Life gave me lemons, so I puckered up and became sour in responding to the world around me. Family, support, and discipline were foreign ideals my tiny mind longed for. So, my sadness from the neglect became a fiery anger, not easily extinguished or controlled. I felt I had every right to be a stone because if anyone did chip through and see the lost little girl hiding in my soul, they would be able to hurt and disappoint me once again.
I could not let that happen.
My mother found love in her addictions. My father found love with someone other than me, and my grandmother was left to pick up what little pieces she could. After living in a tent in South Carolina with my mother, I thought a cramped room at grandma’s would be better than outside, even though there were still nights with little to eat. I soon learned that the room, no matter how big or small, does not make a home.
Hey, it didn’t matter much now. Mom was once again detained for drugs. My need for an outlet to express my deep sadness again caused a shift in my unstable life. Regular arguments with grandma resulted in DFACS taking custody of me. I remember thinking in my scared little mind that no matter where I ended up next, I would be harder than I was before. I would not be hurt! No one would love me, so I just accepted that truth. I didn’t expect love anymore. Then, in a place I least expected, came a family that tore down my walls and laid the foundation for greatness.
I was 12 years old when I stepped into the Open Door Home. So much of my pain, unfortunately, walked in with me. I remember walking to the room that I was to share with another girl, and noticing that even half of this place was bigger than my corner at grandma’s house. I even had a closet! The feeling of an empty belly soon faded away. This place seemed too good to be true.
I held true to the promise I made myself before being placed at the Open Door Home, and acted out on a regular basis. I thought the comfort of this place was an illusion; a dream I would awake from, or just another temporary Band-Aid to cover the open wound that was my life. Every time I would yell and scream, tell the staff I wanted them to die, or refuse to follow directions, I was met with loving arms and a warm conversation. I forgot how small my room was and began to be thankful my new friend, better still my new sister, was there with me. My life was filling with real, tangible promise.
I felt the support of a mother in Ms. El who would sit and talk to me late into the night when I was down. I gathered wisdom from Ms. Greta who encouraged me to strive to be the best in all the things I did. Ms. Linda taught me to be pretty inside as well as outside by helping me to cut my hair and grow the confidence found in a strong young woman. As year 12 turned to 13, I saw how closely I had grown to my new family when I had to leave for another placement.
It was not long before the winds of fate blew me back to the only family I had ever known. After some short stays in other places, I was returned to—home.
I was 15 and glad to be back at the Open Door Home, and I picked up right where I left off. The hours of studying that were required at Open Door Home soon became a habit. That habit evolved into me discovering I loved to write. The things I wrote on paper were things that rumbled out of my spirit, and my teachers began to take notice. I wrote several pieces that were published while I was in high school, and I discovered a pattern. All of the works were about the Open Door Home, every single one that won awards. I felt supported, nurtured, cared for, and most importantly loved. Those things were now embedded so strongly in me they leapt from my heart onto the paper.
Upon graduation, I was offered a full scholarship to a local college I normally would not have been able to afford. An administrator from the college heard me read one of my essays, and promised me if I would like to attend he would make a way for me. I was filled to the top with dreams. I was overflowing with confidence. My life had become meaningful; my path had become defined. I was so engulfed with love that it came pouring out of me and spilled onto every new person I met. I wanted to help, hug, and encourage every young person who had been through the things I had seen in my young years. When I looked back on the person I was, I was glad someone wanted to help her too.
Today, I am a junior in college. The road is still not easy, and I don’t think I would like it if it was. I now use my hardships as stepping stones, and rise above the challenge. Before I continue to climb, I look back to grab the hand of others in need, lifting them with passion and ignoring my sacrifice. I volunteer at my church, teaching the small children.
I will graduate with a degree in early education, with a minor in loving children who need me to light their dark little lives. Loving 101 is a class that is not offered in school, but there are great professors who teach it at the Open Door Home.
I still visit the staff at Open Door Home on a regular basis. Many of the young people who traveled the path while I was there are still in my life. We all frequently have dinner with the staff or drop by to catch up over coffee. The door is always open.
When I speak about the relationships I made while I was there, I am speaking about relationships that are still standing today. This place is much more than a placement. Open Door Home is hope. Open Door Home is hope that things will get better, and the future is a road big enough to be walked together.
Open Door Home is also family, my family. I want to tell anyone I meet about how they saved my life, even when I felt I did not deserve a second chance.
I also have a new appreciation for an ice cold glass of lemonade.
As told to writer Oliver Robbins in “Facing HOPE in Rome, Georgia.”
This story originally appeared in Facing Hope, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Georgia Highlands College, Georgia Northwestern Technical College, and Berry College in Rome, Georgia.