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Losing the Last of My Birth Family
S.G.
headshot

Names have been changed.

My brother Juan and I went into foster care when we were very young. We were removed from our parents because my mother was a drug addict and prostitute and my father was a drug dealer. They both were gang-affiliated.

We were adopted when I was 1 and he was 3. Our adoptive parents, the Flynns, were abusive and beat us badly several times a week. We lived there for nine years. All we had was each other: Juan and Sonya against the world. I was younger, but I felt like I was tougher, and I was protective of him.

My mother lived near the Flynns, and my brother and I would run into her in the neighborhood. My brother had more of a soft spot for her; he believed she would come back for us. I was angrier that she abandoned us. Part of me hoped she would step in and protect us from the abuse, but she always let us down.

One day, when I was 9, she walked me home from school. Juan had left school early, and as we got near our house, we could hear him screaming. They were beating him again. I looked at my mother and asked her if she was going to help. She looked at me and didn’t say anything as we listened to my brother’s shrieks.

I yelled, “Are you coming or not?”

She said, “I have to go.” I yelled at her, furious, but she just walked away.

When I was 11, I asked my mother why Juan and I were in care. I’d already heard from my social worker that we went into care because there was a fire in the apartment next door to ours, and firefighters found Juan and me in our apartment alone. My parents had left us there. But I wanted to hear what she would say.

She said, “I bang with 1090 Grimmey.” I already knew she was in a gang, and that 1090 Grimmey was part of the Bloods. I knew she sold drugs because drug addicts in the neighborhood would give me messages to pass on to her. (I look just like her.)

She went on, “I couldn’t take care of y’all because I gotta make money. Y’all were only going to slow me down.” It hurt to hear her confirm that, yes, she chose the streets over my brother and me.

Not a Family I Want

The next year, when I was still living with the Flynns, my mother picked me up from school one day and said, “Sonya, I need your help. I know you are a very smart girl—and you are tough.”

I nodded.

She said, “I need to you to help me out. I need you to sell some loud [drugs] and make this money.”

I said, “So what is this doing for me?”

She said, “You get to be with me and have a real family. The 1090 Grimmey family.”

I said, “Na, I don’t want to be doing that.”

She said, “You don’t want to be with me?” She was trying to make me feel guilty.

Why would my own mother try to put me in harm’s way? I knew what gangs were. This hurt and shocked me, even though I already knew it had never been about me. It was always about the money and the drugs.

My birth parents were criminals who wanted to enlist their children, and my adoptive parents beat us. My brother and I had to look out for each other. We both got bullied at school; I had glasses and he had buck teeth and we both wore old, cruddy clothes. He and I were both afraid to tell our teachers about the abuse at home because we worried things could get even worse.

Separated From My Brother

When I was 12 and he was 14, our adoptive parents died, and we went into care. Juan was placed in a group home and I was placed in a foster home. I was bounced from home to home, but I did what I could to keep in touch.

Then I was placed in a foster home in Far Rockaway, Queens. I found out that Juan had been adopted by one of the staff in his group home who lived just a few blocks away from me! I was happy to be so close and we saw each other more. Sometimes we had agency visits because the foster parents found it easier to meet at the agency, and sometimes we went to each other’s homes.

One day my foster mother and I were late to a visit at the agency. Juan got mad and said that I didn’t want to see him. I got upset and we argued for about an hour. When my brother had to leave, he said “Bye Sonya,” sadly; I could tell he didn’t want to fight anymore. I waved goodbye, knowing the argument was over.

When the next visit day arrived, I reminded my foster mother, and she said that no visits were scheduled for a while.

“Why?” I asked, feeling confused and worried.

“The agency said so.”

At my next meeting with my worker, I asked her why I couldn’t see my brother.

She said, “Your foster mother said that you and your brother get into fights and that she is worried about your safety.”

I felt angry and betrayed. “Why would she say that?” I cried out. “My brother wouldn’t hurt me and I would never hurt him!”

“Well, safety is our number one priority, so you will not be seeing Juan for a while.”

I was furious. When I got home, I asked my foster mother why she’d told the agency that.

“I’d rather not talk about this now,” she said.

I couldn’t believe they were trying to separate me and my brother; he was all I had. He and I had been through everything together—the good, but mostly, the bad and the ugly.

After that, I snuck around to see my brother. The first time I saw him after the agency separated us, I walked to his house. He gave me a hug and said, “I can’t believe you’re here! You aren’t supposed to see me for a while.” We told each other we loved each other and he said, “I hate it when we fight.”

image by YC-Art Dept

I told him I’d sneak over to see him, and he said, “OK, but please don’t get caught. It will only make things worse.”

We talked some more and then I left. We saw each other like that about once a week. I always met him at his house and sometimes from there on nice days we would go to the park.

“What Did I Do?”

About a year ago, I noticed a change in my brother. He would read my Facebook messages, but he stopped replying to them. I didn’t know why. Meanwhile, my mother found Juan on Facebook through my friends list and added him. They started communicating on each other’s Walls.

They talked more and more often. He told me that they talked about his day at school or how his weekend was. Remembering what she tried to get me to do, I told him, “Juan, don’t let her get too close to you; you are going to get hurt.” But he kept talking to her. Meanwhile, he grew distant from me. He wouldn’t reply to my messages and he wouldn’t text me back for two or three days.

One night not long ago I messaged my brother on Facebook that I loved him and “Sleep well.” He read my message but didn’t reply.

The next day I texted, “Good morning and have a nice day,” and he didn’t respond. That afternoon and night I texted again.

He finally answered, “Leave me alone.”

I quickly responded, “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t want to be bothered with you. Leave me alone.”

“What did I do?”

“Everything.”

“You have to be specific, so I can change whatever I did and prevent it from happening again.”

He didn’t reply, so after 20 minutes, I got anxious and called him. He denied my call and texted in capital letters, “I DO NOT NEED YOUR HELP LEAVE ME ALONE.”

I wondered if it was really him texting me. I texted, “Who is this? Call me so I know it’s really Juan.”

He called and said “What?”

“Juan, I’m sorry! What did I do?”

“She told me everything.”

“She who?”

“Mommy.”

I stopped in shock and confusion. What could she have possibly told him that made him hate me?

“What did I do? What did she say?”

“She said you are the reason we are still in care. You are the reason for all of this.”

“And why would you believe anything she is saying to you when she is the reason we are in care? She left us and abandoned us.” I had never told Juan about my mother trying to recruit me into the gang because he looked up to her. He hoped she would clear her mind and come back to reality.

“It’s sad that you won’t own up to what you did.”

“What are you talking about?” I was so frustrated.

“I’m going to make my own decisions! I want to be with my mother and make money.”

Helpless to Stop Him

At that point I knew he had joined the gang. So many questions and feelings went through my head: How could my mother be so selfish to pull her son into a terrible life? Why had he changed his mind about her? It killed me that he thought I would hurt him. My beloved brother was going to have his soul crushed and his heart broken.

He said, “Sonya, listen just leave me alone. All you did was mess up our lives, they could have been perfect. Instead of us getting beat we could have been living good, but it’s all your fault. Just leave me alone. I hate you.” Beeeeep. Call ended.

I froze up as the tears flooded my face, and the words “I hate you” ran through my head. That hurt more than anything. “My own brother hates me” revolved around my brain and poured out through my eyes as I cried. He hates me. I couldn’t sleep that night.

That was about a month ago

It feels like my whole world is collapsed. I tried to stick by his side no matter what and help him—was that just a waste? I am devastated.

One scary thing is that he isn’t a boy anymore. He turned 18 last week. I hope his eyes will open before it’s too late. I worry that one day I might hear he’s in jail or see on the news that he is dead.

It is hard for me to deal with the fact that my only blood family has turned on me. But all I can do is hope and pray that he changes. I hope he realizes that he is smarter than that. I want him to stay away from our parents and their gang, get an education, and become successful. He is capable of that, but he’s on his own path. I hope he can change his ways, but there’s nothing I can do.

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(FCYU-2017-07-23)

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