The Group Home
I was living in a group home, on the west side of the automotive capital of Ontario. Tucked away where no one knew where I was. I didn’t get that many visitors, actually none at all, unless it was a staff member from another cottage coming to get me to bring me to the activities building across the way from the cottage I lived in.
I remember the little cottages of my group home. I lived in Cottage #3. It was a three-floor spread on a tract of land owned by the five Sisters of the Roman Catholic Order of the Good Shepherd. I knew the floors of the house intimately, after all I had been living there for a year when my adoptive parents dropped me off, visited for a month or so and then ceased visits. The ceasing of visits was devastating for me. It not only meant that I was without parents, but it also meant that I was away from my biological sister. I was effectively put back into the care of the Children’s Aid Society, and I once again became a part of the child welfare system. I would be made a Crown Ward a few months later.
I remember Cottage #3 and the bedroom I shared with another girl and how cold its environment was. A thin mattress on a metal frame, with sheets and blankets folded military style. There was nothing homey about it. It wasn’t like the bedroom I had had at my adoptive parents-the bunk beds, having the choice of the bottom bunk or the top bunk, even though I was the only one occupying the bedroom. Or having a small pile of Barbie’s that I could play with, or scraps of paper I could draw or write on while I wondered when I would be let out of my bedroom next.
I spent a lot of time in my bedroom at Cottage # 3, not because I was made to, but because I was the youngest of all the girls that lived there. I was ten years old, and they were fourteen years old and higher. I couldn’t really relate to anyone, and I preferred to spend time alone. After all, I had been used to it when I was living with my adoptive family because they had kept me apart from everyone in the house and had me locked away in my bedroom.
I remember lying on my bed in this strange new building, hugging this little pink corduroy pillow I had had since I was in kindergarten, my name etched in pen on a little white label or staring out the window, tears silently falling and wondering what was so bad about me, that my parents didn’t want me.
I had to grow up quickly in this group home. I learned things before I should have. I remember how I entered the shared bathroom and saw one of the girls with a razor shaving her legs, and the trickle of blood that showed on her skin, as she pulled the razor up and down, up and down. How I said to her,
“What are you doing? and “Can I do that too?”
Her reply was “Sure, you can shave too, if you want Christine.”
I asked her “ what else do you shave besides your legs? And the girl grinned and said
“You shave your arms.”
In my naivety, I didn’t realize that the girl meant you shave your armpits, and because I wanted to be cool like her, I took a razor and shaved all the hair off my forearms. I remember running out of the bathroom fifteen minutes later, and telling a staff member at the door of their office “I’m a big girl now, because I shaved.”
I didn’t see the cuts on my arms from the razor, or feel the trickle of blood that appeared on the cuts. It wasn’t that bad, but one of the staff members led me to a chair and had me sit before her, while she explained what shaving meant, and how I was too young to do that yet.
The staff at my cottage tried to keep me happy and occupied. They would give me hugs, bring me for walks around the group home and the grounds, and sometimes brought me to their home for a holiday, when everyone else was away for their visitations with their families.
I remember when I misbehaved and had to spend time in the quiet room. We were put there individually for punishment when we acted up. Oh how I remember that quiet room. The thin little mattress that was laid out in the middle of the floor, the flimsy blanket that was given to us that never kept you warm enough, the locked door and the loneliness that crept over you as you sat there all alone, with no one around to interact with. Depending on your crime mouthing back to staff, losing your temper, you could be there for up to 72 hours. That was up to the staff’s discretion.
The one particular time I remember the quiet room, was the day that I found out I no longer had a family and the contact with my only sister ceased. I was sitting in a little room off from the dining room, excited because I was going to be calling my sister. I remember my little fingers dialing the number 9…6…9…1…6…9…6. My heart was pounding as I recall hearing the operator coming onto the phone and the words ‘this number is no longer in service.’ I thought that I had made a mistake. I hung up the phone and dialed again. I heard the same message. My world changed in a matter of seconds.
I slammed the phone down so hard that the receiver fell off the cradle. Emotions were coursing through me, but I could not articulate them. I started to scream and swear the few choice words I had heard from the other residents in my cottage. “Oh shit!” “Fuck”. At ten years old, those words were fairly new to me. People think that at ten years old, you know a few swear words, but I really didn’t learn any until I reached the group home and heard the words from the other residents. I thought, if they can swear, I can swear too! As I was swearing and banging things around, the staff came running from the office on the third floor. One stood at the top of the stairs while another came and grabbed me. I remember Bob’s arms wrapping around me and feeling trapped. I couldn’t run. I was kicking and screaming and crying all at once. Bob tried to tell me to calm down but I couldn’t. In the distance I heard the other staff member say, “Bring her downstairs.” To the dungeon I went.
With his arms wrapped around me, Bob carried me from the brightly lit foyer of the cottage into the dark basement. I counted the doorways as we went down the hallway, hearing his footsteps as we went. 1….2….3….4… “I promise, I promise I’ll be good,” I stutter, as the tears fall and my head begins to pound.
“I don’t want to be down here!” I wail.
Bob acts like he doesn’t hear me, and strides purposefully down the hall. He stops at door number 4, the room that’s the farthest from the stairwell and situated where no one could hear you yell, no matter how loud you tried.
The rest of that day was a blur. I remember though that after the door closed behind me in the quiet room, I just laid on the mattress that was provided for me, with my knees pulled closely to my chest, and my arms wrapped around them. I wanted a hug, someone to comfort me, tell me that I would be okay, instead I was alone and I cried until I literally nodded off to sleep.
I slept rather fitfully on that thin little mattress. I had nothing to do while lying in that room. I remember just lying there and my mind racing a mile a minute. Tears flowed pretty regularly, and I remember staff coming in and out checking on me, and me asking them “When can I get out of here?” and their reply
“As soon as you can behave”
I don’t recall how long I was in the quiet room for, but when I heard the door being unlocked and a staff member saying “You can come out, Christine,”
I jumped from the mattress on the floor and bolted out the door as if a fire had been lit behind me. The staff member followed close behind me.
Shortly after my stint in the quiet room, my life started to rapidly change. I was no longer an innocent little girl waiting to go home to her parents. I was an orphan, and word of my new status spread around my cottage like a wildfire about my adoptive parents giving me up. Hushed whispers greeted me when I turned a corner, or entered a room. Some staff members would look at me, I knew they felt sorry for me, because they would come up to me, and give me a hug. Hugs that they would have never given before. They were the type of hug that made me want to cling to them and say
"Don't leave me too"