Part 2 of Noel (Please read Part 1 2/7/18 article first.)
The sleeping bag was softer than the mattress in the foster jerks’ house. I lay in the sleeping bag, in the tent I stole from the thrift store, Bradford Angier’s How to Stay Alive in the Woods resting on my stomach. I read the book the way Christians read the bible. This was my guide, this led me better than any faith could.
Sleep didn’t come. The sleeping bag was too warm and the air was to clean. The smell of cigarettes didn’t linger and there was no television blaring in the background. The crickets and frogs were making strange sounds that made my skin crawl.
I dragged the thin blanket out of the duffle and held on it while curling into a ball. Inhaling the scent of the blanket, my body relaxed and eventually sleep came.
I dreamed of the O’Conner’s house again. Shelby O’Conner and her husband Max had taken me in when I was nine years old. Shelby dressed me in pretty dresses and placed bows in my dark chestnut hair. Sometimes she would buy us matching dresses and we would go to the park for picnics wearing our dresses and feeding the ducks by the lake. Shelby insisted I call her “mom” since mine had abandoned me.
Max was great too, I didn’t call him dad but he was special to me. Sometimes he’d pick me up and place me on his shoulders and carry me there for what felt like hours. He’d let me help wash the car and ride with him on the riding lawnmower to cut the grass.
Life couldn’t get any better, I had so many friends at school. Every weekend was a new adventure, one day I’d have sleepovers at my house. Then the next weekend I’d stay at another friend’s house. Birthday parties, tea parties and teddy bear picnic filled my weekends.
When I was ten and a half, mom gave me a baby sister. I was excited, finally, I’d have my own family, a mom, a dad and a sister.
Or so I thought.
As Shelby’s stomach grew bigger and bigger, I felt my mom slipping away from me. She stopped reading with me and started reading her own book with a pregnant lady on the cover. My gifts of bows and toys slowly stopped and the baby’s nursery was filled with toys, small hair bows, and poofy dresses.
I tried helping mommy with the cooking like I used to, but she seemed busy. Max started paying a teenager to cut the grass so our rides stopped. I outstretched my arms to him when he came home for my ride on his shoulders but he patted me on the head and started baby proofing the house. Whatever that means.
Mom and Max whispered to each other when they thought I wasn’t around. Things I didn’t understand, stuff about placement, adjustments and stress levels. I walked into them whisper arguing in the kitchen one day, mommy trusting a book in Max’s arms stage whispering, “horror stories with newborns and fos-”
She turned her head and saw me, both she and Max looked startled at my arrival. I left the kitchen, not understand what they were arguing about but wanting to give them their privacy.
Now I was waiting for my sister to leave Shelby’s belly so things would be back to normal. But even after she came, things never got back to normal.
Carly was crying in her nursey. Max was talking to a neighbor while mommy slept on the couch. I went to Carly and picked her up from the crib, I sat in the rocking chair gently rocking her while humming to her just like mommy. Her loud cries stopped as I rocked her.
Mommy is going to be so proud of me. I thought as I looked down at my sister. Her blond curls bouncing as I rocked her gently, her little hands curling into fists, her unique baby smell surrounding me. I gave her a little squeeze for a hug.
Mom ran into the room took in the sight of me and Carly; I thought I’d see pride in her eyes, happiness at her two girls sharing a moment. Instead, I watched her chocolate eyes widen, her thin blush lips part in a quivering O. She crossed the room in a blind haste and thrust Carly out of my arms. The movement caused Carly to start crying again.
Mom ignored Carly’s cries.
“Noel, what are you doing?” She screamed, “What did you do to her?”
I tried to answer but she wouldn’t let me speak.
She screamed over and over, saying she couldn’t trust me with the baby. I dropped to my knees and put my hands over my ears. Her words were mean and angry. I’d never seen her angry before. I didn’t like it.
Max rushed in and I dropped my hands and ran to him. He would help me.
He glanced at me and furrowed his brow. Reaching out to his wife he spoke to me.
“Noel-sweetie, you can’t able to pick up Carly.”
“But she was crying, mommy was sleeping.”
“I’m sorry Noel, Carly is too small to play with you.”
“I wasn’t playing-”
“I said, NO Noel.”
I didn’t understand their fear, I would never hurt Carly-she was my sister. Afraid they would send me back to the house with the bad food, I apologized.
I apologized for weeks but their fear was too much for them to overcome. I overheard my mom talking to other moms about the dangers she’d read foster children can cause to newborns. She said her doctor has warned her about potential dangers to infants with older siblings, especially if the siblings weren’t blood-related.
As the days and then weeks went by I was never left alone with Carly and my every action was scrutinized. Whispered conversations about placements and adjustments filled the air but I didn’t understand.
Slowly the other moms whose homes I was once welcomed into started scheduling other play dates. My once good friends started whispering behind my back calling me names I’d never heard before.
“You said Ms. Shelby adopted you, but my mama told me she lets you stay at her house because your mama left you in a box,” Libby said. Libby was supposed to be my best friend, we told each other everything. Now here she stood, standing in between Isabel and Sabrina.
I’d been walking with my head down towards the girls’ restroom when her words stopped me. Spinning on my heels, I turned to face her.
“I said she was going to adopt me. My mom didn’t leave me in a box, she’s a spy working for the government so she had to leave me.”
Isabel and Sabrina laughed, Isabel’s curly red hair flying around her shoulders, she grabbed ahold of Sabrina’s shoulders as if she would tumble over laughing so hard. The three of them, each in pretty dresses with ribbons in their hair, walked off laughing.
My once pretty dresses became lifeless and dull, the bows and ribbons that once adorned my hair became limp and tangled. Slowly, my parents became strangers, wrapped in their small bundle of joy and I became forgotten.
Until the social worker came.
Sirens blaring woke me; it seemed I wasn’t going to get uninterrupted sleep tonight. I burrowed deeper in the thin blanket that smelled of Liza’s house and listened as the sirens grew closer.