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The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

When life gives you lemons, make orange juice and leave the world wondering how the hell you did it

America DeFleur, staff writer for The Express (photo: [email protected])

My name is America. I am a former foster youth, self-published author, wife, mother, writer, student and guardian to the coolest teenagers I know.

A few years ago, I went through an isolation event that felt really similar to what COVID-19 has brought on. I stayed inside all the time. I was depressed, sad, lonely and constantly hurting. I had dealt with all of these emotions and traumas my entire life, but I had no idea how to handle them. Instead of reaching out for help or looking for advice, I pushed people away and did the bare minimum to get through each day.

I come from a background of trauma, abuse and neglect. I emancipated from foster care when I was 18 years old and became homeless soon after. I bounced around for almost a year until I settled down with a boyfriend who took me off the streets. We created a family, and, soon after that, I was working meaningless jobs to get by each day.

Growing up, I was always told that I would never amount to anything. I believed it because I heard it every day. Most of the time, I told myself that was because I’d grown so accustomed to that message. I did exactly what people told me I would do—nothing. I had no dreams or aspirations. I had no idea where I was going to be in a month, a year or even five years. But if growing up in the foster care system taught me anything, it was that I never wanted my children to experience what I went through.

When I became pregnant, I knew it was time for a change. So I made a vow to give my daughter the best life that I could. But for years, I struggled and felt as if I had accomplished nothing. I became exhausted just trying to make ends meet. I lost motivation and one too many jobs. I could never seem to find stability in every aspect of my life. I was always angry, upset, sad or confused.

After a few difficult life experiences — failing to adopt my niece, trying to reconnect with my family and losing people close to me to drugs — I found myself feeling alone and decided that I was tired of living in constant pain. I didn’t have the emotional strength to get through my day. I convinced myself that my daughter would be better off without me and that my husband didn’t need me — especially after finding him in another woman’s arms.

My relationships struggled, my marriage fell apart, and my life was completely upside down. I became a terrible angry and sad person that I didn’t even recognize. After a suicide attempt, I realized that I needed to change things, but I didn’t know how.

So, for the next few months, I sat down and wrote every thought, feeling and emotion I could summon. I struggled in life but thrived in writing. Writing gave me the ability to organize my thoughts, emotions and overall perspective on life. I didn’t realize it, but I was emotionally exhausted and damaged. There was a part of me that didn’t know that I was capable of healing.

It wasn’t until a few months later that I realized how much writing helped me feel better. Not only that, but I also had a story to share. I had experiences that made me who I was. Though I didn’t quite see the transformation while it was happening, I saw an ending that was brighter than any future I had ever pictured.

To my surprise, I wrote a book, and it was honestly one of the best things I had ever done for myself. I didn’t have anyone to guide me or teach me anything while putting my book together. I just sat down and focused on what brought me joy and what made me wake up each day and work towards something. I found what I was passionate about. It was a complete fluke, but I found it. It felt completely selfish, but I knew that I needed to write because of how therapeutic it was, so I wrote all the time.

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Some of us already know what we love to do. Others need time to find out what it is. For the most part, what helped me find myself was trying a little bit of everything until something just stuck. Writing helped me find my voice. And with that, I knew that I needed to share my story. There was just something inside me that demanded to be heard, so I gave my story a name, organized chapters and figured out how to turn my words into a book.

The process for getting my thoughts onto paper and then printed was extremely long. I failed multiple times before I had a physical copy in my hand. But the one thing I didn’t do was give up. I kept pushing and found people to help throughout the process. 

Eventually, I watched the first few pages of my book print off a big hunk of metal that looked like a time machine. The result: a newly pressed book I titled “Dandelion.” I watched my story unfold, and I wanted to share it with the world, giving a voice to the voiceless. The most amazing part of my journey was not that I wrote a book. Hundreds of people publish books every day, so that wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. What amazed me was the journey that led to publishing that book.

I met people along the way who are now my friends. I met a librarian at the local library who helped me bring my book into existence. He happened to be a foster dad who had fostered children with his wife for over 10 years before I met him. He taught me about the difference between the self-publishing process and traditionally published books. My first copy was printed on a machine at the downtown Sacramento Central Library.

Newly published book in hand, I went on television. I met some amazing people who run foster care agencies and help youth transition into adulthood. Instead of becoming homeless, the young people learned life skills and received opportunities that I never had. I met so many other amazing, former foster youth who were working in productive parts of society. Most people I knew never really “made it out.”

In 2020, I won a director’s scholarship to attend a writing conference in San Francisco and started working at a foster care agency. I signed up to finish my associate degree in Journalism at City College which was something I never thought I was capable of doing because I never felt smart enough. I missed so much school growing up that I even struggle with the basics today. Things like helping my daughter complete her fifth-grade homework present me with daily challenges, but every day I wake up and choose to learn.

Choosing a different path wasn’t easy. It never will be, and I expect that there will be days that I still struggle, but this life that I’ve created is exactly what I want it to be. The most amazing part of finding myself through writing has been, hands down, how far I’ve come to be the person that I am today. I’ve learned over time that I am capable of so much more than I gave myself credit for.

Sometimes we let fear hold us back from our true potential. This fear prevents us from really diving into who we are capable of becoming; it stunts our growth. Musician Tyrese Gibson says it perfectly, “We grow through what we go through.” Difficulties show us that we can overcome, achieve and conquer. No matter what you’re struggling with, there is always something better to look forward to. 

Life is never easy. It’s not meant to be. In fact, what makes life beautiful is the happiness and strength that we find between those difficulties. This past year has been challenging for all of us in different ways. Some of us have lost loved ones, jobs, housing and more. Others have struggled with depression, anxiety, unable to leave our homes without feeling as though we’re gearing up for an apocalypse. Food supply has run low, money is tight, and the world just isn’t what it used to be. 

Right now we are living through history. Twenty years from now we’ll be able to tell our children, “Yes, I was there when COVID-19 happened. And here’s my story.”

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