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.


Mikki said...

rad :-)

Ami said...

I can't say I'm enjoying the story... I hate that any child can be hurt like that.

I have friends and people close to me who could write parts of your story... and worse, one or two who stayed in their abusive homes until they escaped by turning 18.

Thank you for sharing this, it must be wrenching to write it, but cathartic, too.

Eric (my hubby) said that he had an epiphany one day when he was about 14, just after his mother left him for the final time.

He said that he realized he could let the fact that all those awful things had happened to him turn him into a drunk, abusive continuation of the family, or he could decide not to let that dictate for him.

He chose to turn.
Inner strength.

He has it. And I can see yours, too.

Deborah said...

WOW! I am glad you understand that they truly liked you the way you were.
Nice to meet you and thanks for sharing your story.

Michelle said...

I cannot wait until you write the book!