by Emily Gwaltney
Dandelions by Emily Gwaltney

I curled up in the passenger seat of my latest foster parent’s car, my head buried in my arms. Just waiting for Ella to get in the car and take me as far away from school and all traces of my latest anger outburst as fast as possible.

The driver’s door clicked open and Ella slipped inside. I didn’t bother to lift my head as Ella started the car and drove toward home.

“Hey Zoe?” Ella said after driving several blocks in dead silence.

I lifted my face enough to see the concerned look in her hazel eyes. “Yeah?”

“Do you want to talk about what happened back there?” she asked in a gentle tone. No accusation, no anger. The kind of tone I wasn’t used to, couldn’t quite understand.

“I got angry.” My chin quivered and I bit my tongue to fight the urge to cry. “Again.”

“Mrs. Oleska said you flipped your desk over and threw a textbook at her.” Ella said it as calmly as you might say “Let’s go out for dinner tonight.”

I slumped even further in my seat, my fists clenched so tight my fingernails left half circle marks on my palms. “It’s true.”

Silence followed for another minute. Ella stopped at a red light and drummed her fingers on the steering wheel. “It had been two and a half months since your last outburst.” She smiled at me. “That’s a new record.”

I shook my head. “I don’t belong here. I’ve been through too much. I just can’t fit in here.” A single tear slid down my nose. “It’s not home.”

Ella pulled the car into her driveway and turned to look me in the eye. “Zoe, I know you feel like you won’t fit in here, but you have made so much improvement since you first came here.”

I snorted skeptically.

“I’m serious! You work hard on your homework, you help out more around the house, and you are even starting to make friends with those girls from youth group.”

I shrugged. “That doesn’t mean I belong here.”

“Maybe not. But I think you are like a wildflower.” Ella waved her hand toward the flowers growing beside her driveway. “Despite the harsh storms and rocky soil you’ve endured, you are able to grow and put down roots.”

“And what do you do with wildflowers?” I spat the words out so quickly, so vehemently I thought someone else had said them at first. “You don’t plant them or water them or sit back and watch them grow. You hunt them down and weed them out. Even if one does have the resiliency to grow in your yard or garden, or even just the cracks between your sidewalk, it won’t last long. Look at what your neighbor is doing now!”

Ella followed my gaze to a middle-aged man spraying weedkiller on the few dandelions that contaminated his otherwise pristine lawn.

“That’s what people do to wildflowers. Because dandelions don’t belong in a field of tulips and lilies.” My heart raced until I could feel my pulse pounding in my head. “Wildflowers like me are an eyesore to society. You never see people displaying a vase full of dandelions at their dinner table. You see roses and carnations and peonies—the honor students with perfect grades or the champion athletes. They’re on display for all society to applaud and admire. But the daughter of a drug addict and a prostitute? The girl who’s been in ten different foster homes before she could even count that high? You dig her up and root her out, toss her aside and pass her on before she can feel at home anywhere. Because she doesn’t belong here. She’s always been and always will be nothing more than a weed and a nuisance, fit only to be thrown away.”

I ripped my seatbelt off and flung the car door open. Ella jumped out of the driver’s seat, concern written all over her face. “Zoe, I didn’t mean it like that—”

“Don’t correct me!” I shouted. My body trembled with anger. “I know it’s true. I’ll never belong here, or in my next foster home, or the next one, because I’m too broken to try to put roots down anywhere. So just leave me alone!”

I slammed the car door behind me with every ounce of strength I had left, not bothering to look back at Ella. The neighbor spun around in the middle of his yard, a fistful of limp, broken dandelions clutched in his hand. He set down a green bottle of weedkiller. “Everything okay?” he asked.

I squeezed my eyes shut as hot tears spilled down my face. It was like I could see how my past and this messed up foster care system were destroying my life, killing my chances of ever being normal, but to everyone else everything was “okay.” I walked to the edge of the yard, grabbed the one remaining dandelion, and ripped it out of the ground. It’s split white roots dangled from my hand. I tossed it onto Ella’s driveway, then bolted inside, up the stairs, and into my room as fast as I could.

I locked the door behind me and leaned against it, shaking and crying from the whirlwind of emotions I’d been through. My breath caught with each sob.

This was the end, and I knew it. Ella was forgiving, but no one lasted this many outbursts. I knew from experience. And I’d basically told her to send me away.

I squatted down on the soft carpet and put my head in my hands. Sweet, patient Ella was the best foster parent I’d had yet, and I’d had quite a few. Whoever was next could never be as good as her. You idiot, I screamed at myself internally. Why did you blow it again?

A faint knock on the door interrupted my tangled thoughts.

“Zoe?” Ella’s voice came from the other side of the door. “I have something for you.”

An eviction notice, I thought. Biting my lip to keep back anymore tears, I pulled the door open.

Ella stood in front of me, holding a chipped clay flowerpot. She smiled and handed it to me.

I wiped at my eyes with one hand and took the flowerpot with the other. A single, wilting flower tried it’s best to stand up straight and tall in the middle of the pot. “What is this?”

“It’s that dandelion you pulled up outside,” she said with a small smile. “It still had its roots intact for the most part, so I thought…we could water it and take care of it.” Her eyes shone with unshed tears. “It’s been through a lot, but if we nurture it together I think it will come back to life.”

I hugged the flowerpot to my chest as a spark of hope ignited in my heart. “I think it will too.”

Emily Gwaltney
Emily Gwaltney

Emily lives in the beautiful mountains of wild and wonderful West Virginia. She is a college student studying Child Development, and she enjoys writing, reading, hiking, and working with young children.

Emily Gwaltney

Emily lives in the beautiful mountains of wild and wonderful West Virginia. She is a college student studying Child Development, and she enjoys writing, reading, hiking, and working with young children.


  1. Abby

    This is beautiful, Emily, and so touching. Very well done, I enjoyed this!

  2. Roxanne

    A wonderful story filled with compassion and Hope. This world needs people like Ella. Great job Emily.

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