Part V: Mackenzie and Her Chosen Family
Picking up where I left off as a new student at the University of Pennsylvania, besides experiencing a typical difficult adjustment to college life, I also felt this sense of shame and embarrassment of my whole background and aging out of foster care. I was so accustomed to everyone knowing every detail of my life and having no control over how my story was told. So, when I went to college, I felt very protective of my life and just didn’t talk about any of it.
Until I got a rare bone infection, and my roommate offered to call my parents when my doctors said I required urgent surgery.
“Ummmm, about that…”
So, for the first time, I had to explain to a few people that no one was coming. I also panicked because I have this internal turmoil about asking and accepting help. But I had to! I am having surgery and I will need help afterward.
I think when you grow up very fast as I did, you feel like you are the only one who is responsible for yourself and no one else is looking out for you, so you have to do it. At least that is what I felt. I didn’t want to be vulnerable. I was of the mindset, I’ve got this. I don’t need anyone else. I can’t rely on, or trust anyone, or let them in. They’re just going to disappoint or hurt me.
So, I’m going it alone.
That doesn’t work out very well. It doesn’t work out long term because we are human beings, and we all need help and support, and community. It honestly took a long time, almost five years now, but I have people in my life who love me unconditionally. Who see me and hear me. Who accept, support, and embrace me for exactly who I am. It is something I had never experienced. I didn’t know what it looked like until I met all of these people that are now my family, my chosen family.
In the end, it was a community that rallied around me. Two associate directors from Civic House just stepped up and said, ‘We are taking you to surgery and picking you up. We’re just doing it.’ Another acquaintance from Civic House canceled Thanksgiving plans with her family (she didn’t tell me that until years later!) to have me stay with her and help care for me after surgery.
I began to heal in ways that were more than physical.
Next up: Healing