Disclaimer: This story contains details of child sexual abuse which may be triggering for some.
This is Part 3 of Connie’s story. Read Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.
“I continued high school, went to prom, and graduated. I even got into fashion design school, but due to finances, I couldn’t stay more than two years. I had no credit, and no one would cosign for me. For a time, my biological sisters were estranged. While finishing my 12th year in high school, my youngest sister, who attended 11th grade, continued to refuse to speak to me, even in our passing through the hallways. But I was safe and cared for by my friend’s family, and I even came to a place in my life where I asked permission to call her mother and father my own. I wanted parents. I needed parents. I needed the thing I had never had and always longed for.
Attending family functions, I felt out of place, like I was a pity invite. But, it was because of where I came from and I needed therapy I had never gotten. Though, for the most part, my new siblings and I got along, I was compared to them for my neatness and how organized I kept things and I received backlash. ‘She’s not your mom! Stop calling her your mom!’ There are some things your mind can’t erase. Those words stayed with me for years, and I felt embarrassed I was so desperate for the love of a mother and to be able to call someone ‘mom,’ I tried to become my own friend’s sister and make her parents mine. I recall a conversation between my friend’s mother and I one day, and I can’t recall what led up to it, but I know she told me she would never love me the way she loved her own children… she just couldn’t. She wasn’t trying to hurt me, she was being honest. I was just immature in physiological ways where I couldn’t process her words as ones of anything but cruel.
What I heard was, ‘You can’t be loved.’ I was 19 at the time. I got a freedom I had never had before. I was allowed to work, and go to the mall. I could stay out late at night as long as I communicated when I would be back. I was allowed to date, even though if I knew any better I wouldn’t have wasted the energy. I was allowed to live. Yet, I still wanted a family that was mine. I wanted my sisters, I wanted parents, and after going through all the parents I went through, I figured I was destined to not have any at all.
It was no surprise I ended up pregnant at a young age, still not knowing much. But I did know I had to get my life together to provide for a baby. The father was nothing more than a user seeing my potential and benefiting off all of my hard work, so I knew I needed a concrete plan. I had no idea what babies would cost, and never saw myself becoming a parent in fear I would be horrible like both my biological and adoptive mothers, but I wanted this baby, so I kept him. From the sound of his first heart beat, I fell in love and nothing else in the world mattered. This moment made me feel like God saved me to be a mother.
I enrolled in nursing school and relocated to New Jersey to start as soon as I could. His father came along with me, but decided he missed his life prior to our son, as he so casually said it one day while leaving out of the back door. Our son was only three months old. I got assistance through the state, and with housing, a bus pass, and child care, I attended nursing school. Within a year and a half, I became a licensed practical nurse. For once, things were looking up. I was proud I had worked for it all. No one could take it from me.
I reconnected on and off again with my sisters, as they saw me to be a rich nurse who thought she was ‘better’ than them, which was far from the truth. I had responsibilities now that I had a decent salary, and I never cohabitated with anyone in a case where the apartment and all the bills weren’t in my name. I was doing what regular adults did. I worked and took care of my son.
Four years later, I had my second son, and though I was afraid I could never love anyone the way I loved my first son, I was wrong. I fell head over heels again. I painted his room and bought him everything I thought he would need for the first year of his life. My children became my life, despite having them with people who were undeserving of me and them.
My dating life was, needless to say, a series of unfortunate events. Men took advantage of my kindness, and the fact I had never been treated like a lady. I often made more money than the people I picked, and they saw me as a walking ATM, delivering their every problem to me and promising me a false family in return for my loyalty. I was trying to build the family I never had, and although I knew I gave so much to my sons, I did worry for the day they would realize they only had a mother, but not a father. So, I put up with many of the wrong men for a long time. I had plenty to keep me busy, and while parenting was exhausting, it was the most fulfilling thing I had ever engaged in. It made me feel alive, and in love and cared for. The embrace of a child is like a kiss from heaven, and it was and
will always be enough for me for the rest of my days if I never find love at all.
It was years before I was triggered by my past. I didn’t run from it, I was just never healed from it. Never taught how to handle it. Many people believe once you’re out of the situation you’re supposed to function completely fine, and by all means, I tried. But I noticed how uneasy I was when neighbors would overstep and invade my personal space, knowing how uncomfortable they were making me based on my body language. Men would pester me into giving them my phone number, and I would giggle it off nervously. These were tactics that reminded me all too well of the nights I was begged to leave my bed to get in my adoptive brother’s bed in exchange for a treat or trip to the mall the next day. No matter how much I told a man no, they always believed if they tried hard enough I would break, and that was because of my hesitation. I wasn’t stern, because I didn’t want to offend them. But in not doing so, I was inviting them back. My past crippled me in this way and I knew it. I had tenacity and I was fierce, but I had a weakness I believed every potential man capable of violating a woman could read all over me. Why else would you continue to pester a woman who’s clearly uncomfortable with you?
Through the ups and downs of the relationship between my sisters and I, we stayed connected on Facebook, and we lived very separate lives. Typically, I wouldn’t find out about important news until seeing it on Facebook. One day, I was scrolling and saw my eldest sister in a picture with our adoptive brother, and my heart sank. All the betrayal rushed back in. All these past years she had kept a relationship with that family despite everything, and I couldn’t figure out why. I asked her how she could even let her children around him, as she had two of her own at the time, and she replied, ‘That’s all in the past.’
It wasn’t for years that I learned because of me, he was a registered sex offender, and took a plea deal in order to make it harder to track. This was why my adoptive mother was furious the day I called the sergeant years ago, knowing how much trouble she would be in for allowing him to be around me any further. I knew there would always be a wedge between my sisters and I because of this. Many times, I was told by my sisters, ‘Life is too short, forgive and forget.’
I badly wanted to forget. I wanted to erase all my traumatic childhood memories. I was ashamed of what it had done to me as an adult, and how no matter how far I came it had a hold on me. It made me weak. I needed to find an outlet to get it out of my system. In my hometown, that I had left so many years ago, I was known as the problematic black sheep based on everything that was said about me by my adoptive family when I left, despite having many of them as social media friends. I decided to start a YouTube channel and tell the world what happened to me all those years
ago in a series of videos. I knew the risks, but I had no one to lose. What were they going to do to me?
Without using any names, I told my story as I’m telling you now, from beginning to end. I spoke of the habits I developed of OCD as a child, for a sense of control. I spoke of how I couldn’t even use the bathroom in my own house as an adult without locking the door, in fear someone was coming after me. I spoke of the pain of my own sisters and I growing apart as children, because we were turned against each other through manipulation. I was afraid to tell my truth to one specific person who had come into my life when I was just a child. When I first came into the custody of my adoptive mother, she befriended a woman named Mary Banos. Mary met my eldest sister at her summer camp and took a liking to her. My sister spoke of me and our youngest sister, and Mary wanted to know more.
One summer day, Mary, along with my eldest sister, walked to the house and met my adoptive mother. Mary was invited to our home church and became a member for the next two years. Although my eldest sister and I aren’t close, she was the reason I met Mary Banos. When I created my most viewed YouTube videos, I feared Mary would turn out like the assistant pastor and head pastor. She had always stayed connected with me on social media and supported me. She loved and cared for me from afar, all the way in Texas, and to lose her support would be to lose the most unconditional love I’ve ever had, but I had to put my story out… for me. I had spent all of my life letting it control me.
The videos were raw and candid. Many people responded, letting me know how difficult it was to watch. It wasn’t long at all before members of the church I grew up in began responding, and long behold, years ago when my first incidents of child sexual abuse were acknowledged, there was a church meeting disclosing this information. I obviously wasn’t there. It was said the congregation needed to keep their children away from my adoptive brother. I grew up with adults standing around me crying and praising God, all while knowing I was being abused along with my sisters, and not one single person called child protective services to help me. Many of the members feuded on my Facebook about the meeting and blamed the higher ups, but I blame every adult that knew and did nothing.
Soon my Aunt Mary, as I grew to know her, contacted me. I was afraid to open her message. I was afraid she was going to turn against me. Even now, with my inbox flooded with so many people and apologies I didn’t have the emotional energy to answer, I still had the feeling of anticipation. I had got my story out and said my piece, but I couldn’t handle anyone attacking me about it. You don’t get to break a child and judge how they heal
themselves when you never cared to. I finally got the energy to open my Aunt Mary’s message, and she was devastated. She considered my adoptive mother to be one of her best friends, and had no idea, given the fact she relocated to Texas after only two years of living in Pennsylvania.
We started spending hours speaking every day. There were times I distanced myself from her for days at a time because it was a love and consistency I never knew. She didn’t want anything from me except me. Someone caring about me after so many people hadn’t gave me an uneasy feeling of expectation to continue, and I had to learn what love looked like. Soon, she planned to visit me in New Jersey (for a week last summer).
It would be the first time I saw her since I was eight years old. When I picked my Aunt Mary up from the airport, we both cried together. I learned she too came from a rough upbringing with an abusive back story. Together we would heal each other. Our visit was perfect. We bumped heads as I was still a tyrant with an outspoken personality, and since telling my story on YouTube, the weakest part of me had died. I started using my story to inspire other survivors and assure them what happened to us should be spoken about, no matter how hard it is. Ignoring it won’t change it. My aunt thought it was okay to share my story, as a tool to help fix those who are broken and not to be ashamed of it. Finally, after all these years, I had someone in my life who supported me and admired how far I had come. I cried the day my aunt had to leave, and my boys missed her dearly. They loved playing with her, and she hugged us millions of times a day, followed with kisses and ‘I love you.’ It’s rare to be truly loved like that. It was something new for all of us.
Through connecting so closely with my Aunt Mary, she connected me to her best friends, who have also become my aunts. Though they are thousands of miles away, there hasn’t been a single time I’ve needed advice or assistance with anything and they haven’t been there. If I need a prayer, they’re praying for me. If I’m sick, they’re researching the best treatments. If you can name it, they have done it. Because my aunt loves me and they love her, they love me. Through finding one person, I have been blessed with so many more. My Aunt Mary brought me the world. She made a bigger impact and effort on my life and my children in two years than the people who birthed me and the woman who raised me did in 18 years.
After our first visit, we decided to make it an ongoing thing where we see each other at least twice a year, alternating who comes to who. Due to COVID, it was easier for my aunt to fly to me in New Jersey as we celebrated Thanksgiving and did our gift exchange for Christmas. My aunt asked me if I had an attachment to my last name. I most certainly didn’t. I also didn’t care for my biological last name. I wasn’t proud of either of them. Coincidentally, my aunt shared the same feeling about her last name, and together we decided to change our last name legally. We chose the name Heart.
As more time passed, my aunt grew into one of my best friends, who I could tell anything to. We would talk together, laugh together, send TikToks to each other, and chat for hours. Whenever she would go out with my new aunts, she would video chat with me so she could share me with them. I never thought breathing would be a gift to anyone. Sometimes I can’t even believe the life I have now is real. A day came where my aunt felt like our relationship had grown in ways she never imagined. I was asked how I would feel about her adopting me, and becoming her official daughter. I had given up on the entire idea of it all years ago. In my mind, I accepted I was born to grow up as an adult without any parents. But in my heart, I was broken holiday after holiday needing them. I was torn on my children’s birthdays, when they had no grandparents there and just me.
There was always a void, and I cried for years trying to fill it with meaningless relationships. Deep down, I cried for a mother. My aunt cried for the family. Together we would be solving each other’s problems and gifting ourselves with things we’d only dreamt of. I said YES! It wasn’t long before my aunt became my mom, as we go through the adoption process. Having someone care and fight for you is the greatest of all. My mom loves me through all my flaws and mistakes. She worries about me and her grandsons if I don’t pick up my phone after two calls. My mom is my hero, because she thought I was worth taking on and saving, even though I’m an adult. She brags about me to every living soul she meets, guiding them to my YouTube channel, and sharing our story about how we became mother and daughter. During my mom’s visit over Thanksgiving break, we had a girl’s night, got matching tattoos, had a photoshoot, and bought matching sweaters. My life is finally full. The void has been filled, and I’m no longer that angry little girl who was hurt. With my mom, it’s like it never happened.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Connie Joi of New Jersey. You can follow her journey on Facebook and YouTube. You can follow Mary’s journey on Facebook. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read Mary’s story here:
‘We’re creating our own family by the heart.’: Woman adopts family friend from broken home, former foster daughter as adults
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