I ask my mom this: “Why does a teenager have to feel like she is alone with no one looking out for her?” My mom looks at me; we’re silent; she understands.
I’ll tell you this, I think of Melissa—that’s her beautiful name—I will for a long time. I console myself, thankful for the time we had, the chat…no, the talk.
Maybe she thinks of me as well. I pray for her. Perhaps she’ll find a home, a home-life. At least I know while she was at camp, she was cared for, assured she was loved.