Day Eight: Your Favorite Caseworker
Oh man I am excited to write about this one. So much gloom and doom: shitty parents, shitty foster parents, shitty foster homes, shitty teenage years...who needs em? I found a friend in what seems to be the most unlikely place for a foster kid: my caseworker.
For those of you unlearned in the foster care terminology, a "caseworker" is one's legal representative of that mystical magical invisible guardian called "The State." A caseworker has sway over you that foster parents don't have. They can make the calls foster parents can't make. They are a weird sort of mix of a lawyer, a caregiver, and (in foster youths' eyes) a disciplinarian. My first caseworker was a woman named Barbara who had a nice, loud, sassy mouth that I loved. I got transferred to this other caseworker; he was a guy, and he was new, and he was way too passive for me. I'm sure he meant well, but his indecisiveness and his blatant dislike of being around me and my foster parents (who the hell could blame him?) made me really detest him when I was a mean little sixteen year old.
Then, Annie happened.
For awhile, Annie wasn't even my caseworker. She sort of butted in when my doofus caseworker dropped the ball all over town (which was often.) She came to pick me up for random appointments to doctors and dentists. At first, as with most other adults and people in the DFS office, I had no idea what to think of her. She seemed pleasant, but my guard was up; I'm sure I was a brat those first few three hour long drives to and from my appointments. The more she came around and showed her willingness to help, the more I found myself opening up to her.
You have to remember, at this time I had nobody. No friends in contact other than letters. No sister; she was back at home with my parents. No parents, because they were douchebags. My foster parents always thought I was going to cast an evil spell on them, and when I moved in with my nutcase aunt, it only got worse. I literally had no one to talk to. And Annie was there.
She knew about my parents, she knew the foster parents in the area. She had all the know-how of the "system" and that is priceless to anyone going through such a horrific time in their life. She also had really good taste in music and she actually recognized me as not only a human being with feelings, but a teenager who felt normal teenager things, like having crushes on boys and wanting to wear cute clothes. It was super weird for me. My birth parents thought I was a retard, and my foster parents thought I was the spawn of Satan. Here was an adult who thought neither.
So, in a very short time period considering all that I had to go through, Annie and I got ridiculously close. The system and its asinine workings became a series of inside jokes with us. She was basically my therapist; I'd update her on everything going on with my foster parents, birth parents, foster sisters, and boyfriend(s). (I know, I'm a tramp. Leave me alone, I was 17.) And as supportive as Annie was, she never shyed away from giving me real talk--something I think I sorely needed but didn't appreciate at the time. I was transferred to a LOT of foster homes because of "incompatibility"....more so than other teenage girls. But Annie always did her best to make sure that the place I was going toward was better than the place I left behind. She also seemed to share my criticism in the nature of foster parents and their ambitions. In other words, she was protective. That meant the world, too.
A lot of people think when you have abusive parents, the best thing to do is cut all ties and brainwash you into forgetting them or turning them into monsters. Foster parents did this to me, and it backfired terribly for them. My aunt tried it too. She threw a vase at my head and when I laughed at her, she screeched, "YOU LOOK JUST LIKE RICK!" (Rick=my dad, her brother, who had choked her at one point.) My reply was, "GOOD, I'M ABOUT TO CHOKE THE SHIT OUT OF YOU JUST LIKE HE DID TOO!"
My point with the hilarity is that while maybe these people meant well and maybe they were just horrified of my parents, trying to convince me to do anything without my own consent was a terrible method. It always is. It just doesn't work. Annie never failed to comment on the ridiculousness of my father and mother, but she drove me out to the boonies of Tennessee to visit them anyway. She didn't have to do that. She could've said no. But she didn't. And she stayed there to supervise while I spent a little while with my very broken and damaged family. And after the visits she was there to support me too.
When my mother had to have emergency heart surgery in 2006, Annie was there again, giving me a ride to the hospital several cities over. I was out of foster care by that time. I was an adult (albeit a crying blabbering heartbroken adult because I was terrified for my mother's life...imagine that) and she had no obligation to help me. But she did anyway. It was because of her that I was able to see my Mom before she went off to open heart surgery. Comfort her and offer support. No one else came to the hospital to see Mom...not even my father. Not until days after the surgery. If it wasn't for me, she would've had to face that alone, and if it wasn't for Annie, I wouldn't have been there.
I'm sure I frustrated the fuck out of this woman. I fought tooth and nail against any help and against any friends. So do all foster youth. They either cling with the desperation of a three-year-old, or they clam up and resist any bond-making at all. I'm sure she was used to it. I'm sure she was also used to the disappointments of foster youth. A lot of us are fucking stupid. We end up on drugs or with too many babies or in abusive relationships or going back home to our terrible parents. Just to be a caseworker entails a lot of guts--to try and get close to these miserable teenagers takes a lot more.
I guess I knew the day would come when I would leave, and have to say goodbye. And though that day has long since came, I am still so proud and happy to know Annie. She is a friend like no other ever was or could be at that time in my life. She's just one of the very special people who really was there for me all those years I thought I was alone. It's pretty liberating to be able to look back on all that and know I had someone fighting for me on the inside of the "system."
I love you Annie!!! I can't wait to hang out again the next time I visit Tennessee!!!!