Monday, October 13, 2008

"My future is flying toward me"

After spending much of her life in foster care, Star Diaz turns 21 this month--and will have to make a home of her own
New York Times Upfront, Sept. 22, 2008.

Whenever my parents come up in a conversation, I want to lie. I want to say all of us live together in one big house. My mother sings while she's folding laundry. My father watches TV. And my brothers and sisters are always in my room, taking my things.

But the truth is, when I was 13 years old, my father killed my mother at a motel in New York City. The six youngest of my eight brothers and sisters were adopted, and I don't know where they are. The last time I saw them was when we buried my mom.

My oldest sister, Jeanette, and I grew up in different foster homes, but we're close now. Jeanette, who's 26, knows how to move on and plan for her future. She works as a home health aide and makes sure her kids look good for school.

But I feel like I'm stuck in the past, while my future is flying toward me. I'm about to age out of foster care, when I turn 21 on September 27. At that point, I have to move out of my current foster home--the sixth foster home I've been in since I was 7.

Growing up without your mother and father, you ask yourself all the time: Where do I belong? Who loves me? You just never stop asking yourself those questions.

To me, it meant something to belong to somebody, even if my parents weren't perfect. My mother and father drank a lot. My father was a boxer in Puerto Rico and turned his fists on my mother and on us. The truth is, I would forgive anyone, even my father, if it meant they would just come through for me.

My caseworker told me a lot of foster kids end up in homeless shelters when they age out of the system. And if she was trying to scare me, I'm feeling it.

The thing is, when I try to imagine having a home--with comfy leather sofas, a fluffy bed, and lots of food in my fridge--it seems like a fantasy. It just doesn't seem real.

One night, I walked by the hotel for homeless people where I once stayed with my mother. I realized I do not want to end up there, so I have to pull myself together and focus on the future.

Last spring, I got a chance to tell my story on the radio. After my story aired, a listener called in and said she wanted to hire me. So now, four days a week after my G.E.D. program, I do clerical work at a law firm in New York.

Having the job means long days and not much time for fun. But it also means I'm eligible for public housing when I leave foster care. This summer, I got my own apartment, and I hope that will be the first step in getting my life on track.

This essay is adapted from Star Diaz's story for Radio Rookies, a series produced by WNYC Radio in New York.

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