By Denise M., 16
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Editor’s note: Names have been changed to protect their privacy


Illustration by Amy Fan, Temple City HS (2012 graduate)

Illustration by Amy Fan, Temple City HS (2012 graduate)

When I was little I kept moving around to different homes. It was confusing. It seemed like no one wanted to take care of me because they kept sending me away. It made me feel unwanted. But now I’ve found my permanent home. I’m happy because I’m treated right and loved.

When I was a little girl my mom dumped me and my three sisters with my grandma in Mexico while she went out with her boyfriends and did drugs.

My grandmother would beat me with a belt if I accidentally broke something or wet my bed. At the age of 2 she started to throw me out of the house at night. I remember sleeping on the concrete like a dog by the door of the house.

My mom would take me with her during the day. I loved spending time with my mom even if it meant watching her do drugs. I felt a need to be there to make sure she was OK.

But when I was 4 my dad’s mom Maria came to get me one day and took me to San Diego. She didn’t think my mom could take care of me, but then she didn’t want to take care of me either.

I lived with her for two or three months before she took me to my aunt Kelly’s house in Los Angeles. My aunt had two of her own kids and my old sister living with her. So she sent me to live with her next-door neighbor, Trisha. When I had been there for three months her husband got out of prison and moved in. One day he tried to touch me inappropriately. I got scared and I yelled to Trisha to tell him to stop. She must have thought he was teasing me and only scolded him to leave me alone. He did but he looked angry. Later I told my other aunt and she called the police. I don’t know if he got arrested because I went back to live with my aunt.

After that I became depressed. I was angry because my aunt was still friends with Trisha. I stopped talking to my aunt and cousins and I slept a lot. My aunt didn’t want to take care of me so she got rid of me again. She sent me to live with the pastor of her church. I lived there for a year. Then the pastor found my dad and I went to live with my dad and his girlfriend Karen.

I’d be there all day but at night I’d sleep at the pastor’s house because Karen and my dad lived in a factory she owned. She didn’t want me to live there because it wasn’t a place for little girls to be living in. I didn’t like my dad. He’s crazy, his brain isn’t there from using drugs. One time I was brushing my teeth with an electric toothbrush and he yelled at Karen, “Don’t let my kid use heavy machinery.” 

But Karen was nice. She’d take me to Toys “R” Us and buy me toys. We’d watch cartoons and she’d let me read Clifford to her. She’d play cops and robbers with me. She didn’t get mad when I’d wet the bed. She’d say it was OK and help me clean it up. Aunt Kelly would spank me.

One time my social worker came to the factory. He said, “There’s no bathroom with a shower stall so she can’t live here.” My dad got mad. He was on drugs that day and yelled, “You can’t take her away from me. Why are you telling me how to take care of my daughter?” They said he had to go to drug counseling in order to visit me but he said no so I wasn’t allowed to see him anymore. The pastor didn’t want me either so they put me in a group home for troubled kids.

I didn’t want to be there at all. I wanted to go back to Mexico and live with my mom. So I was fighting and out of control. I didn’t follow directions and I’d run away and hit staff. I lived there for three years, until I was almost 12. The last year I finally got myself together. I followed all of the rules and didn’t get in any more fights. My social worker said my behavior was better so I was ready to live in a permanent home. She wanted to terminate my parents’ rights so I could be adopted. So she went to Karen to see if she knew where my dad was but she didn’t. My social worker came back and told me, “Karen wants to take you. Do you want to go live with her?” I was shocked. But then I remembered how nice she was to me. So I said yes. After two months of hanging out with her to see if it was the right fit, I went to live with her in her house in Boyle Heights in August 2009.

In the beginning it was like a honeymoon stage, she was making me feel comfortable. But after five months she started being a parent. She started giving me chores and telling me what I couldn’t watch on TV. I felt like I should be spoiled because I’d been through so much. And I didn’t want her to be my family, I wanted my old family back because they were my blood. So I was terrible. I’d yell at her when she was nagging me to do something. More than once she was talking to my social worker on a cordless phone and I grabbed the phone base and threw it at the floor because I didn’t want her telling on me.

I’d barricade myself in my room. I’d listen to screamo and heavy metal on the highest volume. I would move my drawers in front of the door. I would just lie on my bed and do nothing while listening to my music. 

One time I barricaded myself in my room when my social worker came. The social worker said it wasn’t safe. A week later I came home from school and I was about to shut my door. I went to grab it and it wasn’t there. I asked Karen, “Where’s my door?” She said I’d get it back when she thought I was ready.

Karen would say, “Good night, I’ll see you in the morning” and I’d say, “You may not” to get her mad. But she’d stay calm. She’d just say “OK.”

I wasn’t improving at home or at school. I didn’t like the people at school because I get annoyed easily. It took Karen an hour to get me out of bed in the morning. She’d throw water at me or drag me to the bathroom because I wouldn’t get up to take a shower.

I switched schools because I was fighting, ditching school and not doing my homework. At my next school it wasn’t hard to get out of bed because I had a boyfriend. One day when I was 13 my boyfriend called me and said, “I want to show you something.” I went to the back of a building to meet him. I thought he was going to show me some tagging he was doing but he tried to rape me. I fought him off. When I got home I was in shock. Is Karen going to be mad because I went? I had ripped pants so I told Karen since I knew she’d find out. She made me call him and break up with him. She made me stay home from school for two days. He got suspended for a day. People knew my boyfriend got in trouble because of me and people started being rude to me, like they stopped talking to me and they’d bump into me and not say sorry.

A week later summer vacation came. My close friend was over and we were watching a movie. Karen told me to take my medications, which I take for mood swings. I freaked out. I took all four bottles. My stomach started hurting. I told Karen what I did and she called the cops and an ambulance came and took me to the hospital, where they gave me a drink that made me throw up everything in my stomach. The hospital said because I’d overdosed, I had to go to a mental hospital for three days. Karen visited me every day.

I was thinking that like the other people who had taken care of me, Karen wouldn’t let me come back because I was too much. But she took me home.

That’s when I stopped hating her. I thought, “Out of all my family, she’s the only one who’s here.” I stopped thinking of her as just shelter and started seeing her as my foster mom. I could trust her. I could go to her with stuff.

But I was still having problems going to school because I didn’t want to be around other people anymore. I stayed home in bed all day for months. She finally gave me an ultimatum: go to school or you’re going to get taken away. She didn’t want me to be taken away from her so she was trying really hard to get me back together. At the time I was annoyed with her but looking back, I’m glad she did that because now I’m better.

I came to visit the school I’m at now. I thought, I’ll just pick this school so Karen will stop being on my case.

I didn’t like the kids from school. I felt that I was superior because I had been through worse and they complained that their parents didn’t let them buy what they wanted. There was a kid who talked about going to parties every weekend. “You’re so into yourself,” I thought.

After several weeks of trying, Karen figured out that I was just not going to get out of bed to go to school. She’d call the van driver and say I wasn’t coming. She’d leave me at home and go to work. I’d miss two days then go because I got bored at home, then miss the other two.

I’d complain to Karen about how stupid the other kids were. She gave me motherly advice. She said to ignore them and listen to my music. So I bought an mp3 player. I felt like she listened. It made me feel like I was important.

After that I started to go to school every day. I was able to drown out my classmates. Then one awful day my mp3 player broke. It took her two weeks to replace it. During those two weeks Karen drove me to school because I refused to go on the van. When I got my mp3 player back, I told her she had to keep driving me. She proved to me that she was capable of taking me to school so why go on the van? I was testing her to see how far she would go for me. I was really bratty to her. It went on like this for almost a year but at least I was coming.

Then one day the school said I had to go on the van every day. At the same time they moved locations so I had no choice because Karen wouldn’t drive me because it was too far. I started coming to school every day.

I’d have meetings with my teachers and Karen. They wanted me to socialize by talking to my classmates. They wanted me to ride the van every day. I was trying to go back to public school so I slowly started to change.

I started talking to some of the kids. I became friends with one of the girls. Then I became friends with her friends. That’s when it started to get better at school. I started talking to people more, having fun. I’d have someone to walk with at PE and someone to talk to about how we hated our teachers, boys and gossip, teenage stuff. I started to like them. I realized that we’re all different and I shouldn’t judge. The guy who talked about parties is now one of my good friends.

Through the hard times, Karen didn’t give up on me. I don’t think I could ever thank her. She’s family. My other family are people who I hope are OK in their lives but I’ve lost all ties with them.

At court we applied for adoption. It’s going to take six months to a year and then I’ll officially be her daughter. It’ll be like any other day because I already consider myself her daughter but it’ll be on paper so they can’t take me away from her. I’ll be proud.