The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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My Father’s Secret Second Family
Levaunna Gray

The summer sky was cloudless on the day I found out my father had a whole other family. I was wearing my gym uniform, a pleated green and white plaid skirt, and a white polo shirt with the school’s crest over the left breast. My mom sat in an armchair wearing her favorite purple dress.

“Your father has another daughter,” my mom said. Her hair was uncombed, which was unusual, and she was holding the phone. I laughed at that because I had a new baby brother. “Mommy, you had a son two weeks ago.” There was a gentle breeze and I could hear dogs barking in the distance. Birds were chirping.

“No, he has another family. They live across town. He bought them a house, a car, and set the woman up in a business selling meats.”

My family and I lived in Jamaica and until this moment in 5th grade, life was pretty normal. So this came as a shock. It scared me because my mom spoke calmly and the words were coming from her mouth but there was no emotion in them. She acted like a robot.

At first, I didn’t feel much about what my father had done. I mostly just felt sad about how this was affecting my mother. It was as if she were a ghost, as if she lost a part of herself. Sometimes she would start crying out of nowhere. This broke my heart because I was used to seeing her strong.

Memories Up in Flames

A few days after she told me, she spiraled into anger. The sun had just set. The crickets were chirping and there were fireflies outside. My mother went into her bedroom and closed the door. My dad demanded that she open it, to which she refused. When she finally came out, she threw a suitcase of his clothes into the yard and and said, “I want you out.”

“Woman, leave my clothes,” my dad said.

They were arguing loudly, and a crowd gathered outside to watch. I don’t remember my parents’ exact words; I just know there were expletives and I’d never heard them use these words, much less toward each other.

As they yelled, I started to feel angry at my father. Weren’t we good enough? Did I do something wrong? How do you just walk out on your family? Although my mother was kicking him out, he had also announced that he was leaving, to “make a life with her.” I think what hurt me the most was seeing my mother cry, which fueled my anger and propelled me to take her side.

My mom threw all of their wedding pictures into the yard and lit them on fire. The memories went up in a sweet yellow-blue flame. As she bent to add to the blaze, my dad flung a beer bottle at her. It crashed against the wall a few inches above her head and shattered into pieces all over the grass.
After he did that I suggested we throw a rock at his car windshield.

“Mommy, here’s a stone.”

“That’s too small,” she said.

“I am going to beat you!” my dad yelled at me. “How dare you give your mother a stone to throw at my car!”

In addition to being angry, I think my father was hurt and embarrassed. Our neighbors saw my family at an all-time low, and it was his fault.

Finally, my father left. My mother cried in the arms of a neighbor who commanded the crowd to disperse.

A few weeks later, my mother calmed down and let my dad come to spend part of every Sunday with us. I was torn. He was my father and I loved him, but he caused my mother so much grief. And I was also angry. Why did he think it was OK to walk out on us but then think things would be normal when he showed up for a few hours on a weekend? But I kept my feelings to myself. I didn’t want to make the situation worse.

The worst part was when he had to leave. It reminded me that he chose to go live and make a family with someone else.

Acting Out to Blunt the Pain

image by YC-Art Dept

In September, I started in a new school. My dad was still visiting us on Sundays. I was a flurry of emotions and I didn’t have a clue about how to express them or to whom. I didn’t understand that these feelings needed to be sorted out, so I just ignored adults like my neighbors and my mom, who asked me if I wanted to talk about it.

Over the next two years, I started acting out. I lied, drank, smoked, tried to run away, and stayed out late. I thought this would help relieve me from the stress of what was going on between my parents. But of course it didn’t. My grades fell from a 90+ to a measly 70. I stopped believing in God. I became distant from my family.

One day in 8th grade, I went to the park with a friend and stayed way past my curfew. From our hideout under a tree with big branches, we saw flashlights and heard a police siren. Then I heard someone call my name. My mom’s friend had called the police and organized a search party for me.

When I got back to my house my dad was there, and he was fuming. I explained where I’d been but he thought I was lying. I remember thinking, “This man doesn’t even live with my mother. What control does he think he has over my life?”

Not long after that, my parents got back together. They didn’t tell me why. But instead of feeling better I felt angry and confused. I felt distrust: Were they going to break up again? Would he go back to the other woman? I had so many questions but I didn’t feel comfortable asking them. I didn’t want to add to the tension. I also felt left out and jealous. I was used to being my mom’s center of attention but now she was distracted, working on repairing her relationship with my father.

A few months later, instead of going to school, I stuffed my uniform in my bag, took a bus, and went to spend the day with my boyfriend. I rushed back to school so that I was there before my dad came to pick me up. Wearing a yellow T-shirt with the saying “my lips taste like heaven” and a miniskirt, I passed some of my schoolmates who gave me looks because I had skipped school—something I’d never done before. I went into the bathroom and changed back into my uniform. A teacher saw me and said, “I just took afternoon attendance and called home, so where were you?”

She took my bag, and told me to sit in the office. When my dad came, he grabbed me by my collar and shouted, “Where were you?” I think that’s the most enraged I’ve ever seen him.

I knew that I was in deep trouble. I was sad that my father was so mad at me. I’ll never forget the look on his face. His eyes were red with anger. I felt so ashamed walking out of the office behind him wearing my uniform crumpled from where he grabbed me.

I got suspended, and after that, in a school of approximately 1,500 students, only three would talk to me. I had always been popular and gotten along with everyone. My dad didn’t talk to me for a month. My mother said she was only speaking to me on a “need to” basis. That was hard. I was used to talking to her about most things. She even threatened to put me up for adoption.

Fixing a Broken Relationship

My friend Sheri-Kae reached out to me a few times and I finally confided in her about what had been going on with my parents, and how angry, neglected, and isolated I felt. I had been keeping my feelings in for a few years and now that I was ready to let them out, I was surprised that it felt easy. It helped a lot. Finally talking about it felt freeing. And Sheri-Kae gave me some good advice.

“You’re pretty, you’re smart. It has to get better. Just don’t get in any more trouble. I love you and that’s not going to change. Do well so that when it’s over you can tell everyone that doubted you, screw you,” she said. It helped knowing that someone who was level-headed and smart believed in me, and was there for me, even after I told her the embarrassing details about my father. I felt like there was someone in my life who would always be there and who understood me.

She also pointed out that I was wrecking my life, and she wouldn’t be able to save me if I continued. Hearing this from someone my age was more eye-opening than if it had come from someone older. It made me realize that the only person I was hurting was myself. My parents were back together, so what was I really rebelling about?

Gradually things got better. Because I had talked about them, all the angry, frustrated feelings I was holding in toward my mother and father began to disappear. Things at home weren’t so tense. My father was still mad at me, but we were speaking to each other now.

Although my parents’ actions hurt me, I realize they both love me and sacrifice a lot for me. I live a privileged life. All I have to do is say “I want” and I get it.

I feel bad that I disappointed them. They both came from poor families and I know they were working hard to ensure that I had a better life than they did. They invested so much in me, and in their eyes it must have looked like I was throwing my life away by skipping school and acting out. And for the first time, I thought: What happened between them must have been so difficult.

Looking at things from their point of view helped me to stop being so angry with them. And that made my behavior improve. I started studying harder, and I slowly got back up to my usual 90 average.

I tried hard to fix the broken relationships between my parents and myself. I visited my dad at work a lot, and that made us closer. Every evening, I made a point of sitting down with my mother to tell her about my day, which I still do.

This episode made me a wiser person. You might think that your actions don’t affect others, but that is not the case. I learned not to act without thinking first. And I see now that there are healthier ways of handling a parents’ separation. Having someone to talk to helps. You won’t have all your emotions bottled up, and with the perspective of another person, you’re less likely to engage in reckless behavior and make poor decisions.

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