Childhood is supposed to be a time of discovery and innocence. But it doesn’t always work out that way. It didn’t for me or my sister.
We grew up in foster care in a loving home out in the country. We had a big back yard, chickens, pigs, fresh vegetables to eat and caring foster parents who had already raised children, and decided to take in foster kids because they had space and much love to give.
For the most part, life was good growing up. From what I was told, I arrived still in diapers at 18 months. My sister was 2. Thank God, we were not separated. Our foster parents treated us, and the other children in foster care, like real family. We always had breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner. Our foster mom even made homemade ice cream. We were encouraged to do well in school and taught that education was the key to success. Those memories are some of the happiest I have.
As I got older, I realized that I was not like other boys. I was into different things that boys weren’t supposed to be interested in. I loved dancing, singing and being the center of attention. And my foster mom embraced every part of me, with no judgment. She even signed me up for dance class and gymnastics.
But the home was not perfect. I was molested by another foster child from around age 3 until I left. Nobody ever asked me if I was being touched inappropriately. The caseworker came when I was too young to articulate what was happening. As we got older, those visits seemed to be few and far between, and by then I didn’t think to say anything — I just expected the abuse to happen.
I met my biological mom a few times over the years, not really knowing who she was. Sometimes when we would get into trouble, my foster mom would say, “I can’t wait until your mother comes to get y’all!” She would sometimes explain that we were not going to be with her forever, even though she would love to keep us. But when you’re a child things like that don’t register.
Then one day I found out that my mom had been awarded sole custody. I was devastated. I didn’t know who this lady was. How could they just take us away from our parents, the ones who raised us for 12 years? No one asked us how we felt about it. They were too focused on system guidelines — and we lost our voice in the process. My biological mom struggled all of her life with substance abuse. She had no parenting skills. She had mental health issues and a track record of not taking her medication regularly. Weren’t those red flags?
The day we moved back in with our mom was the worst. The officer literally had to pry my hand from around my foster mom’s waist. I cried for days. I hated and resented this stranger who ruined my life. When she went back to using drugs, it was something we had never been exposed to. I went from being a straight-A student to being held back in 6th grade — twice.
My foster mom came to visit us sometimes, but eventually those visits stopped. I later learned that my mother was difficult to communicate with. But then it seemed like she abandoned me. I called Child Protective Services constantly, trying to get them to send me back, but each time I was turned down. Soon after, my relationship with my mom turned violent. The police were called every other day. By this time I had discovered I was gay. I told my mom that I had been molested. She told me that I probably asked for it.
I was finally placed back in foster care, but it didn’t work out because I only wanted to be with my first foster mom. Meanwhile, I was bullied non-stop at school and dealing with abandonment issues from both my moms. I felt like I wasn’t good enough. So I took the first way out — I ran away from everything that was causing me so much pain. But that led to prostitution, drugs and stints in jail and rehab. I couldn’t get it together.
This happened because the system failed. There was no help when my sister and I made the transition back to our mom’s home. There should be more resources for children who have experienced state care. Some people desperately want to recover from their pasts, but it is extremely difficult with no education, no job and no support. And as a result, cycles of addiction and violence repeat themselves over and over again.
My mom passed away last April, while I was incarcerated. Not being able to go to her funeral, that was a tipping point. I didn’t recognize myself, and realized I didn’t want to die without accomplishing anything. After years of false starts I’ve now been clean for months. It’s hard living in the moment. I’m like a newborn learning to walk again, at 36 years old. So much is still tentative. I’m staying at a shelter through a city-funded program and working two jobs, fighting to create a future for myself.
In my story, I’ve attempted to convey what I thought could help someone struggling with the same issues as I have. There is hope for us. You have to fight and be strong, and accept that no matter what others did to you in the past, you are responsible for creating your future. This is what I’m working on, so I’m ready for my golden opportunity when it appears.
Published on May 29, 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.