I loved having my own apartment in college. I once lived above the old Star Furniture building, which has many years since been razed and is now a park, complete with fountain. My landlord sent a young man to “paint my bathtub” while I was away one day. My cassette player went missing that day, but what was contained within, my bootleg tape of Natalie Merchant and Tracy Chapman’s “Souls Never Die” was also never again seen. This left me with a sense of deep violation. I often tell my children, in the throes of their tattling and bossing: “worry about yourself.” When my song was taken from me, all I really had to do was to worry about myself. Maybe, because that was all I had, it hurt much more.
A call came from the school today describing some unsettling behavior of my foster daughter. There is no way to see inside the baggage that she carries on a daily basis; to really know the battles she has fought, and the songs that she has lost, in her tiny, tumultuous lifetime.
Mine takes a breath as I wait for the sigh that never sounds.
I am coming to learn that sometimes, good stuff goes away. That doesn’t mean that it will never come back. My oldest son, Elliott, was entering his teenage years when we began our fostering journey. In my early journal pages, I often described Elliott as “full of wonder,” “wise,” or “of the stars.” His deep, intense eyes have always been portals to something extraordinary. At twenty-two, he is pursuing his path as a neuroscience researcher. Elliott recently spoke to a group of prospective foster parents. When asked to reflect on his experiences growing up in a foster home, he had this, among other things, to say:
“Many foster children have been hurt, and their emotional scars are often apparent. They take the form of impatience, selfishness, isolation, and roaring outbursts. It is not difficult to notice these unhealthy patterns of thought and behavior. But a moment’s thought will reveal that these extreme examples are caricatures of your own inner life.”
We are these people.
God, it’s dark outside. Where did they go? I opened the door, but nobody was left inside. I’m going to look for them, and then they will find me. My own child has helped to identify things in me that I did not know were there. I think of just how much that song on my cassette meant to me in 1988, and it makes me think of the brokenness that swirls through every cell of some children who have entered our home…cold, hungry, with hallowed eyes. And most did not, could not even cry. They had been ripped from their familiar, from what they had known, and from all they had been. For me, just one song. For them, the whole world. No wonder there are behaviors.
Clear the thoughts; rub your eyes. It’s almost time to fly, fly. Go forth, my first, and make them see you.
It’s really easy to find music on the internet (even for me). That rare compilation is once again at my fingertips. I didn’t know if I would hear it again. I don’t know if there will be healing, if the burdens will lighten. As the seasons turn and Elliott moves, potentially, across the country, I will keep holding the hope by moving through each day, trying my best to live the advice of my boy: to see myself in others, and to look beyond the behaviors to know that we really are here together, and that what we most miss will always be part of us. And that we will probably hear our best song again.
PS…My dear friend, Catherine Finn, took this picture when these were the littlest and biggest boys in our tribe!