EXCERPT: Ashley Rhodes-Courter's 'Three Little Words'

Ashley Rhodes-Courter spent her childhood moving between various foster homes.

Rhodes-Courter's new book, "Three Little Words," gives readers a glimpse of her childhood in the foster-care system.

Read an excerpt from "Three Little Words" below:


Preface

I have had more than a dozen so-called mothers in my life. Lorraine Rhodes gave birth to me. Gay Courter adopted me. Then there are the fillers. Some were kind, a few were quirky, and one, Marjorie Moss, was as wicked as a fairy-tale witch. No matter where I lived, I waited impatiently to be reunited with my mother. Sometimes we had frequent visits, but other times—for some unexplained reason—I did not see her for years at a stretch.

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I remember the rush of joy as I fell into her arms after one of those interminable separations.

"Sunshine, you're my baby and I'm your only mother. You must listen to the one taking care of you, but she's not your mama. Never forget, I'm the only mama who will love you forever and ever." She pledged that we would be together soon. Soon! How often I heard that word. It was soft, soothing. "Soon, I'll be back," she promised. "I'll bring more presents, soon. We'll go home—soon."

Soon, soon, soon . . . I would croon the word to myself like a lullaby when I would try to sleep, a mantra when nobody would listen to me, a chant to block out doubts that surfaced when it seemed too long between visits. My mother loved me. I was her special Sunshine. She would be back soon. Soon! Yes, she would. Naïve and trusting, I always believed her, and in some very small way—even now—I still do.

The Day They Stole My Mother from Me

Two days compete for the worst day in my life: The first is the day I was taken from my mother; the second is the day I arrived at the Mosses' foster home four years later. Three weeks before I lost my mother, I had left South Carolina bound for Florida with her, her husband, and my brother. I was three and a half years old and remember lying on the backseat watching slippery raindrops making patterns as they plopped down the car's windows.

My infant brother, Luke, was in a car seat, which nobody had bothered to belt in, so it squished me into the door when his father took a sharp turn. Luke had a heart monitor, but it must not have been on him all the time because I remember using it on my favorite toy: a Teddy Ruxpin bear.

Until Dustin Grover came along, we shared a trailer with my mother's twin sister, Leanne, who had dropped out of school to help support me. Even though the twins looked completely different, they were interchangeable to me since Aunt Leanne spent almost as much time with me as my mother, and I never minded when one left and the other took over. I loved to nestle by Aunt Leanne's side. She would rake my curls with her fingers while talking on the phone to her friends.

My mother was only 17 when she gave birth to me. If she and my aunt were anything like most teenagers, they probably were more interested in hanging out with friends than changing diapers. Nevertheless, they worked different shifts and took turns caring for me. Their trailer became the local hangout because there was no adult supervision.

"Turn that down," my mother yelled one afternoon. I was watching cartoons, trying to drown out the teen voices by raising the volume higher and higher. "I said, turn that down!"

"Well, if you would shut the hell up, I could hear the damn TV," I said. My mother and her friends burst out laughing.

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