Lara B. Sharp | Longreads | May 2018 | 12 minutes (2,955 words)
“That must have hurt. How many stitches did you get?’
“I don’t know.”
“How did it happen? Did you fall?”
“I’m not sure. Possibly. Probably.”
“How old were you when it happened?”
“I don’t remember.”
“You don’t know anything about it?”
“I remember having a large bandage on my knee.”
“It’s probably from learning to ride a bike, when you were a little kid.”
“No, I never had a bike when I was a child.”
“Who took you to the hospital?”
“I have no idea.”
“That is a pretty big scar. It looks like it was pretty bad. You got a lot of stitches.”
“It’s just a tiny scar, from falling.”
I paid the premium postage for express shipping when I mailed off the 10 documents required by the Department of Families and Children, to obtain my foster care records.
It took me weeks to compile the package, which contained copies of my strangely uninformative birth certificate, my 20-year-old legal name change forms, my 8-year-old marriage license, my pre-marriage social security card, my post-marriage social security card, my old and new passports, my old and new state IDs, and my mother’s death certificate.
I carefully typed out a two-page, bullet-pointed letter, listing the names and dates of everything I was able to recall – the names of all of my relatives, including my mother’s many married names, as many birth dates I could recall, the address of the first home I was removed from, the vague list of group homes and shelters, known as “residential placements,” that I could remember, and the approximate years I was in care, which began in 1979. I diligently included the extremely specific language that “Sara from Records” advised me to use: “Please provide me with my Foster Care Summary, including a list of my Placements, my Medical Records, Court Documents, the date I officially became a legal Ward of the State, the Docket Number for the court case pertaining to the ‘Termination of Parental Rights,’ and/or as much information as is Legally Possible Related to my time in the Foster Care System.” I signed and dated my letter, exactly as instructed by “Sara from Records,” and I nervously resigned myself to the weeks-long wait, confident that an equally thick packet would eventually be returned to me.
Finally, at the age of 48, I was strong enough, brave enough, and curious enough — and ready to know the truth about my childhood. I wasn’t expecting it to be pretty, but I was stable and happy enough in my life that I realized it was time. Mentally and emotionally, I was fully prepared for anything that came back.
A week later, I made a follow-up call to Sara, who politely confirmed the receipt of my thick packet of extremely detailed information. “This is great. We have all of the information we need. You might want to see if any of the group homes that you were in are still around. You can ask them if they have any of your records or files. I’ll get your foster care summary out to you as soon as we have completed it.”