Life, John Lennon wrote, is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.
As a young girl in Fairfield, Chrissy had plans. Growing up — and on into her 20s and 30s — she made many more. But life — messy, real life — kept getting in the way.
Chrissy (who asked that her last name not be used) is African American. She was adopted by a white family. From a young age, she was taunted by other kids for her skin color and curly hair. Her adoptive father once called her a “black bitch.”
But that wasn’t the worst.
Her brother — also adopted, though white — molested her for several years.
Chrissy ran away from home several times. Around 13, she landed in a New Haven home for adolescents. Then the state placed her in Project Return.
The North Compo Road group home offers a safe haven to girls who have suffered severe emotional trauma. It was the stable environment Chrissy needed for years.
She found wonderful support there. Director Susie Basler was a calming presence. Other staff members were kind and understanding. There were “typical girl fights,” Chrissy says, but the girls shared common bonds. “We all had issues and problems. We supported each other. And we knew it was OK to be ourselves.”
Project Return: where girls and young women transform their lives.
She attended Staples — a “great high school,” she says. She had a good group of friends, and a special boyfriend. She led a “semi-normal” life.
But Chrissy missed having a mother, father and siblings who loved and accepted her.
At 19 — perhaps seeking the close-knit family she never had — Chrissy had a son. Four years later, she had another.
Her adoptive parents — by then divorced — did not talk to her during her 1st pregnancy. But they showed up at the hospital after she gave birth, and fell in love with their grandson. They’ve been good grandparents, she says. “Perhaps this is their way of making up for their mistakes.”
At one point, Chrissy sought out her biological parents. She learned that her biological grandparents lived around the corner from her. She’d seen them at restaurants, though she had not known they were related.
When she met them, they were cool to her — because, she says, of her race. They also discouraged their daughter — Chrissy’s biological mother — from seeing her. “The door was constantly shut in my face,” she says.
Chrissy admits, “I’m not perfect. I’ve had issues. But I’m so lucky I was never addicted to drugs, or became a prostitute. A lot of women in my situation do.”
In her search for an ideal family — which never happened — she’s been in therapy. But, she notes, “psychiatrists can only give you direction. You have to put the work in to make something happen.”
Carol Cooper Garey
One constant in her life is Carol Cooper Garey. The Westporter met Chrissy years ago, after I wrote a “Woog’s World” Westport News column about a young African American girl who was looking for a family.
Today, Carol is the godmother of Chrissy’s older, college son. “She’s been in my life no matter what,” Chrissy says gratefully. “No matter what mistakes I made, Carol never judged me. I knew she would always support me.”
Chrissy went to school, and earned an associate’s degree. She’s working now on her bachelor’s.
She had an accounting job. But life always throws her curveballs.
Several months ago, she was hit by a truck in Fairfield. She wrecked her spine, and embarked on a long recovery.
Finally, life is looking up. Chrissy is in a relationship — “the most healthy one I’ve ever had,” she says proudly. Though it is hard for her partner to hear what she’s endured, he is extremely supportive.
All of what she’s done takes “a ton of work,” Chrissy says. “It’s not easy. I’ve made a ton of mistakes. But healing is important. I just have to push forward.
“I was stuck for so long. There’s no magic pill. The memories won’t go away. But my work — changing behaviors — can be done.”
One of the most important things, Chrissy says, has been to forgive her abuser. It was “incredibly hard,” and did not happen until very recently.
Yet, she says, it had to be done. Otherwise, she could not have taken the next steps forward.
“I’m still a work in progress,” Chrissy explains.
She says it in a strong, confident voice. She is ready — no, eager — to keep moving ahead.