by Aisling Keogh (age 16, Donabate, Dublin)
You have the right to care and protection if you were adopted or are in foster care.
I couldn’t believe how many people had showed up, people I’d never expected to come were here. All for me. I was never one to be the centre of anyone’s attention, but today was different. Today was my day, and I wasn’t going to let anyone take it for granted.
I was eight years old when I lost my mother. The sound of her cries will always haunt me. The look of pure fear in her eyes as she stood in the kitchen of our two-bedroom flat, being backed into a corner, helplessly pleading with the man she fell in love with. My feet were glued to the ground in fear, watching on as her blonde hair, messily tied back, fell partially over her eyes. She was beautiful, even when staring death in the face. She pleaded with him to put the knife down, telling him she loved him, tears streaming down her face. He swayed, bottle in one hand, weapon in the other. He raised his hand, but as the metal glinted in the light from the evening sun, it was me who screamed, not her. He stopped mid swing and turned upon hearing me. I clamped my hand over my mouth, but it was too late. He was stumbling towards the hall. Before I knew it my lungs were filled with the smell of cigarette smoke and whiskey, an ice cold blade pressed against my throat.
Darren was nice when I first met him. He was funny and sweet and he helped me with my homework, but he had a temper, and alcohol didn’t help it. I hated him like this.
“You got somethin’ to say you little brat?” His voice sent chills up my spine. I froze.
“Touch that girl and I swear to God Darren-”
“What? What will you do Jen huh?” He swung back around to face her, as tears fell down my chin. “See? She’s just as worthless as you, you know what they say, like mother like daughter,” his words ringing in my ears, she lunged at him, and in one swift motion, my beautiful mother was lying motionless on the tiled flooring.
But today things were different. I never had to see Darren again. There was no chance of him showing up and ruining my day, and I couldn’t be more grateful. I remembered that on one of his good days, Darren told me he was determined he would marry my mother, but he never did. I felt like a princess. I was all dressed up in a brand new skirt and tights, my long hair was clean and clipped back with a butterfly pin, and I had a ring on my middle finger with a tiny diamond on it. My mother could never afford to dress me like this, and my foster mother just didn’t care enough to.
I was thirteen years old when I moved in with Annie. I had always imagined foster mothers to be gentle and kindhearted, like my social worker had promised. But she was the polar opposite.
“What did I say about being late?”
“I’m sorry the bus was delayed there was an accident near the junction by the school I-”
“It is your responsibility to be home on time not the bus’s,”
“Annie I’m sorry it won’t happen again,”
“You’re right it won’t, what time do you call this anyway? I went through the trouble of making you dinner and everything, I don’t get paid enough for you, you know that?”
“I ought to send you back to that foster house tomorrow for being such a pain,” she cut me off. “You know how lucky you are to have someone like me taking you in like this? No one wanted you, and for good reason too. Can’t blame ’em, honestly. I only agreed to take you for the money. You’re so ungrateful, any of those kids would kill for this opportunity, you’re such a spoiled brat you know that? Just get out of my sight!”
“But Annie I’m starving, can I at least have some dinner?”
She paused and turned to look at me with those horrible, merciless eyes. In one harsh swing, her hand lifted up from her side, and connected with my cheek, the force enough to make me stumble sideways.
“If you ever dare answer me back like that I’ll do worse, you’ll be on the street and you’ll never even know what a home-cooked meal tastes like, or how it feels to have a roof over your head, would you prefer that?”
I shook my head and began to drag myself up the stairs to the second floor.
“Should never have taken you in in the first place, I don’t deserve this disrespect. After all I do for you, you’ll end up just like your mother.”
But today was different. I expected her to be just as mean, just as unreasonable. But she wasn’t. She was getting people drinks, talking to the guests and even helping straighten my skirt every once in a while. I had never seen this side of her, and I loved it. This was the mother I had hoped for. She reminded me constantly of how beautiful I looked today, before now I had grown to accept that I’d never look like the pretty, popular girls at school, no matter how much I wanted to.
I was fifteen when I fell in love with the popular boy in my class, who sat at the back with his equally popular friends. The boy who’d never notice me in a million years. The one who stood by and watched as the force of a push knocked me off my feet, and the laughs that followed made me wish the ground would just swallow me up then and there.
“Why are you dressed like a homeless man?” Katie snarled.
“Yeah could your fake mother not buy you some actual clothes?”
“And when was the last time you washed your hair? It was blonde in September.”
The crowd around me grew as people became more and more curious as to what the commotion was about.
“No wonder your mother didn’t want you, you can’t even stand up for yourself.” I attempted to get back on my feet but she pushed me down again into the dirty puddle I had landed in. “Literally.”
Laughter. Katie was the queen bee at my school, the pretty, popular girl everyone liked.
“Just stay in the dirt where you belong,” her words like daggers.
“Oh and by the way, if you think you have any kind of a chance with Jack you’re crazy.”
I could feel my cheeks on fire with embarrassment “What are you talking about?” I stuttered. She smirked.
“Oh come on, we all know you’re like obsessed with him, but believe it or not, so are a lot of girls. So if he has so many options, why would he pick someone like you over say, someone like me?”
I hated her because she was right. She smiled and walked away, her words still stinging. I glanced across the car park, my dark blue eyes meeting Jack’s brown ones. He looked like he was about to say something, but his friend sniggered and swooped in, turning him away. He glanced back one last time from beneath his dark fringe, but turned a corner and was gone. Of course. I was crazy to think he’d notice me.
I was done hoping things would get better, I was used to it all by now. I considered that maybe, just maybe, things might get better. But I knew deep down that this was it. I made my way to the bathroom. This was as good as it was going to get, and I didn’t see the point in it. It’s not as if anyone would miss me, in fact I’d probably be doing them all a favour. I locked the bathroom door behind me, and as my bare feet touched the cold floor tiles, I caught a glimpse of my tear-stained face in the mirror. I had cried every last tear, and I was exhausted.
Today though, today things were different. They were all here, Katie and her friends, all for me. I felt a sense of fear in seeing them, surprised they had showed up. As they approached, my heart sank, hoping, praying they wouldn’t humiliate me, not today, please not today, when suddenly the most unexpected thing happened. She apologised. Katie apologised for everything. I had never seen her like that. She was genuine too, they all were, I could sense them wishing they had been my friends from the very start. I forgave them of course, happy to finally be accepted. With them was a boy. The popular boy from my class who sat at the back with his equally popular friends. The boy who would never notice me in a million years. He walked right up to me, his eyes looking down through a dark fringe, and told me I was beautiful.
Those brown eyes were the last thing I saw, before the casket closed, and my world was relieved of all the pain and sadness that had once filled it, leaving me alone in my silver-lined coffin.
You have the right to care and protection if you were adopted or are in foster care