They told me it was PTSD but I thought that was reserved for war veterans who saw some things, or rape victims who had to undergo the torture of a lifetime in their very skin. They told me that the anxiety was not normal teenage angst that I couldn’t deal with on a normal basis, but rather caused by something much deeper than that, and I just had to be okay with that answer. As I told the doctor my life story, the only thing nagging me was the fact that I would never see my parents again.
I was told that I have a very extensive memory. I remember pieces of my past that I can’t quite piece together; I remember, for some reason, being very small and vulnerable and being carried in the middle of the night in a very harsh breeze and knowing my father was carrying me along but it didn’t feel like my father. I remember screaming my lungs out and waking up the next day in a daze, even at such a young age. I always attributed these issues to the fact that my childhood was a particularly abnormal one and I was thrust into a strange life of homeschooling and parents who didn’t believe in elementary-age freedom. I grew up without friends, without that normal life I saw people living on the small screen of the fuzzy television in my bedroom. My gateway to the real world.
The doctor tapped his pen against his paper and then resumed to that annoying posture he had where he would hunch over and glance down at what he had written, chewing on the cap of the pen like he hadn’t had enough to eat. “And so, Felicity-“
“That isn’t my name, I said.” I sighed again, probably for the hundredth time that morning. “My name is Gabby. That’s what my parents call me.”
“Okay, so, Gabby,” he continued, “When was it that you realized that you were a little girl living a very different lifestyle from other kids?”
I shrugged my shoulders and rattled off my life story as if there wasn’t a thing wrong in the world, I wasn’t even so sure myself that there was at this point. It was simple, really. My parents had this in-home business fixing other people’s technology, such as broken computers or replacing screens on phones. It wasn’t very well known but it paid the bills on our small house and eventually it became their steady full-time job.
Somewhere along the lines my parents started taking in foster children for weeks at a time until they were “adopted out into the system.” I jealously sat upstairs and minded my own business, doing my homework and watching television, reading books and learning so much about the outside world. The teenage girls that sometimes showed up at the house for a few weeks at a time until their permanent homes claimed them, were permitted to sleep in the downstairs basement my parents kept for them. I had a special hatred for these girls and the fact that they were chosen to have a real home with real parents who cared about them. They had something so true and special, and a chance to find themselves in the outside world. Meanwhile, I had the worst parents in the world. They made sure I was fed and got my education and nothing else really mattered.
“Did you ever find it strange that your parents never permitted you to leave home?”
“They did, sometimes,” I trailed off to the doctor, untrusting of him but feeling the need to spill the story. “I went to the grocery store with them a few times, but they always took me in the winter, when I could dress heavily…you know, like the scarf around the mouth and the hat pulled down to my eyes.” I remember the shocked look on my mother’s face when she took me out one Saturday morning for the simple task of collecting some eggs at the local grocery store, and by some chance ran into a woman she recognized.
“Susan!” the woman gasped as she ran up to my mother. “I haven’t seen you in years, since ninth grade at least!”
“Oh, yeah…” my mother had sputtered a bit nervously, probably because she was supposed to be home quickly to start making breakfast for the family.
“Yeah, isn’t this so weird? We’re about ten hours away from our hometown and I run into you. What, are you here on vacation?”
“No…I live here with my family now…we’ve been here since my uh, daughter was first born.” My mother had never told me that we lived in another state prior, or that at the very least, she and my father had. I raised my eyebrow but I knew better than to ask questions. There was nothing they hated more.
“Oh, well, that’s just wonderful. Good for you,” and then she disappeared as quickly as she had come. My mother and I went back home and I didn’t leave the house for another year, unless it was to play in the woods behind our house as I typically did so I could inspect this outside world I so yearned to be a part of. As for running away – no, I never wanted that. As little as I got acquainted with the world and all the things I could see, I knew my parents had it in my best interest. I was always told that parents look out for you and that they are the only people in this dark, crazy world that we can trust. And trust is a very strong thing that I held close.
The doctor wrote down some things in an attempt to keep up with my speaking pace, and then he nibbled on his pen in that stupid way again, looking at me from over the top of his glasses. “Did you ever speak to any of the foster children?”
“They didn’t want me to. My parents, I mean.” They warned me that many of these girls came from very broken homes where people did terrible things to them, and they were conditioned to feed people lies or even try to turn people against one another. I knew that there was something very dark about these girls with the sunken eyes and the bruises all over their bodies that were potentially self-inflicted. A few times I would pass one in the hall and they never, ever had dinner with us. I knew there was a pained story in their eyes; they looked at me desperately like I was their one true hope in the world. But I was just a simple shrug of the shoulders. The girl who was protected by her own mother and father like some hermit, who never left the house or even saw the stars. I was of no help.
One day a woman came into my parent’s shop in the basement and I was typing out some homework in the side room while they chatted away. The woman was going on and on about how “teenagers will be teenagers, you know how they are” while my parents gave hearty laughs and said that they understood completely, they had one of their own. The conversation unfolded and I came to find out that the woman was stopping in to drop off her teenage daughter’s cell phone after she had dropped it on the tile at their house and the screen had smashed into oblivion. The mother sounded exhausted and frazzled, the kind of person that you don’t even have to see without knowing that their personality was very introverted and that they’ve been through a lot.
Suddenly, I heard the bell go off to the business and a girl came in, I could tell from her voice. “Mom, are you ready to go? I’ve been sitting out there in the cold car for like, fifteen minutes now.”
I peered around the corner and, although I couldn’t see the mother and daughter, I saw my father…and I saw the look on his face. Shock. Pure horror, resentment for the situation, and a need to escape what was currently happening.
“Uh, well, thanks for stopping by, and we’ll get this phone back to you real quick.”
Before they could leave, I decided to take it upon myself to see what had caused my father to react so badly. I came out of the side room to introduce myself, something I rarely got to do with customers.
There, standing in front of me, was a girl bundled up in a beautiful pea coat with her hair in blonde braids, and beautiful green eyes. MY blonde hair and MY green eyes, shining right back into mine, our expressions as equally shocked and horrified.
“What did you think when you saw the girl?” the doctor questioned next, scribbling down notes by the second, onto something like one of those detectives that I sometimes watched on television who clearly solved the case.
“I don’t know…I guess I thought it was odd that there was a girl standing there who looked exactly like me.”
“And you didn’t think for one second that she was your sister? That the lady standing in front of you could be your real mother, and that you had a twin?”
“Oh, never for a second,” I replied with tears starting to form in my eyes, something hitting home. “I’m seriously sick of people saying things about my parents. The way they call them kidnappers, after they took such good care of the foster children and I. I’m a lucky girl with a lot of chances in this life because of them.”
I didn’t think about the doctor for a few days after our meeting; I had enough on my mind as was. My parents were gone and that terrible woman, the one from my parent’s store, was trying to get into contact with me again. The one who stole my face and planted it on her own daughter’s, and no science I’ve ever seen on television could explain that. I had a lot of questions for my parents, the ones who always promised to love me and care for me. I wasn’t sure how they would ever be able to do that from a jail cell, or when I would ever hear from them again, but I promised to wait for the day.
Until then, I’ll ignore the newspapers and headlines on nighttime news stations talking about how my parents were two of the owners of one of the biggest sex trafficking rings in history. I’ll remember them for the way that they put my education before everything, and always home cooked meals for the girls in the home, the ones who were afraid of their previous home lives and found comfort in my parents somehow.
I’ll always see them as the good guys in this crime show. And love them.