Names have been changed.
Although my brother Zack was a year older than I was, sometimes I felt like the big sister. I was bolder than he was and I stuck up for him when he was about to be beaten by our adoptive parents. I would have done anything for him. We had a song we sang together: “I love you and you love me/brother and sister we will always be.”
When I was 1 and Zack was 2, we were removed from our birth parents’ house because they did not take care of us. The Wilsons adopted us soon after, but when I was 5 and he was 6, they began beating us, locking us in the basement, and psychologically tormenting us. We were there for nine years. All we had was each other.
Mrs. Wilson died when I was 10, and my brother went into a group home and I went into a foster home: It broke my heart that we were separated.
Then my brother was placed in a home three blocks away from my foster home, and I could see him four times a week. We went to the park to play basketball or played tag in the streets. I loved that my brother and I were reunited.
However, I was being abused in my foster home and being bullied in school. I knew it was not good for me to stay in this home but I wanted to be near my brother so I did not tell anyone about the abuse.
I began to use writing as my outlet. Whenever something painful happened at home or school, I wrote in my journal.
Finding a Friend
I often wrote about what my dream life would look like. One journal entry described “a place where belts were only for holding up your pants and pans were for cooking…. Man wouldn’t it be great to walk into school, and be the center of attention but in a good way.” Writing let me imagine better realities.
On the first day of 5th grade, a new kid, Gerard, was assigned to sit next to me. During gym class, he asked me why I was not playing basketball with the other kids.
“Because no one wants me on their team.” I felt nervous and embarrassed. What if he thought I was weird and bullied me like all the rest?
He laughed and said, “So let’s have a 1 on 1.”
After that, every day at gym class we played basketball together. We also sat together at lunch and talked about what we did the night before.
For the rest of the school year, Gerard and I stayed close and our friendship continued into middle school. Then I wanted to be more than friends. I began to write about him in my diary. I filled pages with his name. I wrote songs and poems about him. I analyzed every interaction we had. I was almost sure that Gerard did not like me the way I liked him, so I kept it all inside the diary.
I never talked to anyone about my home life, just my journal.
One day Gerard saw the diary in my locker, and like an annoying best friend he snatched it and began to read it. I was mortified. I was afraid he would not want to be friends with me anymore.
Worse than him knowing I had a crush on him was him learning what was going on at my foster home. I ran down the hall and avoided him for the rest of the day.
At our last period class I asked, “Can I have my diary back?”
He looked at me with his eyebrows raised in confusion. He said softly, “Why would you like me?”
I was nervous, but there was no point in hiding my feelings; he already knew I liked him. “Why not? You stuck by me all last year.”
“Why did you never tell me?”
“Because I was afraid of your response.”
The class ended, and he walked me home as usual. I felt the tension.
When we got to my door he said, “Hey, I like you too, and I’m sorry for taking your diary, but you’re a beautiful girl and you don’t deserve to go through things you go through.”
I said “Thanks,” but thought about it a lot more. Now that Gerard knew what was happening, I felt less worried and alone. All I ever wanted was to be understood, and he did. I did not say how good I felt, but I think he got the memo from my smile.
Three weeks later, we walked home from school as usual. However, this time Gerard asked me to close my eyes; he was going to lead me somewhere. He led me by the hand for a little while, then told me to open my eyes.
WOW! It was a handball court covered with drawings and inspirational writings. It was beautiful, so much color and creativity.
“This is where I come when I have bad days,” he said.
He pulled a paper out of his book bag and asked me to read it.
I read, “I really like you and you really like me. The friendship we have is not meant to be. It is much more than a high-five. I want u to be mine.”
On the back was a cute drawing of us holding hands in a heart. At the bottom it said, “Do you want to be my girlfriend, circle yes or no.”
I circled yes. We stayed there for a few more minutes running around the handball court. Then we left holding hands. He dropped me off at my house and gave me a hug. “Bye girlfriend.”
“Bye boyfriend.” I was extremely happy. I ran straight to my room, dropped my stuff, and told my loyal companion, the journal, “Dear diary, he likes me. OMG!!! He really likes me back. This is like a dream come true.”
No Right or Wrong in Writing
Two weeks later, Gerard came to my house to surprise me. Before he could ring the doorbell, I ran out the door with tears running down. He ran after me and asked what was wrong. I told him to leave me alone, that it was nothing to worry about.
“Were they beating you again?” I did not answer.
He said, “This is too much. You need to tell someone.”
I was angry because he didn’t understand, so I did not want him to get involved. I screamed, “Don’t you think I tried? Nobody cares.”
I had tried. When I was 7 and my brother ran away, I told the police officers who brought him back that we were being physically abused by our foster parents. The police laughed at me, as if it were a joke. If people who are supposed to protect you from harm won’t help, who will? I did not tell Gerard this.
He said if I did not do something, he would.
I looked at him with a face full of pain and said, “No. This is none of your business.”
The next day I did not show up for school. Gerard was worried because that never happened.
He found me in the park where I was writing. It was freezing. As he got closer, I covered my face because I did not want him to see my tears. He asked me what I was doing. I did not answer. He asked for my journal and I gave it to him. It said:
“I can’t believe I got abused for nine years and thought it was all over because we got out of there. Apparently, it’s just beginning. This is now not only a world of physical abuse but verbal abuse as well. I do not think I belong in the world. I am only here as a slave to a parent. I must deserve what I get, because if not, it wouldn’t happen.”
He read it and said nothing. It was easier for me to watch him read than for me to tell him the same things. I might say the wrong thing talking about my feelings, but in writing there was no right or wrong.
Finally, he said, “I’m tired of seeing you cry and not being able to do anything.” Although I didn’t want him to interfere, it still felt good to hear him say that.
Not My Fault, But I Suffer the Consequences
Two weeks later Gerard began to act distant. He walked me home less. For three days, he did not show up for school and I worried. One afternoon I went to his house, and there were many people there. I asked him who they were.
He said, “social workers.” I pulled him to the side and asked, “Why are you doing this?”
He said “For your safety.” I told him I did not want to leave my foster home. He asked why not. I took a deep breath and said, “It’s the closest I can be to my brother.”
I did not talk about Zack to him, so he was confused. “What are you talking about?”
I explained our history and how we were separated. “Then I was moved literally three blocks from him, and it made me so happy. That’s why I haven’t told anyone about the abuse.”
Gerard asked why I did not live with my brother. There was so much to explain. I told Gerard that our first foster mom told the agency that my brother and I fought and that I talked bad about him. It’s not like we never fought, but my brother and I had a strong bond from sharing so many bad memories. It is as if I could feel his pain and he could feel mine.
Gerard began to cry.
I told him, “It’s not your fault, you didn’t know.”
Separated by the System, Again
I could tell by the way that he dragged his feet back to his living room that he felt terrible.
The same day the social worker placed me in a new home in the Bronx, far away from both Gerard and my brother.
I hardly saw my brother at all. Gerard felt guilty and sad, even though I did not blame him. However, I got so depressed I stopped writing. I had neither Gerard nor my brother to write about. In addition, I had used the journal to create a world I wished I lived in, and now I knew that would never come true. Things only got worse.
After three months, Gerard found me on Facebook and texted me as soon as I accepted his Friend request.
“OMG I miss you. I love you are u ok.” He told me that he had been chilling with my brother, so I told Gerard to tell Zack I love him.
Inspired by My Writing
A few days later, Gerard texted, “so hows writing”
“I don’t write anymore.”
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DON’T WRITE ANYMORE?”
I told him I had no reason for it.
“Just because things go wrong doesn’t mean you give up on your hobby, writing kept u sane and your an amazing writer”
We dropped the convo, but he texted me later and sent me a song he wrote about how my writing inspires him. I read his lyrics over and over, day after day. I realized that I need writing. It helps me know myself; it keeps me happy; and it brought Gerard and me closer together. I thought, “I can’t give up something so great.” I haven’t.