Jus­tine Hope Blau, a writer of screen­plays and books, has an MFA from Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty’s School of the Arts. Her mem­oir Scat­tered: A Most­ly True Mem­oir is now avail­able. She will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

Peo­ple would often under­es­ti­mate me if they knew that my par­ents had­n’t tak­en good care of me, so I used to be covert about the six years my fam­i­ly was chron­i­cal­ly home­less and the years I spent in place­ment with the Jew­ish Child Care Asso­ci­a­tion. Peo­ple assumed I could­n’t dri­ve, or had nev­er been to Fire Island or did­n’t know French — that kind of thing. And I’d get touchy because peo­ple who grew up under­priv­i­leged tend to be thin-skinned.

Now I’ve writ­ten a child­hood mem­oir, Scat­tered, so my sto­ry is out. And while most peo­ple give me a lot of cred­it for tran­scend­ing such chal­lenges, friend-of-my-youth Jacque­line Hea­gle is quick to give me perspective.

You are a spoiled brat,” she reminds me.

Jac­ki thinks my expe­ri­ences with my fam­i­ly roam­ing around pub­lic spaces like libraries, the Automat and Cen­tral Park, wan­der­ing around the Unit­ed Nations and mid­town Man­hat­tan, hav­ing old­er broth­ers who went to col­lege and told me sto­ries, reflects a world of priv­i­lege. She quips that I’m show­ing off.

Jac­ki and I met at the Pleas­antville Cot­tage School when we were 11. I was an emer­gency case, placed in the same 5th grade class with her on June 17th, 1967, two weeks before the end of school. A few months lat­er she was sent to a group res­i­dence in Westch­ester, but we were reunit­ed in a group res­i­dence for teenage girls in Rego Park, Queens, when we were 14. We lived togeth­er there for three years.

Jac­ki found it painful to read Scat­tered because it made her feel jeal­ous. She grew up rarely leav­ing her Brook­lyn neigh­bor­hood and apart­ment over­look­ing the noisy ele­vat­ed sub­way line; her fam­i­ly was on wel­fare and the big treat was to get piz­za when the check arrived. She has writ­ten elo­quent­ly about how she eager­ly await­ed being sent to The School” and final­ly got to go when she was eight. Jac­ki felt that she was reborn when she arrived at Pleas­antville. She remem­bers the first day she got there, how she climbed her first tree and ate her first fresh apple. She hard­ly ever went home or saw her par­ents after that.

The Jew­ish Child Care Asso­ci­a­tion pro­vid­ed that safe­ty net for Jac­ki, and for me. After Jac­ki left the res­i­dence, she was on her own, but still the JCCA helped her pay for col­lege. And when she decid­ed to leave col­lege, they helped her pay for beau­ty school. She earned her liv­ing for decades as a hair styl­ist and raised her two sons with far more advan­tages than she had.

The Jew­ish Child Care Asso­ci­a­tion did­n’t get every­thing right. Cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment was accept­ed, and there are sto­ries I hear, and believe, of a few cot­tage par­ents sex­u­al­ly prey­ing on chil­dren. But most of us feel that Pleas­antville pro­vid­ed a feel­ing of safe­ty and secu­ri­ty for us.

So how do I feel about being exposed by the book I felt dri­ven to write? Is the world made by col­lid­ing class­es, pow­er struc­tures and degrees of respectabil­i­ty, or do I see it that way because of how I got here? It’s so con­fus­ing, my past, and where it has brought me. I’ve been try­ing to sort out the con­fu­sion for a long time. When a child is torn from her world, and forcibly placed in anoth­er, she is like­ly to learn fast to observe who’s got pow­er, who does­n’t and how to man­age in the new sys­tem. So I’ve spent a lot of time either being resent­ful of my dis­ad­van­tages, or feel­ing guilty because of my priv­i­lege, and some­how both.

I think the extreme worlds of my child­hood, between the U.N., the libraries and cheap hotels, a moth­er with grandiose notions but neglect­ful habits, gave me a unique abil­i­ty to read soci­ety and the social world around me.

Vis­it Jus­tine Hope Blau’s web­site here.