À la marge : A series of Portraits.

Justine’s story is about love, and the painful lack of it. Justine is shy and sharing her story makes her visibly shiver with discomfort at times, after all, this is the love story that changed her life forever.

Justine is the same age as many of you – only 19 years old – but her daily programme is radically different from yours. She doesn’t go to lectures, she doesn’t go see her parents on the weekend and she certainly doesn’t plan to go visit Latin America this summer. Justine lives on the streets since she became old enough to leave the foster home for young delinquents. She spent all her life in Poitiers, went to a school not far from the old cathedral, and you often walk past Justine when you are going to shop at Carrefour.

Not all love stories are packed with roses and princes on white horses. In case of Justine, it was a princess – a young, short brunette Aurore that Justine still remembers for her large blue eyes and warm soft hands. You can still see the tender look of love in Justine’s eyes every time she mentions Aurore’s name. Justine met Aurore when she was in 5eme, Aurore was in 3eme, and it they took an entire year before first noticing their attraction to each other. Sadly, not everybody understands young love and Justine’s mother would not accept that her daughter might be attracted to another girl.

Justine and Aurore could no longer bear that others would choose who to love for them. Aged only 14 and 16 they left their homes, facing hand in hand the challenges of life. They had no home but they had each other. After several months of living at friends’ and relatives’ places, experiments and discoveries of what there is to discover in a parentless life and fights that Justine got in to protect Aurore, the consequences caught up to them.

Aurore’s parents dragged her back home and locked her in, Justine’s mother had less understanding and sent a letter to the court. Since the court ordered Justine to be sent to the foster home, a vicious spiral of stigmatisation began. Being locked away, amongst strangers, far from her love, Justine was abandoned by the world. Without comfort, love or understanding, without anybody caring for her, Justine found refuge at the bottom of a bottle. When life is so unbearable, alcohol becomes the only crutch offering support in coping with reality, Justine reveals.

At first, Justine could spend one day per week at home with her mother but even that right was denied to her after she got caught drinking. From that moment on, Justine says she felt like a caged animal, denied all right to be understood, with all the exit doors closed. Fragile and good-hearted by character, Justine suffered from being alone.

Such marginalisation left her mentally unstable, in sobbing one moment, raging with anger the other. Justine’s mood swings, paranoia, uncontrollable outbursts of anger and tears became a nuisance for the foster ward and she was sent to a psychiatric hospital which made her situation even worse. No wonder that being interrogated by people who look down on you, being tied to a bed and forced to take unknown pills made Justine feel only more desperate. That was the only time Justine tried to take her life. Justine never considered even hurting herself, before or after, but at that time cutting her wrists seemed like the only way out.

How awful must a system be, to push a hurt person to the edge of a suicide? How did we arrive to a point, when the public institutions we built to help people, only serve to perpetuate their stigmatisation? Justine’s life could have been completely different if she had had someone to rely on, someone to talk to, someone to tell her she can make it. The horror of realising that one single person could have prevented much of this makes your skin crawl.

At the moment Justine is occupying the 5th floor of a parking lot in the Poitiers centre, and she finds it to be a “pretty good spot”, at least for now while it is still warm outside, as she says. She has made friends amongst other people occupying this place, similarly broken by life. She sees Aurore in the streets from time to time, but their lives are too different now, and Aurore chose to forget Justine and that part of her past.

Between judges, foster home wards and psychiatric hospital doctors, Justine has seen the worst of our society. She lost hope quite some time ago, but she still tries to keep smiling and coping with what is her life now. And at times it almost feels bearable, with Mikael telling anecdotes and her faithful companion, a dog named Aslan – that even looks like the lion from Narnia – keeping her company. They live on. One day at a time.

Alen Maulitov

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