After adopting me, my parents continued to do foster care and over the course of my young life many children came and went from our home. This specific story centers on a brother and sister who came to live with us during my early adolescence.
The brother was my age and the sister only a year our junior. The brother and I hit it off and enjoyed the same outdoor activities and became great friends. The sister struggled with the kindred relationship he and I shared. She was constantly jealous and felt left out of our adventures.
I can still close my eyes and smell the earthy aromas of the soil, fall leaves, and birch trees that filled the air as we sat in our newly constructed fort. As had become her pattern, the sister came out demanding our attention, and following suit, the brother told her to scram. Apparently she was tired of being left out and today she wasn’t going to go so quietly. She snapped her head toward me and, looking at me with pure hate in her eyes, uttered words I will never forget.
“I know why you were adopted,” she said with contempt in her voice.
I narrowed my eyes inquisitively and replied, “Yeah, so do I. I always have.”
I quickly searched my mind for any possible missing piece to the puzzle but came up blank.
“No. I know the real reason why you were taken away from your mom.” Her eyes had started to dance with joy as she saw my level of confusion grow. She knew she was about to shatter my world and was taking pleasure in every second of it.
Her brother stepped between us and very firmly told her, “Stop this.” He quickly looked back at me with a sympathetic glance, searching my face for any reaction or level of awareness as to what his sister was alluding to.
The sister stepped around him and in the whiny, snotty voice I had grown to loathe said, “No, I won’t. She needs to hear this and I want to be the one to tell her.”
And from there she started talking, weaving a tale that seemed far too sensational to be true and far too personal to have been kept from me for so long. My parents wouldn’t do that to me – would they?
She paraphrased a story about how my birth mom had originally taken me home and planned to keep me. She had married a man other than my father and had left me home alone with this man one evening. In that evening, this man had beaten me over the head with a flashlight because I was a bad baby and wouldn’t stop crying. I ended up in the hospital, and I was supposed to be “retarded”. She carefully studied my face and my reaction as she shouted these horrible truths at me.
I turned to stone and was very determined not to give her the satisfaction of seeing me cry. I was trying to process everything she had said in my emergent adolescent brain– trying to figure out if it could possibly fit with the stories I had been told. I just couldn’t fathom that my parents would have kept this kind of information from me, and even more so, that they would have told this evil little girl and not me. In that moment, my rage got the better of me. I may have been a slightly spoiled child but I certainly had never been violent or in any way aggressive before that day. I picked up the only thing within arm’s reach, her brother’s skateboard, and hit her in the arm with it. She immediately shrieked and darted off toward the house.
I sat in my fort with my knees pulled up against my chest drawing a random doodle in the exposed soil floor with a stick. I suddenly realized the foster boy was also gone and tried to search my mind for when he had left. I was alone and completely in shock. Several minutes later I could hear my Dad’s heavy footsteps coming down the slope, approaching our fort with the sound of the fresh-fallen leaves crunching beneath his feet. He peeked around the corner and I lifted my gaze from the ground to meet his. He softly asked if I was okay and then asked me to come back to the house with him. I quickly apologized for hitting the foster girl and he grabbed my hand and said, “It is okay. You’re not in trouble. You will have to tell her you’re sorry, though.”
I kicked the rocks under my feet as we walked the 20 yards up our gravel driveway toward our house. I didn’t want to tell her I was sorry. I really wasn’t sorry. I let my Dad guide me into the lower entrance of our house that was built into the side of a hill. As we went into the house I could see my Mom sitting on the couch and the foster boy pacing nervously at the bottom of the stairway. The foster girl was nowhere to be seen. It was starting to become clear that what she had told me must have some truth to it because the tone in the den of our home was very serious and somber. My Mom had some newspaper articles in her hand and some other paperwork that looked old and tattered. They sat me down on the couch and asked me what exactly the foster girl had said to me. I mumbled my account of the horrible things she had said, staring at my shoes the whole time and telling myself over and over in my head, “You will not cry. You will not cry.”
My Dad was standing in the middle of the den and he was shifting from side to side looking from me to my Mom as she told me in a slightly more caring way the same horrible details of my infant experience that the girl had so angrily shouted at me only moments earlier. My Mom went on to explain that they had seen no real reason to tell me these details and were always prepared to tell me once I asked how I had suffered a brain injury. I told her that I thought I had already known the whole story, and since they had always been so forthcoming I saw no reason to question a secret past they were hiding from me.
She slid the newspaper clipping across the coffee table so that it was in front of me. I scanned it not really reading what it said. “Island Man Stands Trial for Child Abuse” was in bold lettering across the top of the yellowed article. In the article they referred to the child, the baby, me, as “it”. Apparently at the time it was considered too revealing to identify a juvenile victim’s gender to the public. I didn’t want to read the whole thing. It was too painful. It recounted in exact detail the man’s account of what he had done…to me.
My Dad said that the injury to my head had almost killed me. The rest of the recovery story I knew. After all, I had always known about the cerebral brain hemorrhage– I just had never known that it was a result of something that had been done to me. My Mom told me that he only served 60 days in the county jail but he deserved a whole lot more. She asked if I had any questions.
I looked at her and back at my Dad. I saw the brother standing in the background behind my Mom. They had stopped pacing, stopped swaying, stopped talking and were all staring at me to see what my reaction would be or what questions I would ask. I looked at my Mom– feeling anger toward her for the first time I could ever recall– and asked very flatly, “Why did you think it would be okay to tell other people, to tell that girl, before you were ready to tell me?” I didn’t even wait for her to answer. I got up and went to my room and closed the door. I still didn’t cry. I felt numb inside.
A short while later, my Dad tapped on my door and entered my room without even waiting for an invitation. He sat down on the rail of my waterbed where I sat cross-legged with my cat, Muffin, in my lap. He looked at me and said, “I’m sorry, Kiddo. I really wanted to tell you but your Mom felt it was best to wait.” He paused for a moment and went on, “I was always afraid something like this would happen. I hope you can forgive us.”
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know what to say. My entire happy existence had been shattered in the events of that afternoon. The reality I thought I knew, and my parents whom I had always completely trusted, all suddenly seemed very foreign to me. I sat on my bed for what seemed like hours petting my cat and feeling her warmth and unconditional affection. She looked up at me, and for a moment I thought she might be the only thing in my life I could trust.
I emerged from my room and went straight to the phone in the kitchen. I dialed the number of my best friend– the only person who I wanted to talk to in that moment. I had to confide in her all of the horrible events of this day. I took the phone as it was ringing her house and stretched the cord out onto the deck letting the door shut over the cord. My Mom hated it when I did this, but this time she didn’t protest.
My friend answered the phone and I started to relive the trauma I had just experienced and tell her all the gory details of the horrible things I had learned. I asked her, “Can you believe this? It still doesn’t seem possible.” She was silent and then softly said, “I already knew. Your Mom had told my mom and she told me.”
I was in utter shock and disbelief. How many people had my Mom told this to? I quickly recovered and said, “When? When did you know about this?” She paused for a moment and said, “Before the first time you slept over in third grade.” She quickly interjected her rationalization for keeping this from me for the past three years, “I’m sorry I never told you. My mom told me you didn’t know and could never find out. She said you wouldn’t be my friend anymore if I told you.”
I told her I understood and that I didn’t blame her – I might have done the same thing in her position. I made up a reason why I had to get off the phone, returned the receiver to its hook in the kitchen, and proceeded back out to my fort. It was almost supper time and I would need to get back to the house soon but right then I needed to be alone.
When I got out to the fort I realized I wasn’t alone. The brother was already out there and he was crying. I asked him why he was crying– after all nothing had happened to him. He looked at me through blurry tears. He had streaks of dirt where the tears had been streaming down his face. He said, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t want you to find out this way. My sister is such a brat. She should have never done that.”
I couldn’t believe he was so overtaken with emotion over something that really had nothing to do with him. I had never really seen a boy cry before. I sat down next to him in the earthy floor of our fort and started to cry too. Neither one of us said another word about what had happened. We just had a good cry and wiped our tears and snot on the sleeves of our jackets. Once I had cried until I couldn’t cry anymore, I hopped to my feet, tapped him on the shoulder and shouted “You’re it!” and took off sprinting across the yard.
I never regained full faith in my parents and I never felt close to my Mom again after that day. I had learned more than just awful details of my past, I had learned a very tough life lesson – sometimes people lie or omit truths because they are trying to protect you. In the end, the lie always hurts way more than the truth would have; even a lie of omission is still a lie. To this day I hate being lied to above all other betrayals. If I can’t trust the people I care about to be honest with me, than what else do I have?