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Walking and Writing Keep Me Sane
Tamara Ballard
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Being in the foster care system, I’m entitled to my moods. My moods can become stressful at times, especially when I don’t know what causes them to change.

My mood swings are predictable, but not controllable. I can be extremely energetic and hyper for about an hour, then be totally sad and down for the next three days or so. There are days when I’m calm, but those days don’t come along too often.

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On the days when I’m really moody, I don’t like to be around people who I have to talk to because I will, for no apparent reason, snap out at them. I snap out at everybody: teachers, adults, and peers. I’m truly snotty around this time.

If I’m moody on a day I have school, most likely I will cut and go to the quietest and most relaxing place I know that opens early in the morning. That’s right, readers—I take a one-hour-and-45-minute ride to my “hideaway”: the beach at Coney Island.

It may be hard to believe since Coney Island is part of New York City, but it’s actually peaceful. I sit there and watch the birds fly, the waves roll in, the people run along the boardwalk for exercise. If I get there early enough, I can watch the tide go from high to low. It’s amazing how the large rocks appear when the tide goes out.

Coney Island helps me think clearly. It’s the only place where I can think without someone calling my name every five minutes. At Coney Island there are no phones ringing, no teachers screaming, no kids crying. The list goes on.

On weekends, when I don’t feel like getting out of bed, I’ll sometimes just go back to sleep and try to sleep my attitude off. But in my new foster home, there is always something that disrupts my sleep. That’s when I’ll take a walk.

I’m not talking about a walk around the block, either. I’m talking about walking from one part of the city to another.


One particular day, I hadn’t planned on walking. My friend Anthony invited me to hang out in his group home. Since I had nothing better to do, I said yeah. But when I arrived, he wasn’t there. (I found out later that his job had called him in at the last moment.)

I wasn’t in the mood to return home so early. And there was some personal stuff I wanted to think about. And some anger I needed to get out my system. Before I had left my foster home, my new roommate and I had an argument over some stupid stuff.

image by Kenneth Garrido

So I had two choices—I could ride the subway to no place in particular or I could walk to my sister’s job. I decided to walk from 22nd Street and First Avenue in Manhattan to 92nd Street and Lexington Avenue I walked 70 whole blocks, not including the three blocks to get from First Avenue to Lexington. From all that walking, I was calm by the time I reached my sister’s job. If it wasn’t so dark out, I would have kept walking all the way home to the Bronx.

Another time when I felt stressed I walked from Hempstead Transit (a bus terminal in Hempstead, Long Island) to 179th Street in Queens. I couldn’t tell you how many blocks that is. But it takes 45 minutes to an hour by bus, so come to your own conclusions.

Many times I’ve walked from 151st Street and Eighth Avenue in Manhattan, to Third Avenue in the Bronx. Or when I have to do hair on my old block, I walk to Ms. Barbara’s house. This means walking from East Tremont and Belmont back to 151st Street and Eighth Avenue.

Walking helps me to burn off some of my negative emotions. It takes that adrenaline rush that I have to hate and fight, and does something good with it. Walking also helps me clear my head. I walk until I can’t walk anymore. I don’t stop walking because I’m tired. I stop because I reach my destination or because it’s too dark to walk.


But walking and going to Coney Island are not the only ways I release stress and anger. I also write. Many people who know me say that the way to get to know me is to read my poetry, because when I talk to people there’s a lot left out.

I don’t usually feel comfortable talking about my real feelings. I’ve gotten so used to wearing what I call a “happy mask.” That’s when I put on a fake smile all day. Or at least until I get around someone I can be real with.

Writing is so easy for me because I can be as real as I wanna be and not have to worry about being judged because of how I feel. I write about love, hate, happiness, sadness, life, death, and friendship.

Sometimes writing poetry is hard to do. So I also write stories. Whether it is fiction or non-fiction, it helps me. I write about everyday stuff.

I recently wrote a story about what happened between me and my first love. I added scenes and a happy ending to fit my desires. But in real life it wasn’t so happy. That story was a blend of fiction and non-fiction. My first love thought that popularity was everything. So his attitude toward things put a real strain on our relationship. When we were on school grounds, he acted real snotty because he had an image to protect.

The only things I write that are non-fiction (true) in my journal. I’ll put them together and when I get older, it will make the perfect autobiography. It’s fun to look at my old journal and see how much I’ve matured.

Relieving stress is something that I must do to stay centered. Writing and walking are two things that help me. But Coney Island has proved to be the best. All I need is to get away, and Coney Island is as far as I can go.

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(FCYU-1997-07-08)