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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The Point of Trust
I learned who I could confide in

Names have been changed.

When I was young, I lived in Guyana with my grandmother and other relatives, and my mother lived in a different part of the country. I was 8 when my 20-year-old cousin dragged me under my grandmother’s house and tried to rape me. My relatives prevented him from penetrating me, but instead of comforting me afterwards, many of them blamed me. “Why did you stay under the house and let him tamper with you?!” they yelled.

Ignorance! I was a tiny defenseless girl fighting against a grown man, trying to preserve my innocence. Instead of embracing me with compassion, they shunned me.

It got worse. My grandmother told my uncle to tie my legs and hands to the ironing board as I screamed. Then she put hot peppers inside my vagina. My body swelled with the intensity of heat. The pain lasted for about three days.

I think she was trying to chastise me; she seemed to think an adult trying to rape me was my fault. After that she would say, “You will get what you’re looking for.” She accused me of attempting to form relationships with my aunt’s “boyfriends,” as if it were my fault that these men were perverts.

When my mother heard what happened, she immediately came and took my cousin to court for what he had done. He spent a week in jail. My mom cried bitterly, and she held me and told me that it wasn’t my fault. About the horrible pepper episode, my mother said, “Granny loves you and she was just trying to protect you, but she should have never done that to you.” My mom then took me to live with her, but only for one year before sending me to America.

The anger and resentment I had against my grandmother and cousin and those relatives who blamed me has softened over time, but I can never forget the horrible things that they did to me. Not trusting people was my way of protecting myself from being hurt again.

To America, Alone

My mom was 16 when she had me, in America, so I was a citizen but she wasn’t. That meant she couldn’t go with me when she sent me to the U.S. I know she wanted the best for me, but being sent to New York at age 9 without my mother was scary. I moved in with my great uncle Thomas and his wife Susan, my nana, for a few months.

I used to get so excited to see my uncle whenever he came to Guyana on vacation. I cherished my memories of him as a child—the first American dollar bill he gave me, the first time I saw an elevated train with him.

In the beginning, I was happy to be living with them, but then I saw the dark side of Thomas. I learned that he had brutally beaten Aunt Susan from the time they got married, many years ago. My childhood respect for him vanished when I realized how ruthless and deceptive he was. Besides physically abusing Susan, he recorded all her phone conversations and humiliated her in front of her family.

I knew much of what went on because she and I would often sit in the kitchen and she would tell me all her personal experiences. She seemed to trust me and I trusted her. We were confidants. So her response was especially painful when I took a risk and shared the most vulnerable thing I could: the story of what my cousin did.

‘What Really Happened?’

She asked: “Who’s this cousin? Where was your mother when it happened?” Then, squinting with disbelief: “What really happened?” Finally, with a grin she said, “Maybe your uncle knew that you were raped. You should sleep with him because that’s what he wants.”

I felt like I was being stabbed in the chest. That was her response to the worst thing that ever happened to me: laughing at me and telling me that I should have sex with her husband. I was 13 years old. She didn’t take my terrible ordeal seriously at all and may have even wanted to use me to distract her husband.

I realized that I shouldn’t have told her. Not only was she unsympathetic, but she then told my uncle, who immediately called my mother. I overheard him questioning my mother about why she never told them about what happened. He told my mother that he didn’t want to be accused of raping me.

My uncle called me downstairs to talk to my mother. “Why did you tell them those things?” my mother asked with disappointment in her voice. I heard my grandmothers fretting in the background. Nobody asked how I felt. I learned yet again that a secret like that was not to be heard by anyone else.

A Rag Doll

Soon after that, my uncle sent me away to Virginia to live with Aunt Susan’s son. All the moving made me feel thrown around like a rag doll. I felt alone and I detached myself from the people around me. Why get close when I’d probably have to move again? I bundled the pain inside, and it was not until two years had passed that I told anyone else what I’d been through.

I didn’t get along with the Virginia relatives either, so I moved back to New York. I moved in with Frances, a friend of the family. When she found out that I was here alone and was frequently moved from home to home, she tracked down my mom and went to get legal guardianship of me because she thought I needed a permanent home. I appreciated her kindness because she didn’t have to do that.

Frances was OK. But her husband and her son both tried to touch me. I felt trapped. I was lonely and didn’t have anyone to talk to or rely on. I attempted suicide by taking all the pills in the house and cutting my arms with a razor. I was tired of being cheated out of happiness, and I hoped that someone would notice how sad I was.

image by YC-Art Dept

No one did. I slept a long time, woke up, and wondered, “Why am I awake?”

Though I didn’t succeed, Frances knew what I’d done, and she took me to an office building in Brooklyn where people asked me questions. Then we went over to the hospital and the Children’s Protective Services building. They asked how I felt when I cut myself. I told the people about Frances’s husband and son touching me, and the people said I shouldn’t go back home.

At the hospital, they diagnosed me with depression. They asked if I would ever try suicide again, and I said No, which was the truth. I didn’t want to die; I wanted to escape from all the abuse and from being ashamed of what others had done to me.

I was eventually placed in a foster home in Brooklyn and stayed there a year and a half. My foster mother said I was a bad, rude kid because I was withdrawn. I could hear her complaining to other people, “She is always cooped up in that room!” She yelled at me, too: “Go outside if you want to be alone!”

Not knowing what I had experienced to make me behave that way, my foster parent thought I kept to myself to be spiteful. I never cried in front of her. I concealed my sadness inside.

Risks Pay Off

But I couldn’t stay hidden. In the fall of 10th grade, I tried out for softball and made the team. I got involved in different activities in my school and excelled academically. I got positive recognition from both my teachers and my peers and grew into a beautiful social butterfly. I enjoyed spending time with my teammates because I felt an honest bond with them. We laughed, cried and stood up for each other no matter what. Being a part of a team and working together to succeed at something taught me how to trust and rely on them.

Relationships with boys were difficult because so many people had betrayed my trust. I believed boys all wanted sex without commitment. I didn’t want to be attached and I never trusted a guy until I met my current boyfriend two years ago, when I was 16. His warm persona and cultured interests attracted me to him. He was someone I could talk to.

A few months into our relationship, I decided to share my experience with him because I really wanted him to be a part of my life. I didn’t want anything to be hidden and I wanted to know that I could be comforted by him, that he would be there for me.

I was lying on my side, his right arm curled under my waist. I whispered, “Babe?”

“What’s wrong?” he asked. He saw how sad my demeanor had gotten.

I told him my life’s story, from age 8 to when I entered foster care. He was furious at first. I felt his grief and his attempt to take the burden off my shoulders. He said he hated to see me so upset and felt helpless because there was nothing he could do to make it better. “I can’t believe that you went through so much. You’re my hero,” he said, his eyes gleaming with tears.

He inspired me because he thought I was brave for what I endured, which encouraged me to let go and move on. His caring response when I revealed myself to him made us closer and helped us trust each other. He embraced me for who I am and never judged or blamed me for the events of my past.

Learning to Trust

I started to communicate more with other people and found I liked helping others with their problems. Talking about other people’s issues helped me analyze my own and realize I wasn’t the only one who had family drama, depression, or relationship discomfort. I used my experiences to help others overcome theirs. I was beginning to see the point of trusting people.

I now live with my Aunt Ella. I already knew her, and she agreed to go through the background check and everything else to be my foster mother. She laid down rules and we signed a contract, which I had a say in. I really appreciated that because I knew what she wanted and what I was getting into. It felt like stability.

Ella said when I first moved in, “If this is going to work, we have to communicate. It’s a new slate.” She doesn’t judge me for what I’ve been through and instead tells me how proud she is of me. I have been living there for about a year and a half.

Aunt Ella saw my interview video for a scholarship and that was the first time she found out about my suicide attempt and my abusive uncle Thomas. (I knew that Frances had already told her about my cousin’s attempted rape.)

After the video ended, I told her how I felt like a stranger to my family and that I’d been left to fend for myself. I told her I had trust issues and that I was trying to be more open. As I spoke, I immediately felt emotion rush through my body. I tried to hold it in, but the tears poured out. Ella comforted me and told me that things are going to get better. I felt her compassion.

I saw some of the value of telling my painful secrets. Before Aunt Ella and my boyfriend, I didn’t see the point: I would tell people things and they turned them against me, plus it stirred up the awful memories.

My aunt, boyfriend, friends, and my mother believe in me and that helps me believe in myself. If I didn’t decide to share my feelings and let people into my life, I don’t know where I would be now. I don’t think I would have given college a second glance, and I don’t think I’d feel the permanency I feel now.

I knew I had to get over the events of my past because they prevented me from achieving the things I wanted: confidence, a social life, to go to college. The more I expressed my feelings, the more the weight on my heart lifted, and I felt profound relief. Sharing my troubles and my feelings with people who were compassionate made me rethink “family.” The people who helped me through my hard times are my true family. The ones who mistreated me, I don’t know anymore. I have moved on.

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