Sometimes old memories float up in need of
a little light…
A soul’s whisper to let it go.
I was 14 years old. My mother and I were living in an apartment on the 14th floor of a basic downtown high-rise. We were there because that’s where she was when I ran away from the last foster home I’d intended to live in.
I threatened to run away and never be found again if they made me go back to that home. The Department of Social Services, and my unprepared mother, gave in.
My mother had been struggling with escape from an abusive marriage, alcoholism, and no way to fully support her daughters. Those were the consequences of the sins created by and for the Government. That’s how we ended up in foster care just after Christmas that year.
We were six girls, ages two to twelve years. I was twelve. They were my sisters and because I was the oldest, they were also my beloved babies. There was no doubt that we were a fiercely bonded ‘band of sisters’ having already traversed a very rocky start together.
I was quite used to taking care of them and the house as required, which it seemed was almost always. So, the demand to relinquish responsibility to the social workers who came to take us away or to the people who were to foster us was incomprehensible. It was shocking and infuriating and frustrating.
Many nights I’d lie awake planning our escape from that foster home and formulating the many ways I’d find our mom. I usually ended up crying myself to sleep immersed in the despondency of realizing how powerless I really was.
We were all together in that initial home, except the youngest who was instead taken to live with our father – another story for another time. I was eventually to move to two other homes within a year and a half. Only one sister was allowed to go with me; they gave me one day to choose between the four faces that pleaded to be taken. Despite everything that we’d already lived through to that point, it was then that I learned that a soul could feel fractured.
In short time and with little choice, we adapted and carried on as kids are so able. Then two years later, suddenly we were all being taken to visit with our mom at her own new home. The visit went by as quickly as I’d dreaded. When it was time to say goodbye to her, it felt like the beginning of all the bad goodbyes again. I could not return to that pain; the next weekend I bolted for home, for her, for good.
So there I was, on the 14th floor in a small, sparse apartment, a temporary only child, but finally with my own mom. Life definitely took another turn in my day-to-day. I spent less time with my friends and more with my mother’s.
She had a friend on the 7th floor. Phyllis was one of those larger than life characters; a hard-drinking party girl, a queen bee who had great pride in being a full-time ‘player’. She seemed to take my mother under her wing. She was a louder than life distraction for a young woman bogged down with desperate problems.
Phyllis held court to an allotment of very proud and loud butch lesbians. They called themselves the girbols (girl boys, hard g). One of them was Margaret. She was pretty, a large woman and very quiet. Though she liked to hang out with the crowd and indulged in the same drink and smoke, she alone remained quiet.
I came home from school one day at the start of spring break and went down to the gang. There was a brand new baby girl cuddled up in Margaret’s arms. I hadn’t even realized that she had been pregnant. The baby was so tiny and delicate, and wrapped in a pink blanket.
Spring Break began on a weekend and as on all weekends, it was time to get the girbol party started. I was immediately designated the girl baby’s guardian. I took baby and all of her required possessions up to my apartment.
The ‘weekend’ turned into nearly two weeks during which I had full custody of baby night and day. It’s awesome, as in really awe-inspiring, how easily you fall in love with a child, even as a young girl and you immediately wish to be everything it takes to nurture them to perfection.
She needed me for everything and I reveled in that. At night, I would wrap her next to me and listen to her breath and smell the top of her head until I drifted off in true peace. Every minute with her was another moment of reclaimed love. I was once again protector, friend, sister, mother. For awhile I was me again.
Spring break was over and I’d already missed two days of school, I had to go back. That morning, I reluctantly took her down to the 7th floor, gave her back to Margaret and left for school. When I came home, I dropped off my school things and grabbed one of her blankets to collect her. I sniffed her baby smell all the way to Phyllis’s apartment.
When I walked in, I saw Margaret sitting by the window staring out with the curtains blowing around her. The girbol group was strangely quiet. I asked for the baby and no one said anything. I went to Margaret and asked. “Where’s the baby”? She wouldn’t answer and then I saw her tears. I was instantly alarmed.
“Where’s the baby Margaret”? I was ready to cry, but not sure why.
“They took her”, she said softly.
“Who took her”?
“Social Services. I phoned them today and they came to take her away”.
I know I asked her why, maybe a few times, but I don’t recall an answer. I doubt she gave one.
I turned from Margaret and I looked at everyone else. No one would look back at me; they kept their eyes on the floor or each other. I turned to Margaret again and watched her silently cry for a while. I walked to the door and quietly closed it behind me.
It was the last day I saw Margaret or our baby. I went to sleep that night holding that baby blanket. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. Somehow, I knew in my heart then, that no matter how much I dreamed, I was never going to get my family, my ‘band of sisters’, back in the same way again.
And, we didn’t, not ever in the same way again.
What a story! WOW! I’m in awe…
Thank you Bruce, I really do appreciate your comment.
very emotional for me to read.
I know papa. I’m sorry, but it’s better now. Love you forever.
WOW. What experiences to live! I want to know what happened to Margaret and her baby… and at the same time, from a writing perspective I love that you leave us not knowing.
Thank you Diahann, although in truth, I couldn’t tell you what happened to Margaret or the baby anyway. We moved from that apartment not long after, and I didn’t see any of those women again. Well, only once, but that time they were walking on the other side of the street and they didn’t see me. Thank you so much for your comment.
oh robyn, what can i say…. that is your best, most touching post yet. i love you.
A wonderful relating of loss and hopes and struggle. And life.
An alcoholic parent, the gift that keeps on giving when the coping mechanisms won’t go away long after the exposure is ended. I’ve explored coping (in fiction) and how it protects us at the cost of further damage in ways we usualy only become aware of over a long time. Sap rolls down the bark of a tree faster than healing from such a home, with no clear milestones to say, “We’re done, here; we’re okay, now.”
Sometimes the realization comes suddenly when, without warning, we find we have no more energy to give. Catcher in the Rye is like that– unconscious damage to the soul, cessation of growth, staggering through life, every day a struggle, every dream a ransom note from ourselves.
Such a thoughtful, beautiful, and knowing comment. I think you’ve got me to another step for something else. Thank you so much for your thoughts.
I’m speechless – for once.
Yours has been an existence fraught with heartbreak and peril, and yet your heart remains light.
Kudos on your courage and perseverance, my friend.
And thank you for reopening old wounds.
“Speechless”. That’s quite a comment from someone so skilled at wickedly smart and witty replies to statements. Well, you’ve made my day dear Hook. Thanks so much for spending some of your time with me. Merry Christmas to you and your family.
Heard that story too many times during the years I worked in detox. Blessings. Marian
🙂 Smile. Very, very nicely done. I’ve been waiting for this one.
..And I’ve been kind of holding my breath waiting for your thoughts on the expansion. Now I am exhaling and smiling. Thank you so much!
Wow, I feel breathless, like I’ve been punched in the gut. What a moving piece. I’m glad I stumbled upon your blog. You are a wonderful writer.
Thank you! That’s quite a review. And again, I appreciate that you’ve read more pieces and commented. I feel honored.
That was an amazing piece of writing. So happy I stumbled onto your blog.
Well, I am happy that you came by too. Thank you so much for your terrific comment. You really know how to light up a girl’s day! I hope I see you again soon.
Robyn, you gave me goosebumps! I just nearly cried and wanted to give you a hug! Your writing is incredible as well as your life’s experiences. Best wishes! 😀
Hi Rachel – thanks for heading back into the dark archives. I feel really touched that you give such high praise. It’s always a humbling experience when someone who I think is an exceptional writer says something like that. Thank you for the honour..
Aww, thank you! I think you’re amazing, too! ❤
This is a heartbreaking read. I spent several years working for Social Services and would have to find placements for children like you. It was the hardest job I ever had, and I was overwhelmed and frustrated. From my end it always felt like there was little I could do, and many of the foster homes were far from good. So what I would do, and all I could do, was be VERY kind to the adolescents I worked with. I would take them out for lunch, ice cream, anything I could manage. Many were accepting of this and became my friends. Many had lost trust in everybody and would not let me in. Mostly I was powerless and confused about a system that had no good answers.
Why did I do this kind of work? My own childhood was a motivator.
So many foster kids go on to have a life of unfulfilled wishes and bad decisions. Alcohol, abuse, unresolved issues with anger. Others manage to swim through it and eventually find themselves and carve out a life with meaning and understanding.
That you are writing about this in such an eloquent and heartbreaking way is a good thing. You are on the other side now and can look back and see it for what it was.
(don’t hold it against me that I was one of “them.” I suspect you would have read my compassion and we would have been friends.)
Actually Mike, I have to say that, with the exception of those poor people who had the job of picking us up to first take us to the children’s centre, our social workers were really quite wonderful. Their interaction with us was very kind and as comforting as we were able to get. We became particularly attached to one worker, who was just a beautiful young woman. Unfortunately, we were the case that finally broke her heart for the profession when we were put into care for the second time (which is where this particular story started). I often think of her and wonder about who she was before she met us, and where she ultimately ended up. I suppose that’s kind of funny because it’s just as likely we have been in her thoughts in the same way.
For whatever reasons, I took advantage of the help and counselling that would come across our paths in the years that followed. Not everyone did and we still have those dependency and addiction issues within the generations. I honestly don’t know yet why the difference in our mindsets about that, although writing about these things has actually given me new insights even recently. I do know for sure that being able to recall events with the feelings, but without the madness of the anguish is only because I did get that help.
I wonder if you are aware of how long your kindnesses will have affected those kids you helped? I can tell you from my experience, that it would be the rest of their lives. Good on you for that.
Thanks for talking with me about this. Your comment got me thinking again – in a good way. Of course, now you have me curious about your story.
My stories can be read on my blog under memoirs, “Jesus and the $20 bill” was freshly pressed.
I was contacted by one of my kids several years ago after he was emancipated. It was a really sweet and validating thing. I have googled others with no luck. Thanks for your return comment, all of it was good to read.
Thank you Robyn for sharing your story with us. It feels so real it is heartbreaking. Lord, for you and your sisters to have suffered that way is beyond my comprehension. Thank you. .
Yes, it was a rough beginning and not easily overcome, but in most ways, we did. There is still work that could be done done for some, but we hold out hope. Thank you,once again, Paul. Wishing you a wonderful day!