Aquarianne is expecting me, so before I have the chance to knock, she opens the door with wide eyes and a broad smile. The radio is playing from inside, sweeping music across the floors and ceilings. A small child pops out from behind her mother’s leg. If I had any expectations before meeting her, I knew she was about to exceed all of them.
Aquarianne lost her father when she was 11. Her mother was an absent figure, sick with addiction and hopelessly unable to give her children a home. Aquarianne, never able to grieve the death of her father, locked all her sadness and confusion inside. “Kin-care” is a common step before foster care, so Aquarianne and her brother were sent to live with their older sister and her new husband. Their new environment turned chaotic and unhealthy fast and shortly after they moved in, the sister sent the two children to live with a foster family. “Having to leave there was one of the best things that ever happened to me,” Aquarianne says. She no longer speaks to her sister.
Aquarianne’s “favorite” foster home was in Brooklyn, NY, where she lived with her brother. Her foster mother was strict but caring; a “mother figure” or wise “aunt” as she liked her kids to view her. Aquarianne does not forget how it felt to be accepted into a stranger’s home. The unfamiliar sense of safety and the notion of being valuable were slowly introduced. Aquarianne and her foster mother remain in contact.
Aquariannne met adolescence with curious rebellion. From the ages of 15-17 she became familiar with the culture of a Group Home, where she was sent to live on three separate occasions. Aquarianne admits it was her darkest time. “I could have easily gone the wrong way,” she says, remembering the day when “I just decided to pick myself up and make something of myself.” Determination had her graduate from high school on time. Resilience helped her keep a job. Her dreams kept her going.
On Aquarianne’s 18th birthday, the state gave her a soft push from the foster care system. At 18 years old, Aquarianne was officially aged out. After high school, with the help of financial aid loans (which she is still paying off), she attended Queensborough Community College. It was there that she tapped into her passion for the performing arts and met her current partner and father of her daughter and unborn child. She talks of her resolve to graduate from college on time, recalling, “One semester I took 17 credits.” That same inspiration led her to attend a final exam on the day before she gave birth. She earned her college degree – an accomplishment that at one time seemed unfathomable. Now 21, she continues to prove that nothing is out of her reach.
Aquarianne is currently enrolled at a trade school and will be certified in October 2011 as a CNA (Certified Nurse’s Assistant). Without pause she will return to school and get her RN (Registered Nurse) license. She has been living in an apartment in Rockville Centre, Long Island for almost one year and is saving as much money as she can so that she can buy a house one day—“maybe in Brooklyn.” The fact that she sometimes has to go weeks without email or days without a phone (“You have to prioritize your bills,” she explains) does not bring her down. She tells me her daughter will begin dance classes in a couple years and swimming when she is four or five (Aquarianne never learned to swim and she wants her children to know how).
Aquarianne takes the soft hand of her daughter and they follow me to the door. We say our goodbyes. This young woman has shared her struggles with me has touched me on a level no one ever has. Her strength, her spirit and her drive are inspirational beyond anything I have known personally. We can all learn from her bravery in defying history; in proving history does not always have to repeat.
*Aquarianne and her family receive help from the Nassau County Homelessness Prevention & Rapid Re-Housing (HPRP) pilot program. The program helps Aquarianne and other aged-out foster youth like her with housing subsidies.