American Voices Education Nina's World Writers and Writing

“While we were being driven away, I was trying to recognize something…”


Nina Montoya is a student in writer/teacher Dennis Danziger’s English class at Venice High School.

She is also part of PEN in the Classroom, a program that sends professional writers into their classrooms for creative writing residencies. In Danziger’s class the kids worked on personal essays, and the professional writer also happened to be Danzinger’s wife, Amy Friedman.

Ten of those students will be performing the essays that resulted in a spoken word setting on Monday, March 8, at the Powerhouse Theater in Santa Monica. (I’ll remind you again when the date is closer.)

But in meantime, I thought you would enjoy reading the biographical essay that the talented Nina has written.

It is a called: Never to be Seen Again.

Keep in mind as you read it that Nina, a senior, is an honor student, a cheerleader, on staff of the yearbook and has been accepted by Cal State, Northridge for Fall 2010.

Ten years ago I was sitting in my third grade classroom at Noise Elementary School picking up my school things, shoveling them into my Lion King backpack. Before I whisked out the classroom door my teacher caught my eye. I can hardly remember what she looked like, all I can remember was thinking she looked pretty and her hair was a dark brunette. She had just received a phone call and ordered me to accompany her to the office.

I cannot recall when I first remember seeing my older sister Kirin. Kirin, age nine, was either already in the police car or we stepped into the cruiser together. We were not allowed to go home and pack our things; it was straight off to foster care again, except this time I was seven, old enough to remember. I had been there once before, but did not remember anything about that place. My only knowledge of having been there before was from what my sister had told me.

My memory is foggy as to what exactly happened. I do not remember my sister’s reaction to any of this. We knew we would not go home anytime soon and that upset us. Home was in Pasadena, California and to me always seemed prefect. With warm weekends and seemingly endless sunny days. Most of those sunny days we spent on the perfectly manicured, bright green lawn, running crazy and wild through the sprinklers in the front yard.

While we were being driven away, I was trying to recognize something, anything, grasping for some kind of hint, but I never did figure out where we were headed. The vehicle slowly pulled up in front of a small one-story house with an attached garage on the left side of our unwanted new home.

My sister and I walked into the place overrun with children; thankfully I learned they were just visitors. My first thought of the place as we walked was it was a madhouse.

There was so many kids that it looked like a daycare and felt like a zoo.

We were given the full tour by our soon to be foster mother. She was nothing special to look at. Not so much chunky or fat but a little on the thick side as I remember, Hispanic. Worse, the entire time we were shown around I heard nothing but nonsensical “blah blah blah ” and we both knew they were talking about us.

The tour seemed pointless because my head was spinning. I wanted to run right out of that house, grab my sister’s hand and run home. I did not want to be there with those strangers in that stupid house; they were not my family. I wanted nothing to do with them. I wanted home and this, this definitely was not home and never would be.

Our room was plain. The wooden floors creaked beneath our feet when we walked in. There was a wall with a dresser against it and one on the opposite wall as well. To the right were two beds, one up against the wall in a corner and the other parallel to it. Past the second bed there was a threshold which led to the bathroom that was always cold. Our room was too.

The bathroom there holds memories of torture. I never wanted to take showers in the middle of the day when we were ordered to and I was constantly thrown into the shower still fully clothed as shocking cold water rained upon me. I hated being there but was always too afraid to tell my social worker what I experienced every day. Perhaps it was fear or just plain childish stupidity. Or maybe I thought that if I did tell this was the only place where we could ever live and then what would happen to us?

The pain of pulled hair and slaps, by our foster mother, still bring color to my face; the memories still tug at my mind, and I worry for the children doomed there today, as my sister and I were trapped there a decade ago.

I spoke with my grandma every night on the phone and prayed with her so God could take me back home but it seemed as though my prayers were never answered soon enough. I never did go back home. I never got to go back inside my room, or play in my backyard again. I got to leave the little unwanted house it seemed like I was there for years but it was much less, probably just one year,I cannot recall.

By the time my father obtained custody of my sister and me, he had moved to an apartment near my grandmother’s which to me was never home. I would cry when I was angry. I wished to be back in my old room, my true home, the place of my early childhood happiness. But that never happened.

My experience in foster care has made me fight to strive past everyone trying to hold me back. I refuse to let anyone hold me back. I have realized that whatever I may end up doing in life I want to help others in need and let them know that help is there. I want them to know that there is no reason to be afraid. That speaking out is the best thing to do rather than worrying or over analyzing the situation when one is in dire need of assistance.

I will never treat a child the way I was treated. A childhood such as mine is something I would never let anyone endure if there was something I could do about it. Whenever I am out in public and I hear the shriek of a child my heart crumbles. I know their pain, the burning eyes that cry tears that seem as though there cannot be anymore. I yearn to reach out to the child and want nothing more than to help, to stop the tears, to stop the ache. I do not want them to feel pain or sadness; my pain, my sadness.


  • By the way, everyone. The wonderful author’s name is Nina. In my 3 a.m. haze I changed it to Sara halfway through. (It’s fixed now.) But it is Nina Montoya. And, yes, Mavis, I agree. Telling stories makes a difference.

    And, hey, on this thread let’s just discuss the business at hand, which is this terrific essay.

  • WTF, me and Rob are going snowboarding. On our way to Boreal right now. His ’90s gangsta rap is a bit nerve racking but other than that we’re having a good time.

  • All of the reports on OKeefe are focusing more on Acorn and how he outed them than they are on what OKeefe just did. Liberal media? Pfft. My ass. Rob watches Olbermann and Maddow every day. Real hard line Democrat. I try to tell him it’s a waste of time. I’m going to teach him some good scams, see if I can get his mind off of politics. It’s the least I can do for him for adopting me.

  • My wife’s mom and dad were foster parents for some years after we were first married. I ran into two brothers that were with her for about a year while investigating an adw at a bar. They remembered me and told me the only foster home they ever felt ok at was my in-laws.

    Their dad was in prison and mom simply abandoned them. Sometimes you go from bad to worse and other times, in my own opinion more often, you end up in a better situation.

    Sounds like Nina’s doing well now.

  • Hey you know what??? This is crazy! I am a good friend of Nina’s dads and every weekend I see her and how hard she works on her education. She is a hard working girl with an awesome spirit and I am so glad so see someone recognize her hard work!!

  • Reading this brings back memories because I remember her coming to me and telling me that she had to combine these 2 essays into 1. She wanted me to help her. She asked me to read them. I remember reading them and I was so touched. Not only because of what she went through, and that she was willing to share it, but because of what she has become. I told her it was obvious that she did not need any help. Just follow her heart and do what she always does and it would turn out just fine. Obviously….. it did!
    And just FYI, Nina and her sister are still with their dad. He has taken care of them since they were little. No they do not live in a big fancy home, but the three of them are together and have been since that time. The friends they made in elementary school, they were able to graduate with. Kirin graduated Venice high last year and Nina will graduate this year. I know this family really well, and although they have been through some struggles, they are so incredibly close. Their dad would do anything for them and they would do anything for him. You always hear about single mothers raising their kids. Well this is the opposite. A single father raising 2 girls and they have both turned out so well. Thank you soooo much Celeste for featuring her story!!!!

  • Hello, this is the “author”. I feel so strange to be considered that. First off I would like to thank you, Celeste, for publishing my story. “Sure Fire” is right a lot of the times you do end up in a worse place then where they actually took you from and it is truly horrible. To be honest I would have been happier if they just left me and my little dysfunctional family alone. Yes I love my Daddy and I have another essay about how that works and yes I abused and there’s a whole other story on how that stopped as well though I haven’t written that one yet. Questions go ahead and ask i am not sure what else to write . :]

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