At twelve, Tessa is a precocious, determined, bright student who dreams of what life might be like with an education and opportunities that few in her impoverished world ever see. Not wanting to remain in her low-status position within society, it is her goal and ambition to become something better. However, Tessa’s innocent world becomes derailed through tragic and life-altering events that eventually spiral out of control. Betrayed by a twisted sixth grade teacher, and parents who comply with his desires instead of the pleas of their own daughter, Tessa suffers unfounded guilt, hopelessness, and despair. A once-confident girl with a bright spirit and enthusiastic dreams shrinks into a confused, introverted teenager. It takes many years for Tessa to understand and learn to cope with the aftermaths of her stolen, abused youth. This true account is shared through the eyes of the victim.
Excerpt from Stolen Virtue
The second time I went to court, I stood alone. This time I was all alone. My lawyer was there, but my parents were not. Where were they? Could they have gotten the dates wrong?
I was wearing an old black and white plaid coat that someone had given me. Mr. Covey had locked me out. He wouldn’t let me get my things. Mr. Silva told me that I should have dressed professionally and that my hair was unkempt.
“Why didn’t you do something with that hair?” he said, looking quite annoyed.
My hair fell down to my waistline; should I have put it up in a bun? I recalled how much my best friend, Laura, kept telling me to do something with my hair. How I used to laugh at her – so much trouble over hair! But as I glanced down at myself, I felt ashamed.
I looked around the courtroom. All these people with suits on – even the women wore suits. And they had probably all gone to college!
I had only worked in the summer programs offered by the City. All we did was pack lunches and hand them out to people. All the kids wore jeans and sneakers. How could I know about professional attire?
“Where are your parents?” Mr. Silva asked.
I didn’t know what to tell him.
Then Mr. Covey walked into the courtroom. I did not look at him. My heart skipped a beat. I felt a rush of heat running through my body, the anger, the indignation, the unfairness. He had his lawyer by his side. I wondered how much he cost.
Mr. Covey was wearing a suit. He never wore suits.
He looked just like those people in the courtroom.
Where’s my father? Where’s my mother? Why aren’t they here? I told them yesterday that they had to be here at 9:30 a.m. – just yesterday! I was frightened, a terrible foreshadowing, a dreadful fear had suddenly gripped me. Something was not right here.
Our case was called and both lawyers approached the judge. I did not know what they were talking about. I couldn’t hear them. My mind preoccupied with worry as I anxiously stole a glance over to Mr. Covey’s table.
“He’s the sole provider … a school teacher … in his spare time … auxiliary policeman … provide well for the child…” I could barely hear Mr. Covey’s lawyer talking; bits and pieces. My mind was confused.
“Parents?” asked the judge. Tap, tap, tap… went his pen on the desk.
“Yes, they’ve been notified,” answered my lawyer. He occasionally looked back nervously at me. I sat there, helpless.
Tap, tap, tap, tap tap…went that blasted pen. The judge was becoming impatient as he glanced up at the clock on the wall.
I knew my father would suddenly come bursting through the courtroom doors at any moment. He would save the day with my mother standing loyally by his side. After all, he was a war hero, you know. He wouldn’t let this happen. This was Spanish pride at stake. My father would walk into the court and face the judge and demand the return of his grandchild… his first grandchild… his only grandchild.
That imagined moment never came, and the decision followed. The judge had finally ruled.
The child would go to her father. After all, he had the means to provide for her. And where were the girl’s parents?
I stood there flabbergasted, speechless; how could this be?
Wanting to cry, but unable; wanting to scream, but refusing – a sense of complete betrayal overwhelmed me. My hands clenched and tightened, I was breathing hard and sweating from a rush of fury, a burning heat.
“No!” My mind wanted to scream to the judge. “No, please, you’ve made a mistake! He has money, political connections, education. He took advantage of me. He’s fooling you! I was only twelve! Doesn’t that count? Doesn’t that mean anything? Please, you have to listen to me!”
But nothing would come out of my mouth. What could I possibly say? I was afraid of these knowledgeable and sophisticated people. I wasn’t wearing a suit.
So I stood there like a frozen statue; demoralized, abandoned. I couldn’t speak, but even if I could, what could I say? There was nothing I could do.
I can’t begin to describe the feelings. It was a sinking, sickening, desperate emotion as though someone had ripped my pounding heart right out of my chest. All I hoped for was that death would come mercifully quick. My heart felt as though it would explode – that heat, that horrific anger like a flash of fire shot right through my body.
I watched as Mr. Covey swiftly carried my child away out of the courtroom. He didn’t even stop to let me hold her one last time. She was fussing; he couldn’t control her. I smiled at her and knew she wanted to break free and come to me. My baby, my angel needed her mama. I wanted to run behind him, get on my knees, beg and plead, but they were already leaving the courtroom. I had already lost. I stood there, still frozen.
When I got home, I asked my parents, “Why, why didn’t you come?” It was an answer that I never will forget. My mother said, “Tu papa tenia que trabajar y tu siempre puedes tener otro hijo.” (“Your father had to go to work. You can always have another baby.”)
I had just turned sixteen.
A note from the author
I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York to Puerto Rican parents. My father, Victor Manual Chais, was a sergeant in the Army and was awarded the Purple Heart during the Korean conflict. My mom was a housewife. Having a tremendous love for education, I graduated from Technical Career Institute with an Associate degree in electronics engineering, and I received an Associate degree in journalism from Kingsborough Community College. I am currently enrolled at Brooklyn College pursuing a baccalaureate in both English and history.
I dedicate this book to a beloved lost daughter, Lourdes Nicole Crosby. As a single mother, I am proud to have raised a fine son, Kyle Reese Chais, who is also a writer. I thank Jehovah God for carrying me through the toughest moments in my life.