The best mistake I ever made was to adopt a very troubled young woman named Caroline. Psychologists and social workers told me I was making a terrible mistake that would ruin my life and not help hers. This is our story.
She came with a label of mental retardation. She lived with 62 other people with mental retardation, mental illness, autism, and various mystery conditions. It was almost always very loud. Sometimes it was dangerous. She went to her workshop every day and stayed in her room when she got home. I say home and it was called a home but the expression “there’s no place like home” was never meant for that home, Casa Alta. Too many people in pain, too many rules, too little love and care, although people tried. Caroline did her best to hide from it all but sometimes she got hungry and came down for supper. She would get her plate and retreat to her room. This was against the rules, but no one had the heart to endforce them. I thought she was sweet, too sweet, too perfect. Then one day I heard her snarl, “If you don’t leave me alone, I’ll knock your lips off”. I think I was won over in that moment. She had the appeal of a wonderful sweet and sour dish.
Over the months we got to know each other. Her story was terrible. She had six brothers and sisters and an alcoholic mother. She had been in “placement” since she was twelve and, as she moved about the system, she grew more and more hopeless. She was placed because her mother, too ill with alcoholism could no longer care for her children. In fact, she hadn’t been able to for quite some time and added to the neglect was the parade of husbands, boyfriends, and one night stands who did things to a silent, blank eyed little girl. Often there was nothing to eat and she learned to steal. She hardly ever went to school.
Her first placement was with her aunt and uncle. The first day the aunt gave her ten math problems to solve. Caroline didn’t know her numbers and her letters. She was taken into the bathroom by her aunt, her skirt was lifted and her panties pulled down. The aunt took a hairbrush and beat Caroline until she couldn’t lift her arm. That night her uncle came to her bed for the first of his nightly visits. In the month that followed, Caroline told a teacher at school. The teacher and the aunt went to the same church and the teacher told the aunt. Caroline was beaten severely by the aunt. After about ten months the girls in the house compared notes and went to the police. The uncle was arrested and confessed. He was charged with molesting, raping, and sodomizing four girts. Caroline alone received around 300 visits from him. He spent three years in jail.
Caroline was twelve. In the next four years, she moved from foster home to foster home and finally ended up in a larger place for children who “failed” in the foster care system. Her new home was filled with children with severe disabilities and no real help. Caroline was beaten several times. She asked to be moved again and ended up with nuns. The place had a lot of flaws but, for the first time, she went to school, had regular meals, and attempts were made to help her deal with her past. She also had stability for four years, until she turned eighteen and was no longer eligible to stay with the nuns. She was in danger of being turned out on her own but testing showed her to be mentally retarded and she went into another part of the system and to another group home.
The girls in this home were completely out of control – -they stayed out all night, did drugs and alcohol, didn’t work or go to school. Caroline was put into a training program which was to teach her to work in food preparation. One of the girls had a relative who she said was really nice. Caroline met him a couple times and then accepted his invitation to have dinner with him and his grandmother. When she got there she met the grandmother and liked her allot. She accepted the man’s invitation to go upstairs and see the rest of the house. He showed her his bedroom, but he made advances which she resisted and he threw her against the wall and raped her. She couldn’t possibly tell her housemother but the next day, she told staff at her training center. They didn’t take her to a hospital. They didn’t call the police. They didn’t do anything. Caroline asked for another placement and that is how she ended up at Casa Alta.
When I met her, Caroline was very depressed, suicidal, very angry, spaced out, and heard voices. She felt she was beyond any help and her life futile. She had one thing going for her – -a deep belief in God and, as a Catholic, a deep love and belief in the Virgin Mary. I was a Jew. After I knew Caroline enough to kid around, I pointed out that Jesus was a Jew. She grinned and replied, “Yes, but God is a Catholic”. Caroline prayed nightly and said that she had prayed that someone like me would come into her life. As time went on I more and more wanted Caroline to live with my husband and me. My husband was very ambivalent to say the least. Things came to a head when Caroline’s mother died, at age 45, of cirrhosis of the liver.
I lost my job, in a very friendly way, and Caroline came to live with us. I wish I could say that she was immediately, gloriously happy and sometimes she was. But she had been very, very injured and it took years for healing to happen. Today, however, she is a generous, funny, resourceful woman who is a pleasure to know and love. She has been married for 13 years to a wonderful man. She does child care and makes things to sell at craft fairs and on eBay. She is loved by all who know her. People who don’t believe in miracles don’t know where to look. Caroline is a living miracle.