Please understand the need to be vague in this chapter. The intention is not to reveal all the specifics about everyone involved. Some descriptive details have been altered.
When I moved into my sister’s place, a few siblings had already arrived. They were enrolled in the local school district, and Linda was their official legal guardian. That type of paperwork was easier to get taken care of if one was married.
Being at my new job was my favorite part of the day. It was at a bank just down the street, walking distance even. I dressed up in formal outfits. I wore heels. I felt very professional. And to top it off, it felt fantastic to contribute to the family by shopping for groceries and preparing dinners.
These siblings began adjusting to a more normal life now, although it was evident how careful they were with each word they said.
The home they lived in prior had quite a few problems. Some of them included beatings and being yelled at, and perhaps worse of all, a manipulative environment.
If a host parent came home, my siblings were required to very politely greet the person entering and ask how their day went. The next day, if they followed the previous day’s instructions, they would get in trouble because it didn’t sound genuine. It was supposed to be a sincere question, not sounding like a script.
When dinnertime came, they were required to eat all the food options that were offered. A common question would be:
“Would you like seconds?”
And if they answered, “No, thank you,” the snap back would be, “What? Of course you do! You’re hungry! You’d better take these seconds!”
They were quick learners. When seconds were offered, they corrected their answers to “Yes, please.” To which the response was, “Oh you’re hungry huh? Well here you go. And here is some more. Here’s the whole pot, please eat it all.”
Besides dinnertime, they could not be socializing with the kids from the host family. It was school time during the day, and then come home to stay in the room. If it was a warm day, they were to be outside the entire time without bathroom breaks until it was bedtime. They were not allowed to help clean up or tidy up after themselves or after dinner, because that would imply they were somewhat part of the family, which they very clearly were not. The host family would have regular movie nights after they send my siblings to bed.
Once in a while they would receive phone calls. These calls were portrayed in a negative light: family called so rarely because “they don’t care about you” and “nobody loves you”. If a birthday gift or an envelope with some money arrived in the mail, it would be nightmare. What kind of stuff are they telling their siblings? That the host family isn’t providing enough for them? They don’t have enough toys? They don’t have enough money?
If the younger child had an accident at night, the consequence was a shame-filled day. Then a brilliant solution was thought up: put on diapers at night. If the diapers were wet in the morning, they would be placed on top of the head and the child had to sit in the living room for several hours. This way the entire host family would see it, which hopefully would cause enough embarrassment for the child that such accidents would no longer occur. Sometimes it was taken up a notch, and the child had to walk across to the neighbor’s house to say “hi” to the friend that lived there and explain that there had been an accident that night.
The older child came to the rescue and began waking up earlier. If there had been an accident, the dirty laundry would be quietly washed in the bathroom sink so nobody would find out what happened.
Another time the host family went out to visit some friends. They did this periodically, and would only take their biological children and leave my siblings behind. One time my siblings were aware of a new container of chocolate that arrived in the kitchen. Treats and snacks were very difficult to get. If my siblings wanted a treat, they would have to request formal permission. This would result in an interrogation: “Are you hungry? Are we not feeding you enough? Why don’t you eat more during dinnertime instead?” So my siblings chose to avoid getting snacks instead of dealing with the questions.
This time, though, the treats were right there. The temptation was too great to pass up. After everybody was out of the house, my siblings cautiously opened the door of their bedroom, listened carefully to ensure everybody indeed was gone, and made a mad dash for the kitchen. The lid was quickly unscrewed, one shiny wrapped truffle was taken out for each person, and the container was placed back in its exact spot. Unfortunately, each chocolate had been counted prior to the host family’s departure, and when, upon return, the number of chocolates was recounted and turned out to be less, my siblings got in trouble. A disciplinary action for behavior such as this could be a time-out for five hours.
They were carefully coached in the type of responses and behaviors they were to have when outside the home. The outward appearance was a beautifully put-together family unit. The reality was a dysfunctional, fighting family.
Some time passed after this new living arrangement. I received a phone call from another sibling living in Florida. It was brief phone call with a simple message. It was to relay something to me another sibling said. “It happened again.”
My stomach churned and I thought I would vomit. I had allowed myself to stop thinking of the news I learned at Linda’s wedding. The sibling who lived with the Smith family got molested again. I hoped that by ignoring it, the problem would go away. Apparently not. Well, enough is enough. “Tell them to pack their bags. I’ll fly in this week to pick them up.”
This time I wasn’t crying or upset. I was angry. Oh so angry. It was a squinty eyed, quiet, seething type of anger. My fists were clenched until they turned white. I thought about punching the wall in front of me. Two punches. Perhaps a kick for good measure. But then I thought how much it would cost to repair the damage and decided against hurting the wall.
I hopped into the chair in the den corner and turned on the computer. Typed in Expedia, found the ticket prices. Yikes! I compared the prices for the next several days and purchased the least expensive option. Then made a phone call to the original caller to inform of the flight details. It had to be a secret operation. If it were found out, it would get abolished. There would be so much drama. Well regardless, there would be lots of drama. But the less people knew, the quicker it happened, the better it would be. I instructed a backpack with belongings to be packed, and to be ready on Thursday. The sibling on the phone had to call the sibling being molested. But phone calls at the Smith family tended to get listened on, so the conversation had to be in code.
“Hello? Um, yeah, can you come to the mall on Thursday? You need to come to the mall on Thursday.”
“Yes. You need to be ready for the mall on Thursday, OK?”
The host family: “Who is it?”
“Oh, my friend is asking if I can go to the mall.”
“Are you crazy? Of course not!”
To the sibling on the phone, “No, sorry I can’t.” And then in a quiet whisper, “OK, I got it!”
The next two days went by in the same seething, maddening anger. I couldn’t eat. I prayed furiously to God to help with the plan. I tried to use everything I could. Since I wasn’t eating anyways, I told God to use it is a fast, maybe it would help with making my prayer more effective. Maybe God would hear it and move it to the top of His to-do list.
It was time to fly out in the evening. I took the next day off work for “Family Emergency”. One of my siblings arranged somebody to pick me up at the airport and lend a car for the day. Since I arrived at night, it was spent hanging out with that sibling until the next day. The plan was to surprise the Smith family, tell them I came to extract my sibling from the abuse, and leave.
They were surprised all right. Then hysterical.
They got Grandma on the line, shoved the phone in my face, made me try to listen to “reason”.
“Are you out of your mind?!
What are you doing?!
Go back home immediately!
Why are you messing up this family?
They are a good family!
Great leaders in church!
And you’re trying to break this?!
At that moment I desperately hoped for some Jackie Chan skills. I imagined him storming into a room, knocking everybody out with a kick, or a punch, taking the prisoner, and escaping before anyone realized what had happened. I ran the scene through my mind again. But, alas, I had no such skills, not even close.
I racked my brain. The Smith parents were standing defiantly with their hands on their hips and saying something. It was an angry blur of the same sentences Grandma had been shouting from the phone. I looked at the phone lying on the ground. Had I dropped it?
I pulled the only string I could.
“Alright then, if you won’t allow me to take my sibling, I’m calling 9-1-1 and we can handle it that way.”
Boom. Instant results. Tone was changed, the conversation calmed down. A discussion took place of specifics. How? When? Would it be too crowded? What about another family? The details were a bit messy but in the end everything worked out. My sibling was pulled from that home. The Smith family later apologized to me personally, after they confronted and confirmed everything was true.
An uncomfortable guilty feeling settled over me. After all, I was the one who had placed the siblings in the homes where they had so much trouble. I tried to ignore the feeling. Maybe it would go away. Focus on the positive. They’re not there anymore.