The foster care system is a necessary evil in this country. It is an institution that is suppose to be a solution for children who need temporary shelter to escape an abusive or neglectful situation. In June of 1984, my siblings and I were introduced to Chicago’s foster care system. My mother was charged with child neglect after leaving my then nine year old sister home alone. We arrived home after summer camp orientation to find a note on the apartment door, stating my sister was removed from the home.
At eleven, I do not recall fully understanding where we had to go, but I thought we were going to pick up my sister. Once we arrived to what I assumed was the police department, my mother was arrested and us three kids were sitting on a bench crying and confused. Before my mother was arrested, she gave me a bunch of change to get something from the vending machine for me and my sister and brother. After buying chips I still had change in my pocket. For a moment, I allowed myself to think about what I could do with the money in my pocket with my friends on Monday. That thought was fleeting and interrupted by the activity around me.
We didn’t have a big emotional outburst. The adults never told us what was going on, what to expect and where we would end up, so when the social worker came to collect us we went willingly. We were loaded into a car and transported to a home where my sister and brother were escorted from the car and walked to an all brick house. I sat in the car, in the dark and waited for the social worker. I felt so alone in those moments waiting. Waiting in the dark, not knowing what was about to happen, not knowing what was going on with my mother or why just my brother and sister were taken and why I was sitting in the dark with no clear understanding what the fuck was going to happen next. The social worker returned to the car without my siblings and made a comment about me being next.
We arrived to a small house. Even though it was dark, I was puzzled by the white rocks in the front yard where the grass should be. A big black woman answered the door and spoke “polite English” but I could see that she wasn’t sincere. The white social worker did not pick up on her irritation. I was introduced to Ms. Brown and stated I would only be here for a couple of days until a permanent situation could be secured.
Walking into the home I didn’t hear anything after “permanent situation”. It was like being under water, the voices got muffled and I was looking around the small house for any hint of warmth. I was smelling things that was somewhat familiar but not quite, pickles, grease, and artificial flowers. The furniture was nicer then what I had at home, but not nicer then Grams. Then I was snapped out of my muted state.
“Nigga, you deaf?”
I looked at Ms. Brown was looking at me annoyed with her hands on her hips.
“Nigga, you hear me talking to you! ARE. YOU. DEAF.”
I never had an adult talk to me in that manner, and was confused what she was asking. She had to know I wasn’t deaf.
“They fucked around and gave me a deaf nigga, I can’t wait to get rid of her ass. Giving me a fucking retard. They don’t pay me enough for this shit”.
She was walking toward the back of the house and I followed her. She turned on the lights to a den area where there was a couch, recliner, coffee table and five large black garbage bags. She went to the bags and found a large t-shirt, instructed me to change in to the shirt and left and came back with a sheet and blanket.
“You’re going to have to sleep in here tonight, its too late to be waking up the whole damn house.”
She threw the bedding on the coach, turned off the lights and left me standing there with a shirt that fit like a dress. I took the sheet and covered the couch and sat down and cried in the dark, wondering if my sister and brother are okay and about the loose change in my pocket.