This is the parking lot where it all began, and where it ended. The day I left Hillcrest for the last time. Pictured in the photo is my friend, Jana, a staff member there.

I know I am sharing bits and pieces with you and they are not necessarily in order. I'm not a very organized person, and when I write, I share what is on my heart at the moment.

The name Seventeen Pillows symbolizes my placements while in foster care. As I get older I tend to lose grasp on exact moments in time and a couple of days ago I was in the shower (it's where I do my best thinking) and I tried to recall the exact 17 placements I had. I ran down the list from the depths of my memory and I couldn't recall a few of my placements, or the order of some. This bothered me enough to dig out my big stack of records and meticulously comb through them so I could correctly document the timeline I posted previously.

I have read through my files over a handful of times in the past and each time I read them, I take away something new.

As my eyes soaked in page after page, something became painfully obvious. I had people in my corner all along. People that were very much a part of my life, who fought desperately to save me from being institutionalized.

I had no idea how close I came to being placed in a 24 hour residential treatment facility...permanently. I was deemed "unadoptable" after the age of 8 due to "behavior problems" and severe mental and physical issues like "schizophrenia" and "soft brain damage." I screamed a lot, especially at night. It freaked people out. What they didn't do was try and investigate why I screamed. Maybe if they did that, they would see why I was so paranoid, scared, and angry.

As a last resort, the courts placed me in a long term foster home. This was Agnese's home. We had our ups and downs, but Agnese was a tough cookie and the things I dealt her she had seen before, so she managed to live under the same roof with me longer than others before her. I will dedicate much more time to Agnese, as she is someone who I feared, mocked, and regularly disobeyed. She was also someone I loved. I didn't know it at the time, but Agnese's home became my childhood home. It is the home I recall growing up in. She is the woman I recall teaching me and raising me as best as she could. When no one else wanted me, she would always open her arms and her home to me no matter how bad things were when I left her home previously.

Through my young, ignorant perspective, Agnese was one of them. Those people who were out to get me. She only took me back because she wanted the money. She only wanted me in her home so she could scream at me and make me do chores. She was a mean old bag and I only went there because I knew I could. She used to tell me all the time I needed to shape up or I'd end up in a mental hospital. I thought she was full of it...turns out she was telling me the truth.

What I didn't know at the time was how much I trusted her. How safe I felt being in her care. Her home was my home. I loved her cooking. I loved having dinner, all of us at the table together. Agnese provided me a sense of security I had never had before. By allowing me into her home, through the thick and the thin, she gave me something I wish I had treasured more at the time, she gave me a family.

In the court documents, I see the ups and downs we had. Some reports say I was doing very well, and others say that I am out of control. We had a tumultuous relationship. I was the main offender. I used to think she exaggerated how difficult I was because I never perceived myself that way. I had always felt I had a pretty damn good excuse for my behavior. Now that I am raising a teenage son, I have to say that I completely understand Agnese's pain and suffering. I am being gifted my awful behavior tenfold through my son, and he has had a life filled with love, and family and a solid foundation. I can't help but think that the late Agnese is up in Heaven laughing hysterically at me as I plead with God to please help me get through to my teen once and for all...

One thing about Agnese is crystal clear in these documents. Without her, I would not be where I am at today. She opened her home to me, even though I was not exactly fun to live with, because she knew that if she didn't, my life would have been destroyed. She saw something in me, enough to believe that I didn't belong in those places. She saved me.

Agnese wasn't the only one advocating for me. My social worker really struggled and fought with the courts to keep me out of residential care. With each placement she made sure to bring up the good points even in bad situations. My grades were better than they were in a long time, my therapist has seen some improvements, placing me in institutionalized care would only cause me to spiral out of control. She frantically scraped the barrel to make sure I had an alternative placement before heading to court so they wouldn't lock me up and throw away the key.

I recall on numerous occasions, how my social worker, Diane, would plead with me to please try and get along with my foster family. I remember looking into her eyes and seeing such emotion in them. I was so stupid back then. I looked at everyone, including my social worker as people who didn't care about me. I simply felt she was doing her job. The couple of visits I had each year with her were part of her job. Otherwise she only came when I was in trouble. She was the person who had to fix it for me. I knew she was very busy and had a lot of other kids like me to work with. It really didn't dawn on me, how much she cared about me. One constant on each court document can't be denied. My social worker played a crucial role in protecting me and ensuring my future.

Shortly after I reunited with my family, I started to write my autobiography. I had a considerable amount completed, when something told me to put the brakes on my project. When my grandpa asked me about my book, I told him that 18 was too young to write a book (do you hear that, Justin Bieber?) and I wanted to wait until I was an adult, maybe after I had kids of my own. That was a very smart move, if I say so myself.

Back then, I looked upon Agnese with distaste. I didn't treasure her for the amazingly unique and generous person she was. I would not have honored her in the way she deserved.

Long ago, I decided to stop looking at myself as a victim. This was a huge step for me because all my life I had been a victim. Somewhere along the way I came across something that said that victims tend to be victimized repeatedly throughout their lives because people who victimize others prefer victims because they are weak. They know the signs to look for and they seek out victims by identifying these signs. I recall the paper said something about not looking people in the eye, and walking with your head down. There were physical signs, but a section focused on emotional ones as well. The main thing was to stop calling yourself a victim. I worked very hard on erasing the victim from within myself. I never ever wanted to be someones victim again, so this meant a lot to me. I thought I did a pretty good job until just the other day...

I realize that even though I had successfully erased being a victim outwardly, and healed the victim inwardly, I forgot to look at the people in my past with a victim free perspective. I still perceived Agnese and Diane through a victim's eyes.

Looks like I have a little more work to do internally.

In the meantime I want to say a huge heartfelt thanks to all the hard working, dedicated social workers and foster parents out there. I know most times you feel under appreciated, and I want you to know that you are touching these lives in ways that you may never understand, but in doing so, you are changing lives for the better. Thank you for all you do. I appreciate you.



- Found walking alone on a sidewalk. Taken to Hillcrest Receiving Home by police. Eventually released back to my mother.

7-19-1979 - Mother incarcerated, taken back to Hillcrest Receiving Home. Released back to mother.

10-17-1979 - Mother abandoned me in Hillcrest parking lot. I was 3 years old. Pillow 1

Exact date TBD - Entered my first foster home placement (Janet)
Pillow 2

9-4-1981 - Adopted
Pillow 3

10-7-1983 - Adoption relinquished due to poor bonding and behavior issues

Date TBD - Assessed at County Mental Health for 30+ days
Pillow 4

Date TBD - Entered New Alternatives Rainbow House (Group Home)
Pillow 5

11-28-1984 - Placed in foster home (Agnese)
Pillow 6

2-11-1988 - Placed in foster home (Elaine)
Pillow 7

9-1-1988 - Back to Hillcrest
Pillow 8

Date TBD - Emergency foster care placement
Pillow 9

10-13-1988 - Foster home (Agnese) takes me back
Pillow 10

2-2-1990 - Placed in Casa de Amparo a juvenile facility
Pillow 11

5-10-1990 - Placed in foster home (Maria)
Pillow 12

11-13-1990 - Placed in foster home (Joan)
Pillow 13

Fall 1992 - Placed in foster home (Sherry)
Pillow 14

Date TBD - Back to Hillcrest
Pillow 15

Found my family via letter to adoption reunion in April 1993.

5-1993 - Foster home (Agnese) takes me back
Pillow 16

July 1993 - Maternal Grandfather files for legal guardianship of me and becomes my legal guardian. I am 17 years old. Pillow 17 - Home at last.

* Some placements were not included in this timeline such as temporary foster placements (less than a week) and the brief times I spent in a foster home before my mother abandoned me.


My toes hung off the edge of the toilet seat, my arms folded tight against my chest. I'm shivering though it's not from cold. The walls are pea soup green and the wallpaper is coming apart from it's seams. The bathroom is bathed in dim yellow light. My Mama is kneeling in front of me, her face stricken with panic, her eyes wide with fear. Her hand shakes violently as she grabs me and puts me over the sink. She brings an empty spoon to my lips and I purse them shut. She screams at me to open my mouth, then her screams turn to desperate pleas.

She jams the spoon into my mouth and down my throat, causing me to gag. She pleads with me to please throw up. I don't know what is going on, but I know I did something bad. Bud is going to be angry with me. Tears stream down my mother's face as she goes in again with the spoon...

Bud was my mom's boyfriend. He was not my daddy and he made that very clear. I was terrified of Bud. He made my stomach flip flop every time he was near me. I felt like I wanted to run and hide. Most of the time he left me alone. He and my mama both left me alone. They liked being with each other but didn't care too much to have me around.

Bud was sick a lot. He had lots of medicine bottles laying around. I was not supposed to touch them. Both he and my Mama liked to sleep, a lot. I really tried not to touch everything, but I'd get bored. Sometimes I would do things I wasn't supposed to because it was the only way they'd talk to me...

My Mama had a beautiful smile. She had soft hair that I loved to run my fingers through. I loved to sit on her lap with my ear pressed to her chest and listen to her voice as she spoke to me. That was the only time I felt comforted. She didn't hold me much, so I really embraced her during these moments. My heart was full of love for her. I wanted so badly for her to love me back. She was always so tense, so angry. When she wasn't angry she was sad. When she wasn't sad she was sleeping hard. So hard that she wouldn't wake up when I called to her.

When I got hungry, I'd climb out of my crib and up on the counter to where the food was. I'd eat whatever I could find and by the time my mom woke up there would be a big mess. I'd get spanked and yelled at. Sometimes they would sleep during the day. I'd get lonely and go outside to talk to the neighbors. I had real nice neighbors. Most of them knew me and would smile when they saw me. Some of my neighbors were moms and they would hug me and hold my hand. I'd want them to take me home with them, but most of the time they would walk me back to my house.

This one time, I was out walking and it was getting dark. I didn't know where I was and this police car drove up. I was frightened but a nice lady got out and came over to talk to me. She was really pretty. She had blonde hair and it was up in a bun. Her uniform was black and she had a neat shiny badge. She crouched down to meet my eyes and asked me my name and where my mommy was. I hadn't thought about where she was. I started to get scared because as I looked around I didn't know where my home was. She scooped me up in her arms and got back into the car. She had me in her lap as she and her partner talked on the walkie talkie. She told me we were going for a ride and laid my head against her chest as she whispered to me. I pressed my ear tight against her and as I listened to her voice, my fear was replaced with a sense of longing. I grasped her tightly and held her with all my might. I wanted this officer to be my Mama. I wished my Mama were there holding me.

One morning, Mama woke me up and she was already dressed. She had picked out an outfit for me and combed my hair. As she combed my hair she told me she loved me. We were going somewhere just for me. She turned me to face her and her eyes were big and wet. I raised my hand to wipe the tear that fell out. I didn't like seeing my Mama cry. She wiped her eyes and told me to get into the car.

On the car ride over she told me that I was never not to go home anymore. That there was a nice family waiting for me and I needed to listen to these people so they could help take me to the new family. She said there would be a Daddy and a Mommy and maybe even a puppy. I really liked puppies and I giggled at the thought that the puppy might be as big as Barkley the dog on Sesame Street. We pulled into a parking lot and there were buildings all around. She pointed to the building next to the car. Mama grabbed my arm and told me that this was what was best. She told me to get out of the car, and I didn't want to. She screamed at me to get out, but her eyes told me to stay. I didn't want her to go away. She reached over and tugged the handle, the door swung open. "Get out!" she yelled. I scrambled off the seat and stumbled onto the pavement. The door shut behind me, and my Mama drove away.

My stomach flip flopped as I looked around. I couldn't move. I saw the tail lights turn away and I waited. Mama's coming back. A man ran out of the building and quickly approached me. I shrank away from him, and he slowed his pace.

"Little girl, please wait." He said. I froze. "Baby girl, it's ok." He knelt down to my level. I searched his face to see if he was mad. He was really dark, and I was kind of scared, but then he flashed this wide smile and his whole face lit up. "My name is Mike, what is your name?"


"Where is your mama, Tammy?"

I looked around, and my stomach ached. She wasn't there. "Gone."

"Where is your home, Tammy?"

My heart started to pound real hard as I recalled what Mama told me, "I am never not to go home anymore..." my eyes filled with tears and I grasped my hands.

The nice man named Mike gently scooped me up and brought me inside the building.