These poems and artwork are a part of a very personal series. As a child I was in foster care, and as an adult, I have used art and poetry to heal from personal trauma and the effects of my experiences. I have created beautiful colors and stories in times of anxiety, grief and sadness. These paintings represent my own story, which has been hidden for so long, and represents my precious sense of self as I grow and change.
Nature is at the root of my artwork. There is a life, vitality and spirit that I want to bring out with color, lines and patterns. Flowers have many layers, and their soft, crisp petals represent what is hidden and sacred. Yet flowers bear fruit and connect the world around them. For a long time, I have been painting red flowers from my imagination. They are precious flowers and represent a hidden beauty behind the survivors of trauma. The red anemones represent the precious things and memories I have lost as a young person who had to process too much, too soon. I have used the tears of heartache to water and nourish myself. I take comfort in nature and natural elements. With each layer and detail that I create, I hope to spark and inspire, beauty, wonder, hope and creativity. There is a balance of darkness and light. An expression of spirit and emotion.
Trees have always fascinated me. Their roots run wild under and above ground. There is a life and strength budding from inside of the bark. The warrior spirit of a tree is inspiring to me. We think of trees as brown bark, but if you look closely, you will see moss and life sprouting everywhere. Other life is intermingled with shades of green, blue and red. Spanish moss hangs down. Palm leaves surround. Squirrels jump branch to branch. There is beauty in all the shades of browns and greens. Trees experience life and death and are renewed again with leaves and fruit. The rings inside of their spirit tell their age, but also their story. The way that light reflects off their leaves brings in new hope, not hope for something new, but hope that something that already exists can continue to be.
Personally, fall has been marked as a season of shedding dead leaves. I have had to reexamine my own life to deal with anxiety and trauma that I never had the opportunity to admit I experience. I have been through a lot of experiences that have affected my motivation and self-esteem. Still, there are secrets that have been kept from me, and many unknowns still exist. But with therapy, and support from my husband, I feel like I can share parts of my story. There are sad parts, painful, dark parts. But my hope is that my story and my art can provide hope and light and understanding to people who need understanding and encouragement.
Nature has a cycle of hibernation, death and rebirth. I use the warmth of the sun to heal and spring forward.
I had to sever ties with my foster family. It has all become so much. I have accepted their pain and pressure, while mine has been neglected for 33 years. They have hurt me in so many ways, and I am sure that I only know half. I suspect their mental health, trauma and experiences are partially to blame. I think another part of it is that my foster mother saw a baby she wanted and didn’t think my father deserved. On more than one occasion she threatened him. She bragged to me about how she could yell, shame and threaten him. She said that my father was scared of her. I guess…there is no hiding that her name is actually Karen. I don’t want to shame her, and I don’t want revenge. I cannot rewind time. But she was wrong. Even in her pain and trauma, she took opportunities from me. She leaned on me emotionally, and eventually financially. As a 33 year old woman, I could not allow it to happen anymore. I don’t have to justify my feelings, but sometimes I feel like I need to explain it because a lot of people expect me to be grateful for being adopted. A lot of people expect children to provide for their parents.
I have been weighed down by depression and feelings of grief. And I have begun to let these weights go.
My foster mother was in a toxic relationship. She removed herself from it several times in life. Once when I was 5 and possibly 7. Again when I was 12, and again when I was 17. Through these times, I made sure she didn’t kill herself. Literally. I sat with her in bed. I stayed up late with her. I tried to keep the peace between my foster parents. I developed unhealthy eating habits. I isolated myself from friends. I became the “good” child. When I was in my early 20’s and in college, through means of my own, I started supporting her financially. When I got married and moved out, I continued to pay her mortgage for two years. When she no longer could pay for her house, almost ten years later, my husband and I welcomed her, asking for some compromises, but not accepting rent. She disrespected our home, avoided us on holidays, would disappear for days or weeks blamed us for her losing her house because we did not open her mail, and was finally asked to move out two years later. She tried to manipulate me and use her mental state and age as an explanation for behavior. I will remind you that she has many biological children. My eldest foster brother came and got her and said, “I thought this would be her forever home.” Insert shock face emoji here. She started calling me crying and saying that she was not my mother. She threatened to send cops to my house because I would not answer the phone.
That’s just surface. Her behavior, and my lack of consciousness with my true reality caused me to become depressed, stress, inactive, and I gained back the 100 pounds I had lost three years ago. My blood pressure went up, and so did my white blood cells. My heavy, irregular periods came back, and I constantly was moody, tired and angry.
I blamed myself because I had never healed from my childhood abuse and trauma that reached the depths of my adult years.
I would not let her steal the love of my husband and the joy we found in life together. I tried to maintain a relationship with her when she first moved out. But she wanted more of my energy and time. I had nothing left to give her.
I had given her my best. My best behavior. My best encouragement, days that I should have been celebrated but was not, my emotional support, my compassion, forgiveness, time…. I would listen to how big her family was, and when I explained to her that they are not my family, she would get offended. I don’t know those people. I don’t have relationships with them. I realized at 33 years old that I had never viewed myself as a foster child, but they….oh they had. That was clear. Not only that, I was ungrateful and selfish. Don’t I deserve to know about where I come from? Who my mother is? Who my father was?
My father died in 2011. I never once spent a birthday with him. Now, I have learned just how hard his life was. His mother and father died very young. So did his sister and brother. He was dishonorably discharged. My mother tried to kill him. He may have been abusive to her as well. He raised my sister alone, and still tried to develop a relationship with me.
Foster parents are supposed to nourish a child and support reunification. Unfortunately, I fell through the cracks in the system and my foster parents manipulated the situation to best suit what they needed or wanted. While I cannot speak on their intentions, I was abused and neglected emotionally and psychologically in the process.
As an adult I use my art to heal and connect with other survivors. I will continue to share my story because awareness can bring understanding and change.
This blog only touches the surface of my pain. Check out my Youtube channel for more videos where I share my story. You can also find my interview with Stop Child Abuse Now on their Website.
I began creating this series….well since I was born….but the ideas were formed on canvas in 2020 and 2021. As I cultivate my mental wellness and process personal trauma, these paintings continue to sprout out of my mind.
As a child in foster care, I learned that silence was safety. Silence was accepted. I hid myself away for a long time. Trauma is something I was born into, and toxicity was something that was allotted to me as a ward of the state. Like barbed vines, I was clung to as a child, and forced to grow in a very unhealthy environment. As a young adult, I began to flourish, but there was much below the garden bed that never was realized or healed. So, the sweet child inside waited until I was ready to embrace her, acknowledge her and love her. Self esteem is something that I have struggled with because of my experiences. I learned to take care of others’ needs over my own, and I learned that my story was not important enough to be told. Until now.
Born, as a child of a black man and a white woman in the late 80’s, challenges were to be expected. Birth is trauma. Parents birth children into this shocking, multisensory world, and I was born unprepared. At three days old, as I am told, I was placed as a ward of the state into foster care. At some point, my mother, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia set a fire to our home. I was a baby, and my sister was very young. I have no memories of my biological mother. My father fought for custody, and he was finally awarded custody when I was two. But even though he had custody of me my foster parents found me and started a pattern of taking me. My father was struggling as single parent in a one room apartment. Over the years, I grew up and when I gained consciousness I knew this man was my father, but I did not live with him. What I did know was that I was scared. What I did know was silence and isolation. Playing by myself was always safer. I was safe with dolls or outside. Asking questions was not. Leaving food on my plate was not. Saying I love my dad was not. Calling my father “dad” or expressing joy in moments with him in front of my foster parents was not. My foster parents already had a complicated family unit of second marriage, seven biological children and an adopted child, and for some reason me. No case worker checked on me. My school did not know where I lived, and I was instructed not to tell them. There is a period of time where I can’t remember. I don’t remember where I slept, holidays or birthdays–and I was born three days before Christmas. I just opened my eyes and existed in this situation, surrounded by mental health issues, toxic relationships, alcoholism, drug abuse, dysfunction, domestic violence, and then me. Quiet me.
What is funny is, I never viewed myself as a foster child. Technically I wasn’t. But, I wasn’t adopted. I wasn’t supposed to be there. My father was a taxi driver, and worked long strange hours. He struggled to pay for his apartment, but he had a solid residence for quite some time. I was confused and had many ear infections. I cried when I had to go visit him because I didn’t understand anything that was going on. I was told that he only wanted to have visits with me so that he could keep collecting welfare for me. But I think he was torn. I think he was depressed and lacked resources and family. Many times, he would be working during my visits, but was happy that I got to spend time with my sister. He would say things like, “That white woman has you spoiled.” My foster mother would say things like “That n—-.” To be clear, I had a bed, a roof, a room–eventually–but I do not think my father ever knew that I was not spoiled or cared for in the sense that I needed to be. I am not sure if he ever knew that my foster mother moved on two separate occasions out of the house she lived in with my foster father. As far as I remember, she spent almost a year in Florida when I was five. She spent time in upstate New York as well. I am not sure where I was for all of this, and that scares me. I remember my foster father drank too much, and everyone in the house was relieved to hear him snoring at night. He snored more when he drank.
I was kept from my father and sister. My foster parents hid their address for years. I remember my father walking me to Kindergarten with a blue mat, and walking me home. Memory is a hazy thing. As an adult, who has go through child development training, adoption training, and has lived in the world and developed relationships, I look back and say this…I was stolen and looted.
I grew up quiet, unsure, anxious and sad. I learned how to protect myself. How to wrap myself in my own imagination and dreams. As my character developed, I keep my opinions, pain and confusion quiet. Anytime I needed help, I was pacified by omissions and nothings. So I talked to my toys. I lived in my own world. It took a long time for me to wake up and find my own beauty. Eventually, I did, but I never took the time to honor the little girl that needed so much. I take the time now, to tell my story, to be honest, to create and share my world.
I wish it was as simple as this blog post, but my life has many layers or trauma, and I struggle with identity and self-esteem.
I hope to share more as I continue to heal. Thank you for reading.
My art process has been evolving over the past year, and I have really enjoyed using Uni Posca Paint Pens and Acrylic paint as my mediums of choice. I have really honed in on my subject matter and blending techniques. I have formed the habit of taking photos of my art in different stages, and as beautiful as the end results are, sometimes I feel there is a different beauty in the evolution of one piece.
Last Spring I created a different version during quarantine. I used Posca Paint Pens on a wood panel. I felt depressed from the chaos in the world, at work and in dealing with family issues. I felt weighed down.
And there are some times when I get this feeling again. I have been burning brightly. I smile, I laugh, I put forth creativity. We have to be careful not to burn out the light of the sun. I find myself creating more, slowing down and taking time for myself when I feel this way. Lately, I have had to recharge more and more. While it is important and fulfilling to uplift others, we cannot forget to uplift ourselves.
I will post the final piece soon. Until then, take care.