Street Stories: Years Ago -- (*Trigger warning* Mentions suicide)

I can remember the look on her face when they told her she was going back. She tried to smile, because they were smiling, and she giggled that nervous laugh. The one where you know something bad is going to happen but the people around you are trying to make light of it. But as much as she tried to laugh, she couldn’t. And then the tears started. That’s when my parents broke down too.

Rachel came to live with us as a foster child about 12 months before. She and her baby brother, Mark had been placed in my parents care after their own parents were unable to look after them. I don’t know the circumstances and that doesn’t matter. All I remember is that it had felt like they had been with us forever. It was hard to remember the days before they came to our family. I was six years old at the time and to me it was like they had always been there. Strangely, I remember well the day they left.

Their parting caused a sorrow that I don’t think my parents ever got over. They had lost their own baby son only a few years before. Mark wasn’t a replacement for him, not at all. But it was healing having a new baby boy to look after. When Mark and Rachel left, the grief became entrenched and their hearts could no longer deal with the goodbyes. They were the last children our family fostered.

When they told Rachel she had to go back to her parents, they knew it was going to break her heart and theirs, so they tried to put on a brave face and pretend it was going to be wonderful. The mask fell off pretty quickly. Rachel knew better.

Many years later I found Mark and Rachel by accident. I ran into them at a council run Christmas party for kids. Rachel was 17 and she remembered me. Mark was 11 and he couldn’t remember his time with us. But he was enthralled with me and wanted to know everything about himself as a baby. What did he look like, what did he say, what did he do. Everything. I sat with him for a few hours and filled in the blanks as best I could. But my own memory was hazy. I saw what made him smile and kept telling him more. Even though some of it was made up, just to make him happy. He was beautiful. Just like the baby boy I loved and played with many years ago, only more grown up and bigger.

I thought of them often. One day, about ten years later I heard someone calling my name. It was Rachel. She was a Mum now and had two gorgeous little girls. The one thing Rachel said to me that day sent me on my own journey of fostering years later.

“I remember our days with you. With your family. They’re the only good memories I have. When we went back home again it was terrible. The only memories I have of ever having a good parent was when we were with you, and that’s how I choose to raise my kids. It’s all I have, just those memories but they were nice, and that’s what I want for my kids too.”

The enormity of what I had just heard didn’t hit me until years later, when I realised there are some kids out there who never have good role models as parents, and they have to wing it themselves when it’s their turn to raise kids. It was my inspiration to become a foster parent myself.

Rachel went on to do well. She and her Husband raised her two beautiful girls and we kept in touch now and then. Life was much harder for Mark. He couldn’t remember being with us and he struggled to ever find his place in the world. He lived life without a single memory of a single day where he was happy as a child, and he found it almost impossible to fix that kind of hurt. How do you fix that? Never remembering a day of your own childhood where anyone ever showed you any kind of love? Never experiencing being loved.

Mark became homeless at around age 22. He was lost. He couldn’t remember being loved by a single person, so to him he was wasn’t worth loving. The simple notion of being loved was foreign to him and the torture of that chipped away at him until he found it harder and harder to remain connected to people. Mark struggled to accept his own worth because it didn’t fit with the image he had of himself. If there is no memory of something happening, how do you accept it as real? If there is no memory of anyone loving you as a human being, how do you accept as real that you can be loved?

Mark was on the streets for 4 years before he took his own life. He never hurt anyone. He kept to himself. Giving Mark a house couldn’t fix him. In the end I guess it was just too much. He simply couldn’t live any more with such a broken heart.

I see a lot of memes and posters going around Facebook with inspirational quotes and statements. But there is one that to me stands out as the most poignant of all. The one I wish all people would take notice of and apply to themselves. Because happy childhood or sad, this one is something that everyone can do.

“Be the person you needed when you were younger.”