*Names have been changed.
When I was around 2 years old my mom had some sort of problem with immigration and was deported. They told her she couldn’t come back to the United States for 10 years. She wanted me to stay in the United States and since my dad wasn’t in our lives, she asked her friend Victoria to take me in. Victoria agreed and I went to live in her apartment in Inglewood with her and her husband. My mom probably thought that was the best place for me to stay, but it wasn’t.
At first Victoria just seemed strict. When I was little I wasn’t allowed to go outside and play. I couldn’t talk on the phone or invite anyone to the house, not even my best friend. Later I couldn’t go to parties or spend the night at a friend’s house, not even with my cousin and she lived in an apartment downstairs from ours.
Victoria made me help her clean. By the time I was 8, I was doing everything around the house. She’d say, “I’m going to work and by the time I get back everything needs to be cleaned.” On Saturdays I’d clean the whole house. I would wash clothes, wash all the dishes, vacuum, clean the fridge, clean her room and clean the bathrooms. I’d move sofas around and clean under them, dust and do the windows. If she didn’t think I’d done a good job, she’d get a broomstick and hit me.
At night I would cry and think, “Why are you hitting me? What did I do wrong?” I thought about living with my mom in Guatemala. I knew it wouldn’t be a perfect life, but I thought it would be better. One morning I forgot to kiss Victoria goodbye and she threw a shoe at me. I came back and tried to give her a kiss and she said, “No, I don’t want it anymore.” I felt like she didn’t want me.
She hit me for no reason
I was surprised the first time Victoria hit me with her hand. I was 9. She was going out to a party and she had to dress up but her stockings had a hole in them. I went downstairs to borrow stockings from my cousin. When I brought them to her, Victoria yelled, “You’re responsible for my stuff!” She slapped me. I looked at her. She slapped me again and I hit the wall. She hit me again. It made me dizzy. I started crying and she told me to shut up. But I couldn’t stop crying and she hit me more.
It got worse as I got older. She would punch me, slap me and drag me by my hair around the house for no reason. I hated my life. Every time I came home I’d think, “Here we go again, another day.” I’d have the key at the door and think, “Why did this have to happen to me?”
Sometimes we would have good days. On some Sundays she would send me and my cousin to the store to buy meat, beans and tortillas. We’d all cook, then sit around the table together. She’d tell us stories about when she was young, bring out the picture albums and say, “You were chunky when you were small.” I’d feel happy. There’d be no arguing and she didn’t get mad. And when I was sick, she would be the one right there with me.
But when Victoria was mad, the beatings were a daily torment. She’d sit down with me and say, “I don’t want to hit you like that, you just have to know what you did was wrong.”
Who could I tell?
I remember talking to my mom on the phone four times. I wanted to tell her that Victoria was hitting me, but couldn’t because Victoria would be sitting right next to me. I didn’t have anyone to talk to and I needed someone to be there for me.
I started going to my friend Martha’s house. She lived in an apartment downstairs. I would cry, telling her and her family what Victoria did to me. Sometimes I’d feel dumb telling them because they already knew what was going on. Everyone in the apartment complex knew she hit me because they could hear her screaming at me and me crying. They even told her to stop through the apartment walls. Martha would tell me not to go back, “Let’s call the police and everything will be OK.” I’d say no. I thought they would put Victoria in jail. I didn’t want that. With my mom gone, she was my family. I’d known her since I was a little girl. I couldn’t imagine where I would go if I didn’t live with her. Victoria always told me, “If I hadn’t taken you in, you’d be dead.” I’d think, “What if that were true?”
But I was tired of being with her. In sixth grade she accused me of having a boyfriend and that same day I’d lost a house key. She hit me with a belt across my shoulder so many times and in the same spot that it began to bleed. Once I saw blood, I got mad. I didn’t cry and she said, “Since you’re not crying I guess you want more.”
I was tired of my life. I just wanted it to end. I went to bed. I got up in the middle of the night and went to the basket in the living room where Victoria kept her pills. I grabbed two handfuls. I swallowed one handful of pills and five from the other hand. I drank a lot of water. I went to sleep and I didn’t want to wake up. The next morning I woke up at 9:30. It was a school day and I usually woke up at 6:45.
When I woke up Victoria and my cousin asked me what happened. I told them I didn’t remember anything, which I didn’t. They told me what happened. They were praying over me at three in the morning. I’d peed on myself and I was pounding my legs on the mattress. They were shaking me and poured water over me, but I didn’t wake up. I laughed because I didn’t believe them. I was surprised they’d done all that. I didn’t tell them I’d taken the pills.
Later that night, when I was lying in bed I asked, “God, why hadn’t I died?” That day I would have preferred dying over living.
When I was in the seventh grade Victoria started to hit me every morning. My eyes would be really swollen. Not wanting people to see my eyes I’d tell my friends, “I’m not going to school today.” It became a habit. My friends and I would take the bus to the Santa Monica Pier, a mall in South Gate or Redondo Beach. I skipped several days a week for a month.
A final beating
The last time Victoria put her hands on me was Thursday, May 15, 2008, when I was 14 years old. I knew the school had contacted Victoria and she had finally found out I was ditching. I told Martha that she knew we were skipping school. She asked me what I thought would happen. I pictured all Victoria had done to me a hundred times worse. “If I hear you screaming I’m calling the police,” Martha said. I told her not to. When I got home, Victoria asked me if I was ditching. I didn’t answer. Why give her an explanation when she’s going to hit me anyway? She slapped me and dragged me by my hair, pulled a handful of my hair out and hit me with a hanger. I was screaming, telling her to stop. I got to the front door and left the house. When I got outside Martha had already called the police. I got scared but I thought this was the best thing to do. I’d had enough.
The police came in 15 minutes. They said, “We got a report of child abuse.” They asked me if Victoria was hitting me. I said yes, then Martha started talking for me, “She hits her every day.” The police said, “We need to see proof.” I showed them a scratch on my face and where my hair had been pulled out. I thought they were going to take me right there, but the police told me to stay at Martha’s house until a social worker came. A social worker came the next day, but since Victoria wasn’t at home she said she was going to come back later that day. The social worker never came back.
I stayed at Martha’s over the weekend. Martha’s mom would talk to me and tell me that no one is supposed to be hitting you or screaming at you. I thought about it. I hadn’t been hit since I’d been at Martha’s and it felt good.
At school that Tuesday, my counselor caught me without my school uniform. When I told her my name, she said, “Your mom came looking for you and told the school you’re a runaway. Let’s go to the office, I have to contact the school police.” I was like, “Call whoever you wish, but I am not going home with Victoria.” I knew if I went back I wouldn’t have another opportunity to get out. I knew life would be worse.
I went to the office and everyone thought I was being rebellious. The police came. I told them Victoria hit me all the time but they didn’t believe me. They said, “You’re being disobedient.” When Victoria got there 30 minutes later, they all agreed, “You have to go back home. You have no choice.”
Still, we waited at school because I had said that Victoria hit me. A social worker came three hours later to investigate. The social worker asked me questions about my life and what happened. She asked if I had bruises. A female police officer came and we went into a room. I showed her the bruises on my legs, arms, shoulders and back. I showed her the bald spot near the front of my head where Victoria had pulled my hair out. She said, “Oh my God, I can’t believe she did that. That’s enough.”
I knew I wasn’t going to go back with Victoria for sure. I agreed to go to a foster home.
My first foster home was in Norwalk. I didn’t like it because the foster mom didn’t give me the same respect I would give her. She wouldn’t clean, she didn’t talk to me. I told my social worker a million times that I wanted to move and a month later I went to a new foster home.
Finally in a caring home
Now I live in a house with four girls and my foster mom. I like it. Sometimes I don’t even have to clean my room. I can go to bed, kick back and relax. It feels pretty good. One day my foster mom, who everybody calls Granny, told me, “You’re really pretty inside and out. My home will always be your home.” I am treated better than anyone has treated me in my life.
When I lived with Victoria I kept it all to myself. I felt like no one was out there, that it would be worse to tell somebody. If you’re being abused, you should tell a teacher. Sometimes it’s rough when you first get taken out of your home, but in the end it’s better. I wish I could have trusted someone to tell.
I see what happened to me as a testament. My mom made a bad decision putting me with her friend Victoria, yet I don’t blame her. My mom was under a lot of pressure so she did what she had to do. I’m not mad at Victoria. Growing up, her parents had hit her and that’s all she knew. Because of what happened I have become a stronger person. I know that life is not always fair. I don’t let anything bring me down and I try to look at the positive side. My main focus is school, getting good grades and going on with my life.
If you are being abused, call for help.
Child abuse hotline
Telephone counseling and referrals.
(800) 422-4453, www.childhelp.org.
To read more stories by teens in our foster care writing project click here.