The memoir of first going into fostercare
| I’m walking down the hall, my classmates and Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Brooks ahead of me. I don’t know where I am, but the children are laughing happily and skipping down the halls. Yet I feel sick, scared. I don’t know what’s wrong. They all go down a flight of stairs, dark, narrow and steep. I pause at the top. Mrs. Brooks calls to me, “Come on Peggy, we’re waiting!” I take a step, and I fall.
It’s amazing how something is burned into your memory as a child, something so traumatic that even fifteen years later you remember every detail. Someone once told me that it’s easier to go through traumatic experiences as a child because it’s easier to forget. I just smiled. A child has the most impressionable mind above all other ages. They stay with what they are taught, whether they are right or wrong. They never forget what you do to them, at least I never did.
It was the start of spring in our small town of Phillipston, Massachusetts and I was six years old. My sister Barbara was in the second grade and I was in the first grade. I loved school, and I loved to read. My cousin Amy was a month younger than me, and she was my best friend. We ate together, rode together, even sat together in class. It was recess time and Amy and I were playing on the gym set when the monitor came over to speak with me.
“Peggy, Miss O’Brien would like to see you in her office.” She told me with a smile. “Amy, you can wait here.”
My sister was coming out of Miss. O’Brien’s office when I arrived there. I tried to smile at her, but she wouldn’t meet my eyes. “Barbara!” I called out. But she just hurried down the hall without looking back. This was strange for her, she never ignored me before. We always had a good relationship and I was confused.
The guidance counselor was a small, round woman who reminded me of an owl with her short, brown hair and round thick rimmed glasses. She was talking on the phone in hushed tones when I got to her door, but I heard her fine. “That’s what she said. She didn’t seem mad, just upset. Well, I’m going to speak to her sister and get some more information.” At that moment she looked up and saw me standing in the doorway. “Ok, she’s here, I will call you after. Peggy! Come on in and sit down.” She said replacing the receiver on the hook. She looked nervous as she shuffled papers around on the desk and I sat down in front of her.
“How is school, Peggy?” she asked me. “Are you getting good grades?”
I only nodded, still wondering why I was there. She continued to ask me questions, how was my mother? Was I excited for spring break? And other questions that I answered obediently. Then she started asking me about my father.
“How is your father?”
“He is good.”
“Is he still working?”
“Does your father hit you?”
“He spanks me when I’m very bad.”
“Does he hug and kiss you?”
“Does he ever make you feel bad?”
“NO.” I started to get uncomfortable with all the questions. “Can I go play outside now?”
She shook her head. “Not yet, soon. Just answer a few more questions.” She smiled at me. “Has your dad ever touched you in a bad spot? Or kiss you in a wrong place.
“Peggy, you can tell me anything, you know, you won’t be in trouble.”
I began to cry. “My dad loves me!” I yelled at her. “He doesn’t do bad things.”
The questions finally stopped. By the time the interrogation stopped recess was over and I slid quietly into my seat. I sat quietly just waiting for the day to be over. On the bus ride home Amy asked me what was wrong and what the counselor talked to me about. I told her I just didn’t feel well. Which was the truth; the questions she had asked made me sick to my stomach. I just wanted to go home.
On the walk home from the bus stop I tried to ask my sister why Miss O’Brien asked me those awful questions. She wouldn’t answer me. The entire walk home she was silent, despite my persistent efforts to get her to talk. Finally, when we were almost home she spoke. “You keep quiet, you hear me?” she yelled. “I should have never said anything! Then she took off running the rest of the way home. I tried to keep up, but she was just too fast.
When I got there my dad’s Chevy van wasn’t there, but a red sedan was. My sister still hadn’t gone in, so I did. My mother was sitting at the kitchen table, crying. A strange woman sat across her with a firm look on her face. When I came in she smiled.
“Where’s daddy?” I asked my mother, climbing into her lap. My mother kept quiet, but the strange woman answered for her.
“You don’t have to worry anymore, child.” She tried to say reassuringly, but it was anything but reassuring. “Your daddy can’t hurt you anymore!”
“He never hurt me! My daddy loves me! I want to see my daddy! I hate you all!” I screamed and screamed, and when Barbara came in I screamed at her. “What did you do? Why can’t we see daddy?” But my sister stayed silent.
The next few weeks without my daddy seemed like a blur. I missed him, and I could tell that my sister did as well. My mother struggled with us and tried to act like everything was going to be fine, but it wasn’t. I wasn’t sure things would ever be the same again. One day my sister and I came home from school to see the Chevy van once more in our driveway. We ran inside the house and into our father’s arms. Our mother made us promise not to tell.
Later on in the week Barbara and I had an appointment with our therapist. She had taken us to a park in Athol. On the way home I leaned over to her. “I have a big secret.” I whispered to her. “If you promise not to tell, I will tell you it.”
When we got home my sister slapped me and pulled my hair. She had never hurt me before. “Why did you tell?” She yelled at me. “You’ve ruined everything! You betrayed us!” I didn’t understand what she meant. But the very next day at school I found out.
Once again I was called into an office, this time Principal K’s office. My sister was sitting at the round table sobbing, holding onto her box of crayons. There was another strange woman standing in the corner, holding a shiny black briefcase. I looked at Mr. K and he looked back at me, tears in his eyes.
“Peggy, you and Barbara are going to go for a ride with this woman, her name is Miss Kate,” he told me. “I want you to be the good little girl I know you are. I’ve sent someone for your backpack.”
I didn’t want to go with this stranger. I fought, I screamed and I cried. I was dragged to the car with her hand clamped around my small wrist like an iron manacle. I could see my classmates’ faces pressed against the windows watching the spectacle with round eyes. I didn’t care anymore. I just wanted to go back to class and do my work.
When I was in the car, I turned to my sister with tears streaming down my face. “I hate you,” she spat at me with venom in her voice. “You did this.”
Shocked and numb, I looked out the back window as we pulled away. Amy had come running out of the building towards the car as she called my name. “Peggy, where are you going?”She yelled. “Come back!” Mr. K gathered her in his arms and bent his head to speak to her. She buried her face in her hands as her shoulders shook. Another teacher led her back into the building.
My sister and I traveled about an hour, until we passed a sign that said, “Welcome to Northampton.” I stared out the window as we pulled onto a street lined with tall, two family homes. We pulled up to a brown one where two girls were playing on the porch. They stared at us as we got out of the car. Barbara and I were led up a long, dark set of stairs. The kind I saw in my dreams. I tried to take my sister’s hand, but she pushed me away. Miss Kate knocked, and the door was immediately opened by a tall, plump woman with curling gray hair. “Welcome to your new home!” She chimed in a syrupy voice. I screamed.
The memories don’t stop there. There was the investigation, the invasive probing to see if what my sister said was fact or fiction. It turned out she was right, and by her telling, she protected me from being hurt by our father. But I did get hurt. Twelve years of bouncing from foster home to foster home, of new schools, of never having time to make friends. Twelve years of men taking advantage of a vulnerable little girl and of feeling alone and unwanted. Twelve years of therapy that didn’t work.
Everyone tells me I will heal with time. It’s been fifteen years and I’m still healing. I’m a stronger, better person for what I’ve been through. I was six years old, but time didn’t wash the memories away, and they didn’t fade. I remember every day. I don’t think I ever will. They say an elephant never forgets. Well, neither does a child.