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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Falling Into Trust

Names have been changed.

When I first started high school, I had no friends. The only time someone spoke to me was to ask “What time is it?” or “Where’s the library?” I felt so alone for my first three weeks and I thought I was going to have no friends the whole school year.

One Monday morning I was in 2nd period math class, and Mr. Ward was teaching us about the slope formula. Everybody was working in groups and I wasn’t part of any. Mr. Ward then asked, “Why is Annabelle not in a group?”

“Jesus, I’m ready, just take me now,” I thought, dying of embarrassment.

One kid said, “She can join our group.”

“No thank you,” I said softly. “It’s OK. I work better by myself, but thanks anyway.”

I lied. I wanted friends but I didn’t want my teacher trying to make them for me.

A week later, I was eating lunch by myself as usual and I heard a feminine voice ask if she could sit here. “A friend,” I thought to myself.

“Sure,” I said, in a cool, calm tone, trying not to seem desperate and alone. I kept my face in my book trying to think of a perfect way to start a conversation with this girl. She had a weird voice but I didn’t care how she sounded or looked. A friend is a friend and I hoped she would be a good one.

“I like your shoes.”

“Thanks,” I said as I raised my head with excitement to look at her. I saw red, white, and black Jordans, dark red skinny jeans, a baggy black and dark red long-sleeved plaid button-up over a black tank top, tan skin, and bleached blond tips. It was a boy. He could have passed for a skater except for his voice.

“Any time, girl,” he said.

Straight? Gay? Who Cares?

“Is he gay?” was my first thought and then, “He could be metrosexual. He dresses like a straight guy.” I didn’t care; I love gay guys because the ones I’ve known have been fun to be around and adorable. It’s also nice not to have to worry about them wanting sex.

“Hi, my name’s Zack.” He reached his hand out to shake mine.

“Hi, I’m Annabelle,” I said, happy someone was finally talking to me.

Zack and I had a nice conversation and I found out he had just started school that day. He showed me his schedule—we had six classes together.

Zack and I became friends. I didn’t ask him if he was gay at first, worried that I’d hurt his feelings if he wasn’t. “What if he hasn’t gone through puberty yet and is self-conscious about his voice?” I thought. Before I started losing weight, I wouldn’t have wanted to answer questions about my size.

The next week Zack and I were in gym class. We would usually cut gym and hang out in the library. Who wants to get all sweaty? However, we were forced to go to gym because Mr. Gomez the gym teacher caught on to our game and asked the librarian not to let us in during 3rd period. We weren’t going to hang out in the hallway, so we went to gym. We were smart enough to avoid detention.

“Ooooooh my god, can he throw his shirt my way?” Zack whispered in my ear after a boy in class took off his shirt.

“Finally, here’s my shot,” I thought. “Are you gay?” I asked, pretending to be confused by tilting my head.

“Uhhh yeah. I hope it’s not a problem?” Zack scratched his head with a sad look on his face.

“Of course not, you’re my best friend.” Then I reached out and gave him a bear hug, lifting him off his feet. Our laughter spread throughout the gym as we tumbled down onto the ground with our arms around each other.

image by YC-Art Dept

Telling Almost Everything

Zack and I hung out in and out of school. We went to Coney Island, laser tag, bowling, and the movies. Unlike a lot of other people I’ve hung out with, Zack didn’t sponge off me; he had his own money. I hated hanging out with people who asked me to buy them things all the time. I felt like they were taking advantage of me, and after a while I’d pretend to be broke, and then I’d have no friends. So it was nice I didn’t have to worry about Zack doing that.

When Zack and I hung out at home, I would tell him almost everything: how I had been hospitalized for psychiatric problems, that I was in special ed, and that I took meds for ADHD. Zack never looked down on me or made a sad “awwww” face. Zack would say, “Damn, I knew you was crazy, how many b-tches you messed up that the doctors put yo hyper ass on chill?”

It’s not that Zack was unsympathetic. When I talked about getting restrained in a psych hospital or getting beat by my mom (I let him think that my foster mom was my real mom), I made them into funny stories. That helped me get over some of the bad things that happened to me. I told him I used to tell people I went to a “gifted school,” but left out that the gift was my fists—meaning I was in special ed for fighting a lot. Zack and I would laugh about how we would do things better if we could go back in time. We talked about all the fights and arguments we wished we had avoided.

However, some things I did not want to tell Zack: that I was in foster care, that my real mother abused me, that her boyfriend raped me. I wouldn’t know how to joke about being raped. I wanted to feel normal.

Zack told me many things about himself also, even weird sexual things I didn’t want to hear. I listened and was polite. And most of the time, his stories made me laugh so hard I couldn’t breathe, even the stories I started out not wanting to hear.

No Judging

I knew Zack was non-judgmental after a month of hanging out with him. We were on the subway once and a homeless man smelled up the whole car. Other people were giving the man dirty looks and making comments about his odor. I was getting frustrated and was about to defend the guy. Just as the words were about to come out of my mouth, Zack said to me loud enough so everyone on the train could hear, “Why are these people acting like they so high and mighty?” Then his voice rose slowly with each word: “They know d-mn well if they stunk like that they would feel bad if people was doing that to THEM!”

But I still didn’t want to tell Zack I was in care because I was ashamed of all the bad things that happened to me. I wanted to forget about everything and Zack had a bad habit of asking follow up questions and “Why?” I wasn’t ready to talk about what happened to me yet.

My friendship with Zack continued throughout the whole school year and into the middle of the next. Even when I was dating a boy from school for a few months, I always made time for Zack.

Then, in late May of our sophomore year, Zack didn’t come to school for a week. I tried to contact him through social media, his house phone, and e-mail. Fear filled my mind. What if something bad had happened to him or he was really sick? After a week of worry, I went to his house and knocked on his door. His mother answered and before I could say anything, she said, “I’m sorry, but Zack doesn’t live here anymore.”

“What do you mean he doesn’t live here anymore? Where is he?” I demanded, upset but trying to respect my elders. Tears fell down my face. Hurt and confusion raced through my body and everything turned gray. This woman and I stared blankly at each other for two minutes like we were having a conversation with no words.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” she said finally. “Zack is a good kid, very respectful, but I had to send him back to his agency because my son is coming home from Iraq and he needs his room.”

The Same Boat

“Wait, you’re a foster parent?”

“Yes, why? You thought I was Zack’s real mom?”

“Yeah I kinda did. I’m sorry for the disturbance, ma’am.”

“It’s OK, sweetheart.”

I was depressed for a couple days. I thought about Zack and me both being in foster care and not wanting to bring it up even though we were so close. I had my reasons but what were his? Then I private-messaged him online: “Zack, are you embarrassed that you’re in foster care? Is that why you didn’t write back? If it makes you feel any better, I’m in foster care also.” It felt weird to tell him that, but he was my friend and we’re in the same boat. I had to tell him because I didn’t want him feeling bad.

He wrote back, “Really? Wow,” then called me.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were in foster care? Making me feel all self-conscious about myself?” he said, sounding happy and relieved.

“You hypocrite!”

We busted into laughter and made plans to hang out after school. He asked me why was I in care and I told him a brief summary of my mom being on drugs and her abuse. I did not tell him about my mom’s boyfriend’s sexual abuse or physical abuse. Zack’s story was similar to mine, but I wasn’t sure if he told me everything either. It really didn’t bother me because some people are just not ready to share certain things until they’re ready. Like me, for example.

The foster care system kept bouncing the two of us around to different homes, residential centers, group homes, and sadly, schools. But even though we didn’t get to see each other, we never lost contact. Zack and I still keep in touch on Facebook and we videochat and talk on the phone. Now we are more open with each other because we found out each other’s secret, and that we could trust each other.

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