There I sat, a four-year-old girl, in a dark room filled with heroin needles, lighters and walls covered in blood. As I heard the sirens and shouts, confusion and chaos, I knew that something was about to happen and things were about to change. I heard voices on megaphones coming from outside in the front yard letting us know the house was surrounded. The door was kicked open and the raid began. As my 10-year-old brother Brian tried to hide me in a closet, a tall, thin, dark haired female social worker came between us and took me from his arms. Our mom lay drunk and full of heroin on the couch not able to comprehend what was going on in her own living room. The police stood around and went in and out of rooms. There were many arrests made that day. The people who were always hanging around in the house with us were finally taken into custody and I was taken down the front steps by a police officer. As they put me in the social worker’s vehicle, I kicked the dashboard of her car. I was screaming to be let out. I turned and looked through the back window as we drove away. I saw my mom stumbling down the steps confused and finally becoming aware that I was being taken away. I watched her being pulled back in and handcuffed by a police officer. My brother got out of the arms of the other social worker and chased the car down the road until the police officer grabbed him and held him back. That was the last time I saw my brother Brian until I was 6 years old. That is one of the earliest memories I have. That moment is one of the recurring dreams and flashbacks I suffer with today.
That day I was taken to the Department of Social Services. I stayed in that facility for a few weeks until a foster home was found for me. Being so young it is hard to recall the specific events surrounding my time in the foster care system. I can just remember different children that were my playmates and adults being around us showing us how to clean up our toys in the common areas. What I did know was that none of these children were my brother so I was very hostile toward the children there. I remember being put in time out a lot for how I treated the other children. I was a troubled child. I can see why I struggle with temperament issues today. I remember the day that they brought the prospective family over to me. The social worker told me that these people wanted to bring me to their home with other brothers and sisters to play with and that they would love me and take care of me. I remember thinking such a naïve thought that being in a home with fewer children than I currently was around would give me access to more toys that I wouldn’t have to share.
When the family walked toward me I saw a seemingly happy husband and wife. I couldn’t care less about the story that went with them. All I wanted was someone to love me and to give me a home and I wanted a chance to get out of there to see my brother Brian again. I walked to the gated window with the social worker that was in charge of my case. The new parents were standing on the other side of the window completing their paperwork.
All I could think of is that this may mean that I may get to see my brother again once I got free from that place. I had no idea what kind of situation I was getting into, nor did they. These parents that I went home with had 6 other children at home and I was the last child they brought home. They had chosen to foster and adopt only special needs children. I was the 7th special needs child they had chosen. I was deemed special needs because I was born to a mother who did drugs while pregnant with me. I had attachment disorder and night terrors and I was hard to control. The anger outbursts I had towards the other children deemed me to be a special needs child as well.
I lived with this family for the next year and had many meetings with social workers and several evaluations by psychologists. The choice was made for this family to keep me. At the age of five years old there was a court date and I was officially adopted into this family. The next two years were strange and full of experience. There were various days of visits at the court house from my biological mother, supervised of course, and by the time I turned 6 my biological father was allowed to bring my biological brother to visit me at my adopted parents’ house. My life was complete as long as my brother Brian was coming to play with me and to be a part of my life again.
At that time in my life I went by another name, a name given at birth, my first alias. My name at that time was Melissa. My biological brother Brian would call me Lisa. To this day the people in my community who knew me from the time I was adopted still call me by my first given name. It is weird to hear that name spoken. It is surreal. It reminds me of a distant past. It is hard to explain to people today why my name was changed. It is the first question people ask when they find out about it. My new adopted parents were trying to protect me from my biological mother. Communication with her was cut off after she was taken back to prison. I still turn my head every time I hear someone say Melissa. That was my name. That was who I was. It is hard to undergo a name change like that. At such a young age, it was hard to understand. It led to me questioning things later in life about who I really am. I struggle enough with figuring out who my “real family” is let alone who I am and what my name really is. To me, I feel more comfortable with Melissa. That is who I really am. Legally my name is now Rachel. Each time I write it or say it, I still feel as though I am hiding a part of myself. I met a man on a plane recently and when he asked me my name he looked at me funny when I told him that my name was Rachel. He told me that name didn’t suit me and he asked if I ever went by another name. When I explained to him that it used to be Melissa, he smiled and told me that was the name that suited me. It is hard for me to go back and forth from the people who knew me as Melissa, who still use that name while talking to me, and then the people in my later years call me Rachel. It throws me back and forth and I struggle with what my name really should be.
By the time I turned 7, one of my older adopted sisters had run away from home and no one has seen her still to this day. I didn’t blame her. If I had the means and understanding I would have run away from the situation we were in, too. It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t fair. It was more uncomfortable than anything. Two years after I lived there, the two oldest twin brothers moved out at age 18 to try and find their own biological family. I was left in this new home with two brothers and a sister. They were each severely mentally disabled. The older sister had a traumatic brain injury from a car accident before she was adopted into this new family. The other two brothers were drug babies as well and the oldest of the two had fetal alcohol syndrome and was his own mess of a person.
As the months passed, I noticed my adopted mother being gone more and more and my adopted father was always gone at work. I thought maybe she was out looking for her other daughter that had run away. That is the only thing that made sense in my mind at the time. I would try to help in my own way by watching out the windows everyday waiting for her to come back home. Finally the answer came to why she was always gone. That year I was told by my adopted mother that she was going to leave my adopted father and she was going to be moving into another house. She told me that when I saw the judge at the next court hearing I needed to tell him that I did not want to stay with my adopted father and the rest of the children but that I wanted to move in with her. I was confused and had no idea what was going on. My adopted father, on the other hand, was telling me to tell the judge that I wanted to stay there with him and the other children. She would tell me terrible things about my adopted father. She told me that he never spent time with her because he didn’t love her and that he didn’t spend time with me because he didn’t love me either. She wanted me to choose her side. At 7 years old I didn’t understand why my adopted father didn’t love us. It made sense in a way because he was always working. I had started to believe her.
I remember my adopted mother coming to the house while my dad was at work and taking boxes of things to her van. She let me help her carry things out. She said she was giving them to families in need. I figured that I was helping her do something good. I didn’t understand at the time what she had me doing. Looking back I see that she was taking things to her new trailer. Her and her boyfriend were moving into a local trailer park. She had me helping her with it not knowing what was going on. When I found out later in life, I struggled with anger towards her for a long time after I found out what I helped her accomplish. I blamed myself for the hurt that my adopted father faced through the divorce because I felt like I helped her hurt him.
On the day of the court hearing to determine who would get custody of me, I remember standing in front of the judge and saying that I wanted to stay with my dad. I didn’t understand at the time why I was saying that but I knew that my dad had told me to say it for a reason. I can clearly remember the hurt in his face that he carried around with him. It that was the sad look of someone that needed help but was too afraid to ask. I had a sense of helping people even then so I knew that staying with him was the only thing I was capable of doing to help him. I remember the look of anger in my adopted mother’s eyes when I made the decision and I didn’t understand her reaction. I thought she was mad at me. It made me feel like the divorce was all happening because of me.
Now that I am older I look back at the situation having learned the truth about what was going on. My adopted mother was having an affair for 6 years during the adoptions. Her plan was to adopt until she got the daughter that she always wanted. She told me that she waited years for me. After adopting me she planned on taking me with her and running off with the man she had the affair with. I was angry at first after finding this out and I felt resentment towards her for a long time. I felt bad for my adopted father because he was married to a woman he loved who had always wanted children. He personally never wanted children. He was willing to adopt us 7 children because he loved her and wanted his wife to be happy. He worked 16 hours a day to support us all, not knowing that at the same time she was planning her own life on the side. She claims she left him because he was never around because he worked too much, that she was lonely and wanted a new family and a man to love her. In his defense the children she adopted were the reason he had to be gone to work so much. Her actions were not justified and in no case do I believe that an affair should ever be justified. I do see that my father worked a lot and I understand now that it wasn’t his choice to work so much but in order to support us he didn’t have any other option.
I lived with my adopted father and two special needs brothers and one special needs sister for several years after my adopted mother left. Our adopted father worked all the time so we basically raised ourselves. We had visitation days with our mother. She had to come to our house when she wanted to see us because the man she lived with had five kids of his own and he didn’t want us coming to their trailer. Mondays were the days she would visit. The visitations I looked forward to were from my biological father and brother Brian. They would come to visit me at my adopted father’s house twice a week and my biological brother would stay a couple days at a time with us. I was content just being able to spend time with Brian. To this day I am grateful for those days and those moments I shared with him. When I was 9, my adopted sister ended up moving out when she got married to another special needs man. My adopted mother got married to the man she was having an affair with when I was 9, as well. I was left in the house with two brothers. Those days spent with them were not easy for me as a young girl. I still wonder if I can blame the two of them for the things they did to me during that time or if their disabilities leave them blameless. Either way, I struggled for a long time with the difficulty of forgiving them. I will get into further details about what they put me through later in the book.
After my adopted parents’ divorce, my adopted dad would leave for work and I would be left with the two special needs brothers that were 6 and 10 years older than me. I went through years of physical and sexual abuse with the brothers as my dad went off to work. It got to the point where they would bring the neighbor boys over to “play” the games with me as well. As a little girl I didn’t understand what was going on and what was normal and right or wrong. I subdued those thoughts that came back through the years until recent years. I have finally been able to emotionally face the challenges I went through. The sickness in my stomach radiates to my heart and I feel broken, abused and poisoned to this day. I grew up thinking that the things that were happening to me were just normal things that all the other girls my age went through. The older brother is now running around with the circus after having two children with mentally handicapped women from our neighborhood and leaving the state. I haven’t heard from him in years and now that I am finally facing what it was he did to me, I choose never to contact him again even if he does come back around. There is no telling what lies in the mind of someone like that. When my adopted mother’s new husband finally let us come visit their trailer, I would stay for weekends with them in the trailer park. I made many friends there that told me they faced a lot of the same challenges in life that I went through. I finally had people my age to relate to. People at school made fun of me when I would stay there and the other girls called me trailer trash. They didn’t understand what I went through and I could care less what they thought because being in the trailer park, I found friends who hurt in the same way I did. I felt a sense of belonging there.
To this day I have never told my adopted father the things that happened to me while he was away at work because I don’t want him to blame himself for never being around. I don’t blame my adopted father for the things that happened to me. The only reason he was never there is because he had to work two jobs to support the kids that he had adopted for the wife who he thought was going to help raise them. I know so many people today that suppress the hurtful thoughts like I did. People bury the feelings and emotions that go along with sexual abuse and they pretend like it never happened. I learned that unless you deal with the emotions you are burying, they will eat you from the inside out. It is painful and embarrassing to admit that these things happened. I hated bringing them up when entering recent relationships but if I didn’t bring them out into the open I would never be able to live a normal life. The person you end up spending your life with needs to know the trials you have faced so that they will understand when you have breakdowns and panic attacks at random times. The person you choose to spend your life with should know you better than yourself. You can’t get help unless you admit that you are in need. I am the last person to ask for help, but when it comes to issues of deep emotion, we all need someone who can pick us up from our hardest falls.
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