Excerpt from Driftwood Chapter 8.
Age 13. Context: A girl from the DFACS shelter taught me the back way into a foster home was through Georgia Regional, a Mental Hospital. She was right. What she didn’t tell me was just how fragile foster home placements were.
Also, side note. At some point in the shelter, feeling totally abandoned by God, I renounced being a Jehovah’s Witness and Christian and essentially picked a new religion out of a hat. It ended up being Jewish. Funny story for another day, but that’s the context of when I say to this foster mom “no thanks I’m Jewish.” On to the story
Two months into my stay at regional, Ben got sent to a group home called “Crossroads” (idk why I am changing the name, it doesn’t even exist anymore). He came back after his interview there bragging about how the place had a chef and he’d have his own room and blah blah blah. I didn’t know it then, but Ben was the kind of kid who could talk up a prison and make it sound like the four seasons to make himself look like a baller. The way he went on about it, I totally wanted to go there. It wasn’t horses, but a chef? My own room? Ben would be there? Sold.
Around when he left, my case manager began talking about placement options. I told her, I wanted to go to Crossroads and… she said that wasn’t the place for me. Crossroads wasn’t a group home, it was a residential treatment facility. Technically it was a step down from regional, but a big step up from what it was that I “needed.”
I didn’t know it then, but she was right. I cannot say that in my first stay at Regional that I was a model kid. I have to imagine I got into trouble, just knowing who I was, and the effect Ben sometimes had on me later on which led to me acting out. I mean, there was something alluring about saying fuck the system. But from what I remember, this time around at Regional, I was a pretty good kid. Correction, I was pretty well behaved. To say I was a “good kid” would insinuate the other kids were bad and there were very few actually bad kids that graced that ward even among the ones who did misbehave. Frankly, it was more fun to act out in those places.
Anyway, the option presented to me was a therapeutic foster home. It was like a regular foster home but with a foster parent willing to take kids to therapy and doctor’s appointments and monitor their medications. Seemed like a win-win, I’d get a foster home and all I had to do was keep the crazy train going so the state could get their money off me. I thought I’d lucked out. That I would end up in one of those Pa Ingalls/Daddy Warbucks/ Anne of Green Gables homes where they adopt the kids and raise them as their own. Show them the kind loving family they’d been craving for all along. I was only about 6 months into my time in the system, so I was still under the idiotic impression that foster homes were the happy ending.
A few weeks after that conversation, I was placed into a “therapeutic” foster home. My foster mom was a lady named Ms. Anita. She was an older middle-aged light-skinned black lady with a really nice home in the burbs not far from where I grew up in Stone Mountain. I don’t remember my first impression of her other than being extremely creeped out by a Buddhist shrine she had in a sitting room near the front of her house.
The whole room was a shrine, statues of Buddha, beads, and candles were everywhere. Even though I had “converted” to being Jewish in that pick a religion out of a hat moment, the Jehovah’s witness girl in me was still very much alive and well. And as such, a “pagan” shrine with statues and candles everywhere freaked me the hell out. I was afraid to even go near that room.
My first night with her, she invited me to join her in her meditation/prayer. I was like “no thanks, I’m Jewish. You should have seen the look on her face when I said that. It was somewhere between confusion and complete shock and irritation. It was classic. Yea, maybe I was being religious intolerant. I was also 13 and was raised Jehovah’s witness, a faith that literally taught me that shrines and praying to statues was evil and invited demons into households. That praying to statues could result in demonic possession. I wasn’t gonna fuck with that. She didn’t let up on it though, she repeatedly tried to get me to me join her in meditation, usually trying to guilt me into it, which I repeatedly declined saying “I’m Jewish.”
Sidebar: From my personal experiences and from stories gathered by other kids, there were 4 types of foster parents:
- Kid Collectors – the ones in it for the money and who would take any number of kids given to them by the state to keep their paychecks and food stamps flowing. They didn’t give a damn about the kids, didn’t try to actually be parents, and the money they got didn’t go to providing for the kids they had. It was basically an Air BnB for the state.
- Predators – The ones who got kids so that they (or their husbands, sons, nephews) could have easy access to kids they could molest, rape, or otherwise abuse
- Martyrs – the ones who were doing it to show the world how great of a person they were. They thrived on the recognition of their personal sacrifice. They paraded their kids to anyone they could to show the world how wonderful they were for having “saved” some poor orphan (there are a lot of these on Instagram right now, fyi). These were also the kind of people who adopted cause they couldn’t have their own kids and couldn’t afford in-vitro. When they took kids into their homes they expected to love them forever and be perfect kids…and in the event they didn’t get a perfect kid or the kid caused any kind of trouble, they sent them packing.
- Good ones – the few and far between. They were foster parents because they wanted to help kids. They knew they had a loving home and could give a child the love they needed. They were willing to treat their foster/adopted kids as they would treat their own. It didn’t matter if they could or couldn’t have children, or if their kids were adults. They just wanted to open their home and show a child love.
Foster parent type 1-3 occurred in any combination and the degree of suck kids experienced in those homes depended on the combination. #4 was special, a rarity. If they looked like kid collectors, it was just because they couldn’t stomach saying no to a kid in need. At this stage in my life, I needed a 4. Ms. Anita was a 3.
My rejection of her faith irritated her. In refusing to take part in her rituals, she reacted as if I were slapping her in the face. As such, she road my ass like there was no tomorrow. It was such a weird dynamic, every time she did something nice it was followed up with a demand for some excessive expression of gratitude beyond just saying thank you. I couldn’t just say thank you, it had to be something “Oh thank you thank you thank you, for getting me a happy meal! You’re so unbelievably amazing and generous! Please let me lick the floors clean in gratitude.
If I made a horrendous mistake like leaving the shower curtain pulled open, she would flip the hell out: “Why don’t you appreciate what I’m doing for you!! Do you want me to send you back to the shelter!!!” I didn’t understand why she was acting like that. I just remember thinking that she was lucky that I wasn’t actually crazy cause all of the head games and back and forth would probably have made me stab her in her sleep.
It was nerve-wracking. I was so afraid of stepping out of line or doing something that would upset her, that when my menstrual cycle randomly kicked in one night and stained the bed, I was too afraid to tell her. I couldn’t. When I first got there she asked me if I’d started my period yet, technically I had shortly before my sister was sent away, but I hadn’t had one since leaving my mom’s house and that plus my first one made a total of 2 periods in like a year. I honestly thought it was just a fluke.
So I told her that I hadn’t and cringed when she bought me giant Kotex pads that looked like diapers and told her that I didn’t need them. They were HUGE and beyond embarrassing to even look at. I thought she would think I was a liar and yell at me for having stained the bed, after straight-up denying even having a period. I kept my mouth shut. Just put a towel over the stain and washed my sheets, hoping she would never find out. She sucked… she sucked hard… but I didn’t want to go back to the shelter.
Then one day her daughter came to visit. She was 19, off to college, and thankful to FINALLY be out of her mother’s house. We talked about the whole Buddhist thing, and she said that her mom watched What’s Love Got To Do With It one too many times and had been pushing it on everyone including her, and because of that, nobody could stand Ms.Anita anymore. She explained her mom wasn’t a bad person, she was just…weird. Strict. A bit of a narcissist.
She was the kind of person who expected praise and recognition for everything she did and that she was only a foster parent to show her daughter she didn’t need her to like her because there were other kids who WOULD appreciate everything she did for them. This confirmed that that she was a Type 3 foster parent even for her own child. Her daughter’s advice? Keep my head down, my nose clean, don’t piss her off, and thank her for every little thing she does.
It felt weird being the little sister for once. But I instantly connected with my new big sister. She told me all about college and how much fun it was. I imagined her life was a never-ending episode of A Different World and I needed to take her advice if I wanted to have the same outcome. I think Ms. Anita’s daughter also had a talk with her in an attempt to foster peace. After that visit, she lightened up just a smidgen on being overbearing. Instead of trying to force me to pray with her, she tried educating me about her religion. Explaining why she chanted, why she had the shrine. It was about clearing one’s mind and cleansing the negative energy from our lives which could lead to positive things happening.
One day, Ms. Anita took me to Little 5 Points, which was back then was the hippie central in Atlanta. There was a crystal shop she wanted to show me. She walked me around the shop, showing me different things and telling me what they meant. She offered to buy me a crystal. I declined. She insisted, we compromised on a stone. I picked out a black one. Onyx I think. She bought a little satchel for me to wear around my neck. She told me that it would keep the bad energy that I was carrying with me at bay. Everything in me told me that wearing it was wrong, but I had to keep the peace with her, I had to be more open to new things. I had to be… more like her daughter if I wanted the future her daughter had.
I honestly gave it a valiant effort to be the daughter she wanted. I even would check the bathroom like 3 times a night just to make sure I didn’t accidentally leave the shower curtain open. I just had to keep the peace. But then one night, she invited me to chant with her… I don’t know, prayer group?
She introduced me to everyone there, I was the perfect polite house guest. But when it started, when everyone knelt down and started chanting in unison. Something about the whole thing, the statues, the candles, the people sounding like they were speaking in tongues…this won’t make sense to anyone who isn’t a Jehovah’s Witness… but it scared the shit out of me. I ran up to my room and just terrified wondering what I got myself in to.