While we were in America last fall/winter I finally decided I was ready to go back to an old foster home.
I was moved there when I was six or seven and lived there until I was nine. Oddly enough, I remembered the street address and even how to get there without MapQuest when we got close enough. I haven't seen that place in 18 years, but my memory had preserved everything perfectly.
As Scott drove the car into the neighborhood and I told him what street to turn on, I couldn't decide if the pounding in my heart was excitement, fear, rage or curiosity. What would bring me back to this house? What was it about this foster home that made me so thirsty to see it again?
My family knows some of the details of what happened on Rawhide Drive. Sometimes I need to talk about it but I can see that some stories are too hard to listen to. This was an unhappy home. Over and over my husband asked why I wanted to go back.
Closure. If I could see the place again, remember more of what happened... maybe I could make heads or tails of it and close that chapter in my life and move on. But no matter how I looked at it, I couldn't make heads or tails of it.
It's true I wasn't a normal child. I didn't know how to "play like a girl". I got in trouble every day for spitting on my friends or putting mud on their clothes. I didn't know how to do homework or what to talk about in a group of friends. I had been exposed to sexual behavior and therefore mortified children and adults alike when I brought it up in conversation. I wasn't trained or coached that certain things were embarrassing. This foster family was not prepared to handle a child that did everything wrong.
On my first day of school, I followed all the other kids in the cafeteria line, silently put the food on my tray but craned my head to see where the line was going. I was horrified when I realized everyone was taking their tray to a lady who sat with a machine on a table, the kids handed her something and then she let them go sit down and start eating. I watched carefully as the girl in front of me hand something to the lady, trying to see what it was- knowing I didn't have whatever it was- and then could barely mutter "I don't have any of that" when the lady held out her hand to me.
"What?!" she barked at me. I swallowed, "What that girl gave you... I don't have any." The woman shook her head and then waved me away, "Bring it tomorrow". I had been sent to school without lunch money; but I imagine that's a easy mistake for any parent to make. Later that day, I watched as the other students went home when their parents came to pick them up until I was the only one left in the classroom. Finally someone walked me, terrified and tears dropping down my face, out of the classroom and told me I would have to wait in the lobby for my mom-- (I chimed in there to say I didn't have a mom)-- and we were almost in the lobby when I saw her walking briskly toward me and saying "Look at those alligator tears!"
In this family, the last person to finish eating had to do the dishes. It was usually me- I had to finish what was on my plate and I hated lima beans. I was washing the dishes one night and took a fork to a particularly stubborn baked-on mess and without warning was knocked to the ground. She stood over me and screeched about how I had ruined the pan by scraping it with a fork.
Things like that started happening more and more until it was every day I was shrinking back from a raised hand or shaking in my room when the door slammed and the yelling began.
And now, eighteen years later, I was standing there, willingly looking at the home that held all this horror. Everything looked mostly the same, maybe a little more run down. As I stood there looking at the window to my old room, looking where the wood pile was that we used to shoot our BB guns at, remembering where I kept pet chickens in the back yard, I was so unsatisfied. Where was my closure? Knowing I would probably never come back again for a second attempt, I decided I had to do the unthinkable: go knock on the door.
Scott was dumbfounded. How could I face the man and woman who did these things? he asked. I could barely answer him a satisfying reason. Seeing this home wasn't enough to help me move on.
I started walking toward the front yard, wondering what in the world I would say. I was at the front walk, how do I even introduce myself? Up the stairs to the porch, they're going to pretend like it never happened. Maybe I will, too. Nothing left to do, I knocked.
No answer. Knocked again, this time a little more desperate. I couldn't believe it- yet why should I be surprised. Who lives in one house for that long any more? Even if they lived there, it was noon on a week day.
At this point I became desperate. Somehow, talking to someone from my past seemed like something I HAD to do- my last chance was to go to the neighbors house. Up the hill lived the Preseley's- their son and I were the same age and we played together almost every day. I convinced a flustered Scott to let me at least say hello, so we knocked.
An older-than-middle-age man answered the door and waited for us to say something. "Are you Mr. Presley?" I asked him. To my astonishment, he nodded, "Yes, I am."
At that point my mind raced with possible explanations. I couldn't start by saying "Hi, I'm Christine! Remember me?!" because he's never known a Christine. My name was Genny back then... but I haven't been called Genny since the 7th grade so I can't say "Hi! I'm Genny!"
I told him I used to live down the street with the D---'s and they were my foster parents, and that I had come back to visit them but they weren't home.
The poor man stood at the door and kept it cracked open just enough to be seen, wondering if the terror of the neighborhood was back to kill everyone. I explained a little more, "My name was Genny, my brother and I used to come play with Jason all the time... but I only lived here for three years... maybe you don't remember me..." I trailed off, hoping for him to say something.
He only said "Yes, yes I do, I remember you." He didn't open the door any further. He told me that the D--'s had divorced and moved away right after we left, hadn't heard from them since.
I was wrought with disappointment. My last hope to connect with a fading past life had just been snuffed out. I tried to engage him a little in conversation, introducing Scott and Joelle to him, asking where his son was now, how he was doing. But, his dog came to the door and wiggled out, which gave him the opportunity to say excuse himself and say goodbye.
Scott walked silently next to me and reached out to hold my hand as we walked back to the car. The older-than-I-remembered neighbor was still ambling after his runaway dog.
I got in the car and Scott slowly started driving away after I assured him I was ready. As we drove away from my old home, the well-expected tears finally came. He let me cry for a long time before asking me to tell him what I was feeling.
What an impossible question. I was both relieved but furious that they weren't there, angry again at remembering how I was treated, disappointed that my old neighbor was so flippant about seeing me again. I wanted Scott to turn the car around so I could scream at him,
" I'm okay! I was finally ADOPTED! and my mom and dad LOVE me so much. Look at me, LOOK AT ME, I'm okay! After all I went through I'm OKAY and you should be thrilled to see me all grown up with a good husband and a healthy baby girl, living a normal life."
But we had already driven out of the neighborhood, so I kept all my screams to myself.
So where is my closure?
Part of if comes from writing this, finally able to talk about the visit to my foster home. Part of it comes from raising my own daughter. Kissing her boo-boo's, rushing to her after a bad dream and being her coach and cheerleader in everything she does somehow makes me feel like I'm saving my own childhood.
But those are only a small part of the healing. In my opinion, I'm not sure we can be totally healed from a childhood such as mine. I HAVE cast my burden on the Lord and my anger and bitterness have melted almost completely away.
But I'm waiting for the day when I am not terrified of the same thing happening to my daughter. I'm waiting for the day when I can think about my childhood and not feel the hurt, shame and abandonment give me a lump in my throat.
That day will be when I see Jesus face to face. These awful memories won't follow me to heaven, nor will any pain and suffering or tears or heartache. I can't feel abandoned because I'll be in his presence forever from that day on
My closure is in Heaven.