Living in the Gray

By Manny Gray

Manual largeAs I reminisce about my past, I remember a child who was lonely and afraid, who longed for a family, but mostly, wanted nothing more than to be loved. I was brought into this world with few options. My parents separated before I was born. My mom fell into drugs, and fell in love with a man who she chose over her own kids. She loved him so much that she forgot who she was. She let him abuse me and my siblings, and she allowed Child Protective Services to take us away.

At the age of 6, I went to live with my grandparents. Things went well in the beginning, but I started to act out to the point that my grandparents couldn’t take care of me anymore. My aunt and her boyfriend decided to take me in. That is when I became the Cinderella Boy – every morning I woke up early to do chores, went to school, came home and did homework, ate dinner, did more chores, took a shower and went to sleep on the floor. Meanwhile, their kids didn’t do any chores, and got to play whenever they wanted. I was bullied by the kids, and abused by my aunt and her boyfriend.

My best friend at the time was a Siberian husky named Sheeba. As I did chores outside, I often spoke to Sheeba, pretending I was living in another world. It was my way of escaping the turmoil and pain. I finally got the courage to tell someone I was being abused, but they didn’t believe me. I was harmed for three or four years, before I was removed from my aunt’s care and placed in a foster home.

I was actually happy to be going to a foster home. I felt like it was my chance to find a family, but that was not the case. I was only in the home for about two months before I was moved again and reunited with my brothers. In my next home, my behaviors escalated to verbal aggression and temper tantrums. I remember laying on the top of the bunk bed crying, and my foster mom came in, and held me. I cried out loud, saying, “No one loves me, no one loves me, I don’t have a family.” She held me in her arms saying, “We love you, we are your family.” I knew deep down she did, but she could no longer take care of me. I was eventually moved to a behavioral institution for wanting to jump out of a moving car.

My behavior got worse. I would say rude and vulgar things to anyone who pissed me off. I got into a lot of trouble in school. I moved to placement after placement. I started to lose hope. So many people were in and out of my life. I cried time after time – when staff left their jobs or when I was placed in another group home. I couldn’t trust anyone or anything. I was never a bad kid; I was acting out because I wanted to be loved. The only attention I ever knew was negative – and I did anything and everything to get it.

Then, in 2004, God sent me a guardian angel, my CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) volunteer. I remember our first meeting when she picked me up from one of the group homes to take me out to eat. She said, “Manny, may I call you Manny?” I told her no one had ever called me that, but I liked it. She said, “Manny, you may not believe this, but I want you to know, I will always be in your life, unless you don’t want me here anymore.” I am proud to say 10 years later, she is still with me. She stood by my side during rough times, always invited me to family functions and gave me birthday and Christmas gifts. She took me to New York for my high school graduation and she paid for four years of books and supplies for college. But it wasn’t the material things that made me love her. She is genuine and sincere. She showed me care, commitment and dedication, and that I can be anything in life if I work hard. She and her friends lift my spirits. They are all rooting for me to succeed.

I still struggle, and have side effects from being in the foster care system for so long. Even though my guardian angel is always there, I still have a void that needs to be filled. Only in time will I heal. I’m a human being who is dealing with years of trauma. I have downfalls, but as I get older I have become stronger. I currently work with the County of Riverside Department of Public Social Services, in the Children Services Division, mentoring and advocating for foster youth – a job I am very passionate about and great at. I do a lot of public presentations on the foster care system and share my life story, and I am currently in the process of writing a memoir. I realize that just because I wasn’t able to have a family back then, it does not mean I can’t create my own family now. My destiny is in my control.

Published on May 19, 2015 as part of Children’s Rights’ “Fostering the Future” campaign. The opinions expressed herein are those of the blog author and do not necessarily represent the views of Children’s Rights or its employees. Children’s Rights has not verified the author’s account.