March 13, 2016… Full disclosure: I know the author, Shenandoah Chefalo. We live in the same city in Northern Michigan, I know her husband, we have many mutual friends, and I like her. I like her a lot, even though when we first really talked to each other she warned me “Mary, I don’t really like people. I don’t make small talk. But if you want to get together and talk about our projects, that would be okay.”
My future project was The Experience 50 Podcast. Shen’s project was this book, Garbage Bag Suitcase, a Memoir.
The memoir is Shen’s coming out party. Sharing the truth of her childhood, an experience that I cannot imagine. Unfortunately, all too many children do grow up in homes where the adults are not grown ups and the children’s needs do not trump those for booze and drugs and parties.
I loved the book, even though many of the stories are nothing short of heartbreaking. Being pushed out of a moving car by her stepfather, being swindled out of $5,000 by her foster family, being manipulated by a foster care system that feeds it’s own machine. Her stories are remarkably straightforward accounts of what has happened to her. She doesn’t ask for pity or sympathy, and she doesn’t apologize for laying out her soul. I think Shen wants the reader to understand just how miraculous it is that she survived and thrived as an adult, once clear of her family and the foster care system. Most kids with a past resembling hers, do not graduate from high school or college. They end up addicted, homeless, incarcerated or dead.
Why should we care about her story? Honestly, it is an uncomfortable read. Turning the pages, you may feel a bit voyeuristic at times, and ashamed of peeking into somebody else’s hardships. But there is an important and compelling message in the book.
Shen asks that we think before saying aloud, “What is wrong with that person”? Instead, she suggests that we consider, “What has happened to that person?”. Not everyone grew up with parents that cared, with enough food in the house, with the safety of knowing that Home = Safe. Some adults have spent their entire childhood living in fear of physical abuse and emotional cruelty. Nobody, not one person, ever thought they were special. As adults, they are doing the best that they can.
Shen asks that we have compassion for our fellow man and support efforts to remedy the abuses within the foster care system and the emotional and physical abuse of children behind closed doors. This is why I love her book. MR
Order your copy today: Garbage Bag Suitcase, A Memoir by Shenandoah Chefalo