Drawing “I ♥ U” on your back

**This is in response to a friend’s comment on my re-posting of the blog “They Break, You Know”  (also known as  “The Child I Didn’t Adopt”) by Liz Curtis Faria whose story made my heart bleed.  In fairness, both are heavy pieces.**

More than sad or tragic, I think the piece is beautiful.  It is so well told and so poignant.  It had me when the quote came up.  It’s the anthem of my generation of youth who lived in the foster system.  A lot of kids had it far worse than I did, I just know the feeling…exactly.  To read it as an adult, removed from it for years, created a whole other level of understanding and brought a remarkable and tragic depth to the fact that children ever feel this.  At the time, I didn’t know I should never have to feel this way.  To me, it was as ordinary as  a Monday.  It is immensely cathartic to see and hear from someone who cared when no one else did.

While I’m not qualified to speak for the thousands who had it harder than I did, it’s easy for me to slip into Stephen’s shoes, carrying around my report card, tracing “I ♥ U” on the backs of “house parents” (the term for employees at my foster homes) and calling strangers “my best friend”, because I did just that not ever knowing there was anything remotely abnormal about it.  It’s only in hindsight that I’m able to grasp how sad and tragic this truth is.  A house parent (or social worker) should never be the person a child feels closest to.

What’s more, in truth, regardless of how many times well-intentioned-others would tell me I was worthy of love or that they loved me, it only made it harder and hurt more.  When, at Five Acres, a house parent nicknamed me “T.P.C.” (The Perfect Child), however comforting it may have been at the time, they had no way of knowing it ultimately reinforced what I couldn’t understand.  The simplicity of the distilled message, that they missed was “If I am so damn worthy, why doesn’t my own father want me?”  On the left was Scylla and on the right Charybdis.  The alternative affirmed what others, through their actions, had shouted all along “You’re not worthy of my love!”  Either way, I heard it and embraced it as my truth.  My mother’s words were empty because my father made it clear, nobody loved me, not even my mother and certainly not my father.

You see, in my mind, my mother’s affirmations were hollow, shallow lies trying to console one who was rightly inconsolable. There is no way to right that wrong or square that circle in the mind of a child.  I couldn’t accept the kindness because it was only there to dry my tears.  The author knew this.  She knew what seven year old Stephen didn’t, that he should never have to feel this way, that he shouldn’t have to ever carry that “vacancy” sign around within him and that, in all likelihood, he always would.  I know this because I do.

Regardless of how many years have gone by, how many times I’ve talked about it or how many pieces I’ve written about it, I know that feeling that no child should ever have to know.  I’ve carried it around within me for forty one years and I’ll easily carry it around for forty more, not because I can’t shake it (sometimes there’s nothing to shake), but because it is my lineage.  There is no erasing that at one time I could say:  “Nobody loves me.  Not even my own father.”

The author knew this.  She knew my reality.  She foretold my future and she soothed me by telling me she understood.  She understood much more than I ever would.   Re-posting her piece is my way of climbing up behind her and drawing “I ♥ U” on her back.

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