35: Welcome to Our Home

35: Welcome to Our Home

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times, Tough People

Welcome to Our Home

Stand up and walk out of your history.

~Phil McGraw

Those first few weeks at Ms. Dorothy’s house are forever seared into my mind. I recall the first time I walked through her front door, tripping over a mat situated just beyond the entrance. I found myself sharing the floor with that mat, brightly labeled “welcome to our home.” Standing to see the group of people I’d been told were my new family, I found myself unable to face them. Instead, I looked down at the floor, at a mat that tormented me with words I didn’t want to read.

Welcome to their home. Welcome to their lives. Welcome to their rooms and their toys and their mother. All theirs, but I didn’t want theirs—I had my own. I longed for my home. For my life. For my room and my toys, but most of all, for my mother.

I stood there, head hung low, as Ms. Dorothy introduced me to Dartanian and Sylvia, my new foster siblings. They showed no more interest in me than I did in them. They too were veterans of “the system.” They understood, just as I did, that brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, they change. Tomorrow, or next week, or in a month if it lasted that long, there would be a new family. So we had shells, all of us, fortified by one move after another, strengthened by betrayal and disappointment.

As though infectious, my silence became theirs. I lifted my head, looking first at Dartanian, then at Sylvia. Their eyes were as empty as my own, and their hearts, I knew, were just as hollow.

In the following days, I went through the usual routine that comes with a new home: a new school, a new doctor, a new therapist. New people who would tell me the same things. New places that would soon be forgotten. The days went on as usual, but with the nights came change.

More than a week passed before it occurred to me that I hadn’t been crying at bedtime. For several years, that had been my routine. I kept everything inside during the day, suppressing thoughts of my family and my old life. At night, I relived my fondest memories: swimming in the red river with my older brothers, chasing my sisters with bullfrogs and crickets, sitting in my mother’s lap as we rocked back and forth in that old wooden rocking chair, singing songs about babies in treetops and diamond rings that didn’t shine.

I felt guilty for neglecting my nightly routine. In penitence, I brought to mind those memories I held closest to my heart. I was obliged to make up for the tears I’d so carelessly forgotten to shed. I felt that I’d betrayed my family in failing to lament their absence. To my dismay, no tears or overwhelming sadness accompanied the memories I replayed in my mind. This was not acceptable. I didn’t know why at the time, but I simply had to cry. I had to suffer.

Despite thinking of things that previously elicited a torrent of tears, I could not cry. I know now what I did not know then. The tears and the mourning, and the consistency to which I applied my suffering, were ways of holding onto a family that I knew deep inside were lost to me forever. By crying, I kept myself emotionally attached to a group of people who were unable to reciprocate my affections. My emotions were so firmly rooted in the past that I was unable to experience happiness in the present.

That night, as I lay in bed, I took my first step onto a long path of healing and self-discovery. It is a sad truth that sometimes, though frighteningly difficult, we must relinquish parts of our past to live happily in the present.

~Daniel McGary

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