The thought of losing our families is a nightmare too terrible to contemplate for many. But for one Normandy Park woman, that nightmare became a reality when she was just two years old.

A child of two young parents, Angela Smith was voluntarily handed over by her mother to be housed in foster care.

“My mom thought she was leaving me with someone who would take care of me. And I do believe she thought that,” Smith said about being left in her new home. The reality, sadly, turned out to be quite different. 

Smith would spend the next 13 years enduring physical, emotional, and psychological abuse at the hands of her foster mother and foster brother.

“I think I came out a lot better than most,” Smith said about her harrowing upbringing. “I always just thought that they were crazy and any day my parents would come get me.”

The abuse caused Smith to run away when she was only 13-years-old.

“I left at 13, lived on the streets, stayed with friends. Anything was better than being there.”

Trying to make it on her own while still a child forced Smith to return to her abusive foster home for a time, but she left for good at age 15. She had her first child at 16, another at 18, and a third at 24.

“I was a very angry person when young,” she said. “It wouldn’t take much to set me off. It felt like every day was a survival day, just do what you can to survive. I was never taught anything about anything. And then having kids, just going through day to day figuring it out as I go. I still dealt with my foster family for a while because they were the only family I had. Then one Christmas [my foster mother] started in on my daughter. That was it. I said what I had to say and never went back.”

Smith’s relationship with her first husband and the father of her children also began to dissolve.

“It was just always a struggle, I struggled most of my life with everything. My first husband, we were both teenagers, 17 years we were together. He was an alcoholic, so he had to go. My life started changing and I started growing up a little more. I realized, I don’t want to live this way, this isn’t how I want to live. All my life had been drama.”

By September of 2020, Angela had just married her third husband and was settling down happily when a life-changing discovery was made by one of her children.

“My younger daughter has always been interested in my family,” Smith said. “All my kids know my story.” Smith’s daughter got on and called Smith with some unexpected news, “I think we found your dad’s family.” 

Smith’s daughter had found a second cousin. Smith’s dad was the cousin’s great uncle. And he’d been looking for Smith for 20 years.

“My daughter started talking to this new family member. I didn’t want to get too excited.” 

Eventually, they had an emotional video call where Smith, her daughter, her dad, and the cousin who connected them all met. 

Smith and her dad established a relationship, talking often and visiting in person. It was a happy and restorative time, but there was more to come.

Smith decided to do her own ancestry and discovered a cousin in Kent on her mother’s side. Smith sent her a message and the cousin then connected Smith to her mother. They communicated through her cousin via letters until Smith said she wasn’t willing to use a proxy anymore – they needed to connect as themselves or let it lie and walk away. After that, her mother sent a letter explaining everything, including her personal address and phone number.

“It feels like a resolution” Smith said. “Finding [my parents] really did fill that void, for sure. You go so long without parents or family and then they all crop up at the same time, it’s a lot to absorb. It’s been 2.5 years, but it’s a lot to take in still. I talk to my mom at least 2-3 times a week, dad doesn’t talk on the phone too much, but he texts and all. He is very emotional over a lot of this. He still can’t believe I’m there and in his life now. I feel happier now and more fulfilled in having that family. Because I didn’t know what having parents felt like. I grew up jealous of kids who had parents because at least they knew their parents.”

Though the timing was rapid and unexpected, Smith feels that everything happened at the right time.

“When this all came about, it’s like I still can’t believe it happened,” Smith said, laughing. “Everything happened so fast. And it only took one cousin on each side. Maybe it was meant to be. I was in the part of my life where I could handle it and I’m a lot happier now and content and it was time for me to know who they are. I don’t know why all of a sudden it happened at the same time. Very emotional, very draining. My mom is horrified, she can’t believe she did what she did to me. What [my foster family] did to me is not my mom’s fault, they have to live with that, not her. I don’t blame her, but I don’t want her to feel bad about it either. I just care about being with them as much as possible.”

When asked what she thinks helped her through the roughest times of her life, Smith cites a resilient “knowing” that she has always had.

“I ended up on the streets for a few weeks, but I’m shocked I didn’t get into drugs or prostitution. I just had a different mindset,” Smith said. “I knew this isn’t my fault – these are crazy people and I’ve just got to get away. It was hard. I just knew it wasn’t my fault. I always knew it wasn’t, though they blamed me for everything under the sun. As a teen, suicide was part of my thoughts then I realized this is not me, this is them and the only way to get out of it is to leave.”

Smith is looking towards the future, and carrying on as she always has. “I don’t care about the past anymore,” she said.

“Obviously I have issues from it. When you hear awful things day in and day out, it makes it hard, that many years of that. It will do a number on you. There are some things I don’t think I’ll ever get past.”  

But ultimately, hers is a story of hope – a hope she wishes she could give to every child stuck in the system.

“The kids need to stay strong. This is not their fault. They can’t take it on as their fault that this stuff is happening, the adults, it’s on them,” Smith said. “Keep believing you’ll get through it. One thing I never did was blame my childhood for the things I did wrong. You can’t do that because you’re just going to keep it going. Always believe that you can get through it and get away from them as much as you can. It’s not easy but you have to keep fighting through. Just keep going and know the difference between right and wrong, don’t go down the wrong path. You know the difference, go get help, there’s a lot more help than in the 80s when it was considered family business, and ‘no one needs to know.’ There’s a lot more help for kids out there, but they need to find it. And make it more available. There are so many children in foster care.”

Alia Sinclair is a writer residing in SeaTac. She is passionate about the arts and connecting people through the written word, and is the founder and editor-in-chief of Patchwork Mosaic magazine for creatives.