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Chapter 10

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Chapter 10

Whitehall was a group home for girls in Lincoln, NE. I was 16 by this time, and I was in high school. I came in during the middle of the year, despite my sojourn in the strange land of Rivendell.

Yet that sense of strangeness, of other-reality pursued me into Whitehall. Here, I met kids in the system that knew how to work it. Many of them were the stereotypical foster kid. Violent, angry runaways or “system kids.” System kids are those who have been stuck as foster kids most or all of their lives, and were unwanted the whole time. They moved from foster home to foster home.

I soon learned what all foster kids know. Being a foster kid most often means abuse. It was my first inkling that I wasn’t alone. There were other kids in the world who weren’t wanted. There were other kids in the world who knew what it meant to be hated by the people who were supposedly supposed to love them.

It was also my first inkling that I was unusual. I’d always known I was different, but I didn’t realize until then that even the degree to which I was abused was unusual. I knew that I was ‘weird’ and that I was ‘stupid’ and that I was ‘peculiar’ according to the standards of society. But I didn’t realize that the extent to which I’d been brutalized was beyond the norm even for abused people. Yet it was a comfort to learn that I was like other people in some ways.

Yet even the people I was ‘like’ in that way, I was very different from. I wasn’t violent. If anything, I was gentle. I learned from them a certain degree of hardness, that mask that foster kids wear. I also was introduced to music that had changed dramatically in the time that I was in Rivendell. It was harder, the tempo faster, and there was an underlying anger and aggressiveness in it.

This was the first time I began to realize that in some ways, as difficult and unpleasant as it was, the life in the institution had been a bit good for me. The stimulation there had been minimal. It wasn’t loud or aggressive; the rules were (although difficult to understand in and of themselves) at least consistent. In those first months at Whitehall, I began to realize subtly that life was chaos, and I like order. But I also realized that, for all that it was intended to do so, that institution didn’t at all prepare me for the realities of life or interaction with others. By sealing me away from reality, it had caused my sensitivity to advance, rather than to decay.

It was a major setback to my social skills. A major setback to my understanding of the world. And it had made me even more vulnerable to over-stimulation.

The headaches I got during grade school in Kansas returned. I would find myself in such pain that I would nearly pass out. The world would be seen as if through a haze, a strange fog like sensation that dulled colors and sharpened my hearing to painful clarity. The pain was excruciating, driving me to my knees. It happened whenever I became too uncomfortable with all of the chaos around me.

I went to see a doctor, who declared them to be panic attacks. Shouldn’t panic attacks include… well… panic, though? I wasn’t afraid, I was in pain. And I didn’t actually get them when I was scared, only when I had an excess of sensory input. If anything, fear seemed to have the opposite effect on me. It energized me and cleared my mind to such a degree that I forgot about everything around me.

But okay, whatever. Panic attacks. The first time I had these ‘panic attacks,’ George had beaten me for lying. Except that I wasn’t lying.

These became a part of my life. Another thing that I had to lie about, because they gave me yet more drugs… that yet again didn’t work and just made me feel sick and out of control of my mind.

I also met a man named Joe Sanchell. Joe was the coordinator of the Independent Living Program.

Joe was also the darkest black man I’d ever encountered. I’d met one who was black before, but hadn’t even realized it. But Joe was the first truly dark black man I’d ever seen. And I can honestly say that he amazed me. He was a very big man, muscular and imposing. He was sitting behind his desk when I was introduced, and I was simply stunned. I suppose that saying so makes me racist, but that’s the truth of it, anyway.

He was quite beautiful, with deeply rich and dark skin. His voice was resonant and deep and warm. He smiled and chuckled and his very presence was surprisingly comforting. He was imposing in his way, at 6’8″ or so and 340 pounds of muscle. He’d done a brief stint in pro football, and he was built like it. Yet he was gentle and patient and he listened. A huge man with a very patient, kind, soft demeanor.

It’s not hard to tell that I had a soft spot for Joe. And Joe knew it. I wish that I could say that all was well with us. That he helped me and that he was one of the good ones. In some ways, I would say that’s true. I cared very much for him. He took advantage of it. I could sleep with him, or I could remain a state ward and stay at the group home that so distressed me and oppressed my hope.

So I asked to go to a party (that didn’t exist). I was told I wasn’t allowed to go, so I ran away. I was supposed to meet him at his apartment, so I got a taxi and headed that way. But on the way there, the housemother from the Home happened to pull up beside me. One of the other girls from Whitehall was there… and she saw me. So I asked the taxi driver to lose them, since she of course gleefully pointed me out.

The taxi driver, thinking it was great fun, managed to lose them right away. He commented when we arrived, that he felt like he was in a movie or something, and it was the most fun he’d had in months. Personally, I was petrified.

When I got inside, Joe was scared, too. He sent me home, and emancipated me anyway. I guess the scare was enough to drive him to the right thing that time. Joe now works in corrections at a male facility, if you’re interested. They caught onto him, and while they didn’t do anything but transfer him to a place where he didn’t have access to young girls, I guess the up side of the story is that he doesn’t have control over young girls anymore.

But sadly, the story of the pedophile who is simply transferred instead of punished in any way is a common one. If you think for a moment that it was an isolated incident, think again. At the time, I didn’t know better, and I was afraid to tell. But at the same time that I found out where he is now, I found out he’d done it to other girls. Yet nothing was ever done beyond transferring him.

I believe this to be the standard, the norm. We hear of pedophilia cases, but so rarely compared to how common it is. I’ve met many a foster kid, and almost all of them have sexual abuse to relate. Sometimes by parents, but usually by others.

This was far from an isolated event. But it was the least of my worries. In this case, by a stroke of luck, I got out of it without doing what was expected of me. I’d like to say that I said no. I’d like to say that I was strong and that I didn’t cave in. I’d love to say that I didn’t have some strange, deep-seated compulsion to obey him. I’d be lying, though.

That’s the problem, I think. Children are taught to obey their elders, to obey authority. To the degree that I didn’t know I had a choice. I didn’t know I could say no. It never occurred to me to say no. I had to obey. I’m going to tell you that I’m not making excuses. I understand intellectually that I was wrong. That going was the wrong decision and that I had choices.

But my intellect wasn’t in control. My training, perhaps. Something inside me that is just bad. I don’t know. But I don’t believe that at the time, I knew I had a choice, as I know it now. I can’t tell you whether I just didn’t know, didn’t understand, or never considered it. Perhaps I didn’t have enough information. Whatever it was, I knew it was wrong but I felt compelled to go to him anyway.

So my shame is exposed for all to see. Where it came from, I don’t know, but there it is. He demanded; I went.

Yet I couldn’t hate him for it. I still can’t. For all that he did wrong, he was a kind person. In one way, I judge him, and in another, I don’t. He was wrong to do as he did. I’ll never argue that point. But there was a kindness about him, as well, that while it doesn’t make what he did okay, it makes it better than those who used violence. From him, I knew kindness, however misguided or misintended.

I miss Joe, and I think without his own compulsion, he probably would have been one of the great things in my life. I could demonize the entire experience based on what he did, but then I would lose something else valuable.

Written by sandit4glp

July 30, 2010 at 1:36 pm

Posted in Chapter 10