I spent most of my life desperately trying to fit in. Even before I was in a foster home, I recognized that my living situation was not normal. I saw every sideways glance and felt every whisper from the people around me. It did not matter if we were in a grocery store or if I was sitting in class, there were always people noticing me regardless of how hard I tried to fade into the background. I was always “poor Bria” and never just . . . “Bria.” I was known for what my parents were, and even when I no longer lived with them, their shadow followed me still. My story stuck to me like cheap perfume that everyone scrunched their noses at.
School was always the hardest part. Even when I changed schools, there always seemed to be a way that everyone found out what was happening to me. All I wanted was normalcy and maybe a friend or two, but the fact that I was different kept me from anything of the sort. I tried really hard to get people to understand that I was a kid just like them, and my home life did not have to affect what happened at school, but no one ever listened. I was constantly the lone child sitting at the back of the playground or alone on the bus.
I remember a time in school when all the girls were playing in the little kitchen we had in the class. We weren’t allowed to change stations once we picked where we wanted to go; so for that day, I just watched them. The next day, because I was the quietest, I was the first to pick where I wanted to play. I got up and went to the kitchen expecting the girls from before to join me, but I was left there alone. My teachers were very understanding and let me go color, but even they had a look of pity on their faces as I walked toward the crayons.
As I got older, I realized there are ways to remain a mystery while still being able to appear open to people. It did not always go as planned, but for the most part, I was able to make a few friends. By the time they knew what I was, they already liked me enough that it did not matter. It wasn’t until after I graduated high school and got involved with the church that I began to come to terms with and even revel in my past. I could use my story to inspire people. Almost overnight, I went from being completely ashamed to being proud that something so awful had happened to me because it meant I was able to relate to more people and their pain.
As great as that sounds, that is not a healthy approach either. Sharing that part of me sometimes served to manipulate others’ emotions and worldviews. It brought some people closer to a god they might not have been comfortable with. While it felt nice to finally feel in control of my story, it still dictated my choices just like it had before. It took me a while to realize that, even if I were the first to reveal my story, I don’t get to control people’s reactions to it. More often than not, I was still met with avoidance and looks of pity and slight avoidance despite being grown and on my own. Being a functional adult did not negate the baggage of my childhood, and that was a very hard truth to come to.
It affected friendships almost as much as romantic relationships. Right out of high school, I tried to date this guy, but his parents warned him that “people like me” would have too much baggage and encouraged him to choose someone else. I also found that when older adults discovered what my childhood was like, they still felt it necessary to try and step into the “parent” role in my life despite being an adult myself. There were times I would allow these people to act as parents and other times where it felt very gross to me.
Navigating My Story
Being a foster kid has not been something that I have been able to outgrow; although, for the longest time, I held onto the hope that if I just got old enough, it would not matter as much. The fact is, it does matter and it always will. That era of my life shaped who I am and how I give and receive love, or the lack thereof. I am the way I am because of the events from my life and it isn’t what happened to me anymore, it’s just me. I still share that piece of myself with people, but not to influence their opinion of beliefs. I share because I believe that vulnerability breeds trust and sharing in each other’s pain and makes life more bearable. Being me helps others let down their own walls and sit in their own pain, and I get to sit in it with them. My story allows me to be able to cry with them about theirs. My story is a story of hope. In the midst of the darkest of hours, sharing my life story has been a flicker of light.
The Best Truths
If you will, allow me to sit with you in your pain for a moment. Whether you are like me—starving for a shred of normalcy in a sea of confusion or on the outside looking in trying to find a way to make everything okay—know that these moments, while frequent, are temporary. There will be a time in your life that these moments feel so very far away that they almost don’t seem like they belong to you anymore. The most important thing you can do is to allow yourself to feel the weight of these emotions and sit with them. Allow them to overtake you and rattle your bones. Then sit up and remember you are not alone and this is not the end. One day, your darkness will open doors to the hearts of others. Your heavy moments won’t always feel so heavy, and neither will theirs.
Bria Beasley is an executive assistant for a State Senator in Alabama. She loves the arts and taking cat naps with her fur baby, Birdy. Bria’s passion for advocacy comes from her years spent in the foster system where she witnessed first-hand the detriment of a parentless life. She whole-heartedly believes that change happens in our homes before anywhere else.