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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No Longer Feeling Alone
Therapy helped me adjust to life in the U.S.
L.M.
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On my first day of school in New York City, I walked into the 8th grade classroom and kids stared and whispered. A boy said something in English that I didn’t understand because I wasn’t familiar with the language yet. A few weeks before, I had moved to New York from Santiago, in the Dominican Republic (D.R.). I looked around and saw everybody laughing at me and that made me feel so bad. Some boys said I was ugly. I wanted to run out of the school and never go back.

When I got home, I spent the afternoon crying and thinking about how everything is so different here. I had left my good friends and family back in the D.R. I missed my grandma the most. She was a sweet old lady with long black hair and arrugada (wrinkly) light skin.

I had lived with her, my cousin, and my aunt in Santiago. It was hard for me to leave her because she took care of me all those years that my mom was away in the U.S. I am an only child, but I felt like my cousins were my brothers and sisters.

I missed Alice, my best friend since 3rd grade. Every day after school, we’d go to each other’s houses. We’d also take the bus together to piano and English classes.

I left the D.R. because my grandmother was getting sick and it was hard for her take care of me. And the plan had always been for me to join my mom in the United States. She’d emigrated there when I was 6, and had been saving money and working to get me a green card.

No Comfort at Home

Living with my mother was like being with a stranger. Even though she had called almost every night in the years she was away, it wasn’t enough for me to feel close to her. She also had a new husband who I didn’t know.

My stepfather’s name was Herman but to myself I called him “Ogre.” He was 16 years older than my mom and strict and old-fashioned. He wanted me in bed at 9 p.m., and nobody could visit our house after 6. He was from Peru, with sagging skin on his face. Living with him felt like being in jail. He used to put things in my mother’s head that weren’t true.

One day, a nice girl named Xiara started talking to me, and suggested we walk home together. Herman told my mom not to let me hang out with her. To me, if felt like he just wanted to be in control. But I didn’t have a voice in that house, and my mother was too tired to argue.

Get Out, Ogre!

A year passed and I started high school. I still had no friends. I felt alone both at school and at home. When I was in the D.R. I usually had friends come to my house after school and my relatives were often home.

My mother and her husband were usually working. I didn’t have anyone to talk to, to ask how my day was, or how I was feeling. I felt sad and empty and like I was not important to anyone.

The summer before 10th grade, I was sitting on my bed listening to music with my headphones on. I was home because the ogre told my mom that it was too dangerous for me to go to the park by myself, even though it is only four blocks away.

The ogre was on his way to the bathroom when, as usual, he decided to interrupt my peace.

“Your music is too loud.”

I took my headphones off. “Do you need something?”

“Your music is too loud.”

“My room is my own private space and you can’t even hear my music,” I said.

My mom heard us arguing from the kitchen.

“Her music is not hurting anyone,” she yelled out.

He grabbed my phone and unplugged my headphones. My first reaction was to take my phone and headphones back, but he was about to hit me. My mom got in the middle and screamed, “You have no right to touch her!”

When she said that, he just looked at me, with his angry red face and eyes looking like they were about to pop out of his head. My mom told him to get out of the room, and wait for her in the kitchen because they needed to talk.

Later that night after we all settled down, my mom came to my room and told me she’d kicked him out. He was moving back to California.

Feeling Invisible

image by YC-Art Dept

With the ogre gone, I started 10th grade thinking everything was going to be easier because it was going to be just my mom and me. But now without him to help financially, my mom had to pay rent, phone, and electricity bills all by herself. So she worked more with hardly a day off. I felt like she forgot that she had a daughter.

I started dating a boy from my math class but broke up with him when he started pressuring me to have sex.

That Saturday, my mom took a day off to take my cousin and me shopping. I wasn’t feeling well because of the breakup. My mom didn’t know about it. She was too busy working to ask me about my life.

When we were in the mall, she left me in a store without telling me. I spent about 10 minutes looking for her and when I finally found her the only thing she said was, “Where have you been?”

The way she said that made me feel like she didn’t care about me.

“So if I had died, you wouldn’t even care?” I asked.

“I’d keep going with my life,” she said. Her answer broke my heart.

I didn’t say a word for the rest of the day. I was thinking: If I’m not important to the only person I really love, that means I’m invisible.

In the subway station, I started to cry because I was tired of feeling invisible, unloved. When I heard the train, I thought, “Jump and end this pain.” I didn’t think twice; I jumped down to the train tracks. I heard my mother hysterically screaming at me. I did not open my eyes. I waited for everything to end. But then I felt arms around me and my cousin pulled me back up to the train platform. My mother was crying. I couldn’t speak.

A few minutes later, we took a taxi home. In the cab, my mom was saying that I did it because I wanted attention. She said I should be glad there wasn’t anyone around us, because people would have called the police and sent me to foster care.

I looked out the window, asking myself, “Why didn’t that train come faster?” Hearing my mom say I was doing it to get attention made me feel worse. I was angry because I felt so misunderstood. She didn’t know how I felt at all.

My Mother Sees and Hears Me

That night my mom came into my room. She sat on my bed next to me quietly for a moment.

“Why you did it?” she finally asked.

I couldn’t talk. I felt like someone had sewed my mouth closed. So I took off my jacket so she could see all the unhealed cuts on my arms. She started to cry. This made me feel bad and confused at the same time. I didn’t know if she was crying because she was disappointed in me, or because she was feeling my sadness. I was about to tell her I was sorry but she hugged me.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean what I said earlier. I’m sorry if I don’t give you enough attention and I spend so much time at work. You are my daughter and I love you. You are the only one I have, and everything I’m doing is for you.”

We spent the night talking about school and friends, and I told her I wanted to see a therapist to advise me and help me feel better. Talking to her made me realize I should have made more of an effort to tell her how I was feeling and that I needed help.

The next day I spoke to my guidance counselor and she assigned me a social worker. Her name is Ylauris; she’s young with glasses and curly hair. The best part is she’s Dominican too. I am comfortable talking to her.

She helped me understand my mother’s perspective and how if I was in her place I might feel the same way because she has so much stress. Ylauris suggested I ask my mom how I could help her and to show an interest in how she was feeling. I started asking my mom how her day was, if she was eating and sleeping well. This helped our relationship a lot. Now she takes two days off each week to have more time to be home with me.

Ylauris helped me find a job; for the last year and four months I have been working at Chipotle. I help my mom pay the rent, which she appreciates and which eases her stress. We were also able to open a shared savings account.

I have also made friends at Chipotle. Most of them are older than me and they take care of me like I’m their little sister. When we get out of work late, they accompany me to the train station or take me all the way home because they know I live far from work. I feel important and loved.

This experience has given me more confidence and I have made more friends at school. I’m not the same person I was when I first moved here two years ago.

I am better now that I know my mother and social worker are there for me. My mom and I are planning a mother-daughter trip to Mexico.

My social worker also encouraged me to write my story for YCteen. Sharing my story with other teenagers makes me feel like a hero, because I know there are teenagers who come from other countries who feel lonely and isolated like I did. I hope when they read this they can see how I was feeling and know that there is always a solution; you can always find help in school or family. Now I’m happy, I have a great relationship with my mother, I have friends that I can trust, and I feel loved. I am no longer feeling alone.

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(NYC-2018-05-21)

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