Yeah, it's "Day 7" of the challenge and the actual date is May 14....oh well. I can use the productive excuse. And plus, writing about this shit is hard. Waaaay harder than I thought. A lot of it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I almost feel bad doing it, because I feel like focusing on it makes me negative...but the truth is that I NEVER talk about my past to this extent. I don't expect to, ever again. Even in the therapist's office it's more of a debriefing. Anyway, here we go with Day 7, enjoy.
The Court Date
Every foster child or ex-foster child knows what I'm talking about when I say "THE" court date. Truth is, anyone who is in foster care will probably go to court no less than five times, but the longer you're in, the more you go. For a freak of nature like me who was in the system with no long-term plan, I have had more court dates than a lot o felons. Just fyi, going to court as a teenager does nothing for one's self esteem. Everyone assumes you're in trouble; you're not. Court is the closest you ever come to meeting that mysterious guardian called "The State."
But I'm getting ahead of myself; THE court date is the day you become a foster child. It's the day legal papers are signed and everyone testifies for or against you and the judge decides what the fuck to do with you as in, are you going home or not. For me, since the situation was so dangerous, my little sister Ariel and I were put in emergency foster care for a week before my court date. We were taken to a city 50 miles away to live in the care of strangers with seven days to sit around and do nothing, because we didn't know what would happen. Would we go back home? Would the State find a relative willing to care for us? Would we become orphans?
Ariel and I in 2011
Emergency Foster Care--The Week Before
Ariel was eleven years old; I was fifteen. I was so overprotective of her that week. It was the only time I've ever spent around my baby sister without my parents around; I felt horrible for her being dragged into this situation. At the same time, I didn't want her to stay: should she live through the terrors I had? It only got worse as I'd gotten older. I didn't know what was right. But she was livid with me. Being alone, she was too scared to show it and clung to me the way an eleven year old does, but as the years went by her anger seemed to manifest itself in obvious ways.
Still, at the time, I did what I could to be there for her. To argue with her and try and reason with her that our life wasn't normal. Living in a shack, starving, manual labor, it wasn't normal. Being humiliated and defamed and beaten wasn't normal. She didn't compute this, and spent the week before the court date talking on the phone with my parents, who promised her a new bike the moment she returned to them.
They never asked to speak to me, or I to them.
Meeting with the DA
For some reason or another we had a pre-meeting with an attorney, my caseworker, and my parents. Praise Talos, Ariel wasn't in that meeting room. It was a windowless, gray area where we sat at a long table, just the five of us: Mom, Dad, Me, Caseworker, Attorney. The questions that were asked have long since left my memory. The attorney seemed stressed; she sighed a lot.
I teared up at one point, I don't remember why. I remember looking over at my parents, the people who were supposed to protect me and abandoned me instead, abused me, tried their hardest to make me one of their broken little vessels of anger and ignorance. Mom had gotten her slimy hands on one of my diaries and tried to use it as fuel. She cried crocodile tears when she said she read about how I "hated" her. Well mom, join the ranks of mothers everywhere whose teenage daughters hate them. At least I had a reason to write it.
Dad of course didn't talk much. His intimidating stares and quietness and tools that he used to manipulate people worked just as usual; nobody really knew what to say, everyone treated him like a ticking time bomb. I just stared at him with disappointment. I loved my Daddy. He was the man who taught me to be strong, who taught me to fight. That backfired in the end, because I had to fight him for my freedom.
The morning of court was spent, for me, in a cubicle at the Polk County DFS office, with a bunch of social workers and a hacking disgusting cough. I distinctly remember a lawyer in a suit leaving to buy me a bottle of cough syrup to get through court with; I chugged half of it the moment I got it. Everyone joked that laying on firewood during a sleet storm (when I ran away from home) had given me pneumonia. I would've laughed more had it not been for the coughing. There was nothing to do but joke about my circumstances.
I had been in a courtroom before, as a child. It was always for some random legal thing or another, nothing serious that I recall, despite the fact that my dad went in and out of jail as often as I go to the thrift store each week. Anyway, the point is, I had never been in court BECAUSE of me. For a very long time, that's the mindset I had. I kind of still do. This was all because of me. Because I opened my mouth. Everyone's morning was going to get rough, everybody in the DFS office had to deal with the monstrosity of my parents, because of me.
My parents and I were kept from each other. Probably due to our mutual disgust for each other as well as the threat of my dad and I getting into a physical fight, extra policemen were stationed around the room and kept them in a waiting room nearby while Ariel and I, DFS, and all my lawyers went into the courtroom. It was sunny and warm despite being February. Everything was bland as you'd expect from a courtroom. The judge was a well-known nemesis of my Dad's--not sure if that was a good or a bad sign for me, his daughter.
Mrs. Montgomery appeared for a split second. She had already testified before I got there, and had to leave immediately. We hugged, she gave me a letter, and left. I wouldn't find out until about seven years later that she felt guilty for not being able to take care of me. I never understood why she didn't, either, until recently. At that point though, I was just a lonely scared kid who felt even worse about testifying knowing that the one person who I thought would help me, had just left.
I was called to the stand, and stood in front of a podium with a tape recorder. To this day I have no idea if my parents testified before or after me. It's really a blur. I remember staring down that tape recorder and answering every question with brutal honesty. I held nothing back. Why should I? The truth was the only thing I had left. I was already losing my sanity, losing my family, losing any hope for a future beyond some unknown "foster care life." I couldn't bring to mind a single question the judge or interrogators asked me if you paid me for it. I remember telling them all that I wouldn't go back. I would run away again and again. Unless I was dead, I would be running.
When I sat down, Ariel was called up and asked to testify. I remember her tiny little voice. She was horrified. She did as my parents instructed: denied being hit, denied being yelled at and starved and dragged around the house. She denied ever seeing anything happen to me. I guess I could've felt indignant and betrayed but at that point I didn't feel anything. I just sat there. It wasn't like I wondered or cared who the judge believed. He spoke of being "old-fashioned"...how parents sometimes reprimanded their children by striking them, and that he himself was both hit, and hit his children on occasion.
I won't get into what I believe about child abuse versus child punishment, that's another rant, but just the fact that this judge was trying to make me see that it was okay that my Dad hit me, that he ignored the police reports and the lawyers for that five minutes to give me a "talking to" about discipline, made me want to slam his goddamn head onto his desk repeatedly. This was a man of the law, a man who had risen to judge, who was supposed to represent justice and humanity, and he was lecturing me on old-fashioned child discipline and telling me I needed to learn to accept that that's "the way things are around here."
Then again, this is a man my Dad has openly threatened before. My aunt found out years before the incident that my Dad and other illegal cockfighters in the area had paid off most of the cops in the county. So, local help at least, was out of the question. I just stayed silently appalled and in that "you don't know what the fuck you're talking about bro" attitude that has remained with me into my adult life.
Anyway, that's about it. That's where my memory fades. I don't know who told me I'd be leaving my family and my sister to go alone into foster care. Back to Athens. To a new school. New "parents". I remember crying, I remember my parents coming into the courtroom and triumphantly hugging Ariel as though they'd won everything. I sat there, ducked my head, and cried. I was probably told to leave by several people but I just cried, not looking at anyone, and my Dad came up behind me, patted me on the shoulder, and gave me six dollars. He was talking to me in that soft voice he so rarely used, and only used with me. Even to this day he never speaks to anyone else in that uncharacteristic voice. I don't remember what he said. I liked to pretend later on that he said he loved me and that they were working on getting me out of the system.
But, that never happened.
And they left, Ariel and my mother not speaking a word. They left together as a reunited family, and I left as a foster child, to go forward on my own path.