My brother and I were both placed into foster homes at a young age. He was lucky—he went to a family called the Ripleys. I went through four different homes in three years, and each one was worse than the next. I’d get to see my brother every few months.
Ms. Ripley would take us for lunch at McDonalds, and that’s when she first noticed the scars all over my body. She immediately made arrangements for me to join their family. Back then the word ‘family’ didn’t mean much to me.
But the Ripleys made me feel welcome in their home. Whenever I did something wrong, Ms. Ripley would sit me down and explain why it wasn’t OK. But then she’d say: ‘You’re not going anywhere. Because you belong to us now.’
Shortly after I joined the family, Mr. Ripley was diagnosed with cancer. And later that year he passed away. Ms. Ripley’s entire world fell apart. They’d been high school sweethearts. And now she was alone with two foster kids.
Nobody would have blamed her for taking us back. But instead she took us to court and made it permanent. The three of us moved into a single wide trailer in Mississippi, and that’s where she raised us.
She worked whatever odd jobs she could find. We never had much, but we went to movies. We had family game nights. She kept us busy with little league and Boy Scouts. She must have been super stressed, but that’s not at all what I remember.
I just remember the affirmation that she gave me. It was always: ‘You’re smart.’ And ‘You’re handsome.’ And ‘You survived all that stuff because you’re strong.’ She cried when I joined the Marines, but she knew it was my best chance for a college education.
And eventually I graduated from law school. Last year I had a daughter of my own. And that really put me into an emotional tailspin. Because I realized how every little choice I make is going to affect her future.
And then I started thinking about how different my life could have been. Because my early development had been the opposite of what a child’s should be. I should be broken, but I’m not.
Because thirty years ago my Mom decided to keep me. And somehow, despite all her sadness and heartbreak, she poured enough love into me so that I could heal.
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