Flesh & Blood

Flash Fiction / 813 Words

I was three years old when my parents first decided to become foster parents. Five years later, I was already used to the revolving door of youth. In fact, I became addicted to the anticipation of new arrivals. I couldn’t wait to show them my room, my dolls, my books, my clothing, my canopy bed, my swingset. I remember most of the children by first name and abuse. Like Pam, beaten with a wire hangar on the back by her dad for sassing her stepmom. Or Patty whose mom preferred crack to her daughter.  Then there was Joanne, she was the ninth or tenth foster child—I’d lost count. My parents never had more than three foster children at one time and after John—the first one—returned to his dad, they decided to only host girls.

I remember when Joanne arrived. She was a year older than me—nine years old. She was tiny. Shorter, scrawnier—everyone thought I was older. I could tell that bugged her. My mom thought we looked similar, both blonde, both skinny, both stringy hair. I guess we could have passed for relatives. My mom dressed us identical like the twins she’d always wished for.

“I don’t know why none of us ever had twins. It runs in the family.” She’d say, almost annoyed that God had done her wrong.

My mom dragged Joanne and me to church every Sunday, in our matching maxi dresses, wearing some loud floral print found in the fabric section of Kmart, a gaudy mix of colors I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

Like every Sunday, it was a new church. She was always searching for that right combination of people, pastor, and Jesus. They had to sing the right songs, pontificate on the right parts of the Bible, and if they knew what was best for them, recite the “Our Father” prayer the right way, using the word trespasses NOT debts.

Joanne and I took to hiding in bathroom stalls rather than face another Sunday School teacher and her snobby kids. I can’t remember how we killed an hour, without a digital distraction. We whispered from adjacent stalls, anxious when anyone entered the room, our legs up, pretending to be nonexistent when a churchgoer attempted to open a locked “empty” stall. We hid until the sound of church bells made us jump, then we blended in fast with the herd of hungry parishioners rushing to the Sunday refreshments.

We got along okay that first year, but then her older sisters, Jennifer and Kate arrived on the scene. Their mom had suffered a second nervous breakdown and now, instead of just one child in foster care, she put all three. My mom said yes, she would take them. It was the perfect amount of drama for my mom. She wanted to feel like she was contributing in her non-altruistic way.

“She couldn’t cope.” My mom said when talking about their mom. My mom used that word a lot although I remember not being sure of what it meant at that age. My mom also liked to use the word asinine, which went hand in hand with the word cope.

“She couldn’t cope with her children, isn’t that asinine? I mean they are children for Christ’s sake. If she can’t control her children what kind of mother does that make her?” She’d tell my aunt over the phone. My mom liked to judge.

Joanne’s sisters didn’t stay long. My mom found marijuana in the oldest sister Kate’s drawer, and the social worker arrived the same day. Just like that. Joanne’s oldest sister was gone. My mom believed pot was a stepping stone to hard drugs, and she’d have none of that in her house. Jennifer, the middle sister, left shortly after. She figured out a way to go back to her mom, so it was just Joanne and me again. I preferred that arrangement.

Joanne didn’t seem to mind much that her sisters had left. It happened so fast; it was probably like a dream to her. One day they were there. The next they were not. After that, I noticed that Joanne tried hard to please my mom. She ran out to the car to greet her. She helped her in the kitchen. She stuck to her like glue. My mom didn’t like clingers. No siree. But she liked challenges. She needed somebody to work on. I had stopped needing her help awhile ago. I was independent. I was my own person. I knew what I wanted. My mom called it “determined” when she explained me to friends, smiling through her teeth. When we were alone, she called it “bullheaded.” I could tell by her tone that wasn’t good for her, but I was her flesh and blood, here to stay, no social worker to call. Not that she would do that, but sometimes I wondered.

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