Before you read this post, please take a moment to read my short story on Coffee House Writers here.
Read it? Alright then. Let me take a deep breath. It’s time for me to get vulnerable with you. These emotions are weird and difficult for me.
This piece is fiction, but there are pieces of this story that are true. I left out parts. I toned it down. I changed names, places, and made up new people and circumstances. Hannah is fictional. My partner is my best friend, he would never abandon me, and is one of the most understanding human beings on this planet – don’t you dare think that this story is in any way about him. Time to clarify some things just in case.
What is based on truth is the public transportation incident that the main character experienced as well as other aspects of trauma. I’m unusual. There was never a time in my memory before vitiligo and for that I am grateful. I never experienced loss, though it has grown. When my parents first took me outside as an infant and I started to tan it was there. Family members talked. They knew it affected me, but when I heard the words “deformed” and “disfigured” I internalized it. Growing up in very remote areas of the United States, even today there are people that believe it is a mark of demonic possession or worse. Luckily, I have a loving amazing family.
The public transportation incident in the story is based on when I lived in San Francisco. In 2016, an elderly woman beat me with her cane during evening rush hour while yelling, “Leper,” and, “Stop Touching Me!” I was not touching her. No one said anything or stopped her, but they sure stared at me. I got out early and walked the rest of the way home. Try and imagine the terror of being beaten in public by an old woman in front of a crowded light rail train car in rush hour while no one said a word. You there yet? Cool.
I didn’t include every example of vitiligo changing what someone saw or how they acted toward me in the story. I have been refused service at restaurants because they didn’t want a “leper” touching their plates or tables (this happened in Niagara Falls, ON). Questions like “when were you in a fire?” or later, after years of working in laboratories, “were you in an accident?” are always a fun time. These are the examples that come to mind.
This has been my whole life. And I’m white. Imagine what it would be like for someone with darker skin than mine. Indeed, one review mentioned, “In a study of 53 [vitiligo] patients in India, major depressive disorder was reported in 57% of patients, social phobia in 68%, and suicidal ideation in 28% (high risk 8%; low risk 21%). These findings stress the need for psychological and/or psychiatric intervention (Ramakrishna and Rajni, 2014). Papadopoulos et al. (Papadopoulos et al., 1999) reported that counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy could improve self-esteem, body image, and overall QoL [Quality of Life] in patients with vitiligo.”
Now, let’s flip vitiligo to any other visible disfigurement or disability a child internalizes as being their fault because it impacts a child’s life significantly. It’s your turn to help a kid with a completely different life face that internalization and you’re thinking of becoming involved in foster care like I am. There are additional realities that you need to face. Over 35% of children in foster care have a parent with a substance abuse disorder and have been exposed to substances. Given the age range that my partner and I are looking to foster with intent to adopt, the reality is that our future foster children will likely have been exposed (directly or indirectly) to alcohol, methamphetamine, benzodiazepines and/or opioids at some point. They could have addictions of their own. One study suggests that kids that have been through foster care will develop substance abuse issues later in life if they don’t do so while in the foster care system. It’s complicated.
We’re not looking for a perfect child. We will love a child with an addiction – even if it was a choice of coping mechanism in the moment or however it started. We already love people with addictions. They aren’t broken and they can be successful if given the support they need.
Readers don’t like ugly stories and I get it. The world is ugly enough as it is. They don’t like thinking about the fact that therapeutic foster care homes are severely underfunded. But here’s the thing, foster care produces brilliant minds if given the chance, and, as a reminder, here’s a list of successful people that survived the American foster care system. Any names look familiar? Steve Jobs? Colin Kaepernick? I have met successful doctors, scientists, and lawyers that fought their way to where they are now through this underfunded system. I love people from this system and look forward to loving more of them.
Want to help make change? Donate your time as a mentor or become a foster parent. Respite care can be for anything from a couple hours to a couple days and helps kids in foster care and families within your community that may need temporary childcare. Mentoring involves spending time with a kid to provide them with a role model and someone to spend time with. Multiple organizations, such as the Boys and Girls Club and Big Brother Big Sister offer mentoring opportunities. CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) is a great way to support children going through the legal system – a terrifying process for kids. Before donating money, look to your local community first.
Anyways – this story is dedicated to an incredible young person named Olivia. There’s my soapbox. I’ll get back to writing my short stories and book reviews. These emotion things are weird.