I looked out of the car window, ready to smile engagingly and wave happily but the door was already closed. They didn’t even wait to see me go.
I sat back and looked around the car. I wondered why did all social workers’ cars look as if they lived in them. There were crumbs on the floor. The ash tray was overflowing with sweet papers. At least now they didn’t seem to smoke so much, not in the cars anyway.
There were files falling all over the back seat. A black plastic bag bulged behind the driver’s seat. There was no space for my black bin liner in the boot and so that got piled on to the back seat as well, causing an avalanche of files. I wondered if my file was in there. I wondered if this geezer would even know. He’d never seen me before and I didn’t even clock his name when he came for me.
Should I ask him again now? Why bother? I didn’t expect to see him again. Next time it would be somebody else. Next time. I hadn’t even seen the new place yet and I didn’t expect it to last. I started to try to remember all the places where I had been. This was hard, because in some I had never even opened my black plastic bag.
Some were right posh places, where you had to take your shoes off at the door. Shaming ‘cos most of my socks had holes and my feet niffed a bit. Well, a lot really, if I hadn’t had time to have a bath. Some were so posh you had to sit up at the table till everybody had finished and use ‘a napkin’. I used to think napkin was the posh word for a baby’s nappy, but not there. Then in another place it was a serviette. I still had a hard time remembering not to use my sleeve to mop my mouth, or wipe my nose for that matter.
Then there were the ones that almost felt like home, or what I remembered about home. A bit scruffy, piles of stuff everywhere, get your own food, when you wanted, eat it in front of the telly. I had had to learn to ‘fit in’ with every change, to try to be acceptable, to try to make it work for longer, for good even. I always hoped.
Usually the street and the front garden were good clues. Wide streets, trees, big gardens, lots of cars outside usually meant mind your manners inside. It also meant lots of food, comfy beds, plenty of hot baths usually a bedroom of your own, often with toys and books, sometimes even a telly. But it was all too obvious that my clothes were an embarrassment if they wanted to take me out. So sometimes I got some new things. Sometimes I got stuff passed on from their kids. The posh ones wouldn’t bother asking the social workers for stuff for me, but some of the others really couldn’t afford to kit me out. And the problem with moving about was that the allowances were always in a mess.
Then, if you want to think about a mess, you should know what they did to my schools. Usually I didn’t stay long enough to even get to a school. The few times I did, I really didn’t know what was going on. So it either meant I was left alone at the back of the class at best, but more usually picked out by the staff and picked on by the other kids. The only time I really got going was at one of the posh places where they paid for private lessons at home. I really started to like that and tried hard because I wanted to please them. Then one day the tutor started to feel me up and I went mad, decked him, broke windows, swore at the nice foster parents. Naturally he said I was making it up and before you could say ‘social worker’ I was on my way. I couldn’t help wondering if they had been told anything about me, and if it would have made a difference if they had. Too late now anyhow.
Then there’s the doctors and the dentists and the specs. I thought they were supposed to make sure you had regular check ups and things. The first social worker I saw told me that. But I do know one doctor said I had a throat infection that never got treated. Then I had toothache for months and have really bad head aches ‘cos somewhere there’s a pair of specs waiting for me to be taken back for.
I also got told that foster parents were carefully ‘screened’. I used to think of them being up on the big screen at the cinema, until I found out that screened meant being checked out. Who checked out some of the folks I went to I don’t know. Some of them didn’t even seem to like children. Some of them wanted a huggy, kissy little kid who’d love them straight away. Of course they were disappointed that they got a gawky, smelly thirteen-year-old who sat quietly in a corner watching what was going on. You soon learn to keep quiet and watch, until you know what sort of place it’s going to be.
Some wanted to be called Mr and Mrs. Some wanted you to use their names.
Some even wanted Mum and Dad. How can you Mum and Dad somebody you just met? Especially when you’ve got a Mum and Dad of your own. OK, so my Mum was on a psycho ward and my Dad was walk-about, but I wasn’t actually an orphan. Not officially anyway. Didn’t anybody tell these people anything? Or was my file on the floor of somebody’s car, under an old Chinese take-away ?
But always, always there’s the worry – would I fit in? Would they like me enough to keep me long enough for me to ask if they would take me to see my Mum?
I knew that last place wasn’t going to last long. The whole house smelt of furniture polish and Mrs. French smelt of bleach. I felt that if I stood still too long I’d get polished, or maybe have a once over with a bleach soaked loo brush. My smelly shoes did not go down well, nor did my soaked sheets on the first morning. I hadn’t done that for ages. It must have been the smell of the bleach that reminded me and caused me to do it again. After she had finished telling me what she thought of a great lad like me being no better than a baby I wondered who ever thought she was ‘suitable’ to be a foster parent. Or may be she didn’t think being a foster parent was the same as what I thought.
I did the only thing I do best. Sat and kept quiet. That didn’t seem to suit her either. So, after a couple more days, here I am in the car with the geezer whose name I don’t know. I don’t even bother asking where I am going.
I play the ‘if only’ game in my head. If only my mum had been a bit older when I was born. If only my dad hadn’t been in a young offenders’ place at the time. If only any of the family had helped my mum at all. May be she would have looked after me better. They said she got depressed. I’m not surprised.
I still remember a bit about the flat where we lived.
Soon she started to see men, ‘cos she was lonely, I suppose. Then one of her friends told her she could make easy money out of seeing men. I have vague memories of some of them. Some wanted me pushed into my bedroom and kept quiet. Some were really nice to me and sometimes brought me cars or comics. Then one or two started to do things I didn’t like. I started having nightmares and that caused problems with the men who wanted me quiet and out of the way. A crying toddler at the bedroom door must have been a real drag. So sometimes I got clumped. So then the nursery people started noticing bruises and worrying about my behaviour.
One of my grans told me once that they had meetings with my mum about it. That made her worse and then that made me worse. It got better for a while when they got the families to help a bit. Then it was really good when dad came home. But he knew nothing about being married, or of being a dad. Because of his record he could only get casual work and sometimes spent all his pay on drink before he got home. So there were rows ‘cos there was nothing to eat and the gas and electric got cut off. Then mum went back to earning the only way she could, only now it was out on the streets and going with men in cars, which turned out to very dangerous and she got beaten up a few times.
I know all this because one day one of mum’s sisters told me when dad left.
She came round to be with me while mum went to a meeting at social services. I asked her what was going on and where my dad was. For some reason she decided that a seven-year-old should know quite a lot of detail about our sad lives. Then I made the mistake of telling her about some of the things that had happened to me that I had not liked with some of mum’s men.
Soon after that I took my first ride in a social worker’s car. It had been decided that my mum was unfit to look after me. So I was off to the first foster home. That was the final straw for her and after a few attempts at suicide she went into a psychiatric hospital. I saw her once. There was one social worker, the first one in fact, who told me all the things that social services would do for me, who asked me if there was anything I wanted to ask her. I asked her if I could go and see my mother. She fixed it up and took me. It was horrible and I couldn’t speak about it after.
Now I am off to yet another place. I see the streets pass by. Is it me? Am I so terrible that nobody will ever want to keep me? Can I do anything about it? Does anybody ever tell the places anything about me, or what has happened to me? Would it help if they did? Would it have been better if I had never been born? How can things ever get sorted out? I stare hard out of the window and not for the first time wonder what’s the best way to kill myself.