Survivor Speaks Out – My Story
Every Storm Ends, yet the Toll Mounts
The weather was warm and the sun was bright on this late spring day in 1979. AJ, a 7-year-old girl with big brown eyes, and brown hair so curly that people often likened her to a brown-haired Shirley Temple. She has a sweet and innocent smile that proudly displays the recent loss of yet another baby tooth. She is dressed in her favorite dress with teddy bear print, and patent leather shoes, holding the hand of her big sister just two years older than she. Her birthday just passed a week ago on Easter Sunday and now she stands in the doorway of an enormous unfamiliar house, unfamiliar people, and with hopes of something else unfamiliar to her…. a happy family with a Mom and Dad that will love her and never hurt her. AJ is starting over, again, with another family in Foster Care.
Wait, lets go back a bit first, and take a brief look at AJ’s journey in life up to this spring day. It was mid-April and very early in the morning when AJ’s Mom awoke in tremendous pain. The pain was not from the beating or punch to the stomach she received from her husband the night before, nor from the meal she made of onions she often ate due to lack of food in the home, but instead she was in labor. AJ’s Mom made it to the hospital but ended up giving birth to little AJ in the elevator. She weighed approximately 4 pounds, a result of being born a few months early, and needed to spend quite a lengthy time in the nursery at the hospital. Unfortunately, she spent most of that time alone as Mom had to return to her husband. Finally, social services contacted AJ’s parents and let them know that their baby was ready to go home to be with her family.
No one knew AJ’s struggle being born and getting home were the easy part and that her biggest challenge, for the next 4 decades, would be to simply survive. Between birth and the age of seven, this little girl endured several forms of abuse, witnessed many horrors, and suffered tragic losses. Between birth and the age of seven she was physically abused, emotionally abused, witnessed severe domestic violence, observed her mother attempt suicide multiple times, was hidden in the trunk of her mother’s car, was dropped off at social services by her parents several times, was used by her mother as a shoplifting mule to steal meats from grocery stores, and witnessed the death of her baby sister at the hands of her mother. AJ survived. Not only did she survive, but also she managed to still be hopeful and optimistic that she, if she could be good enough, would find a family that wouldn’t hurt her. Shortly after her seventh birthday she thought just maybe this new family would be what she wanted and dreamt about for so long.
AJ, her big sister, and the social worker moved into the kitchen in the big white house. Nervous, scared, and excited at the same time; AJ looked around with eyes wide and heart racing to see a smiling lady and man that appeared happy to see her and her sister. She spent the rest of the day getting to know her new foster Mom and Dad, baking cookies, playing with their poodle, and making sure to be very good so that they would hopefully love her and not send her away again. AJ’s dream of a “nice real family” seemed to be coming true. Within a few weeks her hopes and dreams would again begin to slowly shatter.
Within a few weeks this foster Dad, also later to become the Vice President of the local Foster Parent Association, began to take a special interest in AJ and her sister. She did not understand exactly what was going on, but it definitely didn’t seem right. AJ is to be sexually abused by him for many years, and because of all she had been though, she had so much difficulty figuring out what was right and wrong. She wanted to tell her foster Mom so many times, but the foster Mom was not exactly nice, and AJ was afraid of being cast away yet one more time and losing another family. AJ tried to tell the social worker what was going on; but not about the sexual abuse, as that wasn’t something she couldn’t bear to tell anyone. She told the social worker about the foster Mom almost punching her, breaking wooden spoons on her behind, and saying really mean things that made her really sad. She also explained that the foster Mom would go on many trips for several days and leave AJ with the foster Dad and that it was scary and made her feel bad. The trust she put in the social worker to help her was destroyed when all was shared with the foster parents and AJ was punished as a result. She learned quickly that no one could help her, and that if she wanted to keep a family she had to be so very good and not tell anyone anything.
The abuse continued for many years and AJ remained silent about what was happening. She spent so much of her time trying to be perfect so as not to make her foster Mom and Dad mad or not love her. The abuse didn’t stop, but her ability to remain silent was rewarded at age 13 when the foster family adopted AJ, and her sister, giving the world and AJ the illusion of a real family. This created a lot of anxiety and confusion for AJ to the point that one day the Mom was going on another of her frequent trips and leaving the girls with their newly adoptive Dad. AJ’s fear and anxiety over what would surely happen again, as it always did, when they were left alone with their foster/adoptive Dad. She would be molested again. AJ broke. She went running to the car to beg and plead again not to be left behind, but as usual it wasn’t working. Crying, pleading, and scared AJ finally said what was happening to her and her sister when the Mom was not around. AJ broke her silence and told the Mom that if she left them behind she would have to tell someone that could help. AJ’s foster/adoptive Mom was very angry with her, but did not leave for her trip and confronted the Dad. He locked himself in his bedroom and threatened to kill himself and the law was involved. AJ and her sister had to retell the horrific abusive events to many court officials several times and though he was found guilty, the Dad (Vice President of the local Foster Parent Association) did not receive any real consequences that fit the horrific crimes he committed against AJ and her sister for over 6 years. The world successfully reinforced AJ’s concept that nothing in her world is just or fair. Although the Mom did not return to live with the Dad, life for AJ continued to be one struggle after another.
Words can never convey how AJ felt about stopping the sexual abuse she endured for so many years. Unfortunately, her relationship continued to decline with her foster/adoptive Mom. AJ continued to try with all she had to be perfect; she was so careful and tried to stay out of trouble, do as she was told, and she excelled in school to try to ensure she would be loved as much as other children that she saw were loved by their Moms. No matter how hard she tried, her Mom always found fault in her and nothing she ever did seemed good enough. Even as she got older and started to date she faced mental abuse by her Mom. She was often told that she had big thighs, called names like “thunder thighs”, that she talked too much, and that she needed blinders (like those worn by a horse) in order to pay attention. When AJ was in high school, an A/B student, she had a car accident and missed so much school that they were going to have her repeat a grade. She ended up getting her GED, and her Mom told her that she would never be anything and would not have a place in her Mom’s Will. AJ felt cast away once again. When she was 17 and her boyfriend asked AJ to marry him, AJ went to her Mom for support because she was not sure this is what she wanted. Her Mom told her that she should accept because with her background she should be happy that someone wanted her. AJ did as she was told; she got married at 18.
Married at 18, had her first child by 20, and pregnant with second at 21 was the beginning of the many challenges facing AJ as a young woman. She had her second son in 1993, and she had no idea that tragedy would strike again just a few short months later. AJ’s second son died, of Sudden Infant Death, just 9 weeks and 6 days after his birth. She was not even home with him when he passed as she was helping a friend by babysitting their child, while her own baby stayed home with AJ’s husband. AJ’s last moments with her baby were spent in the hospital after he passed away, holding him, rocking him, singing to him, sobbing, and praying over him – Now I lay me down to sleep….
AJ endured the tragic of the loss of her child and tried to continue on her journey to find happiness and peace. Sadly, the loss of a child was too much for such a young couple to bear, and this resulted in AJ’s first divorce. She was alone, with two children and one tiny angel, again struggling in search of her dreams and how to survive. A few years later, AJ got remarried to the man she would love forever, but loving him would require all the strength, perseverance, and survival skills she had acquired thus far. Roughly a year after meeting her knight in shining armor, something changed in him, the abuse started again for AJ. It started with emotional put-downs and escalated to physical abuse towards AJ and her then 5 children, 2 from her first marriage and 3 with him. It had gotten to the point she knew she had to flee to protect not only herself this time, but also to protect her children. They all endured the abuse for more than 10 years while AJ tried to come to terms with what she had to do. She knew she had to leave the man she loved so much, because he was too abusive, and the abuse wasn’t going to stop, no matter how good she and her children tried to be. He would get mad and continue hurting them in some way. The day finally came, she was almost done with nursing school when she decided she couldn’t take the abuse a minute longer, and she packed up her children and left.
Leaving, the abusive man she loved so much, proved to be one of the biggest struggles to survive she would endure. It also served to continue to build her strength, optimism, and determination. She struggled with poverty, homelessness, hunger, and exhaustion while she finished nursing school; the only ray of hope she saw for her children and herself. She managed to scrounge up every bit of inner strength she had and graduate at the top of her class, pass the nursing boards, and even won her states Governor’s Award for Excellence. Things began to look up for AJ and her children. She was able to get a job in mental health that would provide very well for all of them. AJ and her children began to find their self-worth and learn to like themselves again. They all continued to be haunted by nightmares and emotional issues from a tumultuous past, but nonetheless; they moved forward and enjoyed their love as a family and their freedom from abuse. AJ was stronger, happy, and felt she might find companionship again.
Now that AJ and her children seemed stable and doing well, she started attempting to develop some sense of a social life and the possibility of companionship. She entered a few relationships that taught her more about life, but ultimately were not what she wanted. It seemed she couldn’t find the complete family she yearned for so badly all her life. One day, a few years later, she found someone she thought was nice and would be a good companion and partner in life. She remarried thinking he would be good to her and her children. Like a recurrent nightmare, her marriage began to fall apart in less than a year later. He began drinking, using drugs, and becoming verbally and emotionally abusive to AJ and the children, both his and hers. AJ’s two daughters also started showing dangerous behaviors, resulting from emotional damage over the years, and now required professional help. AJ also realized that happiness would likely remain elusive, for all of them, without some form of professional help. She again started to question her life, her choices, and her self-worth. She often wondered if maybe this is all she was to expect out of life and what she deserved? AJ and her children were on their own again trying to rebuild themselves, hope, and faith in people.
Even now, AJ chooses to be hopeful and optimistic that the many difficult decisions she made, and struggles she has endured, have given her much strength. She believes that one day she and her children will find the peace and happiness they so desire. AJ struggles each and every day knowing that she holds responsibility for choosing to allow hurtful people into her, and her children’s, lives. AJ finds she is having a difficult time trusting all of their safety, her own choices, and life in general. The reality of her fears is based on a lifetime of abuse, broken promises, and a lack of self-worth. AJ refuses to give up and remains optimistic that she and her children will find peace, so she continues to hope, to dream, and to survive. They say life is about the journey not the destination… for AJ it appears to be about survival and hopes of a peaceful destination.
The above is a true story that is being shared in hopes that it may help others. For my fellow foster care survivors, may you find all the peace and happiness you so deserve. Also, if you are reading this and contemplating becoming a foster parent, I pray that you will chose this path for all the right reasons and know that you might just save a life. I believe there are many wonderful foster families whom chose their paths for all the right reasons. For those of us whom weren’t lucky enough to be place in those special homes, the storm is terrifying, the toll mounts, and we never stop fighting for our hopes and dreams of peace and happiness. Foster care children; we have the strength to overcome surmountable odds.
RN Writer 2013