Last week a post popped up in my blog reader that shocked me, made my breath hitch in my throat… it was a post written by Shannan at Flower Patch Farmgirl called “What Happens to Olivia*”. Since reading that I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. Images of a little girl, dirty, socially awkward, poor, neglected, and woefully ignorant to her condition. I conjured this little girl not from a memory of a similar experience, that would have been better. No, that little girl was me.
Looking at me today most wouldn’t guess that I come from a neighborhood that some may refer to as the projects. That poverty, drugs, domestic violence, illness, and welfare were a way of life in my home. I don’t have a lot of clear memories about that time, prior to foster care, but the ones I do have at home are not good ones. I am sure that I went to school in dirty, smelly, torn clothes. I hope that I had good manners, but can’t be sure. I am sure that I was needy- needy for attention, love, care, nourishment.When I get nervous I babble and I am sure I talked ears off- quiet sadness is not my style.
How did I survive a childhood of neglect, malnourishment, social workers, and violence? I had friends whose parents took me in and allowed me to be friends with their children, despite my appearances and awkwardness. They could have easily discouraged our friendship, made excuses why I couldn’t come over to play or sleep. But they never did. I was invited for weekends, to family parties, on outings… I was included in the families. Looking back I can’t remember faces, names, specifics. But I remember feeling safe, wanted, full, and a relief that comes with knowing that you can rest without the weight of the world on your shoulders. I remember making breakfast with my friend Hana’s mom, with dancing around singing The Bodyguard soundtrack with my friend Jodie, spending night after night at Cassie’s house. These people and their parents looked past my aura of poorness and just loved me.
I truly believe that if it wasn’t for these friends and their families I wouldn’t have made it through those years whole, to become who I am today.
This kindness continued after I was sent to live with my aunt, another situation that was equally if not more abusive than the one I was taken from, into my college years. Friends and their families… taking the place of my own and teaching me more than I can write. My social blunders were overlooked, forgiven, and I never felt embarrassed by my lot in life, never made to feel less.
I understand what it is like to be out, enjoying the day with your kids, only to have a child approach you who is a little off, undesirable, an odd peg in your group. But know that any and all kindness bestowed will make a difference in that child’s life. Whether you engage in a conversation, share a snack, or encourage a friendship- it makes a difference. It may take years for that small act to show through or just minutes, who knows.
I want to thank each and every one of my childhood, teen, and college friends who helped me through. Many of you didn’t know a lot about what was going on but accepted me as I was, became my friend, and because of that I am a stronger, better person for it. I hope that for every “Olivia” there is a Hana, Cassie, Jodie and Justin, Rachel, Christine, and so many more to lend support and family where there is none. Thank you all.