Estimated read time: 15 minutes (based upon true events)
“They are such a nice foster family, Jess, and they’re excited you’re coming,” my social worker tries to reassure me. “They live on the lake and go fishing off their dock most evenings, and I just know how much you’ll love that!”
I must admit, being near the water does appeal to me, because in my cynical opinion, Mother Nature is the only thing God got right in this world.
“Remember they have a daughter, so you’ll have a foster-sister now, too. She’s thirteen I believe, about your age.” That doesn’t sound so bad, I think. “She just loves having new kids come and I’m sure she’ll make you very comfortable. Besides, now you’ll have someone to talk about girl stuff with!” My social worker winks at me.
“What’s her name?” I ask quietly.
“Amy” she replies.
I stare out the window as we continue our drive to the house, and I think about it some more. The idea of “girl talk” appeals to me too, but I am reluctant to seem interested. My own mom was never around for any of that stuff.
The first few weeks with my new foster family are great. I have only been able to “imagine” people could live together like this and get along. Everyone is really nice and the best part is how much fun they seem to have every day. It is very different from what I am used to, but in a really good way. After awhile the strangeness of it wears off and I am not uncomfortable anymore. I even begin to laugh and have fun with them.
My foster dad wakes us up each morning by blaring “Rock Around the Clock” or “Great Balls of Fire,” and I think it is awesome. My foster-sister and I make forts out of our blankets and use flash lights for lanterns. We stay awake late into the night sharing our secrets, and her parents don’t even get mad at us. It is so much better than when I had to hide in my closet back home, terrified of my parents’ fights, and praying they would stay out of my room for just one night. No one ever yells at me here. No one ever hits me here. No more broken bones or bruises. Living here with them and being included in their family, I am beginning to understand what real love and trust is.
My foster parents have a grown son named John who is Amy’s biological brother. He is married with kids of his own, but he comes over most evenings to fish with us. The basement is still considered his, and Amy calls it his “secret room,” but the space is off limits to us.
One evening, we catch enough fish to make a nice meal for all of us, but first they have to be cleaned. Amy already knows how, and John says I need to learn, but I have never even liked to watch it being done. The whole process is brutal. It reminds me of when my real dad gutted Bambi one season. Hunting is one thing, but I thought it senseless to kill just for the fun of it, let alone baby animals. He made me and my little brother drink the warm, salty blood. Then he tried to make us taste some of the gory organs, like he did, but my wretched vomiting finally put an end to his insistence.
“It’ll be alright Jess, just watch, “John says, holding the fish hard to the wooden surface by its head. “It happens so quickly, the fish doesn’t really feel anything and it’s over before he knows it,” and he suddenly pierces the lower belly, sliding the blade upward in one clean sweep.
“I can’t… I don’t like this,” I whisper as a tear rolls down my cheek and I turn, running for the comforting embrace of the big willow tree in the back yard. I curl up in the soft, thick grass underneath its outstretched limbs and huddle next to its strong, sturdy trunk as I try to block out the memories.
“Jess? Jessie?” I hear a warm voice edged with concern as John searches for me, but I do not answer. A short time later, his hand tentatively touches my shoulder and he crouches down next to me. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. It’s just a natural process and -”
Suddenly the sobs I have been trying to hold back burst out and I turn into him as he encircles me with his arms and tries to comfort me. I know he doesn’t understand why I reacted that way, and I feel like such an idiot. But the panic continues to rise inside of me even as I desperately try to explain. “He, he killed all our pets… He would strangle them or throw them out of the car at 100 miles per hour or he would gut them alive and the blood would just poor out. It was everywhere, and when we went hunting… Oh, God!” The memories overwhelm me and I choke on my tears.
“Who?” he asks. “Who did this Jessie?”
“My real dad!” I spit out the last word in disgust, as if it were the fresh blood he had made me drink, and cry some more.
John holds me, rocking slowly until my tears subside. “I’m so sorry, sweetie, I didn’t know,” his voice soothes me. “I tell you what, from now on you don’t even have to bait your own hook anymore if you don’t want to, how’s that?” he teases me now, jabbing me in the ribs.
“Oh, cut it out!” I giggle, playfully punching his arm, appreciating his attempt to help me feel better.
John jumps up with a chuckle, and offers his hand to help me up. It all happens so quick and in good fun as he yanks me up and I lose my balance, falling backwards towards the huge tree directly behind me. He dives forward, reaching out in a failed attempt to catch me. We fall to the ground, laughing. John lands on top of me and our laughter slowly subsides. He props himself up on his arms and smiles down at me, staring intently. I am startled to feel his weight on top of me and feel butterflies in my stomach as he sweeps a piece of hair out of my eyes.
Why isn’t he getting up? I wonder. Then he shifts himself in such a way that I feel his manhood growing, straining toward my innocence. I tear me eyes away from his and the butterflies die off, spiraling into the pit that is now at the bottom of my stomach. No, not him too God, please… I silently beg.
“Hey! What are you guys doing out here?” Amy inquires and John hops off me immediately. Amy seems upset for the rest of the evening, but I don’t know why.
A couple of days pass and Amy seems fine again. She even apologized, explaining that she wasn’t sure why, but sometimes she just got crazy jealous over her brother. “Maybe it’s because he’s so hot,” she giggles, her cheeks turning a bright red.
Not long after, she came bounding in my room bright and early one morning seemingly tickled pink. “Party time! Party time!” she sings and dances around me.
“What are you talking about?” I ask with interest, as she continues to dance around me. “Please, Amy, tell me!” I beg, giddy now from her contagious excitement.
“Mom and dad are going away for a vacation today!” she exclaims. “Well, not really far away or anything like that. They just go to the casino and spend the night sometimes. You know, to get away by themselves so they can be all kissy, kissy and stuff,” she teases, making smooching noises with her lips.
“Hey, cool!” I give her a high-five. “So, what should we do?” I ask, my mind filling with ideas of all the things we’re not supposed to do. “Hey, I know, let’s sleep out in the tree house!” It is something I have wanted to do since I moved here, but her parents worry too much, especially about us being out after dark.
“Um, I don’t know if we should do that.” Amy looks a little scared at the mere thought of it. “But, we can probably sleep out in the family room if we ask John. He always brings lots of junk food and soda, and he’ll order us any kind of pizza we want.” She adds in a hushed voice, “Just don’t tell Mom and Dad.” We are suddenly co-conspirators and I like it. “Then, we can stay up all night watching movies, too.” She glances at me, hopefully. Amy is such a movie buff.
“John?” I questioned. “What does he have to do with it?”
“Well, Mom and Dad aren’t just going to leave us here all by ourselves for two days, silly.” She rolls her eyes as if I should know better. “John will come to stay with us while they’re gone.” She beams again, “We have so much fun together and he lets me go down into his secret room.”
Now I was curious. “What’s down there? In his secret room, I mean.”
She smiles mischievously, “I can’t tell, but I bet he’ll let you come down too, if we’re really nice to him.”
I think for a moment, not sure how I feel about any of this. I have not seen him since our incident by the tree. If it even was an incident, I wonder to myself, unsure now.
John arrived later that morning as his mom and dad headed out. Amy was right. It was a lot of fun with just John there and the three of us had a great day together.
After devouring two supreme pizzas, John and Amy show me their family albums and tell stories about other foster kids their parents had taken in over the years. “Where are they now?” I ask. “I mean, how come none of them ever stayed here?”
John and Amy exchange a glance, but offer no answer. The next photo album is of John’s wedding and his children’s births. Boy, he really seems to love his family, I think, and I cannot believe how lucky I am that they have all accepted me into their home like they have. Foster homes aren’t that bad after all, I reflect, and the newfound feelings of being loved and finally belonging fills my heart with warmth.
After dinner, a warm rain begins to fall. It is still early with plenty of light outside, so we run out to do what every kid loves to do – play in the rain!
Somehow we find ourselves over by the barn where the land has just been tilled. Suddenly, I feel a cool SPLAT on my upper thigh. “What the…?” I inquire, turning just in time to see John gather another hand full of mud. “Watch out!” I yell to Amy, but it is too late. John nails in her in her side.
“This means WAR!” she shrieks, and the three of us become tangled in a very slippery, very dirty mud fight.
Finally, the three of us are worn out. We can only see the whites of each other’s eyes through the dark muck covering us from head to toe. We are quite the site! I want to laugh all the way back to the house, but every time I even try to smile, I can hear all the dirt I am eating as it grits between my teeth. There are two showers in the house and Amy convinces me to go in first upstairs, while John heads downstairs.
Hurry as I may, it sure does take awhile to wash all the mud away. When the water finally runs clear, I turn off the faucet and slide open the foggy glass door. “Oh!” I exclaim in surprise, as I realize I am no longer alone. I try to shield my exposed body from the curious gaze. “I didn’t hear you came in, Amy.”
She steps towards me with a towel and smiles. As I reach for it, she steps closer saying, “Here, let me help so you don’t catch a cold. You’re shivering already!” And she attempts to rub the towel over my nakedness.
“No thanks Amy,” I reply, trying to cover my shock with politeness. “I can get it. Really.”
“Oh, I know, but you’re very pretty and…” she kisses me. I have never been kissed by a girl before, and I just stood there dumb founded.
“Amy,” I began, “You’re very pretty too and I really like you, but I don’t think we should be doing this.” I try nonchalantly to shrug it off, “Besides, you’re like my sister now!” I laugh nervously, hoping she will get the hint and take it lightly, but instead she turns and leaves. That was weird, I think.
I finish dressing and go down to the living room where I plop down on the couch and flip through the TV channels. “Hey there,” John smiles, as he drops in beside me. “Do you want a drink?” he asks.
I look at him, breaking into laughter. “But, that’s beer!” I protest, thinking he can’t be serious.
“It sure is. Come on! You’re a big girl and I’m not gonna tell anybody,” he grins, offering me the bottle.
“I… I better not. I don’t really like beer.”
“Hey, that’s ok. Just drink it real fast, so you don’t taste it as much,” he says. “That’s how Amy does it when our parents are gone,” he winks at me. “I promise, it’ll make you feel good,” and there is such a twinkle in his eye, I want to believe him.
Hesitantly, I take the bottle. As I raise it to take a sip, John puts his hand on my upper thigh and rubs it encouragingly. “Go ahead,” he insists, as he nudges the bottle to my lips. I grimace, hating even the smell, and notice that his hand has stopped much too close to my crotch, his fingers doing a little dance there.
“No, John,” I say, with confidence and hand back the bottle. My real dad is an alcoholic, so I really hate the stuff. I stand up. John mirrors my movements, and we are face to face.
He leans close to whisper in my ear, “You’re even prettier than my wife and my baby sister,” he groans. I turn to leave, but he grabs me by the back of my neck and kisses me deeply. I am stunned. This is someone I trust and respect. He is supposed to be part of my new family. How dare him! Afraid of the anger rising inside of me, I shove him backwards and wipe my lips with the back of my hand in disgust. I run out of the room, passing Amy, who is standing in the door way.
“What the hell do you think you were doing with him?” Amy accuses, as she storms into the den where I have curled up on the sectional sofa into a miserable little ball. My thoughts are jumbled and I am trying to wade through the tide of confusion that has knocked me off my feet.
“What?” I respond incredulously. “I wasn’t doing anything with him, Amy. You saw him put the moves on me just like you tried to do when I got out of the shower!”
“And I would think you’d respond a little nicer to both of us, seeing how good my family’s been treating you!” she spits her words with sudden contempt, her eyes darting through me like daggers.
She pivots on her heels, storms upstairs, and slams her bedroom door shut. She does not come out for the rest of the night. My tears fall softly onto the pillow that I clutch beneath me as I try to make sense of all this. I do not understand why Amy and John are suddenly treating me this way, and their assault is shattering my heart into a million pieces. I wish my foster parents wouldn’t have left, I think sadly, as I try to rock myself to sleep.
“Shhh, shhh, don’t cry.” Startled, my eyes fly open and I try to sit up, but I cannot. John is kneeling next to me, pinning my arms to my chest with one hand, while the other covers my mouth. The stench of liquor surrounds him like cheap cologne as he whispers harshly, “do not fight me or make a sound, honey. Do you understand?”
I can only stare back at him, paralyzed by the fear that washes over me as I recognize the unholy hunger in his eyes that I prayed I would never see again. When I do not respond, he shoves his hand into my mouth harder, making me wince.
“Do you understand?” I nod my head frantically. He kisses my forehead and whispers in my ear, “I just want to make you feel good, sweetheart. So, very, very good. I’m going to take my hand off your mouth now, but you have to promise not to wake Amy up. You don’t want her mad at you again, do you? You know she’ll just blame you for this.”
I shook my head from side to side this time. “That’s my good girl,” he smiles, removing his hand from my mouth and replacing it with his lips. I am suffocating. His tongue fills my mouth and explores it like a serpent, his sour taste the essence of evil. I want to puke. “Mmmm… Amy would get so upset with you if she found us like this. She would be jealous that we’re not all down in my secret room together. We don’t want her to get jealous, do we, honey?”
“No,” I scarcely whisper. The sudden dryness in my throat will not allow me to swallow, as I realize what his secret room is all about. My thoughts turn briefly to Amy and I do not know if I should hate her or pity her. Then, with horror, I realize something else. This man has 3 girls of his own! And my soul weeps in agony for what they are surely suffering as well.
His eyes lock with mine. His free hand goes straight to my crotch and it grabs my womanhood. When I resist, my heart beating like a wild bird caught in a snare, he lies on top of me, raising my arms above my head and presses his lips into mine, stifling any noise. He forcefully finds his way down my gym shorts and into my panties, his fingers quickly finding their target, while he bites my breasts. “Doesn’t that feel good, sweetheart?” he moans.
I continued to struggle against his advances over the next couple of hours, but I remained too scared and ashamed to yell for help and wake Amy up. Childhood memories that burned in my heart now flashed like lightening bolts before my eyes, raw and vivid. I knew the consequences of being a snitch. I remembered the shame on my real mother’s face and the guilt she threw upon me, weighing me down like a filthy blanket, in her efforts to convince me that being abused was all my fault. I remembered the stitches in my head, my arm and along my torso after my dad found out I leaked some of our family secrets and he threw me through the dining room window. I remembered these things, all the while trying to block out the fact that once again, my body was not my own.
So, the state had taken me out of one bad home and put me in another. Obviously, they couldn’t protect me either, as I had just been sexually molested in my first foster home. I decided I would not stick around to give anyone that chance again.
The next morning my social worker brought me downtown and wanted me to describe every little detail to her in the presence of her male boss. After my tears finally stopped, she had the audacity to simply state she did not believe me. I hated her for it and for crushing my courage. I tore apart her office like the frantic and fearful child that I was. This experience set the tone for other placements I would be in for years to come.
Shortly after I was removed from that home, I found out John had been arrested and charged. Amy had finally come forward with the truth. She told the authorities John had been sexually molesting her most of her life, and she was tired of her foster sisters always leaving because he molested them, too. As the authorities questioned previous foster children, the evidence became so overwhelming that John pleaded no contest and went to prison. I was assigned a new social worker, thankfully, and the foster parents I had grown to love so much lost their license. I never saw any of them again.
- Failed to Death: Colorado needs hundreds more foster families (denverpost.com)
- DCF seeking quality foster families (newsherald.com)