My son graduated from Arizona State University this week!
I know what you’re thinking. Why, isn’t that nice! But it means so much more than that, and it’s not because he’s my kid. Mostly, it’s because many people assumed Troy would never graduate from high school, let alone an institution of higher learning.
Now, with Troy’s permission, I will explain.
I’ve written about the fact that I became a mom later in life, my children coming to me in a couple of different ways, but in Troy’s case through the foster care system. My parental journey began one summer when a child in one of my classes phoned and told me he’d been placed in the care of the state and that no one was feeding him. I was understandably appalled and quickly found myself attending foster mom school so he could come and live with me. Shortly thereafter, the small, frightened 15-year-old boy arrived at my door. Since that time, five young people have lived in my home, some of whom still call me Mom, Troy among them.
Troy’s story, like the ones all my children carry with them, is depressing. His mother died when he was two. With no father around, he was taken in by his grandmother who, though no one knew it at the time, was in the beginning stages of dementia. When Troy began running around and acting like a little boy, his grandmother couldn’t cope, so he was medicated to make him more manageable. He was then placed in special education programs.
I remember the day we met. This blond, blue-eyed boy sat by my desk as I tried to ascertain what he was doing in my remedial reading class.
“Your test results show you read at the level of a college freshman,” I said, peering at the scores on my computer screen. “What are you doing here?”
“I don’t know.” He shrugged and smiled.
I tried to move him into a more suitable class, but the counselors refused to change his schedule, insisting Troy was a special education student—he was diagnosed as autistic— and so must belong in a reading class. For the rest of the year, I provided him with upper-level reading material, so he wouldn’t get bored.
At that point, Troy had been in foster care for about three years. After his grandmother suffered a heart attack, and his myriad aunts and uncles refused to take him in, he’d been placed in the system. Troy would, by his own account, live in ten different homes, most of the group variety, where, let’s be honest, children are housed because a paycheck from the state follows wherever they go.
Then, near the end of his sophomore year, a miracle occurred. A young couple wanted to take him in. Why was this so astonishing? Almost no one wants to open their home to teenagers. It’s those perfect little infants people want, not complicated teens with lots of baggage. The idea of a mom and a dad was intoxicating for Troy, as he’d never had either, so he jumped at the chance. I remember feeling sad when he told me he was leaving. I can still see him walking out of my classroom for what I thought was the last time.
About a year and a half later, as I was giving a lecture, he reappeared in the doorway, though he had changed dramatically. Troy had clearly been ill. He’d gained weight. He looked lost. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking on the track behind the high school. He explained that he’d learned his mother had committed suicide, a piece of information that had been kept from him. He’d suffered a nervous breakdown upon hearing the news and the family he lived with said they no longer wanted him. He was placed in a mental institution, where he was heavily medicated. After a few weeks, he was fine. He’d suffered a personal trauma—like anyone who’d lost a loved one—and was ready to leave the hospital.
But there was a problem. No one wanted Troy. And the state had nowhere to put him. So, they just left him there. For three months! In a mental institution! On our walk that day, he explained that he’d recently been placed in a residential living facility for unwanted teens who had aged out of the system. Later, when I visited that crumbling two-story building, I was appalled by the living conditions in what had once been 1960s-era hotel and heart-broken by the lost-looking young people who lived there.
The only good thing was that Troy resided about a mile from my home. Over the next few months, my partner Ryan and I would periodically invite him to dinner. Eventually, we all decided that Troy should live with me. As he’d been hospitalized during his senior year in high school, he’d never graduated, so I signed him up at my school. He quit taking all those prescription drugs he’d been on since he was four, and Ryan and I—standing in as Mom and Dad—proudly watched him graduate.
Despite this, his biological family kept trying to have him declared legally incompetent so he could collect disability checks from the government. It seems none of them believed Troy could ever become a successful member of society.
But they were wrong. Troy entered ASU with the hope of eventually working in the hotel/restaurant industry. He took a job in a local restaurant while he carried a full load of classes. He moved into an apartment with some friends. Recently, he found a job with the Veteran’s Administration and says he hopes to one day become a dietician. He’s talked about getting his master’s degree.
Ryan and I could not be prouder. Troy could have become a statistic. Twenty percent of kids who age out of foster care instantly become homeless. Thirty-four percent admit to using illicit drugs. Sixty percent end up in the sex industry. Twenty-five percent will be incarcerated within two years.
But Troy will tell you that those numbers don’t matter. The only one that’s important to him is 3%.
“That’s what I want on my cake, Mom,” he said recently. “1 of the 3%.” He smiled.
And so, that’s what we did: “Congratulations, Troy! 1 of the 3%” appeared atop his cake.
You see, just a little under 3% of kids who’ve been in foster care ever make it through college.
Did I mention my son just graduated from Arizona State University?
The past and present collide when a tenacious reporter seeks information on an eleventh century magician…and uncovers more than she bargained for.
February 2, 2022
In 1939, archeologists uncovered a tomb at the Northern Arizona site called Ridge Ruin. The man, bedecked in fine turquoise jewelry and intricate bead work, was surrounded by wooden swords with handles carved into animal hooves and human hands. The Hopi workers stepped back from the grave, knowing what the Moochiwimi sticks meant. This man, buried nine hundred years earlier, was a magician.
Former television journalist Kate Butler hangs on to her investigative reporting career by writing freelance magazine articles. Her research on The Magician shows he bore some European facial characteristics and physical qualities that made him different from the people who buried him. Her quest to discover The Magician’s origin carries her back to a time when the high desert world was shattered by the birth of a volcano and into the present-day dangers of archeological looting where black market sales of antiquities can lead to murder.
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