I have many childhood memories that mess with my mind enough that there are moments that I have to look from the outside in just to process them. My mother was schizophrenic but I didn’t know this, show would have episodes that would come like a thief in the night, without a moment of warning.
At age six I was sitting watching Mickey mouse on a small 13 inch black and white TV. in our musty studio apartment in a public housing project in Pekin, Illinois. My mother, a tall heavy set Caucasian woman ran to small kitchen, grabbed a knife and charged towards me slashing me above my left eye. She screamed “Beelzebub” and swiped the blade at my face like a person trying to save their life from some unstoppable force. In reality I was just a six year old sitting in a musty run down apartment watching TV., I did not know what in the hell was happening, so I ran.
Then the blade hit me above the left eye brow. The pain felt like fire, the steel was hard and unforgiving. Why was my mother doing this? I didn’t understand. I pushed open the broken screen door and ran. I don’t remember which direction, I just ran. A neighborhood police officer saw me and grabbed me, asking me frantically who did this. I couldn’t speak, I opened my mouth to speak but nothing would come out. I wouldn’t have known what to say anyway.
Mom would “get better,” she would take her medications and I would be returned to her. These types of episodes would become common, to the point that I was a prisoner inside of my own body, just protecting myself from whatever would come next. I would pray to God, or whoever the hell could hear me that she would not hurt me again.
My baby sister, a year and a half younger than me would sleep with me in my bed. She had been raped by a man my mother brought home to have sex with. She had been raped repeatedly by the same man and nothing happened.
I use to watch him rub himself on her as I lay in bed pretending to sleep. I had run out of tears to cry. My chest would burn with rage. I had run out of prayers to say. I did not believe in a god. I wanted to die at age seven. I wanted to go away and never return. I had no sense of direction; I didn’t know who was who.
Every few weeks there was a new foster home, a new person to call mom, dad. There were new smells, new faces, and new personalities to deal with. I do not recall when I stopped returning to my mother. Every time my mother would be admitted to the local mental hospital, it was only a break from that type of pain. We would be put into a new foster care placement. There was a new set of challenges to face after that.
Around my age seven, my mother was forced by the Court to stay in a mental institution. My memory rarely fails me and yet I do not remember my sister and me bonding, or even having rivalry as young children. We were battling life, so we did not have time to learn and discover each other. I do not recall when we were split up. I just know that I wanted to die after having a visit with my mother so I tried to choke myself with a belt. I remember being upset and cursing at foster parents. I remember the state taking me to a group home when no other placement would take me. I remember the feeling of being around outcast all grouped up in a brick building, feeling like the children no one wanted. I remember longing for a family, for someone to care for me. I remember the lonely nights not knowing if I would ever find someone to love me, for someone that I could love.
Spoon and Mina were working as volunteers at the Group Home. They fell in love with me at first sight. They paid special attention to me, talking to me, hugging me, they made me feel warm inside. I was thirsty for some kind of something. That’s how I put it. I couldn’t define with words what I needed. I knew when they looked at me, that they cared, that they were going to save me from that undefined force, that negative force that had always been in my life. They did.
I am still unclear what process they had to undergo to adopt me, but they did. I became a part of a stable world that I never knew before. I didn’t know what it was to have a dining room, warm food, a comfortable bed, a shower. I did not know what it was to go to school and play sports. I did not know what it was to fish, or swim. I did not know what it was to smile and mean it. Spoon and Mina taught me that. I do not remember when I called them mom and dad, I just remember feeling it in my heart. I remember looking at them with no reservations. There was not a monster that was going to run out of the kitchen and slash me. There was stability, there was love, and there was peace.
My sister would be immediately adopted separate from me. Though later in life she would run away with a guy ten years older than she. She lived in her boyfriend’s car, where she became pregnant and had a baby boy. I have never been close with my sister, though she now has her own home and is raising her son. She has a drug and alchol problem and often times calls me in the middle of the night crying for no reason at all. Some nights she will call screaming. I do not know what to say, however I silently understand her pain.
Then around my fourteenth birthday my parents were killed in a car accident. I was a part of a small family and would go back into random foster homes; at this point I was broken. I would run away from “home” at age 16. My case workers at the time saw themselves as my parents.
I found myself bouncing around the country, sometimes with little to no money. Working odd jobs, staying with strangers, living in homeless shelters and lying about my age kept me with a semi roof over my head. I’ve always been outgoing and could talk, so I always had lucky breaks and would find places to stay. I found myself in places such as Los Angeles and Miami. On one of those occasions I had no money and no place to go, so I called my case worker collect. I was informed that they were moving the Court to emancipate me, to consider me an adult so that they could relieve themselves of the responsibility to care for me. At age 17 and homeless in Fort Lauderdale, I was told that the system that had kept me my entire life, was throwing me out and there was no recourse. I was up shit creek without a paddle.
Homeless in a bus station, a black man started to ask me what was going on. I do not know what caused him to do this. He drove me to a place that he said would help, it was the Covenant House of Fort Lauderdale. It was a sanctuary for homeless teens. There they gave counseling and treated us better than most foster homes I had been in. There counselors learned that I had inherited money from my family and introduced me to a family friend that would later adopt me as an adult.
I was lucky, most of the youth that aged out ended up strung out on drugs, as prostitutes, or in prison. Society ends up paying for this by ignoring this. There aren’t always nice men who know of a place to take a homeless teen. There aren’t always lucky stories. In fact there are no stories at all.
Now I am twenty-seven. I carry the past with me. I have a good life from the outside looking in. I have a good education. I have a house. I have security of a bank account. I have the security of clothing. However I have a past, I have pain, and I have memories. My story could have been heard and someone could have helped. I am in the minority of those who have succeeded and still I have set backs. When I so freely tell a part of my story to a select few, they do not know what to say. It’s as if they simply can’t imagine going through that and being able to talk about it.
I now attend school and get pretty good grades. I turned my hatred for life into love, but some days I still can not fight the depression.
Now my worries are more human, such as relationships. I have a boyfriend, though we’ve recently reduced it down to the status of friendship, exclusive friendship, to save ourselves from breaking up completely. I love him and to my surprise he loves me back, though I have had a hard time convincing myself of his honesty, though the truth is right in my face. He has had issues accepting and showing his own affection towards me.
It seems some days that it is a sunset cruise, other days it is like the opening of a war scene. He has his own issues which cause me to read him wrong at times and for the first time in my adult life, even when we get to the point when we are ready to let go of whatever we have built, we hold on because we know that is not what the other person really means. We are both fighting for normalcy that we never had. I have learnt by what people have done to me, I know how not to treat another. He is still learning and giving me faith.
My story is only noticed because I survived to give it a voice. What of the millions of stories that do not have a voice? Do you hear that silence? It is horrifying.
About the author: Victor Lopez is a student at Guildford Tech Community College in Jamestown, North Carolina.