Chapter completed Wednesday 27 April 2016
Over the next few years that followed the abuse, I was taken from Mama’s home twice, never to be returned to her permanently. No one who tried to help our family stay together could put the broken pieces back again. Mama was too mentally unstable and could not cope with the stress of parenting. She resorted, once again, to alcoholism; but Mama was already broken before she became a mother, and nothing but the blood of Jesus could heal her.
In April of 1998, Mama entered Boxwood Residential Treatment Center, a 28-day residential program for the treatment of alcoholism. During this time, Lynn and I were placed with the TAFF (Tri-Area Foster Families) family of Mary and Dennis Addison, who had a young son named Brandon; and Preston was placed in a different temporary entrustment, of which circumstances I have no knowledge of. While no other immediate, known relatives were able to take the three of us in, David stayed with Daddy at Grandma and Grandpa’s (Daddy’s parents’) residence in Jeffersonton.
(According to the relating Foster Care Service Plan, at the time of the custody transfer to the Addisons, I had a close relationship with my parents and siblings; Mama reported that I was quiet, polite, and lady-like, but I occasionally exhibited sexualized behavior; and I was in the First Grade at my elementary school, where my academic performance and social behavior appeared normal.)
Mary Addison was a teacher at Lynn’s preschool and was already acquainted with her. The Addisons took us into their home to ensure that we would be able to remain at our respective schools for the duration of the school year, but they were ambivalent about long-term placement. Both my sister and I “assimilated readily into the [Addison’s] home and appear to be very happy and well-cared for there,” according to the relating Foster Care Service Plan.
Happy and well-cared for we were, as far as my memory goes. The Addisons lived in a kempt neighborhood located in Albemarle County. Their residence had two stories with at least three bedrooms, and I remember it being especially tidy. Lynn and I shared a bedroom and a bed adjacent to Brandon’s room, who was four-years-old at the time. Other than our physical environment, the handful of memories of our four-month stay with this cordial family are distant and vague, and none of them seem worth mentioning – none in this section of my autobiography, anyway.
Mama was discharged from Boxwood on schedule, at the end of May. However, she preferred if Lynn and I remained in foster care with the Addisons for an additional three months while she continued to “work on self-improvement.” She was afraid that resuming custody of us prematurely would challenge her sobriety, because the stress of parenting might return her to alcoholism. While Lynn and I remained with the Addisons, Daddy resumed custody of Preston at the end of his school year. Lynn and I were not able to join Daddy and our brothers due to limited space at Grandma and Grandpa’s residence. However, we did have irregular visitation with our family throughout the course of our stay with the Addisons.
Everything seemed fine upon our return. Throughout the summer – while we were still living with the Addisons – Mama seemed to maintain sobriety and consecutive employment between two different employers in the fast-food industry. On August 21, 1998, she regained physical custody of Lynn and I. At the time of the custody transfer, she was employed at Kohr Brothers Frozen Custard and lived in a 3-bedroom trailer at Greenfield Trailer Court in Albemarle County.
Additionally, Mama was receiving a lot of professional help: case management and counseling from Region Ten and Charlottesville Department of Social Services; in-home support from Child Health Partnership regarding parenting, benefits, and children’s health issues; daily counseling regarding various parenting and service issues from the guidance counselor at my elementary school; counseling, mentoring, and material assistance from a community volunteer; and religious counseling and support from a friend/peer counselor at a local church.
We were soon joined by David and Preston, because Mama believed they were being mistreated at Grandma and Grandpa’s and she refused to consider foster care for them – even though she was warned by her C.D.S.S. worker that attempting to care for all four of us at once would likely prove overwhelming for her and challenge her sobriety. And even though Daddy did not live with us, he visited us often. I was so elated that my family was “together” again.
My brothers’ presence did prove too difficult for Mama to handle, so she sent them back to live with Daddy at Grandma and Grandpa’s residence within a few weeks after their arrival, resulting in yet another school transfer for them. Mama attributed much of our family’s problems at the time to the derogatory influence of our neighborhood, which had a criminal and/or negligent aspect. Here are a couple of examples that Mama mentioned in the relating Foster Care Service Plan:
- There was an incident in which Preston, who was eight at the time, was “arrested” by the police for “running down Route 29, dodging cars while under the influence of alcohol,” as well as another incident in which he vandalized a truck. Both of these occurrences presumably happened while associating with children from our neighborhood.
- Additionally, our next-door neighbor and babysitter was sub-standard and was the subject of a C.P.S. investigation, because David, who was eleven at the time, was abusing substances (alcohol and drugs, probably marijuana) while under his/her care.
In addition to being overwhelmed by caring for all four of us at once, Mama resumed her verbally and physically abusive relationship with Jeremy, who lived in the same neighborhood as us, in September. He stayed over at our place frequently. I can remember waking up one night (or perhaps I never fell asleep), frightened out of my mind. I crept into the dimly-lit kitchen, grabbed the broom as a weapon to defend myself from the “monsters” as I ran down the dark hallway adjacent to the kitchen to Mama’s bedroom. Mama was there, in bed, with Jeremy. The rest of this memory is vague, but I believe she comforted me with a brief cuddle and sent me back to my bedroom, though I cannot recall if she went with me or not.
Additional memories of my two-month stay with my biological family are happy but distant. So, I will only briefly mention a prominent one: I set up a “yard sale” in our yard with several “junk” items in an attempt to declutter our residence and profit from it – an idea I got from a television program I was watching. I sold one of Mama’s teddy-bears to a boy about my age who lived down the street, who bought it from me for his mother for $1.00. I remember watching him scurry down the street to his trailer and back again with the money to pay for it. (Note: This memory may have occurred before Mama regained custody of us during a summer visit while we were still living with the Addisons, but I am unsure.)
Mama rapidly succumbed to the negative influences of Jeremy. She returned to alcoholism, causing her success of the inpatient alcohol treatment at Boxwood in April to be short-lived. On October 20, 1998 – just a couple of months after she resumed custody of us – Mama attempted suicide by ingesting alcohol and pills (probably some of her anti-psychotic medication) while we were at school. She was hospitalized at UVA Hospital, followed by Western State Hospital for several days. Upon her hospitalization, Lynn and I were, once again, placed with a foster family after no suitable relatives were found to place us with.
I have no recollection of the day or two following my mother’s suicide attempt. The first thing that I do (vaguely) remember following this incident was the day Lynn and I met our new foster family. A relative, I believe, took us to Grandma and Grandpa’s residence in Jeffersonton to wait for the social worker, who then took us to meet our new foster family at their residence in Albemarle County.
On the way there, I remember all three of us – the social worker, Lynn, and I – singing fun songs, such as “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly,” together. After we arrived at their residence, some of the other children returned from school. I remember watching as a couple of them walked up the grassy hill toward us.
From October 22, 1998 to December 24, 2000, my sister and I lived with Margaret and Charles Bennett – an experienced foster family certified through TAFF – and their several other children (biological, adopted, and foster). As two+ years is a lot of time and these memories are also fairly distant and vague, I am not going to get overly detailed about this part of my life. Instead, I will summarize to give an overall understanding about my time with this family.
I was happy and I thrived with this loving, Christian family. I called Margaret and Charles “mommy” and “daddy” from time to time, though not consistently. With six+ children – in addition to Lynn and I – in the family, there was always someone to play with. We all went to Chestnut Grove Baptist church together just about every Sunday, where I came to trust Jesus Christ as my Savior one morning during Sunday School in the winter of 1999. I was baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in February of 2000 at Mama’s church, Forest Grove Baptist Church. Even though I love(d) my foster family very much and Lynn and I had regular visitation with our biological family, my heart ached for my family to be reunited.
In December of 1999, we were supposed to be returned to our mother’s care. One week prior to the date of our return, Mama decided to go on a drinking binge and attempt suicide again, which landed her in the Martha Jefferson Psychiatric Ward. Because of this incident – and because Mama repeatedly demonstrated an unstable mental condition, complicated by substance abuse – the goal of return to our mother’s care was irrevocably revoked.
After this incident, a Foster Care Service Plan Review – dated November 3, 2000 – was in order. Here’s a portion of it that is pertinent to my particular situation at this time:
The girls are well-established in their foster home and succeeding academically in school. Amber is considered quite intelligent and has very little trouble with her school-work. She likes to write things down, and [Margaret] provides her with notebooks to do so.
Amber wears eye-glasses and is considered to have fragile health, but no other significant health concerns are known other than susceptibility to illness and such a small body frame.
Amber wants to discuss what the expectations are for her parents and wants to help them attain their goals. She was devastated when her mother could not take her back. She loves her family very much and wants to return to them. She has recently shared with [Margaret] that she is becoming tired of not knowing what will happen in her future, and she just wants an answer. For example, Amber discussed with [Margaret] whether or not to enroll to participate in the church Christmas play, because she is unsure if she will be leaving; and if so, when that will be.
After return to Mama’s custody was ruled out, the next option was placement with relatives. After a thorough search was conducted by the Department of Social Services, there was only one set of relatives found who were willing and able to take us in – Lynn’s paternal uncle and aunt, Dean and Grace Sanderson.
Since Grace and Uncle Dean were relatives, we were already acquainted with them somewhat. Additionally, we had irregular visitation, which started in the spring of 2000, with them about once a month before we officially moved in on Christmas Eve of 2000, though legal custody was not transferred to them until about a week after the move-in on January 1, 2001.