America had been attacked. Two planes had rammed into the World Trade Center. Thousands of people had died. Our peace and ignorance of the world that was not America was shattered… violated, in a sense. My reaction was a little absurd. But then again, I WAS a ten-year-old kid with an imaginative mind.
Windham, Maine, 2000.
Sometimes I wonder what was going through their heads when DHS decides to tear families apart. Not only that, but when they by chance happen to place kids in a good home, I also wonder how some administrative concern or policy seems to blind them as they, again, pluck kids from a good situation and place them in yet another new home.
When I chatted with my first foster family over dinner recently, I asked them what happened. DHHS at the time was being accused of racism. Of taking kids primarily from families of color and placing them with white families. Now, I get this. I understand that unconscious bias exists and most likely did lead the department to discriminatorily target families of color.
But here was where they were mistaken. Instead of adopting a new policy that would revamp the review process for determining when to rip kids out of their homes, and especially the policy that kids of color should be placed in other families of color, they committed a colossal fumble. Their first mistake was thinking that they could achieve this in one of the whitest states in the country. The second mistake was rounding up kids that they had initially placed with white families and throwing them again into the foster care, administrative hell-hole.
In my case, the Department had actually succeeded in placing my sister and I in a perfectly good and loving family. At a point when I was starting to heal from the initial trauma of being separated from my birth mother, at a time when I was learning to love again, the Department ripped us from our new family and placed us in a group home. Not in an Asian family… a group home.
The idea then was to either look for an Asian family or to try and get my birth mother to a point where she could take us back. But meanwhile, my sister and I sat in group-home, foster care limbo. Twiddling our broken hearts. And if I sound angry, I am. I can forgive and reconcile with people, but when it comes to a system or process or government, I am wholly within my right to be angry. And I am.
Now, my anger toward the Department did not mean that I was angry with the people that lived and worked at the group home. In fact, I grew to love each of them and the other kids provided much needed company and playtime. Among my favorite staff were Ellen, Ken, and Debbie. Ellen lived in Gorham, and she’ll turn up later in the story.
Ken was in his early to mid-twenties, and we recently reconnected on Facebook. I was the oldest of my four siblings, so what Ken became for me was something of a big brother figure. For someone in his mid-twenties, he had a deep and caring heart and treated his job as if it were family. He was also the only male worker at that group home, so he was the only male role model I had – and I couldn’t have asked for a better one.
Debbie was a kind-hearted soul that had the difficult choice of choosing between my sister and I and two sisters when her husband and her were looking to adopt. Debbie and her husband lived in Gray and had us stay over a night to sort of test the waters. They were definitely middle to upper-middle class. Their house was huge. Life would have been good, I’m sure, but they ended up going with the two sisters. But you know, surprisingly I wasn’t upset. I knew those two sisters very well and I was actually happy for them and reconnected with them on Facebook a few years ago. I suppose the only sad part of it was that I wasn’t able to see two of my friends again on a regular basis.
But there is one memory that always finds its way back to me. The room I stayed in had white laminate flooring speckled with blue and grey. I can’t quite remember what color the walls were. The room itself was sort of a weirdly angled room, with an open closet with hangars off to the right at a right-angle with the window. I remember standing in the middle of my room staring at the dust floating in the panel of sunlight that sliced in from the window. I often did this, by the way – stare at specks of dust floating in the sunlight, that is.
In my hand was a baseball card and I remember looking at the man on the card. I was ten at the time and was surprised by the feelings that came to surface. I brought the card closer so I could see his face. He’s handsome, I thought to myself. And I gazed some more at his face. Then my head slowly drooped as I raised that baseball card and I planted a kiss right onto his face. But unlike the frog and the princess story, the boy and the baseball player wouldn’t quite have the same happy ending – no matter how much I wished that he would jump out of that card and kiss me for real.
I was still innocent of thought then. I passed no judgment on myself for thinking he was handsome or kissing that baseball card. I merely stood in that shaft of sunlight, pleasantly warm on the outside and pleasantly warm on the inside as I admired the man. It’s a memory that still sends shivers up my spine every time it visits me randomly in moments of quietude.
There is a darker memory that shaped my life. Indeed it has shaped the lives of many of my fellow millennials and Americans. I was in school that day, a mildly warm September day, attending a Portland school that had relocated downtown due to some mold in its previous building (As a group home kid, I was allowed to pick which school I would like to attend, and so I picked Jack Elementary School). All of a sudden the school was a bustle and we were told that school would be closing early unexpected. Being kids, we rejoiced – knowing nothing about what was unfolding.
One of the group home employees picked me and my sister up and drove us home. The ride home was odd. The day couldn’t have been more perfect in terms of the temperature and the way the light had that golden tinge. It seemed to light the air with an invisible glow. The breeze wafting in through the window also carried with it the faint smell of summer coming to an end. But the noises from the front of the car were distracting. The group home employee had her hand covering her mouth as if she had seen an unsightly seen on the road ahead. But I knew she was responding to what was being said on the radio, which honestly sounded monotonous, the same story being repeated over and over again. Oh, and the employee again covering her gasps.
When we finally made it to the group home, the news was on and I finally connected to the images on the TV to what was being said on the radio. America had been attacked. Two planes had rammed into the World Trade Center. Thousands of people had died. Our peace and ignorance of the world that was not America was shattered… violated, in a sense. My reaction was a little absurd. But then again, I WAS a ten-year-old kid with an imaginative mind. I remember “praying” to George Washington that we would make them pay. But probably the memory that makes me cringe out of embarrassment most is when I woke up one morning sometime after September 11th and placed my little stereo into the open window in the movie room. I put in a CD of patriotic songs that I had somehow acquired and cranked up the volume for all to hear.
To place it in context, the group home was smack dab in the middle of a quiet, suburban and residential neighborhood in Maine. This was also in the early morning hours. But, perhaps the neighbors were not all that upset to hear “God Bless America” blaring through the airwaves at such a time. But I was a kid caught up in the wave of patriotic fervor that swept the nation then – and it only fueled my fascination with history and current events.
Aside from this, life at the group home seemed to settle down for the next ten months or so. We languished there for 15 months until one of the workers there, Sheila, who was also a special ed teacher at Bonny Eagle High School, decided that we had spent enough time there. My sister and I were exuberant. Over the months we had seen kids come and go and be placed in families… it was about time that it was our turn.
Read Part I
Read Part II
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