I will start with a bit of rubbish about pirates. History would have you believe that pirates were monsters and tyrants, but history would be lying. The real Blackbeards were British privateers who attacked enemy ships from Spain to pillage gold and enrich the English ruler.
The 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, however, ended the war between England and Spain. So, with the stroke of a quill, the English monarch turned prized privateers into hated pirates whose previously sanctioned activities could earn them a date with the gallows. Growing up, I also encountered treasonous rulers who press ganged children into a life of service through the child welfare system. At age seven, I was press ganged into that system on account of my parents’ misdeeds.
As I faded into the system and moved from place to place, I started to form in my mind a picture of a jail cell, with gallows waiting just outside the prison walls. This cell, system representatives claimed, was a place to rest and recover. Wrong. It was a reprieve, a mere stay of execution. I was living in a world where parents got to commit crimes and children were handed over to the system to pay for them.
While I was in the system, I often asked people why I was being punished when my parents had abused me?! Though I received some awkward apologies for my parents’ actions and my situation, system staff offered no useful information to help me put the pieces of my past into perspective and construct anything close to a positive future.
To be fair, my residential placement—like a prison—did provide us with basic necessities. It kept us clothed, fed, and sheltered. But it never found for me a home and family where I could belong and start to heal.
These days when I look back on my system experiences, one of the first things that comes to mind is tyrannical Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix screaming, “I WILL have order!” We walked in single-file lines everywhere we went and were not allowed to talk while in transit. The system wanted order and, by association, the residential treatment facility did too.
This order, though, was unrealistic, as was the means by which they achieved it. We were over-medicated, lethargic, and thoughtless stewing pots, stirring ourselves into a stupor reflecting on how we felt on a scale from 1 to 10.
In sum, my childhood was a long roller coaster ride, but I survived and aged out at 18, stepping blindly into the world as if I had been locked in a dark cell my whole life. I lacked the skills to make good adult choices and to top it off, any crimes that hadn’t been paid for in the system were about to come due. There would be no pardon or Letter of Mark* for me.
As a young adult, I was lost. As you may have concluded by now, I have a great fascination with pirates, so I set sail with the Navy. Unfortunately, I got kicked out, racked up $30,000 in debt trying out college, and was charged with a gross misdemeanor for shoplifting. Let’s review: Set sail, pillage treasure and needed items by force (maybe I was too taken with pirates), and get caught. Then, naturally, I did what any smart pirate would…Run!
I moved from California to Minnesota to be closer to some of the people who had cared about me in my childhood. I even met a couple with whom I became very good friends. They helped me when I was in desperate straits, kept me fed, and even made sure I had the proper outfit for a job interview. Until I met these people, if you can imagine, I did not even know what a résumé was.
On December 11, 2008 these friends became my parents. I think I may have choked on the pop I was drinking when they asked me to join their family. I had long since given up hope of ever being asked that most holy question.
As you have read, my story is rife with betrayal and foul play, and much like the pirates, I have wondered if my story might ever be honestly told. I may be free of my childhood cell, but I still pace it every night. Am I a ghost, condemned to forever pace an imaginary gallows?
In truth, my story has ended happily, but many innocent young monsters and pirates are still awaiting pardon for crimes that trusted adults committed. In their world, selfish despots and ghosts of a lost childhood still remain.
North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC)
970 Raymond Avenue, Suite 106
St. Paul, MN 55114