My name is Jonesha Necisachi Fullerton. My middle name means “descended from the sun god.” One of the things that I like about the sun is that it never stops rising each day. In some cultures, they believe that the sun actually dies and is reborn each day. And I was reborn. That is why I love the phoenix, because the phoenix dies, burns up in flames. From the ashes of the past, the phoenix rises again and takes flight.
My name was given to me by my mom. My father wasn’t around when I was born. He didn’t know that he had a daughter. But then my mother, she died when I was three. She couldn’t have known that her own sun would set so soon.
I went to live with my mother’s best friend. I called her “God-mommy” at first, but eventually, it was easiest to just say “Mommy.” And she adopted me. Luckily, I look just like her, so no one gave us a passing glance when we would go to the store, the school, the playground. She got help from friends who I call aunties.
It was after my mother’s death that my father learned about me. A custody battle brought us into the courts, resulting in my father getting half custody.
I’ve always been good at school. You know, you sit in the classroom, you learn things. I guess I just have an interest in the things around me, a knack for figuring things out. I have never had problems focusing on school material. Numbers aren’t a problem. Math and science are like good friends. Algebra? Easy. I love puzzles, the thrill of making an equation work.
So school was a safe place for me, a place where I was appreciated. I guess that’s why, when I knew something was wrong with the way my father was treating me, it was my fourth grade teacher who I told. At first I couldn’t say the words. These were words that someone needed to hear, though, and even though I was only a fourth grader, I had to tell her. I wrote them on a piece of paper. That’s when my world changed again.
The thing is, my father had just had another daughter, from another mom. My half-sister. She was just a baby then. Even though I was only a fourth grader, I knew that I had to say something to protect her. I didn’t want her to face the same abuse that I was facing.
We went to court. I was terrified of testifying. In cases like this, I was told, I would be given a doll. They would ask, “Where did he touch you?” And I would have to show them by pointing to the doll. Luckily, just before I was ready to go up, my father confessed. My father is an immigrant, so he was deported. Whether he is in Liberia or Haiti now, I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to him since…
Yes, there are days when I don’t feel up. There are days when I get depressed. Through high school though, I always made it a goal to keep my grades up. My mom’s family grew. I was accepted at VCU, Old Dominion University, and Radford University. But my mother wanted me to stay in the area. So I stayed at home and went to Northern Virginia Community College here in Annandale. But my depression caught up with me then. Bizarrely, I did well in my psychology classes, but my own psyche was not okay. After my first two semesters, I stopped taking classes. I worked to pay my bills, my phone, my car. I had saved up and bought my own stick shift Subaru. It might have been an old car, but it was mine.
I was nineteen years old. And on July 3, 2015, that Subaru took on a whole other meaning. I was driving and got rear-ended by another car. I wasn’t hurt, and the car could drive, but I was shaken. I was triggered. I was just so shaken that I called my mom, and asked her if she could come and get me. I guess that is when something inside of her snapped. Little things had been causing some arguments at home, but nothing major. But in that moment, she told me not to come home. I guess she had just been holding everything inside until finally, she snapped. And I know my mom, when she says things like that, she is serious, and she is not going to go back on her words.
So the Subaru, which had just been rear-ended by another car, became my home. I drove around to find places to park. You know, there is one thing about sleeping in a car in the month of July – it is hot. The windows, they act like a greenhouse. I slept over with friends when I could, but sleeping in that car was not fun.
One of the hardest parts about all of this is that my aunties and family were lied to about my getting kicked out. My mom had just told all of them that I was living on my own now, that I had moved out. They actually congratulated me on the phone – but they didn’t know that I had moved out into a car.
After some time, a friend did some research and found the Homeless Youth Initiative offered through Alternative House [now known as Second Story for Homeless Youth]. So I called them. They gave me a place to live, a counselor who kept track of me and cared what I was doing, helped me if I needed to access things like food, clothing, and health insurance. I got help with paying rent for about 16 months, and was able to get back on my feet. I couldn’t have afforded rent on my own.
What would have happened without Alternative House [Second Story]? I don’t know. I could have been forced into some very bad situations if I had had to stay homeless, if my car broke down, if depression had taken over, if the police arrested me, if I’d been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Really, I’ve been taking care of myself for a long time. Alternative House [Second Story] just gave me the boost that I needed in that tough moment, and then they stayed with me, providing counseling, advice, and structure that I really did need. They gave me a safe place to be so that I could grow and thrive.
Now I’m working full time. I’m working two jobs actually. As for school, I’ll go back when the time is right. Right now I’m focusing on self care and getting everything in order.
I got my mom a Christmas gift last year to try to make peace, a pair of boots that she wears all the time. I’m still not sure if we’re totally okay, but I think she’s sorry for kicking me out. And I hope that, one day, we will be okay again.
What story does my name tell? It says that I was born from the ashes of the past. It says that I rose from a dark night and started shining. But also, telling my story, and the story of the woman who gave me that name, and the story of all the others who have helped me, it says that none of us should have to face hardship alone. With a little help from our friends, we get by, we rise like the sun, we find courage – then we pick up our pens, and we write a second story.”