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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Unlocking the Cage Door
How I escaped abuse and learned to trust
Lavell P.

I was 7 years old, leaving the foster home I’d lived in since I was a newborn and going to live with my father and my brother. I felt sad leaving the woman who had taken care of me for so long. But I also felt excited about going to live with my family.

As my life began with my father and brother, things were great. My father and I would go to the park, movies, and shopping all the time, which was fun. But after a year passed, my dad, my brother, and I had to move in with my aunt and my grandmother because my dad had lost the car and the house by not paying rent or car insurance. My father would get angry sometimes and slap me, grab me, and throw me into walls or even worse.

Living in my grandma’s home was cool for a while, but one day my grandma got sick and was rushed to the hospital. That same night, my dad came home all drunk and tired. I had to share a bed with my father because there wasn’t an extra one for me in the house.

My father took his clothes off and laid down next to me. As he was lying next to me, he started feeling on me. I was scared. I pushed him away and shoved myself over, but after I moved over, my father started to touch me in a place where he had no right to. I pushed him again and ran into my aunt’s room.

Even though my aunt and her boyfriend were sleeping, I grabbed a blanket and a pillow and laid down on the floor, crawling up into a ball feeling so scared and lonely. I just didn’t know what to do. After that night, I didn’t tell anyone what had happened to me. I just kept it to myself.

Leaving the Bad Behind

I got home from school the next day to find my dad, my aunt, and my brother in the living room talking about me. My dad told me to put my bag down and come in. I was feeling nervous. I thought that someone in the family had died.

I sat down next to my brother because I was still upset and scared about what my dad had done the night before. I had lost trust in my father and I was feeling down about it.

As my dad started talking, he said that it was time that I was in a home that was stable for me and where I had people that would have time to be with me when I needed it. He told me I’d be moving in with my other aunt and uncle. He said it was best for me.

I thought it was great that he thought about me and my needs. I felt that he did care for me. On the other hand, I was also thinking about the night when he was touching me. I decided that he was caring for me but was trying to avoid repeating what he had done to me. I felt confused but happy to be living with my aunt and uncle, and relieved that I was getting away from my father.

I was happy living with my aunt and uncle. I liked being surrounded by my family. Sometimes my cousins would come over on the weekends and we’d play fun games. I started to feel that I was leaving behind the bad things that had happened to me with my dad. I knew my aunt and uncle wouldn’t hurt me like that. I was feeling free from my past.

Would I Be Believed?

One day I was doing my homework after school and my uncle came in the dining room to see what I was doing. I felt calm because my uncle had never harmed me, but that day he was drunk and he started to yell and scream at me, saying, “Why you not doing what I asked you, why you don’t f-cking listen?” At first I didn’t pay him no mind, but when he suddenly slapped the back of my head, I started to feel that my life was going back to when I was living with my father.

I began crying, and he yelled at me and said “Shut up.” Then he went back into the living room and went to sleep. I was so upset that I went into the hallway and started to bang my head on the wall and cry. I just wanted to smash my head so hard that I’d go to a different place, somewhere like heaven.

When my aunt got home from work I tried telling her what had happened, but I just couldn’t say it. I started to feel nervous about what I was going to tell her. I worried that she wouldn’t believe me. So instead, I just told her how my day was in school.

The next day my aunt was working late, so I was stuck in the house with my uncle. I did what I always did—finished my homework and went outside. By 8 o’clock my uncle came out to come get me and he was drunk; I could smell the beer off his body. So I went in the house, ate dinner, took a shower, and watched TV for a bit.

My uncle came in the room to see what I was doing. He sat down next to me and started to feel on my back and my shoulders. I was moving and pushing him away, but he was stronger than me. He grabbed me and pinned me to the bed. He choked me and slapped me in my face and tried to put his stuff in me. I said, “No, get off, get off!”

I bit him in his ear and he finally got off of me. I ran out the house and just started to run as far as I could go. I was terrified, as though I’d been held in jail for a crime I didn’t do.

Doing the Right Thing Is Hard

I walked for a long time until I didn’t know where I was. I just knew that I was far from home. I saw a police station and stopped to look at it, thinking, “Should I go in there and report to them what happened?”

I was scared but I decided to do it. I just walked in to the police station crying my eyes out saying, “I want to press charges.” A police officer lady came to me asking me what happened and I told her that I was being sexually abused by my uncle.

The police officer lady took me to a room and sat me down and asked me to tell her what had happened. After I was done, she gave me a notepad and told me to write down everything that I’d just told her. When I was done, she asked for my guardian’s phone number.

At first I said that I didn’t know it, because my guardian was my uncle. I knew if I gave them the home number and my uncle answered, they would rush to my home and arrest him. I didn’t want my aunt hating me and thinking that she was going to lose her job for leaving a minor at home with an alcoholic. I told the cops not to arrest my uncle. I gave them my aunt’s number and the lady cop called and told my aunt what I’d told her.

When the lady police officer came to me and told me my aunt was coming, I felt nervous and scared because I knew my aunt was going to yell and scream and ask me why I’d told the cops such a lie. And I was right, because that was the first thing she did.

She Called Me a Liar

It was about two in the morning when we arrived home. When we got home my aunt yelled and screamed, “Why, why, why? Why would you?” My aunt was taking my uncle’s side. I felt that I was locked up in a closet where I couldn’t be found.

The cops didn’t do much; they took both of our statements, and then told me that they were going to fill out a slip called a domestic violence report. I told them OK and they then spoke to my uncle and asked if he had somewhere to go for the night until I was gone out of the house for school and Children’s Services (ACS) could come speak to him and me. My uncle went to his friend’s house around the corner.

When I got up and told my aunt good morning, she said, “Don’t talk to me. You went and lied to the police and for that I don’t want to have anything to do with you.” I started to cry and started thinking about writing everything down in a journal.

I went and wrote in my journal how I was feeling about being mistreated and how I wasn’t getting love or respect. After I wrote in my journal, my aunt told me she didn’t want me to live with her and my uncle anymore. When the conversation was over she dropped me off to school and told me she loved me.

While I was in my first period class I wrote again in my journal about how my heart felt ripped into pieces. I didn’t seem to care if my teacher read it. Sometimes I think I left the journal out because I wanted her to know. I knew my teacher cared about me, so maybe that was my way of asking for help.

image by Erika Faye Burke

After lunch, my name was called through the speaker saying that I needed to report to the office. There I saw the school principal and my first period teacher, who introduced me to two ACS workers. I was in shock and couldn’t get any words out of my mouth. They had asked to speak to me alone, so we were placed in the principal’s room. As we sat there I told both the workers about what happened.

After school, the ACS workers took me home and spoke to my uncle. My uncle had the male ACS worker and I had the female worker.

A Family Again

ACS decided to move me from my home and placed me in a group home. After two weeks, my father signed the paperwork to get me out of the group home. I didn’t want to move back with my father because of what had happened before, but when I saw my father he was with a lovely woman. So I felt hopeful that he had changed.

When I moved back with my father and his girlfriend, I felt happy because it seemed like he was a changed man. I felt that I had a family again.

My father told me that he and his girlfriend were engaged. I was feeling joy around the house. He also told me that I was going to be having a little sister. Everything seemed great, and I thought that things would never go wrong again.

After my sister was born everything was good for a couple of years. But one day when I was about 13, everything went from happiness to darkness.

Good Riddance

My father went back to his old ways, not showing up around the house. When he was around, he often had this real nasty rage. He would yell, scream, and push and break things everywhere. Meanwhile, my new stepmother and I weren’t getting along. I started to wonder why I had trusted my father again.

One night my stepmother and I got into a big argument because she kept saying that I was stealing money. I wasn’t. She also blamed me for my father not wanting to be home and said I was covering for him.

I just walked away and said, “Later for you.” When I did that, my stepmother called my father up and told him that I was in the house cursing and stealing from her. A bit later, my father came in the house yelling and screaming at me.

When I was trying to tell him what happened, he slapped me in my face and told me to shut up. I told him no, and he started slapping me and punching me repeatedly until I started to fight back. I punched him in his face and he went crazy, throwing me on the floor and choking me.

I didn’t want my little sister to see what my father was doing to me. She started crying, which made my stepmother come in and start kicking my father, saying, “Get off her, it’s not that serious.”

When he got off me I yelled, “I don’t want to live here anymore! I want to be put back in foster care.” My father said, “You want to go back to those people I took you from?” I said, “Hell yeah!” So he packed my stuff and we got in the car and he took me to the ACS place and dropped me off and said, “Good riddance.”

I Needed to Talk About It

I was crying but happy, because I knew I was safe again. I went in the place and I told them I was being abused and that I had run away. I was placed in a foster home and I was happy because I was the only child in the home. The lady that took me in was Ms. Lindsay. She helped me get through a lot when I moved into her home. She treated me like her own and loved me like I was her own, and I loved that so much.

But after a few years of living with my foster mom, I started to realize that I needed to have a therapist because I had depression. I knew that having someone to help me would feel better. So I told my social worker that I wanted therapy.

The therapist I see now is Dr. Elizabeth but everyone calls her Liz. She has given me great advice. Over time, we began to gain trust and friendship. With Liz, I feel free in my heart and my soul and my mind.

When I first started therapy with Liz, we’d talk about how things are in the present, not the past: my foster home and how I felt about graduating from high school. I told her that living with Ms. Lindsay was great but also stressful. Sometimes Ms. Lindsay and I would argue about me having an attitude and taking things from my past out on her.

Liz explained to me that if I lived in a home for a long period of time, things would get complicated because of the love that Ms. Lindsay and I had built. I agreed because I’d been living with Ms. Lindsay for six years by then, and we loved each other. I see her as a great mother to me and she treats me as her own child, like the daughter she never had.

I realized after living with Ms. Lindsay for so long that the pain I’d held in from my father and my uncle abusing me as a child had started to leave me. I saw that I had someone in my life who wanted to love me and be there for me. Whenever I had bad times, I realized I had Ms. Lindsay in my life and she wouldn’t hurt me.

Discovering My Strength

After talking a lot about the present, I trusted Liz enough to start talking more about my past. I told her the terrible things I’d been through with my father and my uncle. I had never shared many of these things with anyone else.

Liz helped me to realize that what happened to me wasn’t my fault, that the abuse was wrong and terrible. But she also helped me to see all the great things I have accomplished in my life and how strong I have become because of the things I went through. She showed me that I should be proud of myself.

Talking with Liz about my past and what I’m going through today has helped me gain trust in some other people, too, people I know are there to help me and who care about me and my future. Having a therapist has worked for me so much that I even started to trust myself.

I thought for a while that I couldn’t trust myself. I thought that it would hurt for me to be honest with myself about the painful things that had happened in the past. Instead, I felt like a whole new person talking all of my emotions and thoughts out to Liz. With Liz I know that I can always say whatever is on my mind or in my heart. I even started helping others who have been through abuse.

I sometimes feel sad that when I leave the foster care system I won’t be able to have Liz around. But I know that if I keep all the advice and things we’ve talked about within me, I will stand strong and stay focused on the good things I gained from therapy.

What I’ve learned and what I want other teens to know is that we have the power to make it in the world. Find a safe person to talk to so that you can get out your bad feelings and memories. That way, when those bad feelings come up, you can try to put positive thoughts in your head. Find ways to focus on the present and the things you want for yourself in the future. That’s the way to gain strength, power, belief, and love in ourselves.

Get Help

If you are being abused or know someone who is, The National Child Abuse Hotline can connect you with sources of help in your community. Call 1-800-4-A-CHILD

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