The Devil in Devlinbycliffgirl08©
"James, please pick your jacket up off the floor and put it in your bedroom, that's a good boy."
The quiet words, spoken as much to not provoke an argument as to convey a request, came from my foster father, Randy Simmons, as he took a few careful steps over my prone body lying in front of the television watching cartoons. I had arrived home from school two hours before with a half-completed term paper on John Keats, the English poet, due the following day for my senior literature class. My assignments also included all the odd-numbered algebra equations from page 250 in my textbook and an art project on the use of shading. But I needed to take the edge off my increasingly stressed out life and had neglected both homework and chores in favor of a few mindless hours of Scooby Doo and Spongebob Squarepants. I don't even like Spongebob.
My name isn't James. It's Devlin. Devlin James Royce. But the foster home I lived in, probably my last since I was close to turning eighteen and would be exiting the system once I graduated from high school, was headed up by a Christian, God-fearing couple with four kids of their own. They saw the devil in me, or rather my given name, and decided they just couldn't in good conscience call me by it. However, one of Jesus' brothers, an author of a New Testament book in the Bible, was named James, as well as two of his disciples, so they figured they were good with my middle name.
Ugh, Devlin... James... whatever! Hell, most days I didn't care as long as I had a roof over my head and a warm bed, three square meals a day and clothing that fit and didn't look as if it had been passed through four other boys before I got to wear it. If no one was beating on me, I was in great shape. Oh, and don't foist your religious beliefs on me either. It definitely made for some interesting conversations when my fosters discussed me with my teachers at school or my social worker, Ms Hopkins.
"Mrs. Simmons, his name is Devlin, not James. It's important that you don't erode his already fragile sense of self-worth by refusing to acknowledge him correctly. You know the rules."
They most certainly did, although as far as I was concerned, my self-worth was anything but fragile. There was definitely some gray mixed in with the black and white of Department of Children's Services regulations that should have been straightened out beforehand in regards to my personal freedoms but I was doing okay. If you were going to force comparisons of religion in my life...
Hmm, this is going to be too confusing if you don't understand where I'm coming from. Literally, I mean, so maybe I should attempt to explain it from the start. I know how it looks but, despite everything, my life up until the time I was thirteen wasn't too bad. Honest!
My parents met when they were twelve and fell in love. Mom was Jenny, and Dad's name was Charles. They were in their mid-teens when they had me, but life quickly turned sour. The realities of two high school drop-outs trying to raise a baby on minimum-wage killed their love for each other, and they split up before I turned one. I guess Mom didn't learn from having me either because she went on to birth two more kids by the time she was twenty. Two half-sisters I haven't seen for half my lifetime are out there somewhere. I don't even remember what they look like. For all I know, I've run across them in my travels and wasn't even aware of it.
Okay, so after Jenny ditched Dad she went from bad to worse and turned into a prostitute who spent her days whoring herself out in exchange for crack and heroin. She'd disappear and leave us kids with a long parade of neighbor ladies who lived next door to our ratty tenement apartment. So many different ones, I've forgotten most of their names, but the majority of them felt sorry for us and treated me well.
Dad was a good man who caught a break in his late teens and learned how to build high-rise business structures. He worked hard at a construction job during the day and tended bar in the evenings. I learned all this from him later, not her. Jenny didn't have anything nice to say about Dad, so it was a conversation I avoided with her because once his name came up she tended to start throwing things. Mostly I recall him being a presence more and more in my life the older I got, but it wasn't much by anything she did, unless you want to call neglect her contribution. So I suppose I was just lucky.
Whenever four days had gone by without Jenny returning from her dens of iniquity, I would get to spend time with Dad. The neighbors would telephone him and demand that he come get me. Who took in my half-sisters would forever be a mystery because they weren't Dad's responsibility, but there was talk of a paternal grandmother out there. But Charles would collect me until she turned up, and he was a decent father and tried to do the right thing by me. As a youngster I felt relief when he was around because it meant food in my belly and working heat and electricity and a warm coat to wear in the winter.
Shit, I don't know why he never sought permanent custody. No, that's a lie. I know why because I heard Dad talking about it with his sister one time when they thought I was asleep. It was some fucked up regulation that had Dad being afraid the law would come after him for child support payments he was supposed to make. But he refused, you know? He caught on quick that Mom wasn't looking out for our welfare and any money he paid towards my support would end up in her veins.
"And I'll be damned if I support that whore's drug habit," he'd said in the only ugly snarl I ever heard him use. Ever! He was usually so calm and quiet, rarely talked much above a normal tone of voice and wasn't given to wasting words. He had this way of looking at people in the eye that made them know his promise was golden, and he expected the same from others. I'd never call him a trusting fool, though. He inspired honesty and made me want to earn his goodwill. His one angry retort about my mom just proved that he loved me and showed how much he resented her for not taking better care of me.
When I was nine, Jenny ran off with some drug dealer, but like I said, she wasn't much of a mother so her departure was more of a reprieve than a problem. My sisters disappeared out of my life at the same time, and I went to live with Charles. It was rough at first since he had never been forced to parent full-time. He was so young when I was born, he was barely twenty-five when I moved in. Money was tight, but we got along with the help of his sister, my Aunt Kayla.
I thrived living with my dad. Despite my mother, I was a good kid, and we were happy. He taught me that education was the key to moving out of the cheap apartments we lived in and doing better for myself. If I wanted to get anywhere in life, I would have to study hard and sacrifice; that, and keep my dick in my pants. He was kind of bitter about my mother but he never passed that on to me. Dad just explained her as having a tough upbringing and a myriad of challenges she couldn't work through. Then he would tell me about how sweet and warm she was when they met and fell in love. Before the drugs and life cursed her.
I listened to all my dad said and applied myself in school. I wasn't a straight-A student, but I paid attention, and a love for reading helped a lot. I wasn't into sports, and Dad never pushed me to play, even though he was on the football team in ninth grade. I loved to draw, and my teachers said I had a fair amount of talent. Dad encouraged me and never looked down on my pictures as wasted time or made me feel I couldn't be a great artist one day. We didn't have a lot of money for non-essentials, but he bought me sketch pads and pencils.
For a poor man, Dad had a lot of dreams that he passed on to me and used to joke that I was going to be the one to become cultured, educated and rich, and then I'd buy him a house. We laughed over it, and he'd take me to a museum or we'd borrow textbooks that were a higher grade level then I was in and study them together. Dad would have done well in college, he was so clever. He taught me never to let anyone dictate what I could and couldn't do to improve my life. The only person limiting the scope of my success was myself and how I viewed circumstances.
He was upbeat and would get angry if I acted like I was a burden. Even with working two jobs he always made time for me. Weekends were all ours, and he let his bosses know that he couldn't leave me alone and needed that time free. Dad let me hang with him when he did small repairs around the apartment or on his truck. We developed into a comforting routine, and he set reasonable boundaries. I kept my eyes open and stayed out of trouble. I guess you could say I behaved better than the average child, but I didn't want to disappoint my father. Even at the ripe age of thirteen, when many of my peers were acting out and pushing against authority, Dad was my hero.
He died that winter just before my fourteenth birthday.
There was a construction accident on a jobsite, and somehow Dad fell twenty stories to his death. It had been a relatively good day and I was doing homework waiting for him to return from work so we could go birthday shopping. The police showed up at the door with a tearful Aunt Kayla in tow to tell me what happened. I must have blacked out when I finally understood that Dad was never coming back because I came to on the floor next to the couch with my aunt sitting there just staring at me. I was wild with grief for weeks, and nobody could comfort me through the funeral. Dad was my only anchor, and then he was just gone.
I guess negotiations of some sort went on between the families of my two parents over custody of me, but so much animosity remained even after nearly fifteen years. Jenny's mother shut her door in Aunt Kayla's face and said I wasn't her responsibility and she couldn't care less. So Dad's family decided to move me in with Kayla. I loved her because she was a relative, but she was kind of cold to me, and I thought it was her way of mourning. My grief counselor said that people go through the process in different ways and, at the time, I was too obsessed with my own loss to make it an issue. I was numb by day, wracked with nightmares of falling at night and, for awhile, I seriously considered killing myself.
I suppose the insurance company from my dad's employer settled on him with some kind of accidental death policy that paid out close to two hundred fifty thousand dollars. I didn't care. There was no amount of money in the world that could make up for my father going away and leaving me alone. It didn't put my latest drawing up on the refrigerator or take me to an art exhibit to see a showing by a new artist. It didn't tuck me in at night and ruffle my hair in affection when I brought home a report card with almost all A's on it. I wanted Dad's smell back and the sound of his voice telling me he loved me. I would've given it all away just to hold onto him for one more day.
But even if I didn't want the money, I never saw a dime of it.
Five months after Dad died, Aunt Kayla called me into her bedroom one morning and told me to pack up my clothes and whatever I wished to take with me. She enlightened me on the situation of my birth by telling me how Charles wasn't really my biological father. My mother was a scheming tramp who had gotten pregnant by some other man, because even back then she was whoring around, and Dad had graciously married her to give her baby a name and a home. Wasn't it obvious we weren't related when I didn't look a thing like him?
If I were going to describe myself, I'd say I'm on the tall end of average if that makes any sense- around five-foot-eight and skinny. My foster mom, Amber, complains they don't make jeans in my size because I'm a beanpole. You know, too big to wear kids' clothes, too small for an adult size? I worked out in the gym at my high school and developed some muscle mass across my chest and shoulders and down my torso, but don't look at me as being ripped. The best I could boast of was a modest four-pack. I have wavy mud brown hair that falls to my shoulders and is constantly in my face and hazel eyes, which are supposed to be my best feature. My skin is so pale you can see the veins under it, and I have freckles across my nose. Charles's grandmother was full Japanese which might account for my stature and delicate features; it was fairly obvious in Dad's high cheekbones and the shape of his eyes, but nowhere on me.
I didn't know that I believed her, but even if it was an excuse to get rid of me, it wasn't my call. Dad was just Dad to me, and biological or not, we loved each other dearly. He'd never treated me like I wasn't his, but Kayla was nothing like him. Maybe it was financial or she was tired of taking care of me since she had no kids of her own and I cramped her style. In any case, she wasn't interested in my welfare, so why would I want to live with someone like her? No other relatives came forward to volunteer either. She signed over custody to Children's Services, and I was going into foster care, end of story. I walked out of her apartment that June day into a brand new life and never looked back.
And, here again, I didn't do too horribly. Yeah, I was sent to the children's center for a few months because, face it; not many foster families like dealing with teenagers. Many of us end up in group homes which are just warehouses for throwaways before they're dumped on the street. However, I was one of the good ones. I was polite and sociable, not like those fucked up other boys who had been discarded by their mothers for gang membership or delinquency or drug addiction. I knew I wasn't better than them, but if being well-mannered got me into a home faster, I wouldn't cry crocodile tears over the sad situations they'd created for themselves.
Even though it was supposed to be summer vacation, I still had to attend school every day. I think it was due to the fact that many of the residents cut class on the outside and were behind in their studies. I wasn't, I had been flourishing up until my life was upended. I started tutoring some of the younger kids just to have something to do because the courses at the center were far too easy for me. Boredom is the devil's playground or some such phrase. I spent my spare time drawing caricatures of the adults around me, and it didn't escape the notice of the directors that I was talented and educated and a better quality of foster kid than most. I got lucky. I was soon 'staffed', as they put it, meaning I was shipped off to live in a foster home.
Six, in fact. Family number one, the Tates, agreed to take me in September and kept me for three weeks. They'd asked for a pre-adolescent boy, and the department thought they could slip me in under their noses because of my size. Not that I was any trouble, they assured me when they said I'd have to move on, but they didn't feel they could successfully parent a teenager. Like I was going to cause them so many more problems than one of those eleven year olds I'd run into at the center who would've just as soon shiv you than look at you?
Numbers two, three and four, were each exactly a year of my life. In each home, I was one of three or four boys, the only one not in trouble before I was staffed, and most of them bullies. I was usually the smallest and learned how to think on my feet to keep from being terrorized. I looked the other way when another teen was targeted because, as cowardly as this sounds, having anyone's back besides my own was dangerous for my health. I was offered drugs, invited to join gangs and served as lookout when a foster brother shoplifted. I had all my stuff stolen on numerous occasions. The only thing I managed to keep from my old life was a picture of Dad I slipped into a tattered copy of Silas Marner that was on me at all times. Living there under those circumstances toughened me up quickly.
The shitty stories about sexual molestation in foster care are basically true. Starting when I was fifteen I could be hauled out of bed at any time of night to take care of daddies, so-called uncles and older, and bigger brothers alike. When you're small like me, you have fewer options. The difference between a jaded life and a fucked-up one is learning to pick your battles and keeping your mouth shut. Food, shelter and clothing are much better options than living on the streets addicted to drugs and being pimped out.
Okay, there's something else you need to know about me. I'm gay, and this had nothing to do with my abuse in care. Before Dad died, I had begun noticing males at school in a sexual way that I knew made me different from how the straight guys bonded. Straight guys weren't supposed to want the boy sitting next to them in science class to kiss the daylights out of them. I even went to Dad with a hundred tortured questions, and we discussed it. He explained that he was bisexual, so he wasn't completely surprised by my revelation. I recalled from my earliest memories of him that every once in awhile a strange man would show up at the apartment to spend a few nights in his bed, but he never had a long-term boyfriend. Or another girlfriend besides Mom either. I got the feeling he pitied me, but only because he knew being gay would make my life more difficult in the long run. But he accepted me for who I am, and it wasn't ever an issue.
It became an issue in Foster Home #5. I was nearing the end of my seventeenth year when I moved in with the Comptons. They lived in the roughest neighborhood I'd ever been in, and I had to change schools again just after beginning my senior year of high school. Even though I was smarter than to announce that I was gay to my fellow classmates, too late I discovered that my foster brother, Barry, had a habit of snooping us kids' bedrooms. It didn't take long to find the very lifelike nude drawings of teenage boys hidden under my clothes in my dresser. Two days later I was jumped on the way home from school by a group of thugs calling me faggot and queer who beat me so badly they put me in the hospital for two weeks with internal bleeding, a head injury and broken bones.
Exit the Comptons where it was deemed I was no longer safe.
Enter the Simmons family, with their religious zealotry.
Ms Hopkins, my caseworker, was upfront and informed them that I was gay. What they told her was that Jesus loves everyone, regardless of gender preference, and they would never press their faith on me. And they didn't, not overtly. They never expected me to attend church with them, and they soon found me trustworthy enough to leave me at home on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights by myself. I was exempt from morning prayers and Bible readings before bed. What they did do, however, was tell me frequently that they were praying for my immortal soul and leave religious tracts about homosexuality on my dresser. I pushed them into the trash, touching them as little as possible, like I was afraid they'd infect me if I got too close.
My new family consisted of Randy and Amber who were in their mid-forties and Randy's mother, Maureen. Now, my foster parents might be Christian fundamentalists, but Maureen made them look like nonbelievers. I was fortunate because she spent hours at church each day so I didn't have to socialize with her much. The only time I saw her was at dinner and she liked to pinch me under the table if she thought I wasn't grateful enough for the blessings that were about to be bestowed on me.
The only other family member at home was Caleb, their eighteen year old son. Perfect Caleb with his soaring six-foot-three, one-hundred-eighty pound frame and blue-eyed-blonde good looks. Football tight end, track star and captain of the basketball team where he played guard. He held a 4.4 grade point average, was president of several on-campus clubs, including the Young Christians Society, and also a leader in the church youth group. A paragon of perfection for me to gag over despite how beautiful his tight end was.