Rescue from the Cuckoo’s Nest: Foster Care Issues

“What the fuck you looking at, bitch?” she said as if she didn’t know me.

I could feel the habitual half smile of my mouth, a smile practiced but not fully comfortable, a smile that made my face ache, but one that had come into use when a pleasant veneer was needed. The actual rage I felt, the contempt and annoyance too, caught in my throat and in the burning of my chest.

Cameras stared down at us from every angle in the long hallway. A man with long legs sat by the door of another room under the dim lights of the hospital corridor occasionally yelling at his son who complained from within.

The hospital staff promised to return in a few minutes. M circled the sparsely furnished reception room punching the walls, her skin a pale green under the unflattering fluorescent lighting.

“They have to take me off these meds, Mom. Make them take me off.”

And just like that she changed, she hated me, blamed me and walked straight over and punched me, lightly through my puffy winter coat and then a bit harder. Her soft brown eyes were black, her pupils being so dilated, and even her voice was different, unhinged and quivering.

I confess that I wanted to punch her back, yank her hair, scream, kick, anything!

But the sudden idea that I was having a good hair day and that I needed to present myself well for the professionals to listen to me, and my natural abhorrence of making a scene kept me silent. I could feel the blood rushing in my ears as she grabbed my hand in hers and twisted it. I probably yelped when she closed her fingers around mine with every bit of drug-addled strength that she had in her.

The man at the end of the hallway didn’t move, didn’t call for help, it was only by chance that someone came from their office or happened to see the escalation on one of their monitors.  They locked me in a room for safe keeping and I sat there fuming, preparing myself for the same questions, the same looks of judgement, the same clouding over of eyes as I begged the “care givers” to consider her medications.

My hand throbbed and a bone seemed out of place but it wasn’t that important to me in that moment. I just wanted M to stay and me to leave. I wanted to go home and drink tea.

I had the talk with a nurse who took down my story as if I were a fiction writer or a naïve civilian without a medical degree. It made no difference that I had been with this child for years, and that I had a degree of my own. Under the unforgiving fluorescent lights I was just a fool who had taken on more than I was able for, a person to be pitied. I would have preferred anything to that.

For months the people around me told me that I needed to stand up to M, to punch back, to say horrible things, but why should I end up in jail? Why should I end up with a broken face or stab wounds? It was absurd to think I should fight against this child who was bigger than me and who, under the influence of drugs, had gained unnatural strength.

I’d taken to interviewing her at home because she liked being filmed and thought herself quite beautiful especially when she was being insane. On those days I don’t think I ate. The rage was so great then. I would calmly ask her to express her feelings on film and she calmly did so. She agreed even in her insanity that the doctors needed to see this. She sat on one couch and I the other.

“I wake up and see you and don’t want to hurt you, but then I do actually want to kill you. Yes. That’s exactly it. I want to stab you through the heart and I know where you hide the knives. I want the doctors to know this because I will bust down the door to get those knives and I will kill you.”

She would also want me to hug her and reassure her at the same time. Sometimes I would think to myself, “I’m actually far stronger than I ever could have imagined. I have not collapsed. I have not burst into tears and in fact have no desire to cry.”

The drugs and all of the many things that had come before had made me hate her. This hate kept me sane. At times I hated myself for taking on another project. I hated my husband for staying busy to avoid the project all together. He had good excuses, the death of a parent, the need to work for a living, the upkeep of acres of land, but I hated him still because I knew he made excuses that were lies.

But the story does not begin with me being in a doctor’s office blushing at the idea that I am suddenly the victim of domestic abuse. I did not do this but before this neatly dressed doctor I felt like mentioning that I write novels and enjoy Dostoyevsky and have a college degree (from a very good school) and keep a clean house and raise organic vegetables and know how to cook. Anything but being the fool I was to adopt out of foster care. To have an unruly and violent child shamed me to no end.

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