You’ve been gone 16 days. I’m surprised by this number, the same as your age, the sum of your years around the sun. Time stood still after you left, the way time does when our lives tilt off their axis. Some of your things are still in your room, tucked in your closet, hiding away still, as I imagine you’ve also been tucked away, hidden from sight by the powers that be. Your Mexican blanket that we bought at the festival in September still covers the bed. Its colors remind me of bright days, you walking to the car after school with a scowl or a grin on your face. There was never any warning what your countenance would hold, if you would come home holding a storm in your pockets and tears in your fists. Some days, your lips would form a smile, showing that crooked front tooth, and I could see myself in your eyes.

We told you that nothing you could do would change our love for you, that you were our daughter. We loved you quickly and fiercely. You loved us too, perhaps you still do. You opened your arms to a thousand hugs, and I poured the well of my soul into you, hoping to heal wounds long since buried. But there was a man, and he had chocolates and a curl on his forehead and he understood the places you’d been in ways I will never comprehend. You were a girl who waited each year on your birthday for your father to come, the candles burning into pastel puddles on the cake. So when a man did come, and he brought gifts you’ve waited a lifetime to receive, there was no holding you with us any longer.

Sweet girl, I warned you with all of the fierceness I’m allowed, as a foster mom. I could see you were headed to brokenness, that you were drowning in your need to receive love from someone that could seal over your cracks. You were drowning, allowing a man to tie anchors to your heels, and I could not hold you above the surface. I failed to keep you safe, and you failed yourself, and now we are left with whispers of memories and tangerine perfume wafting from your bed. We are left with a stuffed dog and a calendar and a new fondness for Romeo Santos’s greatest hits. I hope that you took with you a vision of what family can be and a desire to create stability, to not run when things get easy. You were my little runaway bunny, my conejito, in more ways than one. Skittish, fast-moving, you often preferred the darkness to the light. But there was a softness to you, and a strength, an adaptability that I know will serve you well.

Even with my gifts from God that often allow me to sense what the future holds, I can’t fathom what will become of you. I’m terrified of where you are, that the place where you are being held will change who you are until there is nothing left of my Flower, my laughing girl. If I am honest, I have to say that the last month with you was hard. It was too hard. I ran out of ways to love you, to show you safety and guidance. Maybe you were pulling away. Maybe we both were, sensing what was afoot. I know you felt so much guilt over the deceptions you practiced, and guilt was at war with your affection for me. Guilt and love can’t live in the same house, they war too much with one another.

I remember the day you came to me asking for the hair clippers. A bad hair day was frustrating you, and shaving your head seemed like a viable option. It took some convincing to change your mind, allowing me to give you a trim while you brooded, silent under the weight of your untameable curls. To break the mood, I threw you on my back and hurled us both into the cold pool, laughing and freezing as we broke the surface. I knew you couldn’t swim, but I wanted the water to make us new again. Now, I only wish I’d known how to carry you away to safety from the storm that was brewing, how to break the ties that were beginning to bind. We shared my favorite lipstick, but what never rubbed off on you was self-love. You were a fighter, Florita, your biggest opponent your own past traumas, and there isn’t an ocean large enough to wash away that much fear and shame.

I don’t know how much you think about what is to come, what your life will metamorphosis into. Perhaps the rigorous, never-bending schedule where you are secreted away leaves no time for rumination. I think about it enough for both of us. Sometimes, at night I lie awake, picturing you as a mother, a student, a lawyer, all the things that together, we dreamt for you. My thoughts can’t help but stray to the things I fear, though. For you to climb out of the places you’ve been is a superhuman feat, and I understand all too well the pull to remain where you are, safe with the devil you know. There is still the possibility that you will return to us, although truthfully I am a little afraid that we might end back up where we left off, that wholeness may be unattainable if you aren’t able to leave your defiance behind. Yet part of me sees you walking back in the door, smiling at the smell of roast simmering on the stove. We will cross that bridge if we come to it, I suppose.

What I hope is that where you are, there is the help you need. The right professionals, with pure hearts and unjaded eyes will steer you back to the light. What I fear is that the System will crush your strong spirit into finite pieces and throw your petals into the wind. Perhaps somewhere in the middle is what will become of you, of your infinite black eyes and carefully guarded faith. I always told you that you can never, ever give up. You promised to one day share your story. Your story is of a young girl, unable to swim, crossing a great river on a raft in the dark of night. What you are too young to know is you are still in that river, and your only life preserver is yourself. It is still the dark of a hot August night, and you are not yet to the other side. You are smart enough to know that if you can make it to land, you still must run through a snake-filled desert. And you are brave enough, daughter of my heart, to find your way.

You are always, always loved-

Mama Foster