The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Daydreaming and Reality
Anthony Turner

Things in my life haven’t always been good. When I was younger, I moved all around, never having a place to call home. My mom didn’t have the finances to take care of me. She was young and still in foster care when she had me. Her foster parents, the Joneses, weren’t the best guardians: They gave me their birth kid’s leftover clothes and didn’t let me use the phone or have my own food. I felt out of place in a family that wasn’t my own.

I lived with the Joneses until I was 12, when I moved in with my mom’s parents. I felt relieved to live with family but soon hated living there because I was forced to practice their religion, Islam. I disliked Islam for a variety of reasons like having to fast (not eating any food or drinking water all day) for a month, praying five times a day, and wearing an outfit that looked like a dress to me.

Then my mom and grandparents began to fight for custody over me. The judge gave me the choice to live with my mom or grandparents, and I chose my mom. But she had changed, and she abused me physically, emotionally, and verbally. I finally escaped by reporting her to the police when I was 14, but I remained overwhelmed by all I’d been through. I spent some time in hospitals and in an RTC (residential treatment center).

With all these dramatic changes and so little control over my life, it’s no wonder that I daydream a lot. I’ve always used daydreams to escape the harshness of my everyday life. But as I get older, I’m trying to live in reality a little more.

I used to imagine my relationship with my mom as totally different, as ideal. In my daydreams my mother and I trusted each other and were open. We communicated, laughed, and smiled.

When I was 16, I moved in with my aunt. The living conditions are much better than they were with my mom. The house is clean, I have a room, and I feel safe. My reality isn’t ideal—I have no contact with my mother. And sometimes the happy fantasies starring my mom and me make me sad because that’s not how it is. But I’m not being abused, and my life is better than it was.

Even if I did live with my mom and she had changed for the better, I probably wouldn’t forgive her easily. I’ve lived away from her for six years now. As time goes on I’m letting go of the daydream of a nice mom. I embrace what I have—other family members and friends.

Another relationship I fantasize about is one with the ideal girlfriend. I imagine getting along perfectly with someone who’s fun-loving, can take a joke, can hold a conversation, and is loyal. I usually daydream about us walking in the park, sharing a picnic, me cooking for her, or going to the movies. In my daydream, the girl is gorgeous and has a great personality, and I can show her my vulnerability.

My standards in reality aren’t as high as in my daydreams. I want a girl who I can talk with, tell things to, and who accepts me for who I am. I think that would make me feel loved.

In real life, there are some girls that I can show my vulnerability to, but they are female friends, with no romance. Talking to them feels like practice in opening up.

Learning to Trust

Trust is a delicate issue for me. Many adults, friends, and family have betrayed me at some point. A few years ago, when my aunt and I weren’t on good terms, I left my journal out. My aunt photocopied the whole thing, read it, and shared it with others in the house. I was enraged. This was one of many betrayals, so I give out trust slowly with everyone.

But I have felt mutual understanding and respect lead to trust with friends, and it is a beautiful feeling.

One time a friend was having family problems and was depressed about her living situation. I told her about my previous experiences and told her that things do get better and that what she’s feeling is temporary. By sharing our traumas and our vulnerability, we both felt better. Our talks were like a mini therapy session where we both took and received support from each other.

In the meantime, the gap between my fantasies about the perfect girl and my real-life friendships with girls make me realize that the “ideal girl” doesn’t exist. There’s not one girl who’s going to have every characteristic I want. Everyone has flaws and there will be times when a significant other will do something you don’t like.

I recently had a girlfriend named Vanessa. Whenever I wanted to be serious or express how I felt, she looked at the floor like she was bored or rolled her eyes. However when she was sad or had something serious to tell me, she expected me to listen. Vanessa neglected my feelings but wanted attention whenever she had a problem.

In the interest of improving our relationship, I asked her to listen to me, the way I did for her. She did listen to that request, but she didn’t change, and after another month I broke up with her. Asking Vanessa to listen was good practice. Sitting someone down and calmly explaining what changes you would like to see isn’t easy, but it is crucial if you want your relationship to improve.

Vanessa didn’t change the way I wanted her to, but at least she listened to my request. I was able to speak up instead of escaping into my daydreams.

A White Family

Growing up I was constantly surrounded by other black people, and I didn’t like the way I was treated. I was harassed and jumped (beat up) in my own neighborhood. I was accused of “talking white.” You had to be tough and act a certain way so no one messed with you. But that lifestyle never appealed to me.

I see white people just laughing and joking, and it seems like they don’t have to put on a tough exterior. Although I realize that not all white people are rich and friendly, the generalization is based on observation. The white people I’ve met just seem nicer, and I never had any problems with them. White people have treated me better and been more accepting of my goofy and quirky side.

image by YC-Art Dept

I used to want to be in a white foster family. I daydreamed about how I could open up and be myself with them. But now I’m feeling better about where I am. My aunt and cousins are actually providing some of the things I imagined a white family giving me—encouragement, a sense of security, and guidance. I don’t feel the need to put on a tough exterior; now I can show some vulnerability within my foster family.

Reflecting back, I realize I wanted a more nurturing environment, not a white family. However, the daydreams helped me pinpoint that affection and a sense of safety were important to me.

Daydreams Gone Too Far

One of my goals is going to college. I imagine being around mature, older, and responsible individuals who also know how to have fun. I picture challenging work, a huge campus to explore, thousands of people to meet, clubs and activities to attend, and of course all those gorgeous girls.

In reality, I’m 20 and about to graduate high school with only two more credits to complete. I feel relieved that the time to move on is approaching soon because I’m self-conscious about being in a classroom with kids three or four years younger than me. I feel dumb, even incompetent, that I spent two extra years in high school.

This was a case where the daydream got out of hand. I found myself telling other people I was in college. I didn’t want anyone thinking “a 20-year-old in high school?! What happened?” I didn’t want to disappoint the people who had high hopes for me.

As I told more and more people, the pressure grew to keep up this front. At first it felt good to say I was in college, but maintaining the lie got harder and harder. Once I admitted that I was in high school, I felt relieved to stop putting on an act.

Admitting that I’m still in high school made me reflect on what caused me to get left back. Some bullies targeted me last year, and the constant harassment and mean remarks made me uncomfortable, so I cut school a lot. I was unhappy there; I think that may have contributed to my pretending I was done with high school.

It was embarrassing admitting to friends that I’d lied, but I’m learning to be comfortable about where I am in life and move at my own pace. My perseverance to stay in school and improve myself actually makes me proud, not ashamed, of who I am.

Pretending like I was in college didn’t feel like the real thing. I wasn’t taking any college-level courses, I wasn’t in any campus or dorm or doing any extracurricular activities. If anything, pretending I was in college just made me want to go even more.

Living on My Own

Another upcoming life change is living on my own. The reality has me worried: As a foster youth less than a year away from aging out, with no job, I will probably end up in public housing, aka “the projects.” The chance of me being in a building that isn’t dirty or unappealing is slim.

So in my daydream, I live in a condo in a pretty and safe neighborhood. It has a beautiful exterior and state-of-the-art furniture. There are no guns, no violence, no ghetto people hollering, and the sidewalks aren’t covered with litter.

In reality, New York public housing only gives tenants two apartments to choose from. If I don’t like either, I could turn them down, but I can’t afford any other kind of apartment. If I get an unappealing apartment, I will probably just have to stick it out. It’s not easy to say that—I really would like a beautiful, clean, safe home.

But at the same time it’s not the end of the world if I live in a less than ideal neighborhood. I think I’d be happy in a quiet neighborhood, with transportation, a laundry, and supermarket nearby.

Pros and Cons

It’s been helpful to observe when I want to lie and why. Recently I was having a conversation with a peer and school came up. I was tempted to say I was already in college because I was supposed to be. The fact that I wasn’t made me feel inferior. I wanted that feeling of being “higher up” or feeling like I was superior.

But I didn’t. What helped with my decision to be honest was that it would hurt me. Lying soon builds up to a lot of unwanted hiding and becomes a burden. Knowing that I am on my way to college helped me feel better too.

The small decisions to be truthful about where I am in life have made facing reality more enjoyable. It’s a slow process, but I’m beginning to appreciate everyday reality instead of escaping to my daydreams whenever I feel down or inadequate.

If something goes wrong, like not getting a job I applied for, instead of daydreaming, I’d rather talk to people I trust to or give myself a pep talk. I don’t want to lose sight of the real people who support me: my aunt, grandparents, friends, mentors, teachers, and my doctor.

But being able to dream about something that’s difficult to obtain like a nice car or a master’s degree can be helpful. It gives me something to work towards, a motivation to push myself. My daydreams at their best are a vision guiding me to the life I want.

Anthony was 20 when he wrote this story. He went on to attend Borough of Manhattan Community College is now a peer educator at the New York City Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence.

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