Monday, December 7, 2009


I was 12, living with a foster family in Vegas. My dad lived in the same city. I had in fact been sent to him to live with he and his wife, but when I arrived on the plane from Omaha, an old white pillowcase stuffed with dolls in my arms, he told me I was going to live with an aunt. An aunt I barely knew. In colorado.

I was broken and sad.

Then a family my mother and father used to know and we still visited with took me in. They had three daughters, a beautiful house, and I would have a stable existence.

I craved love. But more than anything, I craved acceptance. To be heard and known. To be understood. I got love. They loved me. But could anyone understand me then- no. I couldn't articulate what I needed. I clung and lashed out. I was in pain, but didn't know how to ask for help. I was angry I had been so brutally abandoned, by both parents, in the space of 24 hours.

I tried to fit in. I was an odd duck. I didn't understand how to live in a family that didn't hit. I was lost. I felt loved by them, but it was in an odd, distant sort of way. Like a pet, or a stray puppy. Outside the circle. But I tried to force my way in, tried to fit.

One of the daughters was getting married. I was asked to be a bridesmaid. I felt so excited and happy. Here, here was proof that this family loved me and would keep me forever. Proof I belonged. Proof I was saying and doing the right things.

The day came. I walked the aisle. I smiled.

Then came pictures. I posed with the wedding party, smiled. I gripped my flowers tight so I wouldn't drop them.

The family moved in for a photo. I stepped into frame. There was silence, and then the photographer asked me to step aside.

My heart fell. I turned to look at the family. None of them would meet my eyes. I stumbled down the altar steps, blinded by tears. I watched, my flowers hanging limply, as they smiled and posed. I slipped away silently to the bride's room.

It was quiet, makeup littering the tables. Open boxes stood in a line, waiting for boquets to be placed back inside. I looked at myself in the full length mirror and I felt, for the first time, my "otherness". I didn't belong to anyone. It was me, just me, in the world. My heart felt carved out. My throat burned with the need to cry.

The door opened, and a family friend slipped in. Her face was the picture of sympathy.

"They love you honey." was all she could say.

I nodded.

But I knew. Love is not enough. You can love anyone. It is the taking IN of somebody that creates a connection. It is the acceptance of everything they are, and everything they will be. It's an extra step. It's standing in the gap for that person, and devoting yourself to their well being. It's something I knew I needed, but never got...even though I tried.

Sometimes I wonder about that picture. A simple wedding photograph. Everyone looking their best, smiling. A happy family on a happy day. But if the frame was widened, what would you see?

A little girl, standing to the side. Her flowers down. Her face unguarded, looking at the family with her heart in her eyes. An alien in a strange land. Outside the circle. A turned corner in her being. A knowledge no child should be familiar with. Knowing it was just her, alone, in the world.

I'd like to tell you that I learned something from that day. I'm sure I did, but everytime I think of it, I can feel freshly the pain. I wonder that nobody else around me in that moment HEARD my heart breaking. I still dream about it often. It's one memory that I cannot seem to frame into a lesson for myself.

So maybe I am not supposed to. Maybe the only thing I can learn from it is gratitude that I have been blessed with a family and acceptance NOW, and can treasure it.

But I can't help but wonder, sometimes, about what would have happened had they simply pulled me into the picture and allowed me to belong to them, just for that moment.

I guess I will never know.