Phoenix Rising

Catiria largeTo describe my childhood as extremely difficult is not an exaggeration. Between the ages of 4 and 8, I was repeatedly sexually abused by my mother’s boyfriend, who I thought was my real father, and molested by two other men.

My mother and her boyfriend also struck me and my older sister with belts and rods and dragged us across the floor like mops. They would lock us in our rooms for hours, and I’d watch shows that demonstrated what a family should look like and wish the pain would end. Meanwhile, my younger sister was treated like a princess.

Eventually my older sister told a teacher about our home life, and the school social worker pressured me to confront my mother and her boyfriend. Afterwards, my mother fled to Puerto Rico with my younger sister, and my older sister and I entered foster care. I was 8 years old and my world was spiraling out of control. I felt hurt, confused and scared, but also somewhat excited about going to a new home. I thought we’d be treated kindly. It did not take long to wake up from that fairy tale.

Our first foster home was awful. We were bullied by my older foster sister and force-fed by my foster mother, and I was physically abused by my foster father. Eventually, we were removed and sent to live with an aunt. But that wasn’t much better.

My aunt’s boyfriend, who was illegally living in the apartment, would beat and torture us. When I say beat, I mean he would smack, punch and drag us. When I say torture, I mean he would strangle my older sister and knock our heads together as if it was a wrestling match. He would force us to stay on our knees for hours, and if we dared move, would make us kneel on rice and then a cheese grater. All the while, my aunt received money from the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to take care of us. But she would use it to buy herself and her boyfriend nice things while we went to school with holes in our shoes and the same clothing every day.

My mother eventually came for us. But when we moved back with her, my older sister was sexually abused by my mother’s new boyfriend. Evidently, DCF did not thoroughly investigate him – he had a prior record of sexual abuse towards a minor. My mother physically abused us, and I made several suicide attempts. Again, my older sister and I were removed, and again my mother fled with my younger sister and her boyfriend.

My childhood was so unstable. When I was with my mother, we frequently moved between apartments, and when I was in foster care, I constantly bounced between placements. During my second time in state care, within a three year span, DCF moved me 12 times, which included two mental institutions and two shelters, and I attended nine different schools. I was always struggling to catch up on my education. I didn’t learn how to read, add or subtract until the third grade. It was all extremely frustrating.

When I was 12, my wish for a better life finally came true. I met a teacher who became my foster mother. She and her husband were the best foster parents in the world. They nurtured me and advocated for me with DCF and the school system. They made me feel safe, special and loved for the first time in my life, and they gave me a reason to want to live. They helped to pick up my broken pieces to try to make me feel whole again.

They were by my side when I testified against my mother’s old boyfriend who abused me – he was sentenced to 50 years. They comforted me when I found out my grandfather committed suicide. They were there for the important everyday parts of my life too. We cooked together, they helped me with my homework, and they attended all of my softball games. When it came down to it, they treated me like I was their biological daughter.

My foster parents, whom I call Mom and Dad, have continued to be a Godsend to my life. Even though I am now 30, they still guide me and give me good advice. Most importantly, they have taught me that it is never too early to turn your life around. Today, I am a wife, a mother, a medical assistant and phlebotomist. In the future, I hope to “pay it forward” in a meaningful way. The best advice I could give to foster children today is to make education a priority, keep the faith, don’t give up on your hopes and dreams, and, as Dad always says, “Keep your eye on the ball.”

Published on May 4, 2016 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.