Driving Me to Think

“Andrew” was very eager to get home and so was frustrated by the rush-hour traffic that we had no choice but to sit in. He had just gotten off work at a chain restaurant where his current position was “Hostess. I used to work in the kitchen but now I’m a hostess.” I loved that he used the word ‘hostess’ automatically, un-ironically, and without the slightest qualm. Hostess is simply what the person who greets you as you enter a restaurant is called, and that was Andrew’s job.

Andrew was also dismayed by how expensive rents are in the area. He told me, with the confidence that comes only from true naïveté, what size apartment he would be able to afford with his current wages. But because he was just a teenager, things like groceries, his ride-share fees, internet, personal hygiene, and countless other things that had always just been there when he needed or wanted them, did not occur to him would also have to be accounted for in his future budgeting. And Andrew’s need for budgeting was approaching all too rapidly.

“I’m a foster kid” he finally revealed, adding that he would age out of the foster care system in less than six months. He was simultaneously optimistic and terrified about what he should do to prepare. One thing he knew for certain was that he wanted to complete his GED. “I just want to work!” he had previously stated, as if the two were mutually exclusive. I interpreted his fervent desire to work to be the reason he had left high school; he needed to start preparing for the day he would instantly become responsible for his own well-being. I couldn’t help thinking of the final Harry Potter book, and how the instant Harry turned 17 he would no longer have the blood protection, however perfunctory, of his only known living relative, from Voldemort and the Death Eaters.

Andrew had a lot of ideas about the next steps he would take. One was to live with his biological father, who had suggested that Andrew move in with him and that the two live together as roommates. Andrew didn’t seem too keen on that notion, but wasn’t ruling it out. He did seem pretty set on Job Corps, which he pronounced “ job corpse”. I did not correct his pronunciation because I was certain he had never actually heard the word spoken and had only read it. I also privately thought that Job Corps was, in his case, a good plan and that he was the perfect candidate for it.

Still, it was clear that Andrew was completely overwhelmed — and with good reason — so I asked if he had anyone he could talk to, anyone who could help him figure out the best path to take; because let’s face it: the kid had some awfully big decisions to make and he shouldn’t have had to make them on his own. He said he could call his social worker any time, and I felt a little sad to hear that. Did Andrew not have any other adults in his life he felt comfortable talking to? Talking to me was fine and I certainly didn’t mind offering a smattering of advice when it seemed appropriate. But ultimately I was just a stranger whose words, however empathetic, he would undoubtedly forget the instant he stepped out of my car.

Without knowing it, Andrew answered my internal concern as he went on to describe his foster father. Though Andrew was quick to acknowledge that the man was not abusive in the way we tend to hear about foster parents, Foster Dad was nevertheless, according to Andrew, “not a good dad”. There were six other boys living in the house where Andrew himself had been living for three years, all younger than Andrew. Apparently Foster Dad had never spent any of the monthly entitlement each boy is allocated by the state on any of the boys themselves. “I’ve had to buy my own clothes, my own shoes…” Andrew raged. Foster Dad did cover the basics like groceries and transportation, school fees, etc. But when it came to personal items like wardrobe, hobbies, or particular interests, Foster Dad consistently nixed every request.

Andrew believed Foster Dad was using the boys’ money to fund his multiple real estate ventures, citing as Exhibit A Foster Dad’s half dozen bank accounts. I asked Andrew if he had reported Foster Dad to his case manager, social worker, et al. Andrew said that he had, more than once in fact, but that the state won’t investigate Foster Dad, who has been a certified/registered foster parent for more than 20 years. “Even if they do it won’t help me” Andrew added. “I’ll be gone”.