I met Adrianna (not her real name) when I was 10 years old. She was 7 years old, with long silky black hair and dark eyes, and she was going to be my sister.
Our first meeting took place in a social services office. It was full of toys, and I didn't quite understand that she didn't live there. I was a little jealous of how many toys she had, but I decided to share mine with her anyway. She was, after all, going to be my sister!
As an only child, I had long fantasized about what it would be like to have a sister. My mom was the youngest of six children, and five were girls.
She often told stories about her sisters and their escapades, and even the kind of awful ones seemed funny in retrospect. When my aunt pulled a woman's feet out from under her as she used a toilet in a public bathroom stall, mistaking a stranger for her sister, the best part of the story to me was when the sisters joined hands afterward and ran away shrieking with laughter.
I cherished those family stories, and held them tightly in my heart, and I hoped and prayed for many years for a sister of my own.
My mom had her tubes tied right after she had me (I was apparently just that awesome as an infant) and my dad had a vasectomy many years before he met my mom (he was her second husband, and they married when I was four).
There weren't going to be any biological siblings for me, so my parents looked into private adoption but that was cost-prohibitive. Eventually, they decided to try foster adoption. They became certified as foster parents, and then signed up to take in special needs and hard to place kids -- at some point, a caseworker had told them that those were the easiest kids to adopt.
All of that led us to the day when Adrianna joined our family. Nervous, I sat in my bedroom and played with my Barbies while one of my parents picked her up. They finally arrived home and Adrianna came into my room. She dumped the entire bin of Barbies onto the floor, looked at me, smirked, and walked away. I was shocked, but even at 10, I figured that Adrianna would need some time to adapt.
What actually played out was a nightmare.
Almost from the beginning, Adrianna seemed to hate me. She acted much younger than her age, and her inability to perform basic tasks like getting dressed on her own made my parents assume that she also wasn't capable of scheming or manipulating.
Any time that I tried to tell my parents that it seemed like Adrianna was purposely trying to get me in trouble, they accused me of being jealous or having trouble adjusting to a new sibling. I would feel guilty, and even question my perceptions, but a part of me still trusted my gut.
After a couple of years, the adoption was long since final and we moved to a new state.
Almost immediately, the situation worsened. Suddenly, animals in our new neighborhood began to turn up dead. Neighbors were concerned and my parents were, too. After a few weeks of investigating, our neighbors eventually traced the deaths back to Adrianna. To say that we were shocked is putting it mildly.
Despite the fact that Adrianna had suffered a list of abuses a mile long, the caseworkers never talked to my parents about her in anything but terms of a victim, and we certainly didn't expect her to be an abuser.
My parents thought that with time and love, Adrianna could heal from what had been done to her by her biological parents, her siblings, and even while in other foster homes.
After my parents discovered her animal abuse, they immediately contacted the old caseworkers to find out whether she had ever done anything like that before. After some pushback, they finally got access to her file and discovered that while Adrianna had been a victim of many abuses, she also abused other children while in foster care, both physically and sexually.
While the enormity of the abuse she suffered had been readily disclosed to my parents, any details about the abuse she inflicted had been hidden.
After my parents realized that Adrianna had severe problems, they were even more determined to help her heal. They prevented her from being around animals unsupervised, but otherwise focused on her healing. It never occurred to them that by doing so they were putting me at risk.
Not long afterward, I started to suffer from strange health problems. I began to have migraines every day, often spending my evenings laying on the bathroom floor waiting to vomit, and I was completely unable to eat. I suddenly became underweight, and my skin became ashen. I had never been a very healthy kid, but the severity of this decline was inexplicable, and my doctor was left shaking his head.
I don't remember how my parents discovered that Adrianna was poisoning me with my mom's heart medications as I slept, and the details are murky. But, I clearly remember sitting across from the police officer they called to the house as he told them that without a "dead body," there was nothing that he could do.
They told him that they were afraid that she would keep hurting me and were considering locking her in at night, and he told them that was illegal. He didn't seem to have any ideas about how my parents could prevent Adrianna from killing me.
My parents tried a lot of things, including door alarms and constant supervision. But, somehow, Adrianna managed to keep trying to kill me. My parents became frazzled, angry strangers and Adrianna was always sitting there, silently watching me.
I hated her, and I hated my parents for allowing her to keep hurting me, even as they reminded me that I needed to understand that she had been a victim, too, and that they owed her as much love as they owed me.
When they recognized that they simply couldn't manage Adrianna at home, my parents eventually drove her to a children's mental hospital in a nearby state. All of the beds in mental hospitals in our state were full, and even that one only had space to keep her as long as she represented an "acute risk."
As soon as they determined that she was no longer acutely at risk of harming me, they discharged her.
My parents made me visit Adrianna on the weekends. The mental hospital smelled like stale spaghetti and children were constantly screaming. One little boy stared at me as he screamed and ripped out his hair in handfuls. I was afraid, and I didn't want to see Adrianna, but my parents reminded me that I needed to understand. I sat there silently.
After each discharge, Adrianna came home to a prison with my parents as guards. But, eventually, they would slip up and she would get sneakier, and they caught her stealing medication from the bathroom and trying to slip it into my food.
My doctor said that I was lucky, any number of combinations of my mom's medicines could have killed me. Adrianna became relegated to a chair in the middle of the room where my parents could see her from every angle, until the next time she was admitted to the mental hospital.
My parents gave up their parental rights to Adrianna when I was 16. I don't remember much about that process, either, except that my parents were treated like criminals by the state.
Adrianna went back into foster care, and the new caseworkers told my parents that they didn't believe that she had harmed anyone. The last we heard, Adrianna had been placed into a foster home with a two-year-old child and the family dog slept on the foot of her bed every night.
I have many friends now who have adopted children, and their stories are very different from mine. Their adoptions brought happiness and joy into their lives, and expanded or even completed their families. Their stories illustrate the beauty of adoption, and I have often hesitated to tell my own because it sullies what can be a wonderful process.
But, I know that our family was not the only one to experience a nightmare adoption, and our stories matter, too, even if only to remind families to do their own research and ensure they have all of the information before deciding whether to accept a particular child.
Adoption is a wonderful thing -- except for when it's not.