Even after everything I’ve been through and the trust issues that accompany my childhood, I really do believe that people are generally well-meaning. They want to be there for their friends and family emotionally, but when there is a true rift between life experiences sometimes it’s hard for them to really grasp what another is feeling. This has been my experience. Until joining Take Root recently, I had never spoken to another person, other than my brother, who truly understood the ghosts that haunt me on a daily basis. Even the most well meaning of friends and family have always seemed to have the unasked (and oftentimes actually asked) questions of, “It’s over now. It’s been over for 20 years. Why can’t you get over it? Why does this still bother you?” What they don’t understand is what I had to give up just to be who I am and with the family I was supposed to be with.
Essentially, I gave up childhood. At 10 years old I was told, “This is it. That part of your life is done. Move on to your new life now.” Kind of sounds like what a normal person does when they move from childhood to their adult life, right? So, basically that’s what I did. Don’t get me wrong. . . I still DID things kids were supposed to do, had fun, broke rules, drove my dad crazy, but that carefree childhood that everyone is entitled to was taken away from me and adult emotions were left in it’s place.
I gave up an entire lineage. I adore my Dad and my family, but most people have TWO sides to their family. I have no mother. She’s dead to me, but still alive. My daughter will grow up without that grandmother just as I’ve grown up without a mother. To date I’ve still lost my younger half-brother (although I will never give up hope on that one). I have NO IDEA who my family even is on that side. I’ve never even met anyone on my mother’s side of the family. I can’t even completely fill out a medical record when I go to a new doctor when it asks for family history.
I gave up MY history. I didn’t have a bad childhood with my abducting parent. Granted, I didn’t have an actual relationship with HER that I can really remember, but my relationship with my stepfather (or my “daddy”) was better than most little girls get with their real dads. I adored and despised my brothers alternately, just like any little girl is supposed to do. As an adult I see what my mother’s emotional abuse did to me and how it warped my perception of myself and others, but as a child . . . Quite honestly I just wasn’t THAT self aware. The point is, I thought we were happy. I thought I had a wonderful family. But now I can’t even look back at what really were happy times without being incredibly sad, because that time and that family and that little girl are gone. And because I know how much my Dad and that part of my family had to give up for me to have those times, which makes me feel guilty for even considering them happy times at all. And so I bury them. I bury them along with the Sheri that died in Canton, GA in November 1989.
“Sheri, I’m not your father.” . . . Those are the words that killed her. This was after my Daddy drove down the road to get away from all the cop cars that were taking up our yard when we came home from dinner that night. Five words and one little girl died, leaving another one floundering. The cops came then and took my parents away and took my brothers and I to the police station. And here the story started to unfold . . .
In October 1979, in Monroe, NY, my mother showed up for her normal visitation with me (8 months old) and my brother (just turned 3). When my Dad returned at the end of the weekend we were gone. She and her boyfriend had taken off with us and most of his belongings. Back then there were no Amber Alerts or even a whole of concern. We were with our mother. For 10 years he had searched for us. He traveled the country searching working with the FBI and Child Find. We were on milk cartons and wanted posters. He had gone from being a truck driver to being a police officer in hopes that he could find us and in hopes that he could help others in his position. That last evening we were on a show called Missing Reward and someone who recognized my mother and stepfather called in.
In a matter of hours I found out that my Daddy was not even related, my mother had stolen me, my older brother and I had to live with a new family and my little brother was the child of my mother and stepfather and couldn’t come with us. And to top it all off, my last name was changing from Ryan to Chiosie . . .I couldn’t even PRONOUNCE that!
We stayed at that police station until they found a foster home who could take us for a few days. I remember laying at the foster home, next to my brother, afraid to go to sleep. Afraid of what was going to be there when I woke up, or worse who WOULDN‘T be there when I woke up. Even still, I remember thinking that surely I was already asleep. It had been after midnight when we got back from dinner anyway . . . Maybe I had fallen asleep in the truck and this was a weird dream. If not, maybe this was some kind of new punishment. Or maybe money was tight and they decided three kids was too many so they came up with this so they could just keep the baby of the family . . . ANYTHING seemed more plausible than the “truth”.
We spent a couple of days at that foster home before we met my Dad. He brought our aunt (and one of our cousins in hopes to make us more comfortable. We were brought into a room to meet him and I remember just following my brother’s lead. He was my big brother and he wouldn’t let anybody hurt me. My dad took out a couple of toys that had been my brothers as a child. My brother actually remembered them and realized that this was going to be ok . . . So I went with it . . . We spent a couple more days in Canton: getting our school records, trying to get some of our stuff (which my mother denied us-we were allowed to take just a few things apiece) and trying to say our goodbyes. My Dad offered to take us to the prison because it was my mother’s birthday and we wanted to give her a card, but she wouldn’t see us. The only goodbye we accomplished was saying goodbye to our five year old brother. It was the last time I would see him for six years and my older brother has only seen him twice since that day 20 years ago.
We arrived back in Monroe, New York and met the rest of our “new” family on Thanksgiving Day 1989. And that’s when Sheri Chiosie was born from the ashes of Sheri Ryan.
It wasn’t easy. I went from being a shy, quiet little girl who liked pretty dresses and staying inside and reading books on sunny days to being surrounded by BOYS! There were BOYS everywhere! My Dad, my brother, my uncle, my cousins were all boys, even my aunt liked sports! I was definitely the odd ball out. And they were all so HAPPY. I wasn’t. I tried so hard to be. And then I tried so hard to pretend I was. I was supposed to be. It was over now, right?! That’s what everyone kept telling me, at least . .. I grew to love them all very quickly and accept my new life. But I missed my old life. And I missed my old family. And I felt guilty for that. And everyone always wanted to talk about stuff I didn’t know anything about: Grandparents that died before I had a chance to know them, memories from when we were still there as babies . . . And the worst part was even my older brother, MY confidante, MY rock remembered some of these people and things too once he had a chance to submerge himself in the new family. And he fit in with our new family so much better than I could ever hope to.
But kids are “adaptable”, right? Isn’t that what you hear all the time? Well, I adapted I guess. I became Sheri Chiosie. I became loud enough to be heard over those boys! I’d still rather read a book than play sports : ), but I’ve come to mostly accept that I’m never going to 100% fit in. I learned how to avoid hurt . . . Don’t let anyone close enough and it’s not a problem. I learned how to avoid lies . . . Never trust that anyone is telling you the truth anyway. I learned to appear to the outside world that I was ok . . . No chance of hurting anyone’s feelings by not being ok then. I learned how to make others happy at my own expense.
And now at 30 years old I’m trying to learn how to unlearn.