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Losing My Everything
My grandma and I haven’t been the same since I came back home
Jarel Melendez
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When I was 17, I was sent back to live with my grandmother after seven years apart. I was thrilled, but also a little worried. I was afraid I would feel like an outsider, like I wasn’t a part of the family anymore.

When the day finally came, though, stepping into my grandmother’s house was like walking into heaven. My grandmother greeted my brother and me with a big hug and a kiss. She held me so long and hard it felt like my air circulation was cut off. I will never forget the first words out of her mouth: “Welcome home, baby. I missed you.”

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The house hadn’t changed much since I left. I got my old room back, with new furniture from the agency. It was an overwhelming experience to be back home, all three of us a family again.

Losing My Everything

I was 10 when I was removed from my grandmother’s house. I never understood why. When I asked my grandmother, she told me it was because the agency felt that my younger brother and I couldn’t live in the same place. But in the end, we were moved back together, so that didn’t make any sense. To this day I still don’t know the real reason I got removed.

When it happened, I was scared to death of being away from home. I had lived with my grandmother since I was 5. I loved her, respected her and trusted her with everything.

My grandmother was my everything because that’s what she showed me. She gave me nice clothes and ironed them with starch, even if I was just going outside to play on the playground. She cooked great food for me. She made the best lasagna I ever ate in my whole life. We had some good times cooking and reading books together, and talking about any and everything.

When I was removed from my grandmother, I was put in a foster home under conditions that children shouldn’t have to face. I was often hungry and cold, and I never had any money in my pockets. I was relying on my grandmother to get me through it.

Broken Promises

My grandmother, brother and I had scheduled visits together every two weeks. Those visits were everything to me because they let me know that I was still part of the family, that my grandmother still loved me and missed me.

She promised me that no matter what she would make every visit. But one day, a day before her next visit, my grandmother told me that she couldn’t make it because my brother was sick. My heart was crushed into a million little pieces. Looking back, I know it was kind of selfish to be upset, but before that she’d never broken a promise.

Little Disappointments

Another time, my grandmother told me I was going to get a Gameboy color for Christmas. At this time Gameboy color was the must-have thing. I was so excited. Every time I talked to her she asked me what color I wanted and I told her blue. She told me, “OK, blue it is.”

The day of our visit I couldn’t keep myself together from the anticipation of receiving my gift. But when I got there, my grandmother told me that she could only afford to buy me some clothes for Christmas. I acted strong, but I cried for many nights. I felt that I couldn’t rely on her anymore.

It was hard being in that terrible foster home without my grandmother around to help me or to talk to. I thought she would do everything in her power to make the situation better, and every little disappointment felt devastating.

On Cloud Nine

Then, when I was 17, I got a new caseworker and she decided that the best place for my brother and me was back with my grandmother. After a lot of meetings, my brother and I were finally sent back to her house.

After I moved in, it seemed like I could start trusting my grandmother again. She proved herself to me by following up on things that she said she was going to do. I started thinking that maybe my expectations of her when I was in care were unreasonable. I forgave her for letting me down.

A few months later, my grandmother adopted me. I was on cloud nine. I was thrilled to be adopted because I knew that I couldn’t be separated from my family again. I felt safe, because I knew that no matter what happened I had a home.

image by Gabriel Mateo

Noticing the Negativity

But my relationship with my grandmother wasn’t like it used to be. I started noticing things about her that bothered me. For instance, her outlook on almost everything was negative.

At that time, I was graduating high school at the top of my class and working my first job. You would think she would be proud of me for doing all of that, especially after all the things I went through as a child.

But instead of saying things to encourage me, like, “Oh, wow, you are doing positive things, stay on the right track,” she would say things like, “Why are you speaking like you are a white person?” and, “Why don’t you hang out around the neighborhood?”

When I told her that I was going to start writing for Represent, she said, “Why would you want to talk about how f-cked up the foster care system is?” That was very surprising because I never heard her talk like that.

Betrayed

The first year after I came home I mostly excused the little comments she made. But then one day a lady from the neighborhood came up to me and told me that I seemed like a good boy and it made no sense how my grandmother would be outside talking about me like a dog.

Another person told me the same same thing about two weeks later. My grandmother was telling people in the neighborhood that I thought I was better than everybody else, and that I kissed a lot of people’s butt to get what I achieved in life.

When I first heard that I was devastated, full of anger and hurt. Most of all I felt betrayed. I never would have thought my grandmother would purposefully try to hurt me. It felt like she’d become a different person.

Not a Child Anymore

I never confronted her about it, mainly because I didn’t want to deal with the drama that I knew she would bring to the whole situation. But I took a little time out to think back on our relationship. I remembered all the wonderful moments we had together, and the not so good ones.

Maybe she hadn’t changed at all, and I just didn’t realize the type of person she was when I was younger. Or maybe it’s been hard for my grandma that I’m not a needy little child anymore.

By the time my grandmother adopted me I was doing so many things for myself that maybe she felt a little left out. I was working with the child welfare agency, making presentations with their speaker’s bureau and running a support group for foster teens called Circle of Youth. I was a manager at a clothing store and I’ll be going to college in September. I’ve developed my own views of the world and become my own person, someone different from the person my grandmother is.

I think that made her feel less needed and she didn’t know how to express that to me, so instead she went out and said those hurtful things.

Changing Our Relationship

Whatever the reason, now it seems like she really doesn’t want any part of me. It really bothers me and I haven’t been sure how to handle it. I am not going to lie: there are many nights I’ve gone to bed and cried because I wanted her to love me and be proud of me. It is very difficult to have to change your relationship with the person that you once loved more than anything.

I’ve had to change things to protect myself. Instead of talking to her about all of my business, I tell her what I want her to know. If she doesn’t know something, then she can’t use it against me. It hurts to have to keep some distance between us, but it is the only way we can still have a relationship.

I’ve learned to seek out more positive people, like case workers, friends and neighbors, who let me know they are proud of me each and every day. It’s helped me to have people around me that are there for me like she used to be.

Still, the love I have for my grandma hasn’t gone away. I don’t think our relationship will ever be how it was before I left to go to the foster home, and that makes me sad. But I thank her for everything that she has done for me. She will always be my grandmother.

(FCYU-2006-09-18)