Adoptalk & Publications
from Winter 2007 Adoptalk
by Nichole Johnson
Nichole, who is a junior in high school, was adopted at age nine. Now 16, she dreams of becoming a teacher, but is still haunted by memories of her past.
I was only three when I was taken from my birth mother. The day it happened was an incredible journey that now, at 16, I can remember as clear as glass.
My little brother and I lived in a small beaten-up trailer with a front “lawn” consisting of rocks, dirt, and a few scattered toys. On this day, inside the darkening trailer, my brother and I had wrapped ourselves in tobacco-stained blankets to try and stay warm. He was curled up next to me on the bed.
Mom had left around noon while it was still bright out, and had turned off the heat—maybe for safety or to save money. The rustling and rattling of poorly taped windows accompanied a draft of cold air that raised the hair on my back and arms.
Thoughts rushed through my head. I wondered where Mom was and why she was always gone. My stomach knotted and my eyes grew blurry as I thought about how, when she was home, my mom was always mad, always yelling, “I hate you! You’re worthless! No one would ever love you, especially when you do things wrong!” The smell of alcohol on her breath made my empty stomach feel sick.
I never knew why my mom was always so mad. I tried to do the right thing; I took care of my brother, tried to make meals for us, and kept us as clean as possible. Nothing was ever good enough for her.
I thought about she fought with her boyfriends and how, trembling with fear, I would hide my brother in the corner while bottles smashed against the wall sending red, brown, and yellow glass cascading to the floor. I recalled the screaming voices, often directed at me, the punching, the crying, and more yelling.
One time an ex-boyfriend stabbed my mom in the arm. That night, for trying to help her, he locked me—in only a nightgown and socks—outside all night. That boyfriend often locked me outside for “time outs,” but not usually for that long.
On this night, as my brother slept, tears fell from my eyes like a heavy rain. Gazing through the speckled glass at the rain out-side, I wished someone who loved me was there to hold me and keep me warm. Then the water reminded me of the time a drunk babysitter forced me into a bathtub and held my head underwater until I passed out.
Two headlights interrupted my thoughts. A burst of joy warmed me. I was not alone with my brother anymore. Soon a second set of headlights cut through the night and then blue flashing lights. Maybe it was one of my mom’s boyfriends, I thought. Maybe it was my mom. I gave my brother a few gentle pushes to wake him, even though Mom never came home this early. It was usually morning when she stumbled in and passed out.
My brother and I crawled out of bed and followed the short route to the kitchen and living room. The cold plastic floor under my feet sent goose bumps up my legs. As we shuffled forward, I noticed strange shadows in the kitchen, and lights darting here and there like someone was looking for something. The hair on my back stood up. Something was not right.
The happy feeling became a boulder in my stomach when I heard strange voices outside. A man came to the door and shined his light through the taped glass—glass broken when one of Mom’s boyfriends shoved her into it. When he called out, “Hello?” I grabbed my brother and hid under the kitchen table. My heart was racing like it would jump out of my body.
The man knocked again. “Hello? Is anyone there?” he asked more loudly. A beam of light hit the spot where we were crouching, and I started to cry. I was terrified and felt completely helpless. I wanted my mom; I wanted someone to comfort and protect us.
“I see something,” said the man to his partner. Both men, one stout and the other slender, started to come in. My body froze. Once inside, the men walked over to us, talked briefly to each other, and then told my brother and me that everything was going to be okay. They said we were safe now.
“Safe now?” I asked myself. What did they mean? Was my mom home? Why were these strangers in our trailer?
As the stout man moved to pick me up, I began to sob. He repeated that everything was okay and that he wasn’t going to hurt me. I let him lift me. He wrapped me in a cozy new blanket that smelled nothing like our blankets. The other man picked up my brother. Then they carried us to the car. What were they going to do to us? Had Mom sent them?
The outside air was cold. I remember seeing the men’s breath clouding the air as they talked to each other, shaking their heads. As they opened the car doors and put us inside, I was still crying, but soon I felt how warm it was and noticed how clean the seats were. The stout man told us again that we were safe.
The thin man put a note on our front door, and then got into his car. The stout man climbed into the car with my brother and me. As the car engines roared to life, I felt a rush of panic rising in me. What did the note say? Where was my mom? I wanted to yell, “Help!” but the word was stuck in my throat. I was too afraid to say anything.
The heat in the car fogged up the windows as we drove away so I cleared a spot on my window to look back at my home. The cold moisture made my hand feel numb, like my heart. I looked over at my brother. He had instantly fallen asleep. My tears dried, and in the warmth of the blanket, my eyes grew heavy. Still anxious, I tried to stay awake, but soon I drifted to sleep in the darkness.
More than a dozen years later, I am still haunted by these memories and problems caused by the neglect and abuse I suffered. My mom hurt me badly, as did babysitters and boyfriends. They also taught me how easily phrases like “I hate you” can wound people emotionally, and that injuries from physical abuse hurt on the inside long after the marks fade.
The night I was taken from the person I loved so much is like a vivid nightmare I can’t forget. But I know now that the abuse was my mom’s fault, not mine. Therapists and my adoptive parents have helped me to understand these truths.
Still, that night in the trailer has left a permanent scar on my heart. More than anything, I wanted my mom to be there, to fight to keep me, to save me. But that never happened. The thought of it haunts my dreams day and night.