It was something like February 25th, the day after my 18th birthday, and my Mom had given me 100 bucks. I remember being in the car, smoking weed with a few friends, headed to Venice beach. We were on the way to the tattoo parlor so I could get my first tattoo.
The tattoo wasn’t planned. The idea was not pre-meditated, and neither were many of the ideas I possessed during that period of my life. My foster Mom of 12 years had given up guardianship two years prior because of my drug abuse. Even my friends paused for a moment when I told them I was going to “commit” to being stoned for the rest of my life. I think even the tattoo artist was shocked at the idea.
Six years clean, I sit at the dinner table of the student apartment I occupy. My roommates are in eyesight, and no one’s smoking weed. Mentally, I’m sound. Physically, I’m fit. Emotionally, I’m opening up. The tattoo remains. Whenever someone asks me if I’d cover up the Forever Faded, I tell ‘em “no.” Forever Faded is a testament to my past, a real reminder of the suffering and struggles that I went through as a using drug addict. Forever Faded is a reminder of my past reality, which at one point was headed towards destruction.
I don’t pay much attention to the tattoo these days. I rarely think about it unless the shirt I’m wearing has short sleeves, and I catch someone else’s eyes looking at it. At points like these I feel exposed… vulnerable. I know they want to ask about it, and I wish they would. They should. It’s okay to inquire. Ask me. I’d love to talk about it.
Two Months Before My 18th Birthday is an interview with Angel-Lee Woolsey, who has two objects in “Lost Childhoods,” an exhibit of Foster Youth Museum.
You have an unusual object in the museum. Can you tell me about it? Yes, I donated a piece of Monopoly money with a phone number on it. When I was young, I lived in Mexico and my grandmother took care of me. Years later when things weren’t going well, I talked with her by phone from the US. I knew my life was changing forever and had this feeling that I wasn’t going to speak with her again. I grabbed a piece of Monopoly money from my floor and wrote down her number. You’ll see it even has the country code for Mexico.
Why did you keep this paper for so many years?
I kept it with me because it was a reminder of the life I had before. It was a connection to the family I had before foster care and to my life before it changed completely. Oddly enough, I even memorized the number and to this day know it by heart. Once I donated the piece of paper to the museum, I felt a sense of letting go.
What do you want people to understand when they see your object in the museum?
I want people to know that you don’t have much in foster care and something so small can mean so much. This paper and phone number stand for connection and what’s possible.
You also have a photo in the museum.
Yes, that’s a photo of my adoptive mom and me. It was taken on the day of my adoption – two months before my 18th birthday.
Our friends at Braid Mission recently visited the Museum of Lost Childhoods to better understand the experiences of youth in foster care. One photo in particular stirred this spiritual community to action: A photo of youth spending Christmas Day in her group home. See what the Braid Mission did next.