BRIDGEWATER — Remember being a teenager? How you clashed with your parents? How often you behaved badly — or stupidly — enough to enrage them?
Now imagine how your life might have been if your parents had felt no obligation to keep you, if they’d had the option — and used it — of telling you to leave when things got difficult.
Now you’ve got an idea of how it feels to be Bianca. Between 12 and 18, she lived in a dozen different places, never certain her welcome would last.
Her father was murdered in 1993, shot while taking out the trash in Charlestown. Her mother descended into addiction and sent Bianca and her older sister to live with relatives. From there, it was one home after another.
The hazel-eyed girl, 19 now, ticks them off with alarming matter-of-factness.
“My aunt didn’t like the state in her life, so she wanted me to leave, then the state got full custody of me. . . . I lived in three different shelters in 30 days. . . . The people I lived with in Malden . . . if I didn’t clean the bathtub right the mother yelled at me, . . . Then I moved in with my best friend but we started fighting. . . . Then I went to a family friend, but she’d buy me things and take them back if I didn’t do the dishes . . .’’
And on it goes. Her caregivers couldn’t deal with her. Or she couldn’t deal with them. Nothing bound them to each other, so Bianca kept moving.
You want to believe Bianca’s experience is unusual. It isn’t. A 2008 Boston Foundation survey of kids who had aged out of the foster system found that half of them had lived in 10 or more places. After that many predictably horrible things happened to them. Over a third had been homeless; 43 percent had been pregnant or gotten someone pregnant; more than half were unemployed.
But Bianca is unlikely to go that way. Somehow she found anchors. Or they found her.
Day after day, she showed up at West Roxbury High — even when she lived in places where that meant getting up at 4:30 am. And when a school counselor sent her to the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps to apply for a leadership program, she went there every week, too.
At the child welfare organization, she met Nichelle Sadler, a social worker who became her mentor. She barely spoke for the first year, Sadler said. But then she began to share her story — first with Sadler, then with others.
“She gained an understanding of how important her story is,’’ Sadler said, “of how amazing it was that she was surviving.’’
Sadler helped convince Bianca to aim higher than finishing high school and having children.
And so, on a recent Monday, Bianca was standing in her room at Bridgewater State University. A picture of Sadler sat on her bookshelf, and a sign that read “Princess’’ hung above her pink polka-dot covered bed.
The university gives her free tuition and extra support. During school breaks, when other students are at home with their families, she’s allowed to stay in the dorm.
She will never know one thing her new college friends can take for granted — having a home to return to, no matter what. And there are things they don’t know about her — that the bins at the foot of her bed hold almost everything she owns. Or that this Dean’s List freshman has to get good grades because if she can’t stay in school she will have nowhere to go.
Or that she takes comfort in the feeling that her fellow college students are transients, in a sense — leaving behind one life, groping for another.
“I don’t feel different,’’ she said, pushing open the door to her room, where her past disappears.
Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at Abraham@globe.com