I sat on a wrought iron daybed facing an open window, and a warm breeze was pooling in. It was the first day in my second foster home. The room was made up to seem welcoming, but its pleasantness somehow felt oppressive. I felt dirty, worthless and consumed by fear.

I was about to start 10th grade for the second time, since I’d failed the year before. Earlier that morning, I said goodbye to my 10-year-old brother, helped him into a car, and watched him ride away to live with another foster family.

“Go ahead and hang up your clothes,” my new foster mother said. Sternness was her way of normalizing an abnormal situation. I was abnormal. I came from abnormal. None of my clothes were really hang-up-able. I felt I had to apologize for my clothes, for my parents, for myself.

Both of my parents had used drugs — opioids — since my childhood. I’m 8: My mother locks my screaming, doped-up father out. I’m crying on the other side of a door as she commands me not to open it. I’m 12: This time I’m banging on a door as my mother locks herself into a public bathroom to get high. Those memories stay sharp. It wasn’t always like this, though. We once lived in a sunny apartment in New Jersey; my mom braided my hair, kissed me a hundred times, comforted me when I was sad or sick.

My father, an accomplished blues guitarist, let me stay up late and watch horror movies with him. He let my creativity blossom.

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One Child Is Too Many

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