I didn’t know where I was going, but all I knew was that I had to get away from here. Then find him. The thought of my little brother, Matty made my jaw clench. I pictured his crooked smile and bright hazel eyes. My thoughts jumped over one another in my mind as I quickly packed a bag of whatever I deemed essential. I was in yet another foster home. I have been in and out of the system since I was nine and now I’m fifteen—sixteen in a little over a week. This new family would not let me have any contact with my brother. Not to mention, the “dad” seemed to have a little too much interest in me and so far in my experience that was never a good sign.
I had been in the home less than twenty four hours and I knew I wouldn’t stay.
I cursed as I remembered our social worker, Kerry telling us that Matty and I would be separated. I fought and screamed and cried, but they told me it had to be done. No one wanted to adopt me — a smart ass teenager, but Matty was a sweet eight year old. Kerry pointed out that I had too much influence over him and he would never get comfortable in a home since I wasn’t. He followed my every move and supported me wholeheartedly even when it got us into trouble. He had a chance of having a family, Kerry would say. I shook that thought from my head. No, he should be with me. I am his family. I have always had this fierce mother-like claim over my brother, most likely due to the lack of parental figures in both our lives. The thought of never seeing him again was too painful.
Once I had a few changes of clothes — mostly just sweatshirts and sweatpants — and things such as toothpaste and a toothbrush, I slipped the book bag onto my back and head towards the bedroom door. I hesitated as I looked around the room. It was a small room, but definitely better than others I have had before. I felt a tiny pang of guilt as I pictured the kind face of the woman who let me into her home, it disappeared as soon as I thought of her husband. Images of a hand sliding up my thigh, men hovering over me with their alcohol soaked breath slapping my face, my tiny wrists pegged above me brought a tremble through my body. I shook my head and the thoughts of my previous trauma disappeared as I slowly turned the door knob. I crept into the dark hallway, holding my breath. As I descended the stairs, they would creak every so often and I would pause, but no one would come rushing from upstairs. After what felt like an eternity, I made it to the front door. An overwhelming urge to run back up the stairs and lay in that bed cane over me, as if my fear was taking over my whole body.
This isn’t your home, I reminded myself.
I didn’t have a home no matter how desperately I wanted one. The closest I would ever get is being with Matty. I had never truly been alone before and truthfully it frightened me. Matty was always with me — him depending on me as much as I did him and this time I had no one. I stood up straight with a deep breath and walked through the door.
The cold air nipped at my cheeks as I walked down the road. A grimace formed on my face as I realized where I had to go first — to my mother. She was a deadbeat, caring more about drugs than her own children. Her profession was not compatible with children either; she worked as a prostitute. This is how she got money to buy drugs, but never used it to buy her kids food. Matty was only a year old when we were first taken away from her and given that we didn’t have any other family or know who our fathers were, we were put into the system. The thought of seeing her after a year made my stomach queasy. I wondered if she still lived in the bug infested apartment, but even if she wasn’t that’s where I was headed. If she wasn’t there anymore I could ask around for some leads. There was nothing else to go on and I was only about two towns over from the apartments so I could get there easily enough.
I reached the bus stop and sat on the bench. I couldn’t keep still and kept biting my nails until I tasted blood. I stopped once I felt a pinch of pain and laid my hands at my sides. Anticipation filled my entire body as it longed for the bus to come into view. I studied my surroundings, attempting to calm myself. There were two other people waiting for the bus. An old woman whose body looked worn out and tired and a man who seemed even more anxious than me. I could tell he was starting to go through withdrawal. I wouldn’t even be shocked if he was going to the same apartments as me — they were known for addicts and dealers.
The bus finally came into view, subduing my anxiety slightly. I had no clue what would meet me when I saw my mother. Would she be with a new asshole? Would she be conscious? Would she be high? I already knew the answer to the last question, but it didn’t make me dread it any less. I rose, shifting my bag so it laid on my shoulders and boarded the bus. I chose a seat isolated in the back to avoid any unnecessary socialization and pulled up my hood. Leaning my head against the cold window, I let my thoughts take over.
Familiar buildings came into view as the bus pulled into the town I called home as a child, Mount Holly. I faintly remember walking down the streets and playing in the parks as my mom did god knows what. There were many times I was left alone for hours at a time and no one asked any questions. Sometimes other kids were left behind at the park as well and that was how I made the majority of my friends. Our parents either didn’t realize how vulnerable we were all alone or simply didn’t care. We all got taken advantage of at one point or another. A deep bitterness has been growing in me ever since for the people who did not protect us. For the people who were supposed to. I shuddered at the thought and took a deep breath as I stood up to get off the bus. The apartments were about two blocks away and I would have to walk the rest of the way. Looking at the prepaid flip phone Kerry gave me in case I ever needed her, it told me it was 1:36am. Not exactly the safest time to be walking around.
Understanding I had no choice, I quickly started down the street. I kept glancing around and staying alert, but careful not to bring attention to myself. There was barely anyone on the streets due to the December cold air. I pulled on my sleeves as I rounded the corner into the parking lot that I knew all too well. Flashes of fights and social services clouded my mind, but one was pushed to the front of my memory.
“Come on, Mom,” I yelled, “Don’t we mean anything to you? I don’t want to be in strangers homes anymore.”
“Nadia, stop guilt tripping me. You’re fine. Those people can give you a life I can’t,” my mom slurred as she took a step away from me. Matty was huddled behind me, holding onto my leg. Kerry let us visit our mom since our last foster home fell through again.
“You’re ridiculous. Those people have hurt us. You only care about yourself,” I yelled as I took a step forward. Anger overcame me like a wave of heat and my hands were shaking. “You can’t even pretend to be okay in front of the social worker?! You knew we were coming here to see you and you’re high off your ass. I hate you.”
She looked hurt for a second, but then stood up straight and stepped toward us, “Listen you little bitch, I don’t want you or him,” she spat and sent a glare down at Matty, “You have taken everything from me. You’re the selfish ones. My life would be easier without you. I would still have my power. I would still have my family.”
I looked down at Matty to see tears streaming down his face. I snapped my gaze back up at my mother and took two quick steps forward. My hand was already flying across her face before I even realized what I was doing. She stumbled back and I grabbed Matty’s hand and pulled him towards the door. I could hear my mom sobbing, but I didn’t look back.
I winced at the last memory I had of my mother. I doubt she would be very happy to see me, but I had to find Matty. After that exchange, Kerry informed me that my mom no longer wanted to have any visits with us. I knew I shouldn’t have hit her, but all the pent of rage inside me came out at once. She didn’t have to say those things in front of Matty. Anything could be said about me, but I would never let anyone hurt my little brother.
My eyes scanned the apartments as I walked up the stairs onto the second floor. I kept walking until I saw apartment B14. Gathering all the strength I could, I took a deep breath and knocked on the door. I could hear shuffling on the other side of the door and finally when the door opened, I gasped in surprise. I knew the person in front of me was my mother, but she did not look like the woman I remembered at all. Her dark blonde hair was matted and her entire body looked emaciated. The clothes on her body hung loosely like they were on the verge of sliding off her. The dark circles under her eyes swallowed her face, making her blue eyes appear dull. Even her skin had a sickly yellow tone about it.
She smiled at me and I could see the ghost of the woman she used to be. “Oh, my sweet girl, Nadia. I’ve missed you,” She cried as she threw her arms around my neck and then pulled me inside. I quickly surveyed the apartment and saw it was as much a mess as my mother was. Garbage littered the tables and dust filled the air. I shook my head, wondering how she lived like this.
“Don’t mind the mess baby. I am just happy you’re here. I still have your room and everything,” she slurred as she dragged me towards my old room, “Come look.”
Shockingly, my room seemed to be the only one untouched by the mess and clutter. It was just as I remembered it with pink bedding and all my stuffed animals and toys cluttered in the corner. It even seemed like my mother cleaned this room since there was no dust in sight. My thoughts were confirmed when she said, “I’ve been keeping it nice for you. I knew you would come back to me.” My stomach clenched as I felt pity for this woman. As much as I wanted to be rude and to the point I felt like I owed her kindness.
“It’s good to see ya, mom. How have you been?” I asked carefully.
She smiled and said, “You know. I’m getting along fine. I’m just happy my perfect girl is back.”
“Well, I’m actually here because I need to know where Matty is.”
My mom shifted uncomfortably and ignored my comment. “Listen, I have to go to work for a little, but I won’t be gone long. I’ll grab us some food while I’m out. You should sleep and I’ll be back soon.” She then scrambled out of the room and I heard the front door shut. I glanced down at the phone which read 2:14am. I laid down on the familiar bed, willing myself to sleep.