CHAPTER 1

My name is Doe. No really, that's my name. Doe McCormick. For those interested, it used to be Baby Girl Doe. I was found wrapped up in some trash from an evacuation center where a lot of people went during a tropical storm that caused damage and flooding the night I was born. They thought they had narrowed it down to which location the trash came from, but my biological womb provider was never identified. I was a micro-preemie and shouldn't have lived. That's the God's honest truth as I was told it over and over until people got over their surprise that not only was I found alive but that I made it. Well, I did, just with the kind of problems that doesn't make finding adoptive parents easy.

I was in foster care for two years. Not really appealing to most people to think about adopting that kid in the hospital crib with all the wires and tubes attached to her and a face that not even Frankenstein's mommy could have loved. No, that isn't self-pity; it is realism in the face of those that would try and paint a rose-colored picture to make themselves feel better. I try not and lie, especially not to myself, you avoid unnecessary pain that way. But, despite the crappy beginning, eventually I got lucky.

Sergeant Blake McCormick heard about me from someone at the precinct that had answered a domestic call at an overcrowded foster home for special needs kids. Sergeant McCormick and his wife Danyelle had tried for 10 years to have kids before they tried to adopt. They didn't have any better luck trying to get a kid that way since a lot of agencies blackballed them because he was a cop and there were guns in the house. For whatever reason, that month the State was feeling generous … mostly because they were desperate to get kids out of their inventory before a new law took effect restricting the number of kids they could assign any given case worker, and restricting the number of kids the State could take in during any given quarter of the fiscal year. In record time I finally got a last name. More importantly, I got parents who wanted and loved me.

Being adopted is a pretty big deal for a foster kid. For those with parents, it is accepting that the ones you used to have you lost (or they lost you) and finally someone else wanted you enough to go through everything to give you their last name. For those that never had parents, it is like winning the lottery; the older you are, or the more challenged you are lowers your odds of winning. Even though I was a desirable age for adoption, I had too many things wrong with me to really be "marketable" by the adoption agencies. But still, it seems providential that I was wanted the way they said. But fairytales are just fake stories and don't happen in real life all that often. I had a fairytale of sorts and then real life came along and tore down Cinderella's castle.

I was blessed to have both my parents until I was 14. That's more than some kids ever get. I don't take that for granted. I could draw the sad story out forever but that's not what they would want and while I didn't have them a lifetime, they gave me a lifetime of love so I will always honor them. They picked me. They were told about all the problems I might have for the rest of my life, but they still picked me. And they loved me and gave me a chance that no one else had ever even considered. That's worth honoring.

Things were financially tight when I was first adopted – I wasn't a cheap kid to have because of all the medical stuff wrong with me – but life got better for all of us after that first little hump. Dad eventually made detective, earned tons of commendations and stuff and closed a lot of cases and got a promotion because of it. That's when he was handed a cold case that had been pretty high-profile when it first happened back in the dark ages. Then along comes the anniversary of what happened and the family of the victim started making a lot of noise to the media about it never being solved even after a lot of years had passed. People weren't real happy with that state of affairs, not to mention all of the bad publicity they didn't need, so the big muckety-mucks wanted to prove they had their best men on it to avoid any more political or budgetary aggravation. A lot of new leads turned up because of the media exposure and the case got hot again; great for some people, not so for others. It turns out the small-time criminal that did the deed way back when had become a big-time crime boss and he was not pleased at the idea that he was going to be taken down by the death of a two-bit escort girl that had been an accidental killing to begin with.

Dad was working late one night when he and his partner were ambushed and killed. The big-time crime boss decided to take care of things himself so he wouldn't owe anyone only he forgot that cops now had dash cams in their autocars and mandatory body cams on duty even when they weren't wearing uniforms. It was a slam dunk and people told Mom and I we should be happy about that. I wanted to slam dunk them for saying something so stupid. I wanted my dad, not another commendation and a cold headstone to go with it.

Then nine months later one of Momma's defective ovaries became cancerous and she is gone before another 4 months passes, as much from the radical cancer treatments as from the cancer itself. But in that four months she crammed every bit of teaching she could. She fought to live as long as she could and that lesson alone has kept me going when it would've been so much easier to give up and die. Dad's example… Mom's example… and Bam Bam. That is what keeps me going. I've got more reasons to hang on than to let go, it's just a matter of reminding myself of that on the days that life feels too hard to keep going.

I was 15. Parentless again. A grieving orphan … and yeah, I realize how pathetic and Dickensonian that sounds but that's the way it was. And trying to figure out what came next didn't exactly distract from the misery I was living. In the process I trusted the wrong people. Or maybe it was I didn't trust the right people. Looking back I can sorta see it was both. Analyzing it hasn't changed what happened. I might understand better how it happened but that only helps a little, and sometimes not at all. They say time helps. I don't think they really know what they are talking about. All time does is change you, it doesn't change what happened to you. All you can really do is use time to learn to live with what you can't change.

People still tried to call me special-needs despite the fact that I'd managed to outlive and outgrow how I started. I didn't do that on my own, I had a lot of help. And not just from my parents who taught me what it meant to be a real person and not just some thing that only lived in a hospital crib. But once you get a label hung on you that's all that people want to see. It isn't that there wasn't some reason for it in the beginning but what the heck was all the help I was receiving for if not to let me live beyond the original label? I had surgeries on my eyes and ears and while neither is perfect I don't need glasses except for reading, or hearing aids though I have something called APD that is a real challenge on some days. I cracked 5 foot in height – which is more than the doctors originally thought – and while I'm not real tall I don't qualify as real short either unless I'm standing next to a basketball player. Surgery corrected the cleft in my face and palate, and speech therapy helped me conquer the lisp and the stutter. Braces and some other junk fixed the rest of the wonky stuff that went wrong with my mouth except that I'm short my wisdom teeth where they had to take out the tooth buds during one of the corrective surgeries. The only other thing that really gets in my way is that it's a pain in the tush to find shoes that fit. Daddy used to tease me and say I didn't have feet, but toothpicks with toes. That's not far off the mark and he was only teasing in fun, not to be mean. So, since Florida is home, I lived in flip-flops and sandals as much as possible which is 99% of the year. The other thing is that the medicine they gave me to catch me up kind of overshot the mark in some areas and I hit puberty early … try eight years old. I didn't just start my menses but got hair and boobs where women tend to have them. Maybe that is TMI for you Bam-Bam but it was my reality and if you are going to understand me, and understand how you came to be, you unfortunately get the nitty gritty along with the happy or sappy. Bottom line is that I learned the facts of life early and makes what happened later even more ironic.

So like I said, there I was 15 years old and between one thing and another I was struggling to figure out why I'd been found instead of just going in the landfill. I wasn't feeling sorry for myself exactly. I didn't want to die. I just didn't know what my purpose for living was so didn't act too keen on it continuing. And then the family I had left unilaterally decided I was to live with my paternal step grandmother and her new husband. Yeah … sounds weird when it is said like that but lots of kids have nontraditional families these days. I know I was lucky to have someplace to go but the luck didn't last long.

Ree-Ree (she considered "grandmother" an ageist stigma) was a social worker slash child psychologist before she retired. She was also what Momma used to call, more than a little full of herself. Essentially, she was the type of person that could debate a stump into a coma. She and Daddy weren't what you would call close as they had different views about accountability and all that type of stuff, but they still considered each other family even after Daddy's father died. So it isn't like I didn't know her when I went to live in her house. I just didn't know what I would be getting myself into by going to live in her house.

By and large everyone considered the move a good thing and thought it was the perfect solution for what to do with me. Plus, everyone whispered where I wasn't supposed to hear, I could earn my keep by helping her with her new husband that was recently diagnosed with dementia and fading fast. Wasn't the best really, but it was convenient … for everyone else but me. But that's when I found out just how different her worldview was from the one I'd been raised with.

Maybe I was a little spoiled but then again I was never allowed to get away with much at home. And there were never any excuses because I was adopted, or started out medically challenged, or anything like that. I towed the line just like anyone else would have had to. The one thing my parents conceded was that I learned differently and in the beginning just wasn't a good fit for your average classroom situation. I was homeschooled up until Mama got sick and then she enrolled me in the school district's virtual school and also into online classes at the local college after I passed the CPT (college placement test). Strike one was that Ree-Ree really didn't believe that parents should be able to homeschool their own child, that it should even be legal, so against my pediatrician's advice she immediately put me in public school. What a hassle that was. However, as much as I hated it, it wound up being the only refuge I had; but, that's not saying much.

Once enrolled it took a lot of fighting to prove I wasn't a candidate for any of the special ed programs. Ree-Ree and some of her friends swore up-and-down that I had to be behind both scholastically and socially. They just didn't want to believe that Mom could have done an adequate job, that any parent could do the job as well as a teacher could. Plus, they still believed the way I was originally labeled. Strike two was it turned out I was anything but behind, and the proof of that through academic test after academic test embarrassed Ree-Ree, and her friends that were high up in the school district's administrative food chain. Those friends decided to take a wait and see attitude but Ree-Ree couldn't let it go. She is one of those people that must be right at all costs. She started saying the teachers had to be playing PC and passing me just to get rid of me. She would take me out of class without warning for exams and tests until even her friends started thinking she was the one that was a few fries short of a value meal.

Eventually she stopped but it wasn't because she'd changed her opinion. Nope. She stopped because she got a new hobby horse to ride. She started living on the sympathy she got as Bob's dementia turned from bad to worse. Worse for Ree-Ree that Bob thought she was his mother which really burned her tail feathers as she was sorta vain about looking younger than her age. Worse for me was when he started to confuse me with his first wife. See, Bob was still a good-looking man and still in decent physical shape. He was in his 50s but looked younger; same as Ree-Ree. Even with proof easily provided, people had a hard time believing he was cognitively challenged. When I complained that he wouldn't leave me alone, I was told just to gently remind him who I was. And when that didn't work to just ignore it. What they didn't have to deal with is that he would get angry if I tried to correct or ignore him. Then he got paranoid and finally his happy-go-lucky, child-of-the-new-age personality morphed and he became controlling, conniving, and abusive.

I used to lock my room to keep him out. Then Ree-Ree got her own kind of paranoid and took the lock off, trying to say I was being a passive aggressive teenager. She thought – or maybe had to believe – that I was making a mountain out of a mole hill. I just stopped listening to her and her complaints when everyone else stopped listening to me. That was strike three in my book.

Things were so messed up. In hindsight I know I should have talked to someone. The school resource officer or the guidance counselor would have listened. Or the grief counselor the pediatrician referred me to. Then again maybe not. But who knows for sure? I never gave them a chance, so I'll never know. And even if no one believed me it would have gotten what was happening on record. But when you're in the middle of a crap storm and not knowing who to trust sometimes you jump the wrong way or don't jump fast enough to stay out of reach of the Bad Thing that's looming over you.

A Bad Thing finally happened to me and it wasn't just a pretend boogey man scratching at the window in the middle of the night. I woke up with Bob on top of me, nearly smothering me as he was trying to force me to respond to his advances. Of course, I objected but he wouldn't get off. He may have been mentally frail, but he was still physically strong. He was also cunning. I didn't know it at the time, but he'd doped Ree-Ree. That's why she didn't respond to my screams for help. It took most of the night. It was so surreal that even now it seems less real than what came before and afterwards.

I finally got away by climbing out of the window and running down the street. I was pretty messed up by then. My refusal to be part of his fantasy caused him to have a very, very violent reaction. I won't bother with the details. You don't really need them. Suffice it to say, that is the beginning of the part of the story that tells how a girl that had been thrown away as a piece of trash at birth refused to throw another baby away just because his beginning was trashy.

I did think for a while about giving Bam-Bam up for adoption. It's what you do if you want what is best for the baby if you know you aren't in much of a position to give them what they are going to need in life either emotionally or financially, or you don't have the social support network to help you to be responsible in those areas. I wasn't scared of making the decision, but it did make me sad until I remembered that I had wonderful adoptive parents. Most adopted kids have good families. And they go on to have good lives no matter what kind of lives their biological parents wind up having. Very few of them have lives that turn into the soap opera that my life has been, and I was content to make the decision to give him up. But then something happened to change my mind.

The tests and blood work and stuff came back abnormal. The re-tests came back abnormal too. There was big time pressure for me to have an abortion but I was able to stave them off until it was legally too late even though they'd tried to get a court order to have it done with or without my cooperation. Then they kept at me saying things like he would be special needs or maybe not even make it to be born, or might not live long after that. It was then that I decided to be the mom God picked for him for as long as I could. I wasn't trying to be heroic or anything like that. It just seemed that no one was taking his part in all of this. I had a friend with Down's Syndrome one time explain to me that his life was worth living even if it wasn't a life anyone else would pick; and, that he was glad his mother had ignored people telling her that an abortion was a good option. That kind of thing will make you think if you have any soul at all, and for all that had happened to me I still had mine. I had had someone save me even if no one considered me worth much. I wanted to give that same thing to the baby I was carrying. I didn't want him to get thrown away just because he might be different.

A lot of people wanted to get in on that decision but they missed the cut off. I was 16 and the law said I had a right to make my own choices for both me and my baby, without undue influence from anyone else or agency. I did have to go to family court but that was OK; it's not like I hadn't been there before. The court said that I might have the legal right to make my decisions, but they had the legal obligation to oversee the results of my decisions and try and guide me so that I didn't become a burden on society, or at least they did until I was legally an adult or emancipated. The judge assigned me a guardian ad litem who, as it turned out, had a brother that was a lawyer. For reasons of his own, reasons he never discussed with me though I kinda had the feeling it had to do with something personal, he took on my case pro bono. My guardian ad litem helped me get a room in a halfway house, register for school – because even though I was 16 and could have dropped out it was a condition for getting housing – helped me sign up for some other classes too; and these were on top of the required parenting and daily living skills training required by the half-way house. Her brother the lawyer helped me get my own bank account, transfer all the legal paperwork I needed, and even took my parents' estate and put it in trust so no one could get at it or take it away for me.

The charity that runs the halfway house is strict and very regimented but at the same time life is very real there. The purpose is to prepare us to have a place of our own and take care of our kid full-time without financial assistance having to prop us up. Their goal is to turn us into contributing members of society, not ones dependent on government handouts or charity. The way I understand it, the newest overhaul of the system means that to receive any kind of government benefits … from social security to federal and state pensions down to WIC and food stamps … you have to go to yearly classes and have a complete financial review. The most anyone can qualify for, above and beyond social security or their government pension, is one public dollar for every three private charity dollars you receive. It used to be the government paid for everything, now they hardly pay for anything; and what you do receive is taxed every bit as hard as private money is. The private charities are also a lot pickier than the government social workers ever were allowed to be. The rules are really tough for some charities, or they only serve a very narrow population … like at the halfway house where I live you have to be under eighteen with a baby under two and you can only have one baby. You can also get kicked off any program if you have more kids while you are accepting financial support. You can get kicked off programs for any violation of their rules at all. When that first started there were riots and a lot of mess that people like my dad had to deal with but I guess some kind of tipping point had been reached, the pendulum swung, or whatever else you might want to call it and people didn't have any choice but to follow the new rules or suffer the consequences. I heard this person on the tv say one time, "The tax payers have spoken. Widows and orphans come first. Then comes retirees that paid into the tax system with the expectation of getting retirement bennies. After that you better be prepared to deal with your situation because a hand up you can earn, a hand out is going to be scarce as hen's teeth with lots of rules and stipulations that come along with it."

There are still people who game the system. There will always be people like that. But these days if you get caught doing it you don't get your hand smacked; you get thrown in jail, have to pay restitution, and you can kiss goodbye getting any other kind of federal or state assistance ever and the private charities blackball you on top of that. Took about two years and a crapton of housecleaning and listening to a lot of people cry and moan and groan at how unfair it all was, but the courts eventually cleared out with a lot of people shocked by their new permanent circumstances.

I was good with the rules and still am. Some of the other girls I ran into not so much. They want to have a kid yet still be a kid themselves and not be responsible. Even though getting pregnant wasn't my fault, I did make the choice to stay pregnant and then keep Bam-Bam. I don't feel penalized or anything. It was and is my choice. Besides, I figure the kid part of my life is dead and buried and maybe has been since Momma died. Some of the other girls living in the halfway house have yet to figure their crap out and just roll from one poor decision to the next like they can't be bothered to do it any other way. I feel bad for their kids but frankly only have enough energy to take care of Bam-Bam and myself. Other people's problems are their problems and I keep my nose out of it. Maybe my compassion bone broke or something. I don't know. I've decided to live and let live. I don't tell other people what to do and I don't want them telling me what to do, at least beyond what authority I recognize … like house rules, community rules, and stuff like that.

I know what I want for Bam-Bam … and myself … and that's enough to be getting on with on the resources I've got to use. Besides like I said, at 18 years old I need to have a plan of some type because the half-way house is only for minors with children under two years of age. I'm working on it. I have a couple of work from home type jobs, plus I sell things online like on the website call SecondTimeAround. I find the stuff to sell at yard sales, thrift stores, and estate sales. I've even dumpster dived a few times though it is easier to ask at the back door of businesses if they have anything they need hauled off. I've made good money that way because the dumpster companies are pretty dang picky about what they will allow for pick up and the landfills have all of these crazy rules too. I also have the money from my parents' life insurance and from the sale of the house and stuff, what the lawyer calls their estate; but, I won't see much of that until I'm 25. Until then I need to do everything I can myself. My bill-paying money comes from survivor's benefits I receive from Social Security and I'm lucky the charity that runs the half-way house doesn't ask for a penny for room and board because most of that money gets used paying for things Bam-Bam needs, our transportation, and for other stuff like that.

Momma always told me to be creative in my solutions to problems that come up. Daddy called it thinking outside the box and being self-motivated. I don't care what you call it, I'm just thankful they taught me those types of skills because I can tell you I'd be deep in dog do if I didn't have them. Being responsible for myself is hard and expensive; being responsible for my baby has seriously given me heart burn. But I'm figuring things out with the little bit of space that the charity has bought me. Take clothes for instance; the clothes we have may not be brand new and may be someone else's cast offs, but they are clean and in good repair. Her last four months of life one of the things Momma taught me was to sew. She thought it was a vital skill to have and even bought me a pretty nice sewing machine as my last birthday present. And there was an older girl I met at the halfway house that traded me crochet lessons for babysitting her kid so she could take a night class and finish her GED. I'm teaching myself to needlepoint and do some other fancy embroidery stitches by watching videos online. The one thing that is free in a lot of places is wifi and I've used it to do my homework, learn new skills, and make money; I don't know where I would be without it. I even got a printer out of a dumpster that still had some life left in it and I print stuff out and put it in this ginormous three ring binder I got out of another dumpster diving expedition.

I've taken those skills – new and old – and made over items that I find for cheap at yard sales or in the clearance barrel at the thrift store down the road. Sometimes I'll find a nice name-brand blouse or dress someplace and I'll clean and press it and then sell it on Ebay for several times what I have into it. Ebay and Amazon are also good places to sell the books I find at estate sales. SecondTimeAround and the rebooted local versions of FreeCycle and BarterCentral is where I get rid of what I can't sell in other places. I've also gotten a few things there; a little bit of give and take. All of that is adding up even after I buy stuff that Bam-Bam needs, like his extra special liquid vitamins that he really hates and the expensive diapers that the charity requires us to use because they decompose in landfills better than the store-bought ones do. I'd go to cloth diapers if I could but I have to take our laundry around the corner to the laundromat and they don't let you wash dirty diapers in their machines. Rules, rules, rules. I know you gotta have them but too many of them get in the way.

I already have enough money saved for a first and last month's rent plus security deposit for this apartment complex that is within walking distance of the state college where I am taking online classes as a dual enrollment student. The more I save the more cushion I will have. But the more I save the more I have to lose too.

No one knows how much money I really have, not even my Guardian ad litem. I think her lawyer/brother might suspect because he lectured me long and hard on being careful but always keeping cash on hand for emergencies; that having money in the bank is important but there might be a day or an emergency that getting to the bank might not be easy. I keep my cash hidden in this special secret pocket I sewed into my purse and I keep my purse on me or locked up and hidden at all times. I won't write down how much it is, but it is a lot more than a little bit. But if I know anything at all, I know that money can't fix everything. It can't fix that Daddy and Momma are gone. It can't fix what Bob did even though some people think I should have sued them for emotional distress or something along those lines. And it can't fix the terrible weather we've been having.

I just started my senior year of high school, or I've tried to. Seriously. School started the middle of August and here it is the beginning of October and we've already been out of school for two hurricanes and one tropical storm. Now this. Hurricane Hildebeast is what they're calling it. It is really storm #8 of the season and is called Hillary. I think the stupid name is a political reference to some woman that used to be important, or so said the news commentator on tv that smiled so wide she looked like she had more teeth than a shark. It doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things, it is just a name. It's the mess the storm is leaving in its wake that is the problem. It was the strongest hurricane in recorded history when it was over Puerto Rico and supposedly all contact with the island has been lost. The US Virgin Islands isn't in any better condition. Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and all those little Caribbean nations blinked out one right after another as the storm passed over or near them. It is almost like the storm is an eraser, wiping away places.

The news is getting scary because the storm isn't slowing down or getting weaker. You can see it on the faces of the local reporters who are beginning to feel the effects in South Florida, hear it in the voices of public officials being interviewed on the radio. Even the ones from the national media networks and the ones that are the real adrenaline junkies only seem to want to hunker down when normally they'd be out in the wind, rain, and surf. I bet it was that reporter getting squished on live TV that did it. He was down near the beach in one of the parking lots when a rogue wave came up and slammed into the cars. It picked a couple of them up and suddenly, cameras rolling, the reporter got book ended between a van and a big SUV. They finally got the live feed shut down, but everyone had already heard the screams and saw as one of his legs was pulled out to sea as the water receded nearly as quickly as it had come up.

That's when Aunt Darla reached a tipping point and retreated to her room with her ultimatum for cold comfort. That's also when Derek decided he wasn't giving in. It's also when Trish and Terry started to really show their back ends. Not sure if they were feeding off Aunt Darla's attitude or if maybe they were more scared than they were letting on and not expressing themselves very constructively. Either way the two of them retreated the same way Aunt Darla had. Not long after that the power in this neighborhood went off. I don't know what caused it because even though there was already some rain the wind hadn't even reached tropical storm force yet. People that don't know how to entertain themselves really come unraveled when the power is out.

Trish got irritated at Derek telling her to stop wasting the battery on her phone since we don't know when the power is going to come back on. Terry is out on the lanai just zoning because Derek won't let him use his laptop for his virtual reality headset. Terry lives in virtual reality more than he lives in real reality and is having a very hard time being unplugged. Terry is supposed to be on meds for VR addiction, but he lies about taking them, and Aunt Darla doesn't make him like she was court ordered to. They'll catch him at his next screening and then he'll get sent to court ordered bootcamp. I've heard VR withdrawal is really bad. There's a girl two doors down from me at the halfway house whose boyfriend got sent to rehab for VR addiction. She said that a lot of people go really crazy at first and her boyfriend nearly stroked out because his body had big-time problems creating the right chemicals in the right amounts to keep the neurons in his brain healthy and happy and doing the jobs they are supposed to do. I don't want that for Terry, he used to be a good guy, but he's basically a zombie if he doesn't have his VR headset on. It is pretty freaky to be around and he can be a little dangerous when he forgets which world he is in … there are no do-overs in the real world and as Derek finally pointed out the obvious the last time he took Terry to the ER, "the law of gravity applies in this world."

In the old days Derek would have just ignored Trish and Terry and let them reap the consequences and told them to go complain to their mother. He's Aunt Darla's fifth husband. She's a cougar and kind of wears the younger guys out and then moves on to a fresh one when they've had enough. But he is also the one that has lasted the longest; they've been married almost six years. Unlike in the past, these days he is trying to be responsible and be the man of the house, not just wear the title while Aunt Darla wears the pants. And he explained it just like that too, right before telling me to get Bam-Bam and all our stuff and go shut ourselves in the guest half bathroom.

He said that I'm probably in the safest room in the house. There are no windows and the walls are all reinforced where Aunt Darla's second husband had remodeled it and put tile on the walls. Being safe is a good thing but sitting here in cramped quarters hasn't exactly been a joy. I was getting bored until I found this penlight in the bottom of my purse. The new wore off sitting between the toilet and the pedestal sink trying to keep Bam-Bam from crying real fast. I decided to do something constructive with my time and write this for Bam-Bam. But I think it is time to get some rest. Bam-Bam is going to want to eat pretty soon.