I sat in a tiny ball at my father’s feet, watching the sky, heart careening through my chest, waiting to hear the deafening crack of his rifle.
I followed the small birds as they torpedoed from sky to patches of crispy sun-scorched grass, and as he nudged me with the barrel of his gun, I set off.
I ran across the open field, keeping my eyes trained on the land where they lay, collecting sticker burrs in my socks.
The hunted scouring the ground for the slain.
When I found them, their lungs were heaving their last breaths. Their beady black eyes piercing into mine, their tiny talons kicking their last spastic kicks.
I scooped up each bird, and cradled them against my chest. Tucked in the crook of one arm, I spoke gently to each, stroking their feathered chests with my small hands . . .
You’re a good bird. You’re not alone. It wasn’t your fault.
We were drenched in fear together, their soft bodies warming my cold hands.
After their necks went limp, and their feet shuddered their last shudders, I stacked each bird in my satchel, and moved on to the next. And with my bag full of death, I trotted back across the field to where he stood watching me through his scope, his rifle trained on me.
One by one, I passed him each bird, apologizing to them silently.
This space of wordlessness, he already knew.
He wrapped his fingers around their necks and ripped their heads from their bodies, dropping the decapitated corpses in a feathery pile between us, and tossing their heads behind a tree.
I sat next to the headless birds, none of us breathing.
When we had repeated the exercise to his satisfaction, he nodded to them, and I gathered the headless birds into my satchel, smearing blood on my shirt.
I followed him back to the house, trailing a few feet behind, dragging my feet, futilely hoping that when I lifted my head, I might be anywhere else.
We had dove for dinner that night, and I listened to the cicadas from the front porch while I pushed their breasts around my plate, wondering how their families were handling their loss, and considering whether anyone would miss me if I had been picked off as I flew across the field.
After dinner, I slid out the backdoor and picked my way to the creek that ran beside the house, watching the water struggle through a collection of sticks and leaves, trying to rinse the brown-stained blood from my shirt. I folded leaves into boats, loaded them with stick people, and watched them slowly drift away.
I sat in the stillness, breathing into the solace of imagining a far away dock that welcomed these boats to their land, inviting the stray travelers to stay as long as they’d like.
He whistled, and I worked my way back to the house as slowly as I could without causing more problems for myself.
He and silence held open the screen door, and all three of us knew what was coming.
I had learned to lose the time while they chiseled away at me. Conjuring images of magical islands and fantastical forests, and imagining the scalding water I would use to burn myself clean in the shower after he was done with me.
And six years later, I sat in a police station.
The officer’s name was Andrea, and she liked horses, too. She had chosen to stay past her shift to be with me, while the male police officers scurried around the precinct, all working a bit too hard to pretend that I didn’t exist. And she told me I should write out what I could about what had happened to me, and that things were going to be okay. I traced the edges of the worn wooden desk with my pointer finger, my numbness obfuscating my ability to assess what that would even mean.
I was placed in a “fictive kinship foster placement” and was sitting in the car with my foster mother when he was arrested. In the weeks that followed, I came to know the precinct and the furtive glances of police officers and nondescript office workers who whispered to each other about what my life had been. And I sat in their hard plastic chairs and repeatedly broke pencil lead from pressing too hard.
I answered the same questions over and over again, had my bruises catalogued, had a camera shoved in my body, pointed at anatomically correct dolls, and sat patiently while the first-week-on-the-job-flashcard-wielding-CPS-worker struggled her way through asking a child about rape—a subject that was new to only one of us.
And this eternal period eventually passed. And Andrea was replaced by Camille—the Victims Services Social Worker—and Camille was later replaced by Deborah, the child therapist. And Deborah was eventually replaced by Heather, the adult therapist. And Heather was never replaced.
And as life unfolded, I worked hard to go back through time to scoop up the resilient scrappy scrapper that I was. To hold the space that was never held, and to breathe into the wisdom of what the silent part of me always knew and desperately needed to hear.
You’re a good bird. You’re not alone. It wasn’t your fault.
Lacy Alana is a writer, artist, and psychotherapist. As a writer, Lacy writes both clinically and creatively, and is working on a hybrid book that bridges creative non-fiction with clinical writing on trauma/neurodivergence/interpersonal neurobiology. As a clinician and artist, Lacy has created a number of innovative circus and improv-based programs for at-risk and neurodiverse youth. Additionally, Lacy is writing an article series on interpersonal neurobiology and circus (www.yesandbrain.com), and continues to work as a psychotherapist (www.lacyalana.com).
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.