The Time I Dodged Being Used in Child Porn

Note:  My story is unfortunately not atypical for a youth in foster care.  Rape, abuse, neglect and emotional harm are all rampant in the system.  If you'd like to help please don't hesitate to search for your local foster care groups -- even if you can't parent, you can still volunteer, become a CASA, or otherwise make a difference.

It's funny how the past fragments sometimes.  Mostly I just have two big bundles of my shitty childhood.  There's "home" and "foster care."  Foster care consisted of home after home after home, and subsequent disappointments (of mine and my foster parents'...) it really just blurs into one miserable lump until something comes into my consciousness that demands attention.  That's usually when my therapist learns about it, I get to revisit it and process it, and occasionally rant about it here because that's how I do.  When it's time to share, well, it's time to share.

The foster care system just about breaks its neck getting parents and kids reunited, even though logic would dictate that isn't always a reasonable or good thing.  Some families suck.  If "reunification with bio parents" (I remember all the shitty legal terms) isn't possible, sometimes an alternative in the State's eyes is a permanent guardian in the child's family--think aunt, uncle, grandparent.  The theory here again is that family=better than strangers.  I might even argue for that one, but on a case by case basis.  Sorry, but blood does not guarantee safety, as I unfortunately learned when I was sixteen.

I was placed with such a family member.  The State and my caseworkers all breathed a huge sigh of relief and told me this was it, this was the place I would graduate from, the place I'd say until I was old enough for college and my amazing wonderful life.  Never mind the fact that an older sister was placed with this same family member years earlier, and moved "because they couldn't get along."  Oh.
My focus today isn't the abuse that went on inside that home; it was there and plentiful, but the real issue stems from the notion that this was "a good place for you" despite all of that abuse.  Monthly visits from caseworker? Nope.  Assurance that I was being taken care of, private conversations and the ability for me to share any concerns? Nope.  Any sort of interventions or therapy or god forbid, those fucking life skills classes? Nope.  I was with family, you see, I had to be doing great!

For brevity's sake, I will refer to my male abuser my uncle, though he wasn't.  He started off innocently playing the "cool parent" card, letting me do things and go places the other parent wouldn't.  I got the impression that he really wanted me to like him.  For a month or so there were no sinister undertones, likely because he was 'testing the waters' with me.  His spouse confided in me during this time that before I moved in, a note had come attached to their car from a young woman threatening charges and pleading to have something done about this man--he was sending her flowers, leaving her messages, stalking her.  My family member basically admitted this was true, after her own investigation.  It blew me away that she was still with this man whom she knew had stalked a young girl.  

This was significant as not only a warning of what I could expect in the future, but a warning that even if I presented evidence or stories of abuse, it wouldn't matter.  Every time I considered opening up to this family member, who I had zero interest in opening up to or trusting, I remembered the reaction to a blatant stalking issue and refrained.  There was no one else there to listen.

***The Abuse***

Again I'm not going into details here, but I think most sex offenders toe the line and see how far they can get with no resistance, and that's what I experienced.  Lucky him, I was a terrified and confused and disgusted teenager with no support, no one telling me to stand up for myself, and zero intrusive adults who would protect me--in foster care, opening your mouth about anything leaves you vulnerable to attacks, the threat of a group home, your juvenile judge finding out and punishing you, and so on.

He was grooming me for this time period.  Things like forcing me to watch porn, making me wear lingerie and subsequent "topless lotion massages" in the lingerie...you get the gist.  But the turning point, the really scary part, happened at the flea market he worked weekends at.  I was inclined to go with him to help him sell old, out of date candy--at first I thought it was fun, and a break to get out of the house--but I learned to dread it really quickly once he introduced me to his "friend."

The flea market was a huge gathering in an enclave of mostly Latinos, with a few white salvagers sprinkled in.  We fit that category, as well as this "friend."  Friend was an older, wiry man in his 50's who peddled boxes and boxes of VHS porn.  I mean this stuff was straight out of the 80's, down to the explicit and sun-faded covers.  At first my "uncle" introduced us and combed through the VHS tapes, eagerly instructing me to pick out something we could "watch later".  This was in broad daylight, in front of crowds of people.  How embarrassed I felt, halfheartedly digging through the damn things and knowing what came next at home.

One weekend we were at our booth when Friend approached, and blatantly began asking me about my sex life.  He was thrilled that I was a virgin.  "But you haven't done nothin'?"  Nope.  "What about tongue kissin'?"  That, I had done.  "Oh, good.  That's good."  My uncle seemed to be taking notes as he looked back and forth excitedly.  I knew he was inexperienced at whatever this guy was experienced at.  It got around to, "Those are nice clothes.  You buy those clothes yourself?"  Most are given to me, I'm a charity case.  "You want some money?  Buy you some nice clothes?"  Regrettably, all of the booths around us were Latinos, and they couldn't understand a word of what we were saying.  Even though it was a sunny summer day with crowds of people walking by, I felt so cold, and terrified, and alone.

I told him I didn't need money, that I got an allowance from the State.  (I was supposed to, but my family member never gave it to me, but that's besides the point) He segued the conversation farther, into asking me if I wanted to leave for a bit that afternoon and see his "art studio."  A swift nope.  I walked away and pretended to do something stupid like sort through candy or make a sale, and I heard the two of them talking.  I heard specifics--it's not like they were quiet about this.  Friend reassured Uncle that he could have me back in a week or two.  Uncle expressed that I was a foster kid and couldn't miss school.  We could do it during one of the school breaks, maybe.  Wherever he was taking me wasn't far, he said.  He suggested pulling the van up one day at the flea market.  Their view was essentially that a weekend criminal event (as they viewed it) would be full of people who would turn their heads.  He discussed that I was "Less valuable" as an "older girl" but I still looked "pretty young" especially with my braces.  Outfits were discussed, cameras.

I stormed off and made sure to stay in plain sight.  I had no idea what to do.  I ended up at a vendor who sold ripoff Nike beanies, a young Latino who spoke about three words of English.  In broken Spanish I tried to enthusiastically tell him I wanted to better my Spanish.  I had no idea what else to do.  He was eager to improve his English he said, so he and his booth-neighbors struck up conversations with me.  I wished more than anything to have a way to tell them "please help me" or "watch for me in case I'm not here one day" but we didn't have google translate back in the day.

Every Saturday after that was pure torture.  I tried to fake sick.  My uncle was adamant about dragging me out of bed on a Saturday morning--there was no stipulation or requirement of child labor from the State, but I guess that was far above his morals.  I would set up candy and make my way over to my beanie vendor and his friends.  I nervously stayed in the heart of the market, never going too close to the dirt roads that encircled it, in case that unmistakable white van was waiting to pick me up.  I did see it cruise by several times.  I heard Friend, at his booth, call me over, several times.  I played deaf.  I got chewed out by my Uncle for being lazy and "flirting with the Mexicans instead of working."  He tried to intimidate me into staying at the booth, but I was too afraid.

After around two months worth of weekends spent in perpetual fear, Friend, Friend's booth full of old porn tapes, and all mention of him disappeared completely.  I looked over my shoulder from summer into fall, but he never came back and was never mentioned.  I don't know what happened to him and only hope it was something in the realm of what he deserved--unfortunately the universe rarely works that way.  But a girl can still hope.

It wasn't soon after the Friend debacle that uncle moved out of the house we were in to be with the woman he was having an affair with, and I honestly could not have rejoiced more.

There were other incidents in that foster home (and subsequent ones, though nothing that dramatic I'm happy to report!) but this ends the tale of the time I dodged being used in child porn.  These horrible rings and circles are closer than you'd ever imagine--take care of yourself and your kids.


Better than Positivity

I've made it no secret that I detest the syrupy all-positive narrative that infests everything on social media.  Probably the biggest reason I never dove head-first into that "make money with your blog" thing isn't because I don't care to write, I do, or that I don't see it as a good investment, I do, but nobody wants to hear negative things or failures or venting or ranting or anger.  Not just the blogosphere, but even micro-blogging sites (Instagram, Snapchat) and our personal accounts are de facto "not allowed" to say "this shit's terrible!"

I don't mean to say that I scroll through the news looking at horror stories, that's just as bad.  I long to read and see and hear about and talk about, and live, something that's better than positivity--perseverance.  There's a million things I could even say about it right now, but I'm trying to stay on topic here.  Day to day people and relationships are so much different than the curated posts and photos.  I hear and see struggles and the people in my life impress me with their resilience, maturity, and perseverance.  That's so much better, so refreshing, and it teaches me so much more than "derr, sit down and write five happy things about today!"  Lay off.

Anyway, I thought I'd share my favorite passage about this...at least, that's how I interpret it.  Why people persevere and keep going.  The true answer? No reason.  A million reasons.

“The garden is one of the two great metaphors for humanity.
The garden is about life and beauty and the impermanence of all living things.  The garden is about feeding your children, providing food for the tribe.  It’s part of an urgent territorial drive that we can probably trace back to animals storing food.

It’s a competitive display mechanism, like having a prize bull, 
this greed for the best tomatoes and English tea roses.
It’s about winning; about providing society with superior things; and about proving that you have taste, and good values, and you work hard.

And what a wonderful relief, every so often, to know who the enemy is.  Because in the garden, the enemy is everything: the aphids, the weather, time.

And so you pour yourself into it, care so much, and see up close so much birth, and growth, and beauty, and danger, and triumph.
And then everything dies anyway, right?
But you just keep doing it.”


2017 Haircut!

I cut my hair!

Oh no you don't. You're about to go, "and?" Don't you dare.

I'm going to sound incredibly vain and Leo-esque for a moment; my hair has been my life's prize possession, I'm talking about my entire childhood and all adult years. I have no idea where this started, but I imagine it was my dad; he had really long hair, and there was no discussion of whether or not we (including my mother, sister, and me) kept our hair long. We just did it because he demanded it. In fact, both my mother and myself were privy to a secret haircut, courtesy of my aunt and grandmother, and both times my dad freaked the everloving hell out when we came home with chopped locks.

I have no idea where his Puritan lady-hair ideals came from, because I'm pretty sure that Satan himself is more religious than my dad. I never figured it out, but didn't argue because I loved having long hair. I have always been into fairy tales and warrior princesses, before I even read about Eowyn. I kept it long in foster care, cut it off for graduation, HATED it, and waited years to cut it again. HATED it. I cried as soon as I was a safe distance from the barber's chair both times.

So in my early 20's I dedicated myself to long hair, happily. I didn't look back and no amount of the "it's just hair, it grows" comments lessened my fear of scissors. Truly I was a female Samson! I can't stress enough that I would probably bargain my soul and anyone else's soul (except my cats) if it meant choosing soul, or my long hair. It would be like suggesting to someone that they take out their eyeballs and just go blind. Nope.  And the strangest part is that since I periodically trim the extra-extra-EXTRA dead ends, my hair actually got shorter!  It was getting trimmed faster than I could grow it.  That's very discouraging for any long-haired wisher.

Anyway, how did this change of heart happen? It just did one day. I was just so tired of mixing colors or spending time on styles, and most of all, I was tired of the big dead weight of damaged hair trailing down my back. It only looked good if I put ten conditioners and treatments and glosses in, and then styled it after blowdrying it.  I think that hair is a testament to the crappiness I dealt with over the past few years, and honestly it just reminded me of all the struggling I endured from 2011-2016.  What a mess.  Back to the maintenance-- if you know me, you know I like to roll out of bed and go, so this product+styling+management+money+time drain was obviously not my style--if I'm going to have long hair, it needs to be healthy enough to look good with a simple brushing.

I finally accepted that it didn't anymore. And instead of some big cataclysmic moment where I sobbed dramatically or wrote a love letter to my hair and begged it to work with me, I just woke up and thought, "I'm cutting this shit off." Haha! Who even am I? That is SO not like me, I'm even still weirded out by the origin of the decision. Every time I try to bring some deeper rationalization into it, there's nothing. It was just a random decision made on a random day. Not only was it a random split decision, but I actually stuck with it!

I made the appointment at Array Salon, the literal only place I will trust my hair in anyone's hands, and then fretted the entire next week, trying to convince myself to wait for the appointment and not pull a Mulan and whack it off with a katana in the middle of the night. Luckily, there was no katana within reach. I wanted my hair gone, but I wanted to still look decent and adult. So it was important to get it done right.

I had no idea how right! Tonni is an amaaaaazing stylist and colorist. She basically finished all my sentences when I explained what I was going for. There were several times I just said, "Do what you want" because at that point I was ready to go full-blown Furiosa. Instead, I got the blond with some red in--exactly what I wanted-- because my skin-tone is definitely not suited to that grey-ash blond everyone's sporting (looks great, just not on me!) and I wanted more of a golden than a grey. I got the perfect length and I LOVE everything from styling my hair, to coordinating makeup and wearing cute outfits. Even my earrings look cuter now!

I keep waiting to suddenly wake up and miss my hair and cry, or feel "not like myself" since my identity and self-image was so strongly tied to long, red hair.  But I don't feel different.  I still feel like Alex, just Alex without a foot of raggedy carpet on the back of her head.  I guess it's a midlife crisis/almost 30 thing, but I'm totally fine with that too.

So, if you're in the Salt Lake area and in need of a stylist, THIS IS ME TELLING YOU WHAT TO DO.  Also, if you're on the fence about cutting off your hair, all I can say is, you'll know when you truly want it gone.  I hesitated years ago, cut it anyway, and spent years regretting it.  This was much different.  Of course, I also got excited about a new vacuum last week, so maybe I'm just getting old.


The Inner Child

Part of healing from ongoing childhood trauma is accepting that a part of oneself is, and probably always will be, a damaged child.  I never really considered this until a long way into therapy.  I knew I had a "kid voice" and I had a lot of painful memories concerning my childhood, but the truth is that there are more than just sad thoughts and memories floating around there--an actual undeveloped, whole persona exists that is trapped in a past it can't leave.

Because there is no resolution from that.  My childhood self is waiting to be repaired.  That would require my mom to come back to life, firstly, and secondly, for both of my parents to backtrack or repair all the damage--it would mean giving me a safe, nurturing environment where I would know for certain that even if I messed up, I was loved.  I wasn't going to be hurt, or beaten, or starved or whatever.  I'll never get anything remotely similar to that.

Instead, the option I get is to let myself grieve.  It always annoys me when people ignorantly (though usually with good intentions) try to sweep whatever negative story I've told under the rug.  "Oh, but it made you who you are!  Would you really go back and change it?"  Uh, yeah, asshole, I would.  Not getting a broom broken over my legs, not sleeping by cockroaches and rats, not watching my dad throw every book I owned into the fireplace?  Not being called fat, horse faced, acne-covered and ugly by both parents?  Not having my house broken into by a police officer because I was left alone in my crib for days on end for a "party" that my parents left for?  Yeah, sign me up for going back and changing that.  Who in the hell says something like that?  How do you know it made me who I am?  I could have been given a better chance and still been "myself."  I don't think what defines me is a long string of depressing abusive events, if that's what defines me then holy shit, I suck!  I don't even think surviving it defines me.  There's a whole lot of me and I'd like to believe it's more complex than "abused kid."

Anyway, before this goes full rant--I just have to make it known that I have a damaged child and I carry her with me, wherever I go.  I remember as a teacher, going about my day and enjoying the time with my students, and then feeling a pang of sadness I didn't understand when Mom or Dad would come, button up their coat lovingly, listen patiently to what had transpired in the day, ask me with great reverence of how their little one did...What was wrong with me?  Why did this make me sad?  I should be happy that these kids are getting proper nurturing relationships with a parent, right?  It's that little girl that hangs out with me, though.  As much love as I want to give myself, I'm not my parent (does that make sense?)  As much as I know and understand that as a kid, I didn't deserve any of that, it will never satisfy the grief of loss.

So what do we do with our inner damaged children?  I have no idea.  I do whatever whims come to me.  It's strange how now at almost 30 years old, I still marvel at things like a warm shower.  I still quietly thank myself for uninterrupted painting time--something I craved as a kid.  I still feel a surge of independence when I can buy whatever food I want, even if it's something dumb like mac and cheese.  I still get nervous about any sort of trust for an authority figure, even though half the time I'm older than my supervisors.  Every time I try to get involved as a foster parent, the enraged, violent protective part of me completely takes over and wants to choke every smug social worker and self-righteous foster parent who dares tell me about "what to expect" and how "rewarding" the "experience" is.

I have no answers about how to appease a broken part of oneself.  And I don't even necessarily think appeasement is the right choice.  It's more of that bullshit put-a-positive-spin-on-shit mentality that is prevalent.  It was horrible, I as a child endured something horrible, the only resolution that would potentially satisfy this child is one that isn't going to happen, and understanding that does very little to bring me, or any part of me, peace.  Luckily, many other things in my life do bring me peace...my cat, my relationships and friends and loved ones, my art, nature, my work, the happy memories I do have from my childhood, and tons more things that I am forgetting.