The commuter train carrying more than a million people in and out of one of the world’s largest hubs, Penn Station, barreled nearly through my living room, every 27 minutes on the dot most of my life. It was on the overcrowded cars of that train that I found solace and safety amidst strangers. I would sit for hours on the cars of the train and look desperately for a connection to anyone. Would a passing face be a relative? The loud drunk in the corner, the shaking woman stretched out across three seats, the well-dressed business man, the pervert in the corner? All of these were possibilities, as I lived only a few miles from the transient mother I was taken away from only years before when I was put in foster care.
I sensed her presence at times in the face of strangers and her passing shadow followed me as I grew into a young woman. Her violent memory, all of those unanswered questions, were with me as I first fell in love, when I felt the confusion of life’s perversions, when I felt scared, when I was physically in danger; to me it felt my heart was always in danger. I felt her presence at the fear of a foster brother who lurked in my bedroom at night, I wished for her comfort many times. And to no avail.
Once my last court date came and went, at about age 10, and my real mother vanished, I spent a lot of time disconnected from my new parents, who would die a few years later. I wandered for many years if I would ever feel any type of connection to anything or anyone.
I was on the outside looking in, like I was watching a television show for most of my young life. But, the smell of a man on the train would instantly remind me of what I thought a father would be; strong, masculine, bringing security, comfort, protection. I found all of that in men I saw holding their little ones hand, being careful not to trip in the gap between the train cars.
I sought comfort in the men I felt embodied this image of a father; older, stronger men that offered a sense of safety as I grew into a woman. They satisfied my need for protection, excitement, passion, need and connection. Albeit temporary. I reveled in the feel of a roughly shaved face scratching my mouth, the strength of a man towering over me, the sense that they were proud of me.
I was always on the outside looking in, and men or boys my age could not offer me the figurehead I needed. As I look back, it was a desperate attempt to be loved by a man, like all girls should be by a father. Many foster children search for these missing parent figures in intimate partners. Friendships and intimacy are even more complex when there is no foundation or model, good or bad, to emulate.
The only real friend I had lived a very normal family life. She had parents and arguments and memories. Her bedroom was a museum to years of memories, loyalty, safety, commitment. I attached myself to their family and tried to morph myself into their family tree. My graduation photos adorned their walls. I clung desperately to their traditions and secretly was very envious of her familial life. My time in her warm living room comforted me.
The day I became I mother, instantly that connection I missed seemed regained. All of my emptiness became an upswelling of love when I became a mother. I truly pour my heart into every day with her. I made sure that mini me will never have to search on a dusty train for part of herself.
Still, that disconnected part of myself sometimes gets caught on the hinge of intimacy, or safety, or security. Most former foster children, even successful ones who finish their education, are wonderful parents, can still be knocked back into a feeling of isolation or fear if abuse was part of their past.
At some point, we all accept our past, we can move on from it, but those early experiences are almost like a warning light in the back of my mind. When I love, will I be good enough? Will I be left with nothing? Will my daughter always need me? Will I ever sleep at night without thinking someone is in the shadows? I am not sure. I do know that the puzzle makes me work harder at anything I do or attempt. It helps me love deeper, more truly. It makes me want to improve the world somehow.
It makes me look in the face of my blue-eyed angel and feel that all of the pain, physical and emotional, brought me to have this beautiful miniature me, the best part of me.
I am not sure what I was meant to do, or be, or even what fate has in store, but I was meant to be her mother. And never having my own mother, father, or any semblance of normalcy, that is a gift. It is the connection on the musty train that I looked for long ago. Security and safety in my heart could be just around the corner or at the next stop.
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