Student finds refuge in friends during difficult times

By Honor Heindl 2009

Who’s to say what the term “family” entails? In a society where brokenness and divorce are prominent, some find family beyond their bloodlines.

For senior Arlene Freudenberg, her parents’ divorce heavily modified her meaning of family.

“After my parents divorced, I was used to living for myself. I was my own mother, sister and friend. Our family lived in pieces. We paid for our own ways and never offered each other any help. I bought my own, picked up after myself, and supplied my own food, which sometimes couldn’t be done. We didn’t celebrate my birthday and holidays were just another day of the week. When I was little and there was a thunderstorm, I didn’t have the option to run to my parents’ room,” she said.

Growing up, her father wasn’t in the picture very much, mostly due to her mom’s insistence.

“After our divorce, it was very difficult to get to see my kids.  Their mother would only allow me to see them on court appointed visits.  Many times I would wait to see them only to be told that she changed her mind.  During these times it was nice to know that they had a support group that they could rely on and would help them get through.  I knew her friends and knew their families.  All of them were good people, and I felt that she always would be welcome in their homes and able to call them if needed.  I was glad her friends were there,” father Mark Freudenberg said.

Soon enough, the time came when Arlene needed her companions more than ever.

“My mother had a lot of rage in her. When I was 16, she kicked me out of her house. I still don’t know why she did this, but I don’t think it really matters.”

Despite the trauma of the event, she was fortunate to have good friends at her rescue.

“No one deserves to go through what she did, especially not Arlene. The whole thing kind of happened out of the blue and threw all of us for a loop. Both of my parents know her fairly well and were willing to house her for as long as she needed. It was a natural reaction to offer to give her a house, extra clothing, a shower, a bed and food. That’s what friends do for each other—we help each other in times of need,” Dunkerton senior Kristin Phipho said.

While many would see Arlene’s situation as the end, she believes it was more a beginning.

“I never considered my family to be a family. I go over to my friends’ houses and see mothers tending to their kids, fathers fixing miscellaneous objects around the house and siblings teasing each other out of love. Seeing this, I learned a family wasn’t something just biological. It could be whoever you wanted it to be. It was anyone who loved you and would do anything for you.

With that in mind, my teachers became my parents. They were my mentors; they taught me everything my mom wouldn’t. My friends became my siblings. They were there whenever I needed them.”

When she was kicked out, she realized how essential her friends were.

“They opened their doors to me when I had nowhere else to go. They fed me their food, and they gave me their clothes to wear. I had nothing, not even a pair of shoes, and they helped me through it.

However, the greatest gift they have ever given me was their love in return. For the first time in a long time I felt like I had someone who cared about me.”

In time, things with her family have begun to mend. Arlene now lives with her dad and his wife.

“Today, life is a lot better. Occasionally, we run into a few problem areas, but it’s nothing like it was. My relationship with my mother is improving too. We still don’t have that mother-daughter relationship, but at least we can act civilized towards one another. I still consider my friends a part of my family, because without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today. They’ve shown me what family is and that just because I didn’t have that family feeling within my own biological family, it doesn’t mean I can’t have a family.”
In retrospect, Arlene has come to appreciate the silver lining to those darker times of her life.

“Looking back on it, I believe the greatest gift my mother could have given me was kicking me out of the house. Since then, I have learned how families care for one another. I have become a stronger person myself. Most importantly, I have been determined to show others the same care my friends have shown me. I want everyone to see that family is more than the people you are related to.”

Kristin also grew significantly after last year’s events, inspired by her courageous friend.

“Arlene is a passionate person and she knows that she can accomplish anything through hard work and dedication. Everyone should be able to learn something from this girl. She’s a great person, and she has dealt with things that many of us never will have to deal with in our lifetime. Never underestimate this girl.”

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