The days that followed my reduction to level 1 were monotonous to say the least. Christmas was just around the corner and I was settling into this new era of being a critical 11 year old. I actually enjoyed the Holiday festivities held at the shelter, the crafts were creative and the food was homey.
A couple weeks after Thanksgiving all the youth were gathered into small groups and led down the hall to a room full of unopened toys. None of the toys were wrapped but all of them were in new condition, still in their original wrapping. We were informed that all of these toys were donated by various non-profits and random do-gooders. With presents piled high I remember thinking that this was going to be the best Christmas I’d ever had! We “only” got to pick out 2 things but I was overwhelmingly grateful that the 2 things I got to choose were 100% mine, 100% new and 100% not my mother’s nick knacks.
Growing up with parents that would spend the last pennies they’d earn, borrow or steal on drugs, made for many a Christmas where we’d get nothing at all, much less a tree draped with pretty garland or sparkling Christmas lights. However; there were a couple years where my mother gained enough sobriety to take us to a nearby Salvation Army where we’d stand in long lines and they’d hand my brothers and I a small box of 2-3 gender appropriate toys. I was obviously grateful and the people surrounding us were obviously in a similar or the same predicament but standing in the line, I felt embarrassed.
In these moments my mother might not have had enough funds or resources to get high but a part of me felt proud she was doing something in the best interest of my brothers and I. But at such a young age and with the lack of experience or understanding, my resentment towards her for exposing us to this lifestyle was strong. Moments like these were abundant, but short. After hoping on numerous occasions that this would be the time her addiction would cease to reveal its devilish head, she’d always give into temptation. After the 100th time… Probably more actually, I learned a life lesson that one good deed doesn’t outweigh the 100 awful choices made thereafter. People can change sure, but they don’t get to say; “I did that one good thing that one time” to justify a cycle they never planned on stopping.
It was common for my mother to wrap toys or clothing we’d already owned in newspaper to give us on Christmas morning. This happened when she wasn’t sober or in the right mind enough to meet the deadline for toy distribution at the Salvation Army but right mind enough on Christmas eve to feel bad.
One Christmas in particular we woke up with the expectation of getting another toy that had been laying in our room the day before… Instead of pealing back the newspaper to reveal an armless, legless or colored on barbie I was surprised to see a “Precious Moments” nick knack my mother inherited after her mom died of breast cancer, days before my eldest brother was born. I knew she viewed this gift as special because these nick knacks were the only thing she wouldn’t leave behind when being evicted but at the age of 7 I couldn’t help but think “what am I supposed to do with this”.
I said “thank you” with the most enthusiasm I could muster but I could tell she knew I was disappointed and I was immediately engulfed by the same disappointment her face was exuding. I apologized but knew it wasn’t enough to fix her shame after feeling the sting of her fingers on my cheek that accompanied the slap across my face.
Aside from the 2 gifts donated from YESS and loads of mashed potatoes at dinner, my brother and I received a storybook Christmas miracle we had been anticipating for months! A new home!
After saying our goodbyes and loading up our trash bag full of belongings into the trunk of our DHS workers car, my brother and I sat contently in the back seat anxiously anticipating what we thought was going to be our very own Daddy Warbucks fairy tale.
Pulling up to the home of our new foster parents I was nervous but excited to start anew. I could be anybody I wanted and with my newfound values and aim to please I knew whoever these people were, they were going to love me!
When we first met Rita and Jon Black they seemed to be even better then we could have hoped. They had a big house with clean lines and a huge yard. I could tell we were about to experience a whole different kind of lifestyle then we were used to and I was excited for what I thought was in store! But like with any first encounter, people only let you see what they wanted. Eventually the truth behind their intention and character always came to fruition.
At this point I was completely uneducated about the stigma that accompanied foster care and the only thing I new about anything of the sort resembled something out of the classic orphan movie “Annie”. After being dropped off with our new foster parents we sat in their living room getting to know each other. The timeline of events that’d taken place the past year were easy to explain as I had told my story a number of times and never had a problem sharing.
The Blacks introduced us to their own children; a boy and a girl both in their teens. They also had 2 other foster children; an older boy and a late teen who had been there for a couple of years. She had her own room upstairs next to what would turn out to be my room… She was my favorite.
I shared a room with the Blacks biological daughter who was a little older than me. She seemed nice, was very soft spoken and I could tell she hadn’t experienced life in the same way other kids in my position had so I guess I not only resented her for the innocence she held but was undeniably jealous as well. I remember thinking… What’s so special about her that her parents loved her enough to give her this life?
Shortly after arriving at the Blacks I received my very first taste of the type of discipline they administered. They never laid a hand on me but I had been smacked more times than I could count so I guess to me that would have been the “normal” thing to receive. Instead, I’d come to find out that their form of punishment resulted in a type of physical pain that they determined self-induced and therefore; justified.
Like the other girls I had roomed with in the past year, me and the Blacks’ daughter engaged in conversation after our 7pm bedtime. Before lights out Jon informed me that bedtime meant; in bed, eyes closed and complete silence. His daughter started the conversation so I figured, beings this wasn’t her first go-round with a roommate, I’d engage.
Within minutes Jon was at our door warning us to be quiet but like the girls we were, we both waited until the sound of his footsteps faded and continued our dialogue with whispers. No more than 2 sentences left my mouth before our bedroom door swung open and Jon ordered me to follow him downstairs.
At the bottom of the stairs and to the right is where the living room was located; to the left was the front door and mud room area. In the middle of the living room was a single wooden chair that hadn’t been there before we were sent to bed. Rita was sitting on the floral couch located in front of the wooden chair and against the large picture window at the front of their house.
Upon further instruction I was told to stand on the wooden chair while Jon and Rita explained the punishment for talking after lights out… Confused, bewildered and curious by this command I did what I was told.
The hours that followed was what I can only describe as literal torture… My stubbornness didn’t help the situation…