What if they don’t like me, I thought, sitting in the back of Ms. Iris’s car. I was headed to yet another foster home. The last foster parents I had asked for me to be moved; I still didn’t know why. What had I done?
“There’s nothing for you to worry about. This family is going to love you,” Ms. Iris said, seeing the anxious look on my face. I forced a smile and nodded my head.
I was a small child for my age. I had wavy dark brown hair that brushed my elbows. My high cheekbones gave away my mother’s Cherokee heritage, but my barely tanned skin showed my father’s German-English descent. My golden brown eyes had once glimmered in the sunlight. But that was during the happier times.
At four-and-a-half years old, I had already developed a fear and distrust of everyone. My father had died when I was two, so I didn’t really know him. My mother neglected me, leaving me and my two younger brothers locked in a room, alone, with nothing but a box of Cheerios and a jug of milk. I remember hearing some man in a blue uniform tell Ms. Iris that the milk was solid when they found us, whatever that was supposed to mean.
I was originally placed in my grandparents’ home; then one day I was suddenly moved. “It’s not safe for you with them anymore,” I was told.
I looked out the window to see where we were. Trees and fields. A house here and there. How much longer? I wasn’t going to ask. We turned down a dirt road.
“We’re almost there. Are you ready?” Ms. Iris smiled in the rear-view mirror.
All I could do is nod. I felt sick to my stomach. How long will this family put up with me?
As soon as we pulled into the yard, I began to feel at ease. Something was different about this house. I couldn’t wait. I had to leave an impression. I jumped out of the car as soon as I saw them. I ran up to the woman whose name I didn’t know, wrapped my arms and legs around her and hugged her tightly. Much to my surprise, she returned the embrace. Could this woman ever truly love me? I felt so unworthy of love. I felt another arm wrap around me as the man embraced me as well. I couldn’t mess this one up. I had to be on my best behavior, keeping my darkness locked away.
At my last foster home, I shared a room with 4 other girls, but here there were no other kids. I was in a room alone, which I preferred. It would be easier to hide the truth, to pretend I was just fine. I slowly unpacked what little I had.
“Marie.” I looked up to see Mrs. Edina standing in the doorway. “We can get you whatever you need. I want you to feel at home here. We’ll pick out some new sheets and maybe some toys tomorrow if you’d like.” She smiled.
All I could do is nod. I wasn’t used to people trying to make me happy and comfortable. Is this what parents are supposed to be like? Or is she just feeling sorry for me? I despised sympathy; it made me feel helpless, and like I owed something more than gratitude.
The next day, Mrs. Edina took me shopping just as she said she would. I picked out a few toys, including a stuffed Barney. I also got some Barney sheets and comforter for my new bed.
After we got back home, I helped make my bed. I placed the stuffed Barney on my pillow and stood back to look at it. I couldn’t believe this was all for me. I don’t deserve this. They don’t even know me.
I had never been physically abused by any of my other foster families, but I had never felt special or loved by them either. I felt more like they “tolerated” me. But this time was beginning to feel different.
New home, new preschool. “She already knows how to read and can write her name. She’s very smart.” Mrs. Edina, my foster mom, told my new teacher, Ms. Richards.
I looked around at the other kids, playing in groups. One of my classmates, a little girl with sunshine-colored hair who had been playing with blocks alone, looked up at me. Cautiously, I crept closer.
“Hi,” she said with a smile once I got close. “Wanna play?” I nodded and joined her. “I’m Trinity. What’s your name?” she asked as I reached for a green block.
“Marie,” I mumbled.
She smiled. “Wanna make a house?”
I nodded and we started building.
When the teacher told us to have a seat, Trinity motioned for me to sit by her. Wow, my first friend.
Trinity and I were inseparable for the rest of preschool. She’d tell me secrets; however, I never told her any of my secrets. Unfortunately, her family moved that summer; I never saw her again.
I loved going to school. It made me feel like I was a normal kid. I could distract myself with learning; therefore, I developed a love of learning. I also learned the joy of reading. I could escape into distant worlds and fantasies; reality was just too bleak and tragic.
Every Sunday morning, we went to church. Pine Grove Church of God was the name of it; I met many other kids and had fun in Sunday School and Children’s Church.
I had never been taught about Jesus or God before, at least not that I could remember. I was still unsure of why He would care about me. Why would He love ME? I'm nobody; my own parents don’t even love me. The whole concept of God was comforting yet confusing.
On Wednesday nights we’d go back to church. I had lots of fun then, singing and dancing with the worship music. It still didn’t make sense to me, but it made me feel good. Sometimes I even felt like a regular kid, like the music could wash away all my fears.
I slowly began to look forward to Sundays and Wednesdays. Church was an escape from the real world, a dream amidst the nightmares of my past.
“Please don’t leave me!” I screamed as the door slammed. I heard the lock and wiped away my tears. I was in a room with my brothers, Will and Michael. Michael was still wearing diapers since he wasn’t even a year old yet. Will kept crying and there was nothing I could do. I tried to comfort them, but there was no one there to comfort me. I fought back tears. I was only three but I had to be strong for my little brothers. I was the oldest after all.
Just as I began to fall asleep, I jolted as I heard someone messing with the lock. Mom? No. A stranger walks in, with a weird look on his face. He’s wearing a strange blue uniform with a gun at his side. He picks up Michael and takes him out of the room. I’m frozen in fear. He comes back and takes Will away. I wait but he never comes back for me. I’m all alone with nothing but Cheerios and milk. I stare into the darkness as I feel myself sink into the abyss. The room seems to turn into a black hole and pull me in. I’m falling into nothingness, terrified. I just want out!
I awoke to see myself laying in a bed drenched in sweat. Another night, the same nightmare. I couldn’t tell anyone; they might not love me if they really knew me. I was full of darkness; no one could love a child with so many problems. Besides, this was only the tip of the iceberg.
I sat up in bed, folding my arms over my knees. I buried my head and wept. I was getting used to crying myself to sleep. Each day I pretended to be happy, a ray of sunshine; every night, the darkness brought back the truth. I was alone, shipwrecked, drifting in an ocean of desperation and despair. I didn’t trust anyone enough to let them see my pain. I couldn’t be any more of a burden than I was already. I had to be the perfect child. I needed someone to love me.