Toys are strewn across the living room floor. Sitting in the middle of them, you are content. Your toddler-sized hands lift blocks and stack them, and cars that just begged to be pushed are driven across the carpet.
The floor reminds you of the color of piss and so does the smell. Piss, sweat, dust, and wet leaves. It is coarse with remnants of a floral pattern that’s been stomped into submission and provides no padding to the hardwood underneath it.
An oscillating fan is blowing on you, but it may as well be a heater for all the help it’s giving. The yearly Texas drought season is in full swing, with 80+ days of no rain.
Despite it all, there is laughter in your heart and mind. Food is in the cupboard, unlike some summers, and nobody seems to notice when you steal pieces of cheese out of the fridge with a chair. Your clothes are dry and fresh smelling, and your tiny feet are in a brand new pair of shoes. Your siblings, a sister and brother, are being quiet in another room.
The front door of the two-bedroom frame home is open to let in any breeze that may come. The screen door is closed, though, to keep the flies out, but still little mosquito bites are lined up and down your arms.
You are the first to see the car pull up. Dad’s in his bedroom and Mom’s not home, so you call out to Daddy.
A lady with a clipboard and pen come out of the car and walk up to the gate of the property. Another woman follows behind. Their faces are stern and frightening at first, but they see you in the doorway and smiles spread on their faces.
Who are they? What are they smiling about?
Daddy storms to the front door and pats your shoulder. You should probably go to your room. Brother and sister will need you. Another car pulls up and parks. It is white and blue and authoritative-looking.
Then they enter with words that make no sense to you – protective, services, investigation, abuse.
Things get heated. Daddy’s voice rises.
Leaving the comfort of your bedroom, you walk back into the living room and listen and watch. One woman is walking around the room writing on her clipboard while the other follows Dad. He’s opened the kitchen pantry and shows the contents, “Does this look like they’re being abused?”
He sees you and asks you to come over. “Does she look like she’s ever been abused?”
You smile at the pretty woman. She smiles back. Then she lifts her head back to Dad with a scowl and says that investigate word again.
Dad asks you take your brother and sister and sit on the front porch, and you obey as you always do.
For several minutes the “investigation” goes on. Then the two ladies exit and walk up to the three of you. The woman without a clipboard asks if you would like to live somewhere else, and you shake your head.
Why would she ask that?
A chorus of nos answer her from all three toddlers.
Brother and sister are picked up by the men in blue. Their screams echo your own, but the woman with the clipboard takes your hand.
Terror rises. You don’t understand what is happening, but it’s not good. Dad’s standing at the doorway being held by another man in blue.
Your free arm stretches towards him as tears fill your eyes, and you express the very feelings in your heart with a scream. “Daddy! Daddy! I want to stay with my Daddy!”
But they ignore you. She pulls you closer to her and lifts you from the ground. You stretch your arms and legs towards Daddy. If you can just touch him, you know that it would end. “Please don’t take me away!”
The screams and cries of your little brother and sister echo in your ears as they are placed in the car and are buckled into seats, but you still struggle. Your strength surprises but it’s not enough to overcome the grown adult’s strength.
Dad’s kicked in the knee and now kneels at the front door with a grunt. He hasn’t hit anyone, but he is trying as hard as you to get back to you. You pound on shoulders and scream. You were taught never to scream unless you were in danger.
You’re in danger now. You know it. Nothing else makes sense but that.
“Let me go!” you say.
His voice echoes through the street. You can’t hear his words, but you can see his tears. His struggle. You share the moment together until the moment they strap you in, close the door and drive away.
Tears stream down your face, and a trio of sobs echo within the vehicle.
Have I been bad? – No. You haven’t.
What did I do? – Nothing.
Why is this happening? – It’s not your fault.
Within a day you are on a bus out of town. Your mother is running to the bus screaming and crying. “Let me on!”
She won’t leave you. She refuses. She’ll ride the long three hour journey to another town to the place the “state” deemed appropriate as a foster home. She would be allowed to stay near you three, but the foster home is no home. The kids there are mean, and so are the adults. And all you want is your Daddy and your innocence back.
Within a year, authorities agree to allow you to be with your parents again. Full custody. You move back into your home – that little 2-bedroom shack with yellow floors – and life goes back to the way it was before.
Only this time, you have learned a tough life lesson, and you’ll never quite be the same again.