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Homeless no more
"The biggest gift to self is investing in others, as with becoming a parent and also with recognizing the stories and struggles of other people." -Susan Niz

by Susan Niz

As a homeless teenager, I clearly recall the sensation of stepping outside of my own being and viewing myself. I found myself in gritty, perilous situations, ones that called for me to act or react smartly in order to survive. One wrong move and I could have been quite literally lured into a dark alley, a compromising situation.

This disjointing of self wasn't conscious or intentional; it was involuntary. The alternative-panic or an emotional breakdown-was not an option when my safety was at stake. I only had myself to rely on, and there was no foreseeable escape. In order to continue, my mind broke apart what makes up "me" into pieces. I struggled to process or identify-to name or comprehend my terrifying reality. In my novel, "Kara, Lost," 16-year-old Kara experiences this throughout her journey.

With nowhere else to go, Kara finds herself spending the night in a squat [an abandoned apartment]. In the morning she sees in full daylight the grungy room where she had just spent the night. I imagined myself escaping to the other side of the window. Looking in, I saw a lost, cornered girl who couldn't find her way out of anything. I knew that this image would never leave me. Kara detaches herself in order to cope with her reality. This moment is pulled directly from my own memory.

Save yourself. Divide yourself into pieces. That way your circumstances cannot consume all of you, I told myself. The clincher is that life is long and one day I began the struggle of making myself whole again. That piece of me that floated above-my tissue paper self held by a taut, fine thread-may have experienced temporary reprieve, but she was a witness. She saw it all and was not forgetting anytime soon. I struggle with it. That was me? But it's like a dream, like watching a movie. It must be reconciled.


The remedy is the beauty and joy, the hope and love that life can provide with patience and nurturing. The biggest gift to self is investing in others, as with becoming a parent and also with recognizing the stories and struggles of other people. Nurturing positive growth in others helps heal the past and creates strength within. For me, this devotion creates contrast and healthy perspective between my present and my past and makes the nightmares more distant. So many have survived in so many ways and sometimes we can begin to thrive by documenting and sharing our experiences through art and literature.

I never used to talk about my experiences. Writing "Kara, Lost" gave me a voice. Now the pieces of me are much more connected; I am more whole. That girl who floated above me like a kite is now in my arms. I can talk to her, give her words to go with what she saw and embrace her as she feels the past, but mostly the present. She's alive and well. She survived. She shared.

Susan Niz lives in Eagan and is the author of "Kara, Lost." In 2011, she was a finalist for a Midwest Book Award in Literary Fiction. susannizfiction.blogspot.com

FFI: To find out how to support youth experiencing homelessness in Minnesota, visit The Link at www.thelinkmn.org/get-involved

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