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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Am I Ready For Love?
Hattie Rice

Here’s the problem: I’ve never had a man, never had a kiss. I’ve never gotten TLC (tender loving care) on TLC (tables, ladders, and chairs).

When my girls ask why, I kick it corny and old school: “Books before boys because boys bring babies.” But the real reason is more complicated.

For one thing, the girls I know let their boys come first and seem to find nothing but trouble. Their boyfriends hit them and leave them on the brink of tears. They cheat. The boys do not appreciate the sacrifices my friends make.

Then I’m left putting my friends back together like a jigsaw puzzle. I see their hurt and it scares me. They become so emotionally attached that they allow their men to make them weak while depending on them for strength.

The way I see it, love is a risk that my girlfriends have not benefited from taking. I don’t want to make the same mistakes, end up disrespected, have someone violate my trust, and find myself so lost in the idea of love that I accept them back and forget myself.

Seems like love is overrated, a promise rarely kept.

But as Shakespeare said, “Tis better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.” I sincerely believe that. Love may bring the greatest pains but it can also give us our greatest joys. I want to experience it for myself. But I have to wonder: am I ready to love?

I feel that I have a lot to offer in a relationship. I’m a good listener. I’m also strong and sensitive. I usually can sense what people need. I don’t believe I’ll become emotional baggage for my partner because I try to be as independent as possible.

So I have a lot to give. What scares me is what I’ll receive. I fear I’ll love too deeply, and then how will I let go if all I had to give is disrespected? How will I go on? Plus, I have such high expectations that one thing is certain: I’m going to be let down and it’s going to be hard. I can seriously see myself having a nervous breakdown.

My fear that love could destroy me comes from my relationship with my family, especially my mom. Since I was 12, I’ve felt my mom’s schizophrenia as a weight on me. I still feel responsible for her, even though my helpless attempts to take care of her couldn’t make her recover.

I loved my mom so much I gave up on myself. I dropped out of school, fell into a deep depression, and thought my life had no value apart from my ability to care for my mother.

I also loved my dad and trusted him to look out for my best interests. Let’s just say my best interests were not served by my father dropping jokes on my “linebacker” shoulders or allowing my mom to spend our food money on crack.

Since coming into foster care at age 14, I’ve shielded myself from love because I know that those you love the most are also the people who can hurt you the most. My power and control to protect myself from love protects me from being vulnerable and susceptible to pain. I tell myself, “I can’t go through loving and losing again.” I barely got through it with my family.

image by Dante Gutierrez

When I think of dating, I find myself intertwining my experiences with my parents with my fears (and hopes) for falling in love with a boy. I’m scared to love, scared of my love being misused, scared of the effect a person I care about could have on me.

My experiences in foster care haven’t exactly improved my ability to trust, either. Turns out it’s hard to find trustworthiness in others.

One time I met a psychiatrist I felt comfortable with and we talked about my family history. I told him my mom hears voices and is so paranoid she pulls down the shades (like people really want to spy on her life). It was hard for me to tell that to him—and then he accused me of lying! I’m sure I need therapy to get over what I’ve been through, but my experience with that psychiatrist sure didn’t help me reach out.

With all the untrustworthy people I’ve known, I feel uncomfortable opening up. I’m scared that if I meet a guy I like, his first reaction will be to judge, and my chain reaction will be to swing (just kidding). It doesn’t help to be in foster care. People ask me basic get-to-know-you questions about family and I feel like I’m being meticulously ice grilled.

Scary as love is, though, I don’t want to be lonely. Loneliness is something I’m all too familiar with. Loneliness shortly leads to despair, turmoil, sinking into oblivion. . . (maybe not all that, but I am a drama queen, so too much alone time just isn’t healthy).

When I think of spending my days without love, I remember when I was younger. I was an outcast. I had no friends. I was left to deal with my loneliness and social problems alone. When you’re a kid you’re supposed to cry on your mom’s shoulder, but instead she was crying on mine.

I had the happiest moment of my life not too long ago. It was 9 a.m. and we were slowly creeping up 2nd Avenue with the rain beating at the window of the car. We were conversing loudly—shouting. Then my mom tells us to shush. My dad wants to know what’s good, and I’m with him, and then we see a tear stream down my mom’s face. It was the first time I’d seen her cry.

She managed to utter, “I don’t hear anything,” and immediately I started to tear up. Nobody said anything. There was a deadly silence as my mom felt a sensation—quiet—she hadn’t felt since about age 12. I wished in that instant that my mom could get well and provide me the love and nurturing that I desire. It felt like my wish was getting closer, but the moment was gone in 60 seconds.

So you can see how I’m thirsty for love. If some man tried to love me, I’m afraid my thirst would come out so strong that either nothing could quench it, or I could never give up the little sip I had no matter what happened. I want to find someone who listens, understands, and respects my opinions. And I want to provide the same support for somebody, but how?

My social skills are not the best. I have a hard time making friends. So how am I going to draw boys in and get one to love me?

My best friend has been trying to hook me up with different guys for the longest. I’m fine with my male friends, but when a guy wants more I put out less. It’s almost as if I make them not like me. My uneasiness comes off as rudeness.

Also, for a while, I had crushes on boys that just weren’t realistic. You know, thugs. But recently I started thinking I might actually want to get close to someone who is a good person—someone competent, someone who can read and write.

I don’t know how it will happen or when, but maybe it’s one step closer for me to simply admit that I want a man. I want to be loved, and I want to love someone. I long for a time when I feel comfortable around someone else, when I can be myself with a man and just chill. That’s what love seems to promise to me—it could give me a place where I belong in this world, starting with the person I belong with.

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