“‘Tieler you ain’t shit. Everyone will realize you’re full of shit.’ These were my mom’s final words to me as she kicked me out of the house. The argument started when a friend informed me my address was on the sex offender list because a convicted rapist lived in my house. The convicted rapist was the current man my mom was calling her ‘boyfriend.’ Once again, but for the last time, she chose this “boyfriend” over me. My mom’s words ran through my head as I slept in the park the next two nights. They ran through my head as I bounced from couch to couch staying with friends and boomed in my head as I cautiously accepted the offer from my Vice Principal to take me into her family as her foster son. And just like that, in one fast and unexpected series of events, I went from my chaotic life at home, to being homeless, to living with my Vice Principal and her family.
I did not plan to tell anyone about my life at home or that I was homeless. I didn’t want help, I didn’t want anyone feeling pity for me or thinking I was different, and I definitely didn’t want anyone new to call me family. But there I found myself, in my vice principal’s office, asking for help. Abuse of all kinds and circumstances that other people would find unbelievable were nothing new in my life. The rapist wasn’t even the worst ‘boyfriend’ or situation my mom had brought into our house. But through it all my hope and my goals stayed the same. Focus on school, go to college, break the cycle. Two months after getting kicked out, I found myself at a crossroads. It was February of my senior year and my college acceptance letters had come in, but I couldn’t fill out FAFSA without parent information. My SAT scores were on hold and I didn’t know why. I had no transportation, no job, and I had a lost ticket for driving home from my previous job without a license. My mom was addicted to pills, prostituting herself for drugs and whatever else. I realized the only way to get to college was to ask for help and so I brought myself to my vice principal and shared as little as I could to get the help I needed. She was ready to help me get to college but also that little bit of truth was enough for her, a mandated reporter, to have to call Department of Child and Family Services and file a report. She knew such a small piece of my story and even now I am only able to share part of my story.
Growing up, I had my brothers and sister and they were my rock. When I was 5 my mom found the man, that at the time, she called the love of her life, and he unfortunately made his mark on our family in a permanent way. My mom got engaged to him and then had two more kids. ‘R’ was a good man at first. He cooked and cleaned and played with us all. Things took a turn when he got addicted to drugs. I remember seeing his eyes light up as he inflicted pain on me, my mom, or my siblings. The things I had to watch still cut deep. I witnessed inhumane things done to human beings. For four years, I witnessed and endured the abuse myself, verbal, physical and emotional abuse. I saw my mom raped and I heard her cry for help. I hit ‘R’ with a bat trying to get him off my mom. I did enough damage to hurt him but didn’t kill him and he left that night for good. My mom had discovered earlier that night that he had a life with another woman and kids. All of those things happening on the same night willed my mom to get the police involved.
When the police got involved my mom wanted to go to trial for full custody of their two kids. Social workers come to the house regularly and in family court my siblings were assigned a lawyer. That’s when I first saw the power behind being a lawyer. I saw how he was our voice. He was my voice, but not once did he get my name right. I heard Taylor, Terry, any other name starting with a T besides my actual name, Tieler. I tried to tell him critical information yet was never heard. Through this experience, he showed me my purpose in life. I knew at that moment I wanted to be a lawyer and be that voice for the voiceless. I never wanted anyone to feel that they are voiceless. That motivation stuck with me and kept me focused on school even in the hardest times of my life. No matter how chaotic life was at home, school was always the same. School work was under my control and I could do it, and succeed, and make my own path.
After court was settled, I accepted that social workers were going to be in my life forever. They witnessed the neglect my mom inflicted, and they gave her chance after chance. I know deep down she tried to be there for us, but she still wanted ‘love.’ She tried to please every man before she tried to love her kids or herself. As she chased more and more love, the men got worse. They stole, they cheated and abused her, and they saw that she put them first before herself and kids. As this cycle continued my brothers moved out to go to college and never looked back at the toxic environment they came from. I then became the man of the house, but I was far from a man, especially when I had never seen a real man.
As the cycle with men continued, my mom was hit by a car. She was walking in a cross walk; however, the driver was texting. This made me have a new appreciation and acceptance for my mom. I wanted to give her a second chance. The accident however led to her addiction to painkillers. She had a boyfriend at the time of the accident, but he got fed up with all of the new responsibilities he had now taking care of his disabled girlfriend, and her four kids. He had to make sure she took all of her medications throughout the day and he had to feed us and get all four of us kids to school and picked up. He had a lot on his plate and at the time I was 13. I was still trying to adjust and understand what it meant to be the man of the house. That conflict only added to our dislike of each other. Then I found out he forced my mom to have sex with him when she said no and wasn’t in the right shape to due to her physical injury. When I found that out and confronted him it turned into a physical altercation. We fought, and he ended up leaving and that left us with no one to help my mom or us.
My mom ended up replacing him with another guy who had no money, no job, no car and he also learned to take advantage of my mom and the opportunity. She was an injured mother of four with her own house, own cars, and prescription drugs. The series of men continued to get worse and worse. They ranged from a 21-year-old, to a psych hospital patient, and finally the registered and convicted rapist. When I got home the night that I found out, I found my room trashed and the money that I had been saving from my part time job was gone. That’s when I confronted him and my mom about my room and about him being a sex offender and it became a huge argument. That’s when my mom told me to leave and never come back. She said she was tired of me and then those final words ‘Tieler you ain’t shit. Everyone will realize you’re full of shit.’ I left with one bag packed and in anger I walked to the park down the street and tried to calm down. During this time though, like all the others, I tried to keep school as my focus and I maintained above a 3.0 GPA.
Two months later there I was with my Vice Principal. My social worker came that day and informed me that I was listed as a runaway. She also told me that there was a possibility I would be placed in a group home and if I wanted to stay with a friend their parents needed to clear background checks. After two of my friend’s parents agreed to take me in but couldn’t clear the background check my vice principal made the decision to take me into her home so I could finish high school and have my shot at going to college.
About five days later I started living with my vice principal and going to school and home with her. As much as I was appreciative I was also embarrassed and honestly, scared. My mom’s words were in my head every day and I knew no matter how much these people seemed to care about me eventually I would prove my mom right. But the family welcomed me with open arms. They never judged me or pitied me and they treated me as one of their own. I started to see how a real family interacts, and how they love without giving up on each other. It was all still so uncomfortable to me though and I didn’t know how to find comfort, so I ate a lot to try and find comfort. I tried to understand how they operated as a family, but I did not adjust right away. I was an ass at times to my foster mom. It wasn’t meant to be disrespectful, but I knew eventually they would give up on me and I was determined to prove it on my own terms. I had so many complicated feelings about my mom and I just didn’t know if I could be let down by anyone else. I figured I could just give her enough reasons to not want to be my mom and then she would kick me out. But instead she accepted my moods and gave me my space. And no matter how much I wanted to I could never stick with my plan. I took responsibility and apologized. I liked being part of the family and I was starting to let myself accept that.
My foster mom, her husband, and their two kids love me unconditionally and I am learning what that means. They sent me off to prom in a nice tux and watched me walk the stage at graduation. Then they helped prepare me for college. I had to take a summer math class and I couldn’t get through a math problem without breaking something, yet my foster mom sat there and went step by step with me. Even when I gave up she didn’t. No one had sat with me and helped me before; no one had ever taken the time to help me. I started to see that they loved me and believed in me even when I wasn’t at my best.
College came by quick and she drove me to Cal State Channel Islands, moved me in, got me everything I needed and never once asked for a dime or expected anything from me. I thank God so much for her and her family. They tried their absolute best to give me all the tools to succeed. They checked on me daily and even came up sometimes, but when they didn’t come up I would drive down to see them.
When my team won our intramural basketball league, my foster mom and foster brother were there to cheer for us and support me. Even when I went through personal issues they were there. As I faced discrimination and racism at my college campus, they were there to keep me going and focused. I faced a lot of harassment from the campus police, including getting pulled over too often and getting questioned for no reason. I was under constant surveillance everywhere I went. I was dealing with the transition into college and I still wasn’t ready, even with all of the help from my foster family. I’ve started to figure it out a little more, but they still helped me finish my first year of college.
The love, the support, the care, and the effort of my foster family speaks volumes about their character. I admire my foster dad Jeremiah. I’ve never met such a phenomenal father, husband and teacher. He was the first real man I was able to learn from. Jen, my foster mom, is such an extraordinary human being. Her fight to see kids succeed is what makes this world a better place. She became my mom and has given me the confidence and resources to achieve my dreams. My relationship with their kids, Ian and Aaron, has made me a better person. They have shown me the joy of being a kid and growing up. Even my foster grandparents have treated me as their own. They constantly have been there to offer whatever they can. I appreciate this family and I would not be the man I am today or the man I want to become without this family. I know I can use the hardships I have faced and my perspective to help kids who feel ashamed or scared like I did. No one should feel alone and I will do what I can to share my story and show kids that hope and love are possible.
I never gave up on my dreams and I am still learning to accept the love that I have been given. It’s been difficult to see but I know now that my mom was wrong and I don’t have to prove that to anyone.”
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