I met my mentor when I was 17 years old. At the time, I didn’t realize how vital our relationship would be for my growth. I knew adoption was not the right choice for me. However, I didn’t learn until later that I still needed permanent connections to thrive and be healthy. Isolation is not a way for anyone to live, and without the right support system, life can feel isolating.
My 18th birthday was the first time I had celebrated my birthday in years. It was a hard day for me because I was transitioning into extended foster care that day. So I went from work to pick up my luggage, which contained a few changes of clothes, two pots, one pan, and all the food I had. I wasn’t sure if I would get through the day until my mentor walked into my job and handed me flowers. She said some birthdays would be spent working, but that I will always have someone there to greet me and say “Happy Birthday” each year from now on.
Knowing I was no longer alone gave me the strength to do the unknowable. My mentor helped me move into my first place, and we got celebratory sushi afterward. Sometimes I’d push her away because I was not used to having someone care about me. She never gave up on me and taught me to accept love and support. She is my first phone call whenever I make a big decision. Our relationship has long surpassed mentor-and-mentee status — she has become family to me. Suddenly, a word that used to be so painful is a word that now brings comfort. Growing up, when I thought of the word family, I thought of chaos. I now had a family I could rely on. Family that I hang out with every couple of weeks, and grab dinner with whenever our schedules align.
Over the years, our relationship evolved as I went from operating out of a place of trauma to living on my own and thriving. We have mandatory dates where we switch between sushi or Mexican food, where sometimes it’s just us or accompanied by her family, who I adore. Whether we go on grocery runs together, get our nails done, or read through a new lease I’m about to sign, she always shows up for me.
She has also taught me how to show up for other people in my life, prioritize what’s important, and even how to check in for a flight for the first time. When I was 18 and she took me out to eat, I tried to pay, and she said, “When you get your first big girl job as a lawyer, maybe I will let you pay.” And since then, whenever I’m struggling in school, I think about that conversation and remember that people in my life believe in me. Despite everything I have been through, I consider myself blessed to have a real connection.