I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time near water since I left care.
Confused? Good, I knocked you off kilter. You are now in the perfect place to read words written by me!
The town I grew up in was a dry town. No water in sight, except for what we called the “sh*t creek” and the occasional spring that would shoot up from the old coal mines we played near. Not what you would call a water world.
I found comfort in the town pool. I would spend every summer day in that pool. It wasn’t a big pool, but it was big enough and my friends were there. While that sufficed, I longed for “real” water. Water I had seen in movies and TV shows. Waves, boats, sails, sand and dudes in muscle shirts on roller blades. Truth be told, I would have settled for a kayak or canoe and a creek bigger than a 12 year old’s arm’s length.
I saw the river on trips to the hospital but the hospital and the river felt like they were states away. I have the vague recollection of an ocean but I must have below the age of seven because that’s as far back as my memory goes. I knew it was out there, full of strange creatures that didn’t need air to survive. That part still creeps me out.
That unsubstantiated fear aside, I longed for the water.
When I was in care I had my first taste of freedom and the ocean all in the same day. Until that point, I was just getting by. I had a big smile but a mountain of pain and uncertainty behind it. I lived inside my headphones, poking out long enough to make a handful of friends.
I’d moved again. New school again. New town again. Time to make new friends again. This time it wasn’t just me moving though, the whole foster family was moving and taking me with them.
Making friends is kind of easy for me. I have a big mouth. I know a lot of useless things that people like. I’ve watched enough movies and TV that I get almost any reference (That makes folks at ease with you, they assume you have common ground based on taste. I don’t tell them that I’d watch a dog show documentary if there was nothing else on.). It’s the chameleon effect that is there for any foster kid to pick up if they are so inclined. It makes care easier, adapting to your surroundings.
I had decided that this time, at this school, this go around I would keep only one or two close friends until graduation. The rest would be friends of friends.
I picked one friend. He was a smaller guy from the football team who was near my level of goofiness. His name was Don. He liked Saturday Night Live, football and hip hop. Three things that defined me at the time.
Don was a normal kid. I liked normal. He was also a steady kid. He had a job. He had saved up money to buy his own car. His parents liked him. He was who I wanted to be friends with.
He was an Italian guy and kind of looked like Mike Seaver’s best friend on Growing Pains, if you were like 2 city blocks away and were kind of a jerk. When I met him a handful a folks still called him “Boner”, I didn’t like that. We became best friends after about 3 jokes and no one ever called him “Boner” again, at least not in front of me.
We spent all of our time together when we weren’t working. My foster parents loved him, like I said, he was a good kid. I don’t know if his parents liked me or not but they tolerated me. I never gave them any trouble. We liked the same music, TV and sportscasters. We differed on favorite teams but that was about our only defining difference.
Don grew up normal, which meant he went on vacations. This was a foreign concept to me. We lived like a half hour away from Knoebel’s, which is pretty famous as far as amusement parks go. A trip to Knoebel’s is what I understood to be a vacation.
What did he mean, he was going someplace else for a week? What did he do wrong? Was he coming back? Vacations have never been a part of my life. All of the people who took care of me in my life have been ridiculously hard workers. Vacations just never came into play.
But there was my new best friend in a new town asking me to go on a voyage with him. I did what I always do. I said yes, I’d figure out the money part later.
He informed me that we’d need a third person. Apparently, hotels charge money for you to stay near a beach and sleep on their beds…who knew? Our third person would be someone I’d never met but would also become my best friend and the person who changed the route I was on from homelessness to college student.
His name was Dave and he was a computer and overall genius. He was overly polite and a little sheltered. He was so polite, in fact, that I swore he said his name was “Egg”, he let me call him that for six months without correcting me. In fairness to me, his mom is an academic who has a bit of hippie about her, it was entirely possible that she would name him Egg.
We went to Dave’s house to ask him to come with us. He was in a tiny computer room across from what would later become my bedroom at his house. He was quiet, but confident as he told us he would go. And we were ready. Ocean City, Maryland and the first time I left the state on my own, here we come.
The ocean is a tremendous sight to behold for the first time in person. I’ve found it doesn’t lose anything over time. It never gets old. I stood there on the sand staring at what seemed like the edge of the Earth for hours. I didn’t notice all the activity surrounding me. I kept thinking what someone without all of the knowledge I have about the planet and the ocean must have been thinking sitting on this same sand looking at this same vastness. Then the reality of my youth set in and it was party time. That’s me; moments of depth and brilliance followed up quickly with goofiness and adolescence.
We’d return twice more to that beach. Once as juniors in high school with the world in front of us and the next summer as graduates of high school (I got expelled just before graduation but I went anyway). I didn’t know I’d be homeless a couple weeks later or that Dave’s Mom would make me live with them, help me get my GED and enroll me in college a few weeks after that.
What I did know was I had two of the best friends a person at my age and my situation could have. I also knew I was enamored with the ocean and I’d do whatever I could to get back there as often as possible.
Water, specifically the ocean, is such a powerful force I couldn’t help but compare it to foster care. Bear with me, it will make sense.
I’m not going to get fancy, the similarities are pretty obvious. Like care, the ocean swoops in with a force, taking back a piece of land each time it returns to the sea. Care takes little chunks from you that you don’t notice until much later in life. It becomes more evident the longer it goes unnoticed. I cite my inability to budget. I hadn’t noticed how quickly money leaves my hand until after having kids. I did a little soul searching and realized that I used to get $7 a week and any money I earned from whatever job I had at the time while in care. I’d get the money Friday and it would be gone by Saturday afternoon. I thought it was because the amount was small but it turns out I love the excitement of getting and spending money. It was and still is a rush for me. It’s probably why I did so well in car sales. Money earned is an awesome thing. I’ve always been proud to be an earner, maybe that’s why I wear my earnings or buy enough of something to show off my worth. But like morning on the beach, these facts didn’t reveal themselves until the tide had pulled back and the sun had shone on my habits.
Rivers and creeks (much bigger than the one in my hometown) can also leave their mark. Maybe this is the kinship care or adoption metaphor. Rivers carve through miles and miles of land but it remains.
Follow me on this; unlike when the tide comes in nightly to reclaim the Earth, a river carves a path and remains. It feeds everything around it. It becomes the center of all things. After the devastation that is a flood comes this amazing life giver. See? I made it work. That river will be there until it dries up or the landscape changes again. It will be responsible for all the good things that happen around it.
That feels like adoption to me.
I guess in my water diatribe ponds and lakes would be friends and family. Steady and always there.
Of course, all of my new found love of water comes from that first trip to the ocean on my own. My brain never stops, I’ve written about this before but if you missed it; turn your car radio on “scan”, that’s my brain. That slows down when I’m near water. Can’t explain it, just the way it is.
In times of doubt, which is constant, I head to a housing development near my home that was never finished. On this property sits a man-made pond that lays untouched. This is my sanctuary. I sit on the hood of my car next to the pond and work until the laptop tells me it’s time to go home. The effort it takes to get me to settle down and focus is too much work for the day to day, but when my back is against the wall or when another laptop blows up before I could backup an issue (like this month), the water calms me down.
Since I began the magazine almost 5 years ago I spend a lot of time by water. A lot of the conferences and places I have to visit for the magazine are situated by water. I’ve seen both oceans, all the major rivers and countless lakes. It’s been tremendous. It may be the reason that I’ve been able to keep going for so long. Every time I want to quit I seem to be told it’s time to see the ocean. It helps.
I know this loser is living fortunate (stole that from a song) and these trips to all of these places come from a strange place. Think about it for a second; the only reason you know who I am is because something unfortunate happened to me and I made the best of it. It’s not lost on me that foster care is the reason I have any notoriety. If not for my time in care there would be no Foster Focus. Who knows what I’d be doing but it surely wouldn’t be this. I try to see the positive side of it. If not for good foster parents, I could have just been another lost soul. Had I not been sent to care I could still be sitting in front of a pool hall in my hometown. The road that got me here doesn’t matter anymore as far as I’m concerned. I’m here now. I’ve taken the task of relaying information about foster care to the masses. I’m cool with that.
I still talk to Dave via Facebook and the occasional home visit. He lives on the other end of the state so it’s tough to stay close. Don on the other hand is a Baltimore city firefighter who just bought a house back here in town. We see each other quite a bit and try to say close. Those two guys changed my world and I do my best to make sure they know they are appreciated. (Come on! An article about you guys in a national magazine HAS TO put me up there in the good friend hall of fame!)
And I have the water. I live 2 blocks from a giant river and there are ponds all around me. You couple that with all the trips to the ocean I get to take and you’ve got a pretty happy editor!
As I mentioned, the mag’s laptop blew up at an inopportune time this month which is why it comes to you so late. My apologies. I had to hustle to recreate the issue. I hope it is up to the high standards I’ve tried to set for the magazine. Well, enough of me. Go enjoy the issue.