I’d like to address reading this memoir “Three Little Words” from the perspective of an aspiring author who wishes to publish a similar story, my own. I write down testimonies as they return to my memory just as this book captured the thematic childhood of those of us who have felt un-wanted throughout the course of our lives. I suppose that God knew I would choose to pick up this read because He and I are on a journey into my past so I can discover who I really am, hence the lure I had to become a CASA volunteer. I found it quite remarkable actually that I would see these letters anywhere in the South, since I was an intern with the acronymed non-profit some 20 years ago in Maryland. All this time later, I finally feel ready to sow back into another person’s life without being a vigilante or fighting “City hall”. Being told to calm down on average 5 out of 7 days a week, I have found a sweet spot in my healing that affords me to speak up for children who may not have a voice as I did when I was living through a similar hell at their age.
I was very demonstrative while this reading this book by, “Ashely Rhodes-Courter”, I guess it’s a good thing that I live by myself. I was gripped from the opening paragraph and had the book devoured in two days, something I hadn’t passionately pursued for four years. I used to read multiple books at a time while on the treadmill at the gym and prided myself on filling my brain with knowledge on self-help books. I have always been a seeker of the truth, mostly because sifting through all of the adults lies I heard while being quieted as a child caused me to second-guess myself. There wasn’t an adult I could trust growing up unless it was a teacher, and there were many of those, but Dad often got to them and squashed any advocacy that was erupting. I could relate to Ashley, the main character and author of this non-fiction account. She was a whippersnapper, a famous observer of those who lacked empathy and altruism, a trait all abuse survivors carry, especially when our surrogate care takers remind us of the parents who abandoned us. I may not have entered foster care, but I shifted homes often because people didn’t know what to do with me after my mom walked out. To say that my own memory wasn’t jogged when reading the chapters of this book would be a lie. I went back to places in my mind’s eye that I had repressed by choice only to finally lift them up to God in surrender.
This author brings the reader into the moment, wanting to lash out at Mrs. Moss who hatefully pushed her face into her own vomit after drinking curdled milk. My anger pulsed reading that scene because it was so vivid and full of emotion, so abusive, yet excused by officials for being accurate discipline. My own starkest teenage memory surfaced on my skin as I kept reading, my eyes filling with tears and letting them stream because circumstances like these can be traded for details and people in the personal testimonies of so many. How could it be that I was being drawn into Ashley’s life as an insider for the sake of healing my own soul?
I think my biggest waves of shock came when I read about the blatant disregard the systems “workers” had for Ashley and her brother Luke as they were being shoved off as problem kids and sent back to homes of further accusation. I wanted to string up Mr. Ferris for siding with the foster parents and not being educated on the symptomatic behaviors of children who have been abused, often at the hands of those who put on such a great show as the Moss’s. Why packing kids like sardines into a poverty struck trailer was deemed exemplary for housing orphans, is beyond me; an outrage that fanned the flame of Ashley’s adoptive mother, Gay to give back a voice to her new daughter. I would turn each page with anticipation for how the two of them would overcome the fear of being rejected by the other yet grow in character because of it. Learning about past evidence that should have changed the course of direction for Ashley and Luke’s placements, infuriated me because of how the child welfare system failed them. Much of my own childhood had to piece together like a puzzle for the simple fact that adults were sloppy with their responsibilities or selfish at best when presumed accountable. As Ashley gained evidence that proved her discernment all along, it made perfect sense to me when she blurted out, “That confidentiality crap just protects the workers, not the kids”. I cried so many times while getting lost in the vivid portrayal of raw interaction between Ashley and officials who crossed her path while being in the care of strangers; all subject to red tape and sweeping incriminating facts under the rug. I found it astounding that “I guess so”, were the three little words that solidified her adoption and future, revealing the uncertainty a child so often betrayed feels.
But redemption came as Ashley forged a life where she could surrender her hyper-vigilance and expectation of going back into the system, and the emergence of a family unit appeared. I had to pause more often during this section of the read because it left me feeling hollow inside. Her story was actually quite remarkable, a complete 180 from my own. I still have no relationship with my mother which ran parallel to her biological mother Lorraine, even though I was championing every turn of the page to bring re-unification. At one point in the story Gay told Ashley, “Her guilt makes her blind to your feelings”, when referencing why a mother can’t relate to her daughter. Although our stories as kids were similar, it still sparked a need for reconciliation in my own life that before reading this book seemed impossible.
The people that mattered the most however, were apparent during the most healing moments of Ashley’s life. Support from her two caseworkers, adoptive parents and guardian-ad-litem proved that she “could show her mother how great she turned out without her help”. The stability of her new found family would take the guessing out of love and acceptance that eluded her during her formative years.
I had to wonder if my choosing this book to read wasn’t a set-up for my own encouragement. I read books about counseling trauma and abuse victims like it is going out of style, but this one elaborated on Ashley’s present state and the pursuit of her dreams to travel and speak. If I trust that every book I have read made a deposit into my spirit, than I could apply that same principal to picking up this one. I felt my dreams of traveling to share my testimony well up inside of me, awakening my spirit to possibilities of changing a broken system and delivering thousands of children. For the first time in a long time I related to a fervency of justice and gentleness that little Ashley explained in behavior that adult Ashley was able to put on paper. If this little girl could touch the quieted child inside of my adult body, maybe I could find my voice too.