Shooting for the Moon, Taking My Place Among the Stars

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Anyone who truly knows me knows I'm not a very emotional person. They'll know I don't like expressing how I feel or how much I care. But here I go.

You all were more than just friends; you were more than family. I don't know where I would be or what I would be doing or if I'd even be alive right now if it weren't for the incredible people I met during those Thursday night writing circles at InsideOUT Writers every week. IOW is a writing program in Los Angeles for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated youth. I first became a part of the program in 2015, but it’s been more than just a program.

Whether in the confines of juvenile hall or at the program’s office in central Los Angeles, I found a safe space at IOW where I wasn’t attacked for being myself but where I could fit in, even if I considered myself a misfit. It was also a space where I could feel some support for who I am and what I have to say, and through which I realized my love for writing and how to express my true self in a healthy way. But now, I’ve got to let it go.

Earlier this summer, I was thrown out of my transitional housing when I stood up for my rights. I had something extremely valuable stolen from me, and neither the thief nor the staff were held accountable. I refused to just be silent about the matter, which led to losing my housing and having nowhere to sleep until Ryan, an older mentor at IOW, offered to let me crash at his place. Ryan eventually also helped me get that transitional housing program shut down, along with the help of some other amazing InsideOUT Writers who I was fortunate to meet.

Apart from Ryan, J-Wu, Judy C., Taylor B., Alyssa and many others from IOW are the sole reason I got through my hard times because they never left my side. Goodbyes always hurt the most when they're directed to the people who mean the most to you, and I can't stand goodbyes, so there aren't going to be any here.

This piece is just a way that I can truly thank those who have helped me along my way, who helped me laugh, who gave me a chance when no one else would and who would just let me be me no matter how crazy my outfit or hair or makeup was.

This December, I will be moving to Pennsylvania to be closer to my dad and my brother. I won't be able to attend any writing circles or laugh with my good friends for awhile. I wish I could stay, but things have gotten increasingly difficult for me in California.

Although after Ryan’s place I found another living situation, it turned out to be unsafe for me, similarly to the transitional housing debacle. I’ve been threatened by multiple people there and have been treated like a doormat by people who I once thought cared about me. I’ve also lost sleep from worries of waking up to something I'm allergic to spreading around my room, and I'm tired of people treating me like I’m invisible and having them not call me by my name.

Most of all, I'm tired of being treated like the enemy when I stand up for myself and what I believe in. I’m vegan, for example, and if it’s hard enough to be vegan outdoors, it’s even more difficult when you live with people who don’t respect you or your needs.

This is what makes the people at IOW that much more valuable. Thank you for not judging my crazy antics and for being people I could trust. I don't think I would ever be able to really say goodbye to people who mean so much to me, so this isn't goodbye. It’s just a see you later.

Moreover, I will be back soon enough because I am still Berkeley Bound. And though I wish I could stay a little longer, I understand it's time for me to walk down a new road to meet new people and continue to grow.

I want to make sure that the friends and family I made at IOW know one thing: No one can take your place, and I will find my way back. I used to believe that promises were made to be broken, but I'm going to make a promise that will be etched into my heart and soul: I will see you all again, even if I have to walk days and nights to do so.

And don't forget about me, either, because I could never forget any of you. You’re a huge part of my happiness and success, and you will always be the reason I smile and laugh, and the reason I wake up with a sense of hope that today is going to be better than yesterday.

If there’s anything else to be learned from this experience, it’s that many of the people in California’s transitional housing and foster care system only care about money; they don't care about the wellbeing or safety of their tenants, because the only people they know how to look out for are themselves and their contracts.

With programs like IOW, on the other hand, I found a community where I was appreciated, even if I wasn’t always the easiest person to be in the room with. I’ve pushed away many people, but for those who kept coming back even after I screamed at them to leave me alone, I won’t forget it. Every time I fell, I was lifted up again.

And I’m thankful for these experiences, because now I know to shoot for the moon since even when I fall, I’ll land among the stars. I love you all.

Rose M., 19, is a California girl preparing for her first winter out East. When she’s not working or going to school, she likes to root for her favorite superhero, Batman.