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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How I Stopped Fighting
Anonymous
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My mom and three of her boyfriends abused me from age 5 or 6 until I was 12 and went into foster care. Growing up, I always heard my mom and her boyfriends yelling and fighting, and it seemed like that’s how people solved problems.

Still, it was embarrassing that the neighbors could hear our business. I felt there was never a quiet place where I could go. I used to hang out in the library until it closed for the day; that was the only place I could get peace of mind.

Then, when I started school, the other kids bullied me. They didn’t even give me a chance to show them what kind of person I was before being mean and calling me names. The kids, who were mostly black and Hispanic, called me “ugly,” “white cracker,” and “anorexic.” They put gum in my hair and pushed me. I was scared because these kids were bigger and older than me.

I wished I was bigger or had super strength and could beat them up so they wouldn’t mess with me or anyone else again. The anger from home and the bullies I faced at school was building up so much that sometimes I felt that I would spontaneously combust. I told my teachers about the bullying, but as far as I could tell, they did nothing. I did not want to tell my mom because I didn’t think she cared. She had her own problems, and I was pretty sure she would complain about having to come to my school for nonsense.

I grew angry at the world because I felt that life was not fair. “Why me?” I asked myself, and sometimes I wished on stars for a different life. I wanted a life with less stress, yelling, anger, hurt, disappointment, and physical abuse. I also wanted a life with more money; my mother often complained that she didn’t have enough food in the house or money to buy toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and hygiene products. (Yet my sister and I had clothes and toys to play with and my mother was able to support her drug habit.)

I felt that I couldn’t depend on anyone. My father told me over the phone several times a month that I was going to live with him and that things would be better soon. I believed him until I met him for the first time. He didn’t have a stable place of his own and was in and out of jail. Other people in my life—friends and other family members—also made promises they couldn’t keep.

Eventually I just gave up on everyone. I isolated myself, and it made me cold-hearted and angry. I was sick of teachers saying they would take care of my bullies and doing nothing. I was sick of my mother telling me when she was sober that things were going to get better, then getting high and screaming at me.

Worse in Foster Care

When I was 12, I went into foster care. My anger got worse. I moved around a lot from placement to placement and school to school. It was hard being the new kid: That is when people start with you and try to intimidate you the most.

I mostly hung out with boys. I only had one female friend, Nina. We were different from other girls—random and weird—so we got along perfectly. When I was 13, we became best friends and I was calm for a while because I had someone to talk to and laugh with. But after two years, she moved away to a different state and I never saw her again. That made me hurt and depressed. I stopped trying to make friends—I felt I was going to lose them anyway, so why bother.

After Nina left, I didn’t talk about my life or my anger because I didn’t trust anyone. By the time I was 15, I had been admitted to psychiatric hospitals seven times for things like fighting, cutting, AWOLing, and refusing to take my meds.

I had been diagnosed with ADHD when I was 7. Then, when I was 15 I was told I had depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. I disagreed with the doctors: I was not hearing voices or seeing things. The medication that the doctors put me on only made me angrier or more depressed. I had horrible side effects like bed-wetting, increased appetite, weight gain, headaches, dizziness, dry mouth, lockjaw, and hallucinations. This made me angry, too.

Handcuffed

When I was 16½, I got arrested for the first time. I was walking down the hallway at school, and a big girl smacked my books out of my hands. I was furious because she was trying to belittle me in front of people.

image by YC-Art Dept

She walked away with a smile on her face, and I shouted, “You better come back here and pick these books up before I make you swallow them!” She turned around and said, “I know you’re not talking to me like that!”

I said, “Are you so stupid you forgot what you just did?” She ran up to me and shoved me against my locker. She said, “You think you so tough? Meet me after school.”

“Why wait?” I said. Then I took her by her hair and slammed her face into the locker. We started fighting, and the last thing I remember before I blacked out was kicking her in the stomach while she gasped for air.

When I woke up from my blackout the gym teacher was pulling me off her. She sent me to the principal’s office. The police were there.

“I didn’t start it,” I said, scared. The girl and I had different stories so the police checked the security cameras. My stomach was in knots. I didn’t want to go to jail. The police put me in handcuffs. They took the other girl to the hospital because she said she was dizzy. The police were going to arrest her too, but they wanted to make sure she was all right first.

Waking Up From Hazy Hatred

The police officer who cuffed me asked if I wanted to go to the hospital. I said, “No, I’m good.” I sat in the precinct handcuffed to a desk, wishing I hadn’t been so tough and had just told a teacher about my books being smacked.

The precinct was cold and smelly, and the cops were rude to me. “Well, this is it,” I thought. “I’m going to jail.” But an hour after my arrival at the precinct, my caseworker came to pick me up. I was confused. I was usually mean to her, yet she came to my rescue.

I gave her a big hug. She drove me back to my foster mother’s house. I didn’t know why she came to get me, but I was grateful that she did. After that incident, I started being more respectful to her. I slowly woke up from my hazy hatred against the world. I started listening more and not letting my anger get the best of me, because I didn’t want to go to jail.

Facing consequences for my actions helped me learn to control my anger over the years. Going to the precinct was one example, and another was caseworkers sending me to the psych ward when I refused to take my meds or went AWOL after a fight.

Another helpful thing was the bullsh-t game, which my guidance counselor taught me in junior high. The object of the game is to say everything that you want to a person who makes you angry inside your head instead of verbally. I preferred saying things out loud, but I didn’t want to go to jail.

I am 19 now, and I control my anger better. I still get angry about gossip and rude comments, but I have taught myself that I am better than that. Nobody is going to pull me out of character and get the reaction they want. I ignore ignorant people who want to get under my skin. I play the bullsh-t game.

Since starting school, when kids bullied me, I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. I felt nobody liked or understood me because the abuse by my mother and her boyfriends made me feel like the world was against me. I’ve changed my attitude from angry to more calm and I’m happier. I’m more socially accepted now that I’m less aggressive. I have more friends. I don’t want to present myself as a thug or a hood rat; I’d rather be a lady.

I still feel out of place sometimes, and I’m still trying to figure out where I belong. I’m graduating high school soon, and I don’t know what I’m going to do afterward. But whatever I do, I know that I’ll be better off calm, educated, well-mannered, and with better coping mechanisms.

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(NYC-2019-11-21)