My friend Michele’s mother said I could stay with them for four days tops. “That’s it,” she said. Four days.
She was moved by my plight, but scared of Mama.
I was afraid of Mama, too. Trembling scared, stomach growling scared.
“What if you had your own little apartment?” Michele suggested. “One next to school.”
One room with an old velvet couch and a rusty sink: I knew all about those kinds of rentals. I also knew I couldn’t afford one.
I’d never had a paying job, turned on utilities, or driven a car. I didn’t even own a purse.
“I don’t have any money,” I said. “You can’t get an apartment without money.”
“I’ll call your dad,” Michele said. “He has to give you the money for an apartment. He has to.”
“Hi, Mr. Smith. This is Michele, your daughter Christy’s friend. I know she just left your house but she really can’t stay with her mom and we were wondering if you could give her money to get her own place.”
I didn’t have to hear what she was hearing to know the other side of the conversation. I can’t do that. She wouldn’t like that, my wife. I can’t do that. She’d be mad.
Michele was amazed. Couldn’t understand. Couldn’t believe that I wasn’t surprised that my father said no. Michele didn’t know that there were families that didn’t help one another. Couldn’t believe that I really had no one willing to love and support me. In her world, family always came first no matter what. Offered money if you needed money; help if you needed help, love if you needed love.
“We have to get you back in school,” she said. Michele hated school, but she knew I loved it. “Remember Mr. Saunders?” she asked.
Mr. Saunders, my favorite teacher ever, had been our junior high English teacher.
“He’s not a teacher anymore,” she informed me. “Now he works for the welfare department.”
“How do you know that?”
“A friend of my sister dates him now. Can you imagine? I bet your mother would never date him.”
When I was fourteen, I’d had a crush on Mr. Saunders. Once in class he’d said: “I found a section in my ear today I didn’t know was even there. How strange to be thirty-two and just finding new places on your body.” I’d discovered a few new places in and on my body that year too. Hills and valleys I wanted him to explore. I love him. I want to marry him, I had told my friend. I wanted him to hold me at night, to press his ear to my heart, to tell the rest of the world to go to hell.
I still did.
“I’ll try your dad’s mom,” Michele said. “She’s your grandma, right? And she has her own place? Maybe she’ll take you in. She already has some of your cousins living with her, right?”
“But, it would just be a little. So she could get back into school.”
Grandma didn’t care. She had never finished school. And neither had any of her boys.
“Uh, huh, I know, but…” Cradle back in the receiver.
“Your grandma said your dad wouldn’t feel comfortable visiting if you were there.”
No deal. Again. And again Michele was surprised. But I wasn’t.
My father left when I was three, and then resurfaced unexpectedly a week or so after my eleventh birthday. He came to see me with presents: condensed juvenile classics (“I just know that any kid of mine will be a reader”), and a heavy gold jade ring. He was right about the books and wrong about the ring, a hard greenish stone cut into a knuckle-sized square and sunk into a chunky masculine setting. It was unlike the rest of my jewelry (plastic gumball rings and knotted necklaces), so when I found it too big for my real ring finger, I wore it clumsily on my pointer, where it hung with the dull shine of lost treasure.
He picked me up from school, took me out for dinner and then for a drive in the countryside around his mother’s house. “We’ll just drive,” he said. But he talked the whole time. Mama was his subject for the decade-old me. It had something to do with money. It had something to do with sex. The trees flew past, glassy and still. Where we were going, I didn’t want to go.
As he sped through the mineshaft-filled hills, he laid it on. “Always remember what I’m telling you,” he said. “Opposites attract. Opposites attract all right, but they kill each other. In the end they always kill each other.”
I leaned out into the winter wind and quietly threw my new ring out the car window. All it took was a small sideways swing of my hand, almost like trying to skip a rock on Grandma Iola’s pond. Just a practiced flick of my wrist and his gift was gone.
So were my books. Mama hocked them at her favorite pawnshop on 5th and Rangeline, and then called his mother’s house ranting and raving and asking for more money.
“You didn’t keep the ring he gave you?” Michele asked, incredulous.
“He’s such an asshole,” I said, raging at him in my head and not sorry.
He counted on the women in his family to clean up his messes. Hid behind them. But he couldn’t hide behind me. I wouldn’t let him. I wouldn’t give him protection and reassurance. He wasn’t my baby. He wasn’t my child. And why should I? He had never protected me.
He’d simply left me to Mama and her monstrous wanderings and took off to have his own adventures.
Alive and alert on the water, uneasy on dry land. Soon after he turned sixteen he enlisted in the US Navy and followed his two older brothers, Raymond and Norman, into WWII. Went to war. Just a boy when he headed into the Pacific theatre, a boatswain’s mate-gunner first class. He would spend most of his life serving his country, and retire a Chief Petty Officer, the highest rank for an enlisted man. In love with the sea, he once told me how magic it was to sit on the ship’s bow at dawn, in the middle of the still dark ocean, a mug of coffee in his cupped hands, saltwater spray on his face—looking out across the deep waters towards a distant horizon.
As if he deserved my admiration. All those years he never sent a birthday card. Never even called to say how are you. And he thought I was the problem. Thought that I owed him. No matter how he’d treated me, my obligation was to honor and obey him, assumed that my duty to him was guaranteed by the fact of my birth; I owed him but he didn’t owe me. That was the deal.
I hated him for that. And would hold onto that hate for a long time.
Hating him would give me solace and the space to breath. It would also keep me connected to him until I was ready to let go of wanting him to love me.
“What else did my grandmother say?” I asked Michele. “Did she ask how I was?”
I thought grandma Iola loved me. Every time I visited, she made her famous egg noodles. Cooked them with large chunks of chicken in a big steaming pot. Her kitchen so narrow everyone ate on a counter facing a wall.
“You’re no fun anymore,” Michele said, bored by my emotional withdrawal. “Maybe you should go back to your mom.”
I glanced sideways at my friend and saw the way she was looking at me. The same way she would look at me from now on too. Not the kind of girl who grew up in a house with a landscaped yard, who wore cashmere sweaters to school. Now she knew the truth: I was nothing like her. Not one of God’s keepsake kids wrapped in the soft packing paper of normal life.
My mouth filled with too much saliva. I choked and then gagged. Wanted to jump up and run out of my friend’s house. Go back to Mama’s parents’ house and retrieve all my things, if they were still there, if Mama didn’t have them already: the book I’d been reading, my sketchbooks and drawing pencils, my records and my orange sweatshirt.
I needed that orange sweatshirt.
Michele looked away from me. Her posture said: That’s really too bad. Isn’t it? But I can’t help you. She was right. I wasn’t any fun. Didn’t know what fun was or how to enjoy myself. Fun had been pounded out of me. Desire re-routed. Joy thwarted. It was time for me to move on, to get back into school, and find a place to live: a real home.
I told Michele to take me to the police department. “Just take me there,” I said. “And I’ll turn myself in.”
Friends aren’t enough. They may have your back, but they are not obliged to carry your burdens. They won’t; they can’t.
They don’t have the DNA.
Still, what’s the good of family if blood bonds lead you astray and into darkness?
We climbed into Michele’s VW bug and headed across town to the Joplin police department, my friend behind the wheel, me scrunched down in the passenger seat, almost on the floorboard, careful to not be seen, a refugee, a runaway, but not a sucker. If I were going to surrender, it would be to the police, not to Mama, never to Mama. I would never go back to her. I would give myself up to the cops first.
I wasn’t afraid of the cops.
Michele and I walked into the police station ready for some drama, but no one was there to greet us. No one was manning the front desk. Maybe the dispatcher was in the bathroom. Maybe they’d all gone to get some doughnuts or coffee, or to some cop meeting. I waited a few minutes and then made up my mind.
“Take me to the welfare office,” I said.
There was a children’s home on the edge of town. I’d seen the kids driven in for school. They were fed, clothed, and given beds. No matter who you were or where you came from.
“Just take me there,” I said.
Put me in a children’s home, or in foster care. According to the dictionary, a situation in which for a period of time a child lives with and is cared for by people who are not the child’s parents. To foster someone is to supply them with sustenance, to encourage their growth, to help them forward, to support them and care for them as if they were your own.
“Maybe Mr. Saunders will help me,” I said.
“He can’t help you. He’s an old man. And he’s not even tall.” Michelle thought only tall men were capable and manly.
I didn’t care if he were short or tall. I loved Mr. Saunders. No one before him had ever told me I had choices. That choice was always available to us. That if we were open to it, if we kept our minds and hearts open to hearing the pain of others, even if that pain contained horrific darkness, then and only then would we make it through to the other side and put our own demons to rest.
To this day I won’t trust anyone who refuses to own their demons.
“Just take me there,” I said.
“Okay. Okay. Jeez.” We got back into her car and she steered it onto 7th Street, turning up the volume on the radio. We wove through traffic singing along to The Fifth Dimension.
When the moon is in the Seventh House and Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets and love will steer the stars
Michele pulled into the parking lot of the Jasper County Department of Social Services, turned to me and said: “My mom thinks you’ll do great without your mother. My mom has faith in you.”
I didn’t know what to think about that. I was so afraid of how other people might see me that I seldom took in how they did see me, just me, separate and apart from Mama. I didn’t know what to say to those words of hope and support, so I said nothing. Didn’t say gee, thanks or even goodbye. Didn’t look back or wave. I opened the passenger door, slid out of her car and headed for the entrance of the welfare office. Walked swiftly across the parking lot and up to the electronic doors. Unsure of where I was going and what the outcome might be, only knowing I had to keep moving. Fear pounded in my ears, drowning out the danger. I needed to pee. Hadn’t pooped in days. Felt like I was going to puke and piss and shit all at once. But I didn’t care.
I was desperate. Ready for my life to begin.
My life was difficult, but it was mine. Mine to live and mine to change.
I heard Michele’s VW drive off, and stopped just short of the welfare office entrance. Took a sharp breath in, felt a pressure in my chest, took another deeper breath and felt the longing to expand, to exist without apology, to belong somewhere and to somebody.
I thought of the prayer I’d offered to the universe in my grandparents’ spare bedroom before I hit their screen door and ran. In that room, with all I owned in cardboard boxes, I had prayed: Help me out, Great Spirit. Get me out of this, and I swear I’ll never let you down. I’ll never turn my back on anyone in need. Promise.
All the women on Mama’s side American Indian descended, dirt poor and just women, living on the land and in the past, the water and the dirt, a human sludge, all nature, all boundless. Every trip a chance to enter the world anew, to cut through false claims and old wounds, find a way out of the blind present into what survives, what goes on and on becoming, in this life, and on this earth.
Always leaving: forever moving forward, cleaving to the world as remembered, the world as it might be again.
“Get up and pack,” Mama would say after six months, one month, or nine at most. “I have to get out of here. Keep moving. Get out of here.”
The earth, the very ground we’d learned to stand on, undermined.
“What about our stuff, our friends, our school?”
“Leave it behind. Leave it all behind. You can always get it again.”
You can never get it again.
We were all sacred beings once, even Mama, before generations of despair and displacement changed us, turned us from warriors into people who accepted what they got. Plundered. Believing we had caused it, and deserved it, we just gave in to the worst in us and in the world. I would not give in. Even at my lowest ebb of misery, I believed I could change my life; evolve into something better than where I’d come from and what had happened to me.
As I walked through the entrance of the Jasper County Welfare Department building, Mr. Saunders was walking out.
“I need your help,” I said. “I got kicked out of my dad’s and I can’t go back to Mama. I need a place to live, even the children’s home is okay.” I said it all as fast as I could.
Mr. Saunders looked at me over his thick black-framed glasses, long sandy hair falling across his face. “Come on,” he said when I finished talking.
He held out his arms and I fell into them, and into the arms of the state.
I would be cared for and protected by an entity more powerful than Mama.
By people who were not my parents, not my blood kin.
Family ties, blood ties, thicker-than-water-connections, clans, your folks, where-you-come-from, what-you-are-made-of, your people are your people, yours and no one else’s, linked up long before you and long after, in a body chain of inevitability, an unavoidable done deal populated with truck drivers and homemakers, poker players and prostitutes, murderers and more, people of mixed blood and mixed meanings: robbers, conjurers and outlaws, with dirt under their nails, full heads of thick hair and high cheekbones. They were workers, raiders, and runners, women and men with stories I might never fully know, but might live to understand, tales of revenge and loss, of envy and greed and hope, of surviving only on the run.
I wanted so desperately to find my true self, to separate from all the chaos of my family, to be more than a servant or a burden. More than a child support check, a receipt in triplicate for money spent on my care, more than what I was repeatedly told by both Mama and my real father: you’re a parasite. The most likely outcome for girls like you: pregnant, dead or in jail.
Almost all foster children require some form of mental health intervention and more than half develop chronic conditions: asthma, obesity and substance abuse. Most will remain low income, meaning poor, dirt poor, and abused and neglected, hopelessly overburdened and overburdening for all eternity.
Getting into the system was not guaranteed. I needed to be interviewed. To talk with a case manager who would determine whether I’d be easy or hard to place. Whether a group home or juvenile hall or single-family placement would be best. I didn’t know how all of those things were determined. Or how to describe what was going on in my life. After so much silence, and so many years protecting Mama I didn’t know if I could risk saying things were not right in my life when there were no guarantees I’d be placed even if things weren’t right at home. Child abuse legislation had passed only the year before. And Mama might push back hard. Her kids were her business, her job and her paycheck.
Mr. Saunders took me to his office and told me what to expect. “Don’t worry,” he said. “You don’t have to go back to your mother. I’ll do whatever it takes, negotiate with the state on your behalf, if it comes to that,” he said. “Pull a regular “John Q. Citizen” before I let that happen.”
“But I don’t have anyplace to stay. And no clothes. So…”
“So you’ll have to borrow some from Stacy, “ he said. Picked up the phone and called a cab to take me to his girlfriend’s house, a drama student not much older than me, who was my same size, a petite four.
Through her living room blinds, I watched her and Mr. Saunders stick their tongues down each other’s throats. Pretty tame compared to all I’d witnessed sleeping on motel floors with my younger siblings, listening to Mama and her boyfriends. Still, by the time Stacy and Mr. Saunders pulled apart, I was starving.
Stacy gave me my favorite lunch for dinner: Dr. Pepper, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and a bag of Cheetos. Loaned me some clean clothes, and I tagged along with her to the local community college to watch her perform in a theatrical rehearsal of the French farce Tartuffe.
When the good girl character Mariane, said: “You know that fathers have such sway / Over our lives that I’ve nothing to say. / I’ve never had the strength,” I laughed so loudly that afterwards the director thanked me for my feedback.
I’d never seen a play before and I was transfixed; I innately understood the farce, the hypocrisy of seeming to be one thing while actually another. I was raised by a con, a master of deception like the guy in the play, woman who could sense in an instant what a man really wanted, find his flaw and use it to get what she wanted.
Helped him to do his worst and still call it good. Then laughed as he stumbled off a cliff. Or took a knife for her.
The next morning, Mr. Saunders picked me up from Stacy’s and put me in a taxicab bound for the Jasper County Welfare Office, where I waited for my interview with Mrs. Burkholder, a potential caseworker.
The room was cavernous and yellow-green. All the furniture was gray metal. I sat down in a cold office chair across from a cluttered desk. From the other side of her office partition I heard: “It all started with my cousin Jimmy. His mom just never came to get him. She said, ‘I never liked him from the time they put him in my arms at the hospital.’ Told me that right to my face and left. So now he’s ours, I guess. We’ve got to keep him.”
“Wow, so many sad stories,” I said to Mrs. Burkholder when she sat down behind her desk. She was a middle-aged woman, older than Mama, with nervous hands and kind eyes. Too kind to keep Mama away from me was my immediate judgment.
“Let’s talk for a little bit,” she said. “Can you tell me why don’t you want to live with your mother?”
“Just put me in the children’s home,” I said. “There are too many of us. She can’t take care of us.” Most of us spawned by damaged men, alcoholic men unable to maintain relationships yet willing to be seduced by a beautiful woman with no impulse control.
Night after night waiting for her to come home drunk and angry, waiting until she passed out and it was quiet again, safe. Eating from sacks of leftover fast food, wearing shoplifted clothing, hiding swollen lips and bruises whenever you managed to attend school. Never knowing from where your next meal would come: a bucket, a bag or a drive-through window.
There was never enough. Once I caught one of my baby sisters hiding a biscuit under the sofa for later. I always wanted to confront Mama, to ask why she acted the way she did, what was wrong with her that she kept us when she didn’t love us. All those shivering nights spent crouching in the underbrush at dusk waiting for the racket indoors to die down, watching the lights in the windows, waiting and shivering arms wrapped around skinned up legs, hair in knots made from grabbing hands pulling me dragging me.
“I can’t do homework I’m too busy taking care of the kids,” I told Mrs. B.
Mama destroyed any schoolbook she found that I didn’t hide.
I couldn’t keep hold of anything. Not even the surname I was born with. Ralph Edwards, Mama’s husband after my father, adopted me when I was four years old, and my birth certificate was altered to reflect the shift in paternity. The father described as a twenty-two year old chrome plater born in New Orleans. From the age of three until the age of ten I thought my adopted father was my real father. Didn’t have a glimmer of doubt. Didn’t know my real father had given me up when I was small and that he would do it again and again.
I told Mrs. B what I could, what I was able to speak aloud; I kept to myself what was still too painful to admit.
I was my mother’s servant and my father’s regret. My only value lay in what I could do for others. Be for others. My existence justified by how well I took care of others. Taking care of my maternal siblings had made up some for not being taken care of myself. Taking care of them had saved me. By putting them first and myself last, I felt okay about myself, like I was valuable for something even if nobody loved me. That was the bargain I had struck with life. I didn’t think I was good enough to be loved just for being alive, just for being me. I had to work for it.
And I did.
Mid afternoon on a wintry school day and I’d be home taking care of my three youngest sisters. Again. Camped out in another semi-furnished, clapboard shack, this time on the east side of town. The floor furnace didn’t work, but the TV was new. The kids zoomed up and down the couch, watching cartoons and squealing with pent-up boredom, while I tried to read a book assigned in English class.
“Stop it, you guys. Sit down and be quiet.”
The twins stopped, but Mary Lee the baby ignored me and started jumping.
Walnut curls against flushed cheeks; black eyes fluttering open and shut. Within seconds, she’d reached a dangerous height. “I flying,” she yelled.
Everything she did she did fast.
Before I could say sit down: Whack! Her head hit the glass lip of the coffee table and she slumped to the floor in a dangerous silence.
The twins screamed. I threw my book aside and scooped up my baby sister.
Blood on her head, blood on the floor, blood everywhere.
I prayed: Be okay. Be okay. And pressed her vibrating head against my chest to stop the blood flow.
“Whaaaaaaaa…” she exhaled with a gasp, wailing in pain, her mouth an open O, baby voice blotted by the upper range of body panic.
The twins were the quiet ones now. Didn’t need to ask what was up. They knew. Somebody was hurt, and we were alone without a phone, without a car.
“Come on,” I said, deciding to be brave. “We’ve got to go right now.” Carrying the baby, I pushed the twins out the front door and down the walkway to the sidewalk.
I had a destination in mind: a building on the northwest corner of a busy commercial intersection of gas station, liquor store, Baptist Church, and office building. A sign there lodged in my mind from months’ worth of car turns around the corner. A medical sign advertising a name with the letters M.D. after it, a sign with the word Clinic in red alongside that strange spiraling snake symbol used for real doctors.
Mama didn’t like real doctors. Didn’t need their questioning eyes on her business.
“Where we going?” one of the twins asked.
“It’s cold,” the other said.
“Stay by me,” I barked.
The baby cried harder.
“It’s all right,” I whispered in her ear. “We’ll be there soon. And the doctor will fix you.”
Two blocks to go and they were long blocks. We walked them shivering, but no one came outside to help. People peered from living room windows, curious and aghast. I couldn’t keep hold of the twins’ hands. At the slightest diversion—a cat, a curious object on the frozen ground—they drifted off-course, meandering into yards, veering off the sidewalk.
“Come on. Stay by me,” I yelled. Repeated those words until we reached the corner, and I saw the sign on the marquee of the office building for a real doctor.
I burst through his heavy door, baby in my arms, the twins stumbling behind, marched over to the glass receptionist window, and announced the problem to the startled woman sitting there. “My baby sister’s hurt. She jumped off the couch. I think she needs stitches. Can your doctor do that?”
“Where’s the mother?”
“At work.” Mama left the night before with her usual instructions: ‘don’t leave the house. If you see anybody, don’t say anything. If they ask anything, keep your mouth shut.’
The nurse quickly took the situation in: the cut on baby’s head, the teenage girl used to being in charge, the preschool twins cowering in pajamas behind her; four way too-skinny girls, all of them alone and confused and wary of authority. None wore a good winter coat.
In a moment, I saw what the nurse saw and I felt ashamed and helpless.
“That looks like a nasty cut,” she said, and reached for baby. “Give her to me.”
Her voice was calm, her manner helpful. Still, she was a stranger. Baby clung to me, refusing. She had always been more mine than Mama’s. “It’s all right,” I said, easing her toward the woman. Be okay. Be okay. “Go with the lady.”
Her little hands were pried off my shoulders, until she was shifted completely away. “I’ll take her back and see what the doctor can do,” the nurse explained. “He’s not a pediatrician, but he can do stitches. You wait here and fill this out. I’m going to need to call an adult, a responsible adult, so make sure to write all your contact numbers down clearly.” She looked the baby in her arms over. “I don’t imagine you have insurance.”
I was sure we did not. Only money we ever got, besides sporadic child support from our stepdad come from AFDC, Aid to Families with Dependent Children—that month we had nothing more and nobody to help. “Is she going to be okay?”
“How old is she?” the nurse asked.
“Two and a half,” I answered. “She’s small for her age,” I explained. Give or take a meal.
“Fill that out,” the nurse said, and dashed down the hall, baby sister crying all the way.
The twins and I sat in a nervous row across from an old man reading Life Magazine. February 10, 1967. On the cover a funeral procession, American flag over an astronauts casket. Grissom, White and Chaffee. The old man kept his head down; never looked our way. Deaf, or purposely ignoring us, either way was fine by me. I could hardly breathe. I tried to fill out the form, but I didn’t know where Mama was or what number anyone could dial to reach her. Distant and estranged was what I wanted to write beside ‘next of kin.’ Aunt Jo had a phone, and she was home during the day. Who else? Grandma and Grandpa, but they’d gone fishing. I jotted down my bio dad’s number instead, though he wouldn’t care about my sisters, they weren’t his kids, and he was over an hour away.
The nurse returned and took the information. “Thanks,” she said, and went to dial. Whoever she reached caused a commotion. “Well,” the nurse said, “we can’t reach the mother, that’s why we called you. No. No, we can’t let her take them home. She walked here in the dead of winter with a bleeding child. The doctor might need to file a report with the authorities as it is. Yes, child protection.”
Afterwards came a stream of invective that I could hear several feet away.
“Just so you understand, ma’am,” the nurse responded. “It’s our obligation to report when we see this kind of thing.” She went on to say the dreaded words: “Neglect and possible abuse,” then slammed the phone receiver down. “Your aunt agreed to come and pick you up,” she informed me. “Now, would you like me to call your father?”
Call if you need me,’ he said at the end of every phone call. ‘Especially if there’s an emergency.’ When I asked: ‘What’s an emergency?’ he’d always answer, ‘Somebody’s bleeding.’
“Sure,” I said. “Go ahead. Call him.” For all the good it would do.
“I can’t send you to a children’s home,” Mrs. B said. She picked up two manila folders, and held them in the air in front of me. “I have two families,” she said. “One’s large with many children. The other is a young couple with no children. They really want a toddler but they said they’d be willing to take you.”
For a few long minutes, mute need battled bodily truth.
Go live with the people with all those kids. You could be so much help to them. They need you.
Should-dos slammed in my head.
Then I opened my mouth and said: “I’ll take the people with no kids.”
At sixteen, on a blustery day in May 1969, I became a ward of the Juvenile Court of the state of Missouri. I was put in the care and custody of the Division of Welfare for final placement as a foster child. I was raised wrong and yet redeemed. Like a pop bottle I was urged forward into a life I hoped I could believe in. People paid to keep me, to provide food, clothing and shelter, until I graduated from high school or until they were sick of me which ever came first. In exchange they’d receive a monthly check from the state of Missouri and would be reimbursed for all out of pocket expenses, meaning when we shopped for school clothing my foster mother made sure to get a receipt in triplicate for every purchase so she could file the necessary paperwork with my caseworker.
Redemption is what some people claim happens to your soul when you’re saved from evil forces. Like some kind of sentimental sauce slathered over meat gone bad. Something to cover up the mess we’ve made or the mess we’ve inherited.
All I know is my father’s door closed and other doors opened.
I didn’t know why.
I just walked through those open doors, hoping for a better life.
I would seldom be as brave again, as single-minded or as ruthless.
Chris J. Rice is an Ozark born writer/artist who settled in Los Angeles after earning an MFA from California Institute of the Arts. Her writing has been published in [PANK] Online, The Rumpus, The Manifest-Station and Catapult, among other literary magazines, included in wigleaf’s top 50 (very) short fiction, nominated for a Pushcart, and named a prizewinner in Hunger Mountain’s 2016 Creative Non-Fiction contest.
“Child Protection” is excerpted from DAUGHTER OF NO ONE, a story of epigenetic trauma and evolving self-determination, the memoir of a girl who jumped off her falling family tree and into foster care, showing us what happens when all you can collect is memory and you discover, finally, that memory and hope are enough.
Abandonment and neglect. Substance abuse. Alcoholism. Suicide ideation. These are subjects which are prominent in child welfare and foster care; on average, foster children remain wards of the state for two years. I asked: Why are these stories uncommon despite its longstanding presence? Why is the adage “education out of the system” the emergent path to adulthood? Why have I not found a safe space for these stories from educators, administrators, foster parents, biological parents, kinship placements, adoptees, and the fostered and unfostered?
There has to be a way to make that happen. That is what I’m looking at for this foster care series. The writings I aim to publish will take a variety of forms, including creative nonfiction, hybrid writing, poetry, fiction, visual and text-based. More importantly, they will come from voices which are undeniably unafraid to speak. If language can do that, I think we can get closer to reinventing our experiences; we’re not so different or alone at the end of the day. Send your writings on foster care to firstname.lastname@example.org. And keep speaking.