Disclaimer: This story contains details of child sexual abuse which may be triggering to some.
“When I was a little girl, I grew up obsessed with anything whimsical. I loved fantasizing about being a Disney princess awaiting rescue. Awaiting sanctuary. I could get lost in my mind. It was my only safe haven. My imagination was really all I had. My dreams for something better than my reality. I think that’s how I survived it all. By dreaming one day I would break free, and everything would change. Reminiscing now, I recall the hours feeling like days and the days feeling like weeks, and how no one ever came to rescue me…
My name is Constance Joi McNair, however, you may call me Connie. I was born Connie Lynn Collins, to Danny Edward Collins and Carry Caldwell, on February 11, 1988 at 1:11 p.m. in Philadelphia, PA. I’ve always been the runt of my siblings, despite having younger sisters. Born full-term, but still premature, weighing in at 5 pounds and 4 ounces was courtesy of my mother using illicit street drugs while she carried me. My parents were a match made in hell, but they were miserably perfect for one another, enabling each other’s addiction to alcohol and drugs. My dad was the match and my mother the gasoline. Together they would destroy everything.
In 1990, I was two years old, with three other sisters. At that time, my youngest sister, Crystal, was one, Carrie was three, and Danielle was four. We were much unplanned offspring, and rumor has it, my mother never consented to conceiving us at all. We were the products of what happens when someone violates you and disregards what the word ‘no’ means. Nonetheless, we came into this world one by one on a wing and a prayer.
Danielle, my oldest sister, remembers the day we lost her, but I was too young to recall that day. I don’t remember hearing the ambulance or my mother’s screams. I don’t remember the police or paramedics running in and out. I only know now that we were living in a dilapidated house, squatting with my parents, when my second oldest sister, Carrie, fell through the floor into the basement and died. Danielle can still recall Carrie’s funeral, where she was buried with her favorite dolls. Carrie was only three, and I’ve often wondered over the years how that could have been Crystal or Danielle or even me…
Following my sister’s death, my surviving sisters and I were taken into the custody of child protective services, and soon thereafter, separated into foster homes. Over the next four years, I would be sexually, verbally, and mentally abused in 11 different foster homes. There wasn’t a single foster home I was ever in where I wasn’t taken advantage of. If the foster family I was placed in didn’t know how to style my textured hair, they would cut it off. If the foster father wasn’t satisfied with his wife sexually, I was now the target. If a foster sibling wanted to take out their cynical adolescent rage, I was first in line to be hit. I became the cat people kick after walking in the door from a bad day.
If I had died young like my older sister Carrie, I wouldn’t have missed life. I didn’t see my life as purposeful in any way. I didn’t know where I was going next or what to expect. I didn’t have hope for anything. On holidays, the foster agency would have functions where all the foster children were invited, and that’s when I would get to see my sisters. Those were the only memorable moments that made me feel alive.
In 1993, I arrived at yet another foster home in Philadelphia, to a large family combined of both foster and biological children. The biological children were treated like royalty and praised, while the rest of us were treated like a walking talking income tax check. By this time, I was so emotionally beaten down I had nothing left in me. I simply took the abuse. There was nothing else I was capable of doing. I didn’t know what my case worker’s name was, nor how to use a phone. I only knew what each foster parent wanted me to know in order to isolate me. Keep me in my place. In previous foster homes, I was prepped on what to say when a case worker came to visit, and I was frightened about what could happen to me if I exposed the tiniest facet of the truth. I had already seen what happens just for being in a family’s custody.
I remember it was summer time when a white van came. It’s pretty usual to see the van come and take children to different foster homes, if the family finds you to not be a good fit. In other words, when you put them at risk for being exposed for their heinous crimes. To my surprise, on this day, this van was for me. I didn’t know where I was going, but I was happy I was leaving. I could have been on a ride to my death, and still been happy! The ride I took was long, but I enjoyed the scenery. Soon we were out of the city and in an area I had never seen before. I was in the suburbs of Montgomery County, PA, in a city called Willow Grove.
The van pulled into a driveway in front of a large house. The entire ride there was utterly quiet, and the case worker never said a word. I sat in the back seat, palms sweating, anxiously waiting. The van side door slid open and there they were: Crystal and Danielle. They were there waiting for me. We were really together. I never imagined I would ever see them again after being separated so many times. On two occasions we found ourselves in the same foster homes, but it was fleeting. No one really wanted to adopt three girls at the same time, yet here we stood together after years of being apart.
It turns out my oldest sister, Danielle, had arrived first, and mentioned to her then foster mother that she had two other sisters in foster care. Danielle was asked if she wanted to be adopted and she said yes, but not without Crystal and I, so we were called for. Our foster mother had already fostered and adopted who I would grow up knowing as my eldest sister and only brother, who were both 9 and 10 years older than me. They were teenagers and meant to look after my sisters and I while my foster mother was away at work or church. My foster mother was an elder in our home church, which she frequented often during the week.
If my foster sister had plans of her own at the mall or basketball court with friends, my foster brother would look after us. With my sisters and I all still so young and unsure of what the future had in store, I suppose we felt we had to submit to anything in order to stay together. We were quiet, and we did what he asked of us. One by one, he came for us in the night. It always started with a tickle on your toes to wake you. He wanted us to be aware and consent, but I always pretended I was still asleep. However, he got a fix out of knowing you knew. I remember watching him in the dark go from bed to bed, picking his prey.
I would pull my covers over my face in horror with a lump in my throat, as I could hear his heavy footsteps make his way over to my bed. I can still hear the wooden floor creaking, and his heavy breathing. Some nights, I slept so heavily I had no idea he was lying beside me in my bed. There were even nights I slept in bed with Danielle, in hopes he wouldn’t come for me, as I was his favorite. The smallest, the weakest, the most quiet. My tactics never prevailed. He was ruthless and had no shame in being caught by either of my sisters finding him violating me, because we were all victims and he was seen as the favorite in the house. A deacon in our home church, popular in school, the captain of the football team in high school, and even prom king. We were merely the new foster girls. In his mind, our word didn’t stand a chance. Or did it?
I remember after our adoption was finalized, the only security I had was having my sisters. We never spoke about what happened at night between one another, because we were all ashamed and embarrassed. No one dared telling, in fear we would either not be believed or be separated. Logic was not a factor in our young minds, so any lie that was told to us was believed. As we were not the favorites, merely ‘the girls,’ anything that was broken or missing was on ‘the girls.’ It wasn’t long before we were on punishment more than off for insignificant incidents. Our now adoptive mother became controlling and cold. She was verbally abusive, often calling us stupid and retarded for any little thing. If we were hungry, she demanded we call her at work and ask for food. We weren’t simply allowed to go in the fridge and have what we wanted. Not even a snack. We walked on egg shells on a daily basis, so the thought of speaking up about the monster that crept in our room at night was out of the question! He was her favorite.
He showered her with fancy gifts on holidays, that we children didn’t have enough money from the tooth fairy to afford. He cooked for her and mowed the lawn, and he was seen as a saint in our home church. After you’ve been in the care of enough people, you learn the way they think. For the next seven years, we were silent about the abuse, and it was a living nightmare. As the years passed, my adoptive brother became more and more bold, coming after us in broad daylight the moment everyone else in the house was gone. Because we were children, we were very easily manipulated. Offering us candy and treats in exchange to come into his bedroom, coining us his ‘favorite sister,’ and allowing whomever he went after consistently enough that week to take trips with him to the shopping mall (which we were never allowed to go to unless he convinced our adoptive mother). He rewarded you for letting him violate you, the same way a predator lures a child into his car with candy or a lost puppy poster.
If you rejected him, he would bully you and everyone would join in. No one could beat him, so they’d join him, just happy it wasn’t them. I was bullied the most because I was his most desirable victim. Small, shy, and often dramatic, I was the most unlikely to be taken seriously by my adoptive mother if I ever spoke up about the abuse. The saddest part of it all was seeing my sisters take his side, knowing the root of his behavior. However, still being so young, they were easily used as pons in his game to isolate me into submission, seeing as no one would speak to me in our own home or even at school.
Until one day… Crystal and Danielle had left school immediately, leaving me behind to walk home alone. When I walked into the front door, I heard my adoptive mother call my name to come to her room. As I entered, I saw a small tape recorder sitting on her bed recording. Sitting at the foot of her bed was Crystal and Danielle, sobbing. My heart sank, a lump formed in my throat, and I was frozen in hell. I knew what she was going to say. I knew why my sisters were crying, and before my mouth could form any words at all, the tears began pouring down my face. I don’t remember answering her, I only remember her question. ‘Did he touch you?’
That night my sisters and I slept close together in our room, waiting for him to come home. Our adoptive mother waited in the kitchen for him. He had no idea what he was walking into. It wasn’t long before we could hear our adoptive mother screaming at him. ‘Mom, please believe me! I didn’t do it!’ Hearing my adoptive brother try to manipulate his way out of such a heinous crime scared me. What if she really believes him over us? Then we could hear our adoptive mother say, ‘All three of them can’t be lying!’ His crying could be heard loudly as it ricocheted through the floorboards. That was the one thing I never understood. My adoptive mother’s bedroom was just beneath my adoptive brother’s room. How could she never hear him make his way down the hall to our room all those nights? Our adoptive brother was sent away that night, and we could finally sleep in peace. All was right with the world and we were safe for now. This was the first time our adoptive mother acted as a mother and prioritized our needs. It would also be the last.
A few months passed, and I watched the seasons change. What had transpired in our house was said to stay in our house. We were told to forgive and forget, and give the issue to God. We never saw a therapist nor a doctor for evaluation. The damage was just swept under the rug, and for a time that seemed good enough. As a kid, Christmas was my favorite holiday. But this particular Christmas was different. My eldest foster sister was now no longer living with us after my adoptive mother kicked her out for getting pregnant, so it was just the three of us, myself, Crystal and Danielle. It really was the perfect Christmas.
As tradition, we woke early and sat in the living room, waiting to see which pile of prettily wrapped boxes belonged to whom. As our adoptive mother exited the kitchen and entered the living room, the front door opened, and in walked none other than my adoptive brother. With no former warning where he was going, and that he was ever returning, I felt the utter shock seeping in. Everyone froze for a moment as our adoptive brother read the room, hoping everyone had put the past behind them and moved on. I watched my adoptive mother sashay through the living room and hug him. He was back. In no time, both my sisters began to welcome him back and exchange hugs, while I sat on the couch furious. Because I was the only one who had never missed him and I was not moved by his return, I was now the ‘black sheep.’
From this moment on, I was the only target. A predator chooses his victims carefully and spots who they can take full advantage of. I was the perfect prey. I was still physically small, quiet, and shy. I had very few friends at school so there was no one to talk to for comfort. I was often seen, but never heard. Once my adoptive brother took his place back in his old bedroom, I began to refuse to listen to him when our adoptive mother would again leave him to watch us. He was back and he was staying for good, so why behave? And what more could he do to me? I had hoped my talking back during the day would make him hate me and not come after me at night… but I was wrong.
Days turned to weeks, weeks turned to months, and months turned to more years of abuse. Things at home did begin to change. Both my sisters began going through puberty, so all the grooming my adoptive brother did on them was useless given the fear of impregnating one of them. I was a very late bloomer, so I remained fair game. As we became teenagers, we all pursued part time jobs after school, with the exception of Sundays for church. I attended praise and worship, but made it my business to leave early to get to work. I attended, paid my tithes, and headed to work. Church was no outlet for me as it should have been. It drove me mad watching my adoptive brother be welcomed each and every Sunday by the congregation. They had no idea what he was, or what he was capable of.
With each passing night came the mornings where I would swallow the rock hard pill of tiptoeing into my adoptive mother’s bedroom, holding back tears to tell her ‘it’ happened again. After the initial incident when my sisters and I were all together confessing what had happened to us, my adoptive mother grew more cold. With me all by myself being the only one sexually abused, now it was no longer a big enough threat to her reputation or the church’s. There were occasional nights where I could hear my adoptive brother and mother arguing just below me, but soon those fights stopped. Soon my adoptive mother turned on me, and it felt like I was being punished for being alive. Once I began working at the age of 14, I began paying rent at home. Anything and everything I needed was now my responsibility. Lunch money, clothes, toiletries, sneakers, a winter coat, socks, underwear, even laundry detergent to wash my own clothes. You name it, I was responsible for it with my measly part-time pay check. Eventually, I got a second part-time job to make ends meet.
After showing how organized and neat I was, my adoptive mother granted me a bedroom of my own. I was given what looked like a small office space, just a few feet away from my sisters’ bedroom. It wasn’t much, but I was used to not getting much, so I was simply overjoyed just to have my own personal space! I made it my own by adding candles and potpourri. While I was excited to create a space of my own, my foster brother saw an even better opportunity to take advantage of. With no witnesses to peer behind their blankets at night, I was nothing more than an innocent deer appreciating a winter’s evening in a beautiful white forest, having no idea about the bobcat lurking from above me in a tree waiting for the perfect moment to attack. I was never safe, even in the bed of my oldest sister, Danielle, but I had a witness to the madness. Now in my own bedroom, I was completely vulnerable and alone. And nothing was going to save me.
The very first night I spent in my bedroom, I locked the door. I was naïve enough to think a lock would save me. There’s nothing quite like lying awake in bed and seeing the hall light turn on. Seeing that small ray of light peer through your door frame that’s smaller than the actual frame because it wasn’t fitted properly. Hearing the footsteps coming down the hall and seeing them stop at your door, seeing those bare feet block out the light as they stand still. The sound of someone using a butter knife to slide between the hinge jamb and strike jamb. The dead latch to my bedroom door was facing inward, so it took no effort to break in. Most nights I was out cold in my dreams, only waking after there was a tickle at the soles of my feet. Some nights, I would wake to him lying in my bed beside me. Often, I would toss and turn and pretend I was just repositioning, trying to get back to sleep, turning in a position where I couldn’t be touched in the places I knew he wanted me in. If I kept it up long enough he would quit. But then there were times where he would turn me over himself. He wasn’t leaving before he got what he came for. I started curling up into a fetal position, clenching my pillow for dear life in desperate hopes he would give up. Sometimes it worked, most times it didn’t. And then there was the dresser…
Since it was pointless to lock my bedroom door, I had to think harder on how to save myself. My adoptive mother was annoyed by me telling her every other morning about the night before, and my adoptive brother reveled in it. As my adoptive mother grew older into her 50’s, both attempting to raise my sisters and I as well as her grandchildren (because her two biological daughters were out living what they believed to be their best lives), my adoptive mother was careless in terms of my wellbeing. I began placing my bedroom dresser at the door of my room. I knew it would take moving the dresser in order to get in, and it would be heard if and when he attempted to enter. But it didn’t matter who heard; it mattered what was going to be done when it was heard. The answer to that is nothing. Night after night he would break into my bedroom, slide the wooden dresser aside, and end up in my bed. I really thought I was doing something, like I had cracked the code to a million dollar safe. I couldn’t have been more foolish. A part of me even thought if he saw all these things in place, such as the locked door and dresser against it, why would he still come, knowing I was passive aggressively fighting back?
There was nothing and no one that could stop him. As the years went by, it all began growing on me. I walked with my head down and was very negative. The nights I refused to allow my adoptive brother to violate me were followed by mornings where he would crack horrible jokes with my sisters, and they would take his side as if they had no idea why I was being ridiculed. Whenever my adoptive brother was watching tv and it was my turn, he would give the remote to someone else instead, to throw it in my face because I wouldn’t let him touch me. The isolation was enough to break anyone. But the mornings after you broke down the night prior, or maybe slept so hard you didn’t realize what was taking place before it was too late, followed with him saying, ‘Good morning my favorite sister.’ Just to think, from the outside looking in, it was presumed we were getting along on days like that. Not the real truth, which was that he had had a good night and successfully carried out what he crept down the hall for.
I didn’t really hit puberty until the age of 16, and he was watching. I was blissful, hoping my time had finally come where I would be left alone. Now I would be at risk and hopefully too high a liability. The prepping and grooming could finally stop. I was incorrect. I remember like it was only hours ago, and it’s something I wish I could forget, but it’s been engraved in my mind like a tattoo on my soul. It was my night to do the dishes, so I was up late cleaning up. I didn’t get to bed until around 1 a.m. I turned on my tv and put in the movie ‘Spirit,’ the animated one about the horse. I was 17, and would be 18 in only three months. After locking my door and dragging my dresser up to it, I got into bed and doze off into my thoughts. By this time, I was fully aware the lock on my door and my dresser weren’t enough to save me from my adoptive brother, but if I got the heads up he was coming, I could at the very least be awoken and prepare to play dead until he got tired of trying and left.
I can’t remember how exactly my pajama pants were removed, or if I was wearing a nightgown, but I know I woke up and my adoptive brother was on top of me, penetrating me, and I screamed. He covered my mouth and frantically said, ‘Shhhhhhh!’ I couldn’t believe what was happening to me. I felt so objectified and insignificant. I felt like a lost cause. There was never going to be anyone coming to protect me or save me. In shock beyond the expression of words, I felt like dying. I felt filthy and worthless. The intercourse lasted but a few seconds, but the truth still remained. My virginity was robbed of me in my sleep, by my adoptive brother.
I had never put much thought into when, who, where, and how I would lose my virginity someday. Now it no longer mattered. I felt dead inside and no one cared. This was the final straw. The very next morning, I stood pacing my bedroom, dragging my feet against the green carpet, practicing how I would tell my adoptive mother what transpired. Just hearing myself say it in my head made the hairs on my body stand up and gave me nausea. With my heart pounding through my chest and the knot in my throat inevitably obstructing my airway, I knew there was no way I was going to get through telling my adoptive mother without breaking into millions of tiny pieces.
I went to my adoptive mother’s bedroom door, which was slightly cracked open, and slid through. Being 100 pounds at 17 years old makes for an easy entrance. There in bed she laid, watching the news. I couldn’t bare to listen to the words come out of my mouth, so I blurted them out as fast as possible, making no eye contact whatsoever…’He raped me.’ I could hear my adoptive mother reposition herself in bed as she sat up to face me. The tone in her voice was one I had never heard before. I had seen her mad, but now she was hellishly furious, and sadly, not with my adoptive brother but with me. She repeated the statement I made aggressively.
‘He raped you?’ She said in disbelief, as if the purpose of grooming didn’t have an end goal. Hearing her question me with those vulgar words made me more and more uncomfortable. I nodded my head. ‘He penetrated you?!’ That word made me want to curl into a corner and set my body ablaze. It disgusted me in every way imaginable. I nodded my head again, embarrassed. By now, my adoptive mother was fully sitting up in bed. ‘So, you’re telling me he penetrated you?’ There was no empathy in her voice as I brought my eyes from staring down at my feet to meet hers. I looked her straight in her lifeless, cynical eyes as mine filled with tears and said, ‘Yes.’
I felt so humiliated feeling the tension in the room and knowing how little she cared. I was an inconvenience to her, to her reputation and to the church. She didn’t hug me or hold me and tell me she was sorry. This wasn’t the mother you see snap at the mere idea their child has been sexually abused, or the mother who goes into a deep depression when they learn their child has been violated in any way by a close family member or friend they trusted. This was the mother who saw stock in eliminating what tempts the culprit. Save the sinner, not the saint.
There wasn’t much of a word exchange as far as what my adoptive mother said she’d do, and based on her demeanor, she was more upset with me than him. I read her body language and tone and knew immediately where I stood in the manner. In the upcoming days, I never heard the usual fighting between my adoptive mother and brother late at night after he would return home from errands, church duties, and work. The house was silent. Even my sisters had no notion of what was going on. We hadn’t spoken in some time. Both Crystal and Danielle were employed at Burger King. I worked at Auntie Anne’s in the Willow Grove mall, and Champs as my secondary job, on my lonesome. Crystal and Danielle were bonding and connecting while I was alone on my own. They were free of our adoptive brother. Sisterly love and support became nothing more than a word. My sisters were just happy it wasn’t them.”
Connie’s story continues. Read Part 2 here.
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Connie Joi of New Jersey. You can follow her journey on Facebook and YouTube. 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.
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