The Journal of James Hartline: How A Girl On A Bicycle Saved My Life and Taught Me How To Fight For The Kids of My Generation
The Journal of James Hartline:
From The Diary Of A Christian Warrior
In The Last Days
- Dated December 17, 2007 -
How A Girl On A Bicycle Saved My Life
Taught Me How To Fight
For The Kids Of My Generation
Over the last few years I have intensified my public campaign to protect the children of San Diego, California from predators and radicalized homosexual activists. There is a passion in my soul that causes me to stand up for my generation's youth. In this war to fight for our kids, I have been castigated and attacked by gay community leaders and even some church leaders. These attackers say that I am too aggressive and too divisive in my efforts. Well, let me tell you -- there is a reason that I am an extremist when it comes to fighting for our kids.
Let me take you back to 1966, to a time when I was just nine years-old. It was the winter season in my hometown of Bakersfield, California. That winter was colder than most people in southern California were used to experiencing. For me, the winter weather was not the only thing that was cold in my nine year-old life. Life indeed, had become frigid and cruel for me. Already, I had experienced years of beatings and daily torture at the hands of my disturbed mother. She was the kind of mom that ranted about immorality in the culture at the same time that she used every kind of profanity imaginable when describing how worthless I had become in her life. Her verbal assaults were always finished off with the swinging of a belt or a punch in my face from her angry fist.
By the age of nine, I had become a real expert in the art of covering up bruises and welts. I had also become a master at converting my well-worn pants and shirts into effective camouflage bandages that hid the evidence of my mother's use of belts, electrical cords and cooking spoons which she used when beating me.
At school, I had a reputation for always getting into trouble. For me, the fourth grade was more like the fourth round in a boxing match. Eventually, my parents could no longer explain my outbursts at school as evidence that I was just a "problem" child in need of psychological counseling. Fist fights at school had become my way of expressing my deep frustration over the injustices that were inflicted upon me in my own home. Finally, my apathetic father and my abusive mother handed me over to the Kern County foster care system where they could "fix" me. My vicitmizers had finally thrown me away as if I was an old coat that they no longer wanted to keep in a crowded closet.
Thinking that my escape from the vicious hands of my mother would free me from the beatings that I had endured every day of my life, I was even more dismayed to find out that abuse was not limited to my parent's home. At such a young age, I had no idea why I had been placed in a foster home of foreigners where my new foster parents had decided that they had the right to hit me and deprive me in the same cruel fashion that my mother had.
The foster home that I was placed in was run by a middle-aged mother and father who still had three older teenage boys of their own living there. Added to this crowded situation were four other teenage foster boys. I, being nine years-old, was now a very small boy living in the land of dangerous giants. Not only did this new foster mom decide that foster boys were a means of profiteering off of government welfare checks, but she also decided that foster boys didn't merit such things as hot meals or milk with your cold cereal. What was a kid to do with a bowl of corn flakes and no milk? I found out real soon what happened to a little boy who stole milk in a foster home. He got beat up by the real sons of the foster mother.
Who was I to go to in that dark hour? My parents had sent me to this new home of deprival and degradation. They wouldn't be helping me. I remembered always seeing a big family Bible laying on the table in our living room when I was at home. As a little boy, I didn't know much about praying. Occasional trips to my Dad's Baptist church usually consisted of me going to Sunday School and singing songs about "stepping on a tack and breaking the devil's back." Whatever that meant, I certainly didn't see much help coming from those experiences. Particularly, since my Dad had always shown more interest in his obsession with football games on television than he did with standing up to my mom when she abused me.
The one escape from abuse that I experienced as a child came in the form of my ability to get to school and stay there as long as possible. While most kids couldn't wait to get out of school, I ususally found a way to arrive early and stay late. The foster home I found myself in was an extra long walk to my new elementary school. Oftentimes I had to decide between breakfast and making the school bus. Sometimes my little belly made the choice for me. Unfortunately, this particular foster mother decided that she was going to keep the food money and spend it on herself. Breakfast usually consisted of cold cereal without the milk. Only the woman's real sons got milk on a regular basis.
With five foster boys and three other sons in the house, I was forced to engage in some real food warfare to survive. Quick dashes into the kitchen, and even quicker, hand-in, hand-out, refrigerator tactics to get some milk for my corn flakes, had taught me early on that life is primarily combat maneuvers over the basic necessities of life.
The one great joy of my life during that foster home experience was my membership in my elementary school choir. I used to sing, sing, sing, in those dark days. I don't know how I would have ever made it through those degrading days if I had not been accepted into the choir. The problem was, however, that choir practice occurred before school started. That also meant that choir practice occurred during my kitchen excursions to look for food to eat. Life just seemed to get more complicated for this hungry nine year-old singer in foster care.
One early December morning, the students at my school were informed that auditions would be held for the school's Christmas play. Arising extra early, I thought I could get into the kitchen, get my milk and corn flakes, and hit the road to make it to the auditions. My plan was not to be. Waiting for me as I snuck into the kitchen was the foster mother -- and a belt in her hand that looked more like a rattle snake than a piece of leather to hold up her husband's pants.
"Don't you ever steal from me, you greedy brat!" she screamed. Hungry, beaten and demoralized, she kicked me out of the house and into the cruel December winter. What made the cold weather even more bitter was the fact that I only had ten minutes to get to the school auditions. And it always took me at least fifteen minutes to walk the distance to the school from my foster home.
I wasn't much of a prayer warrior in those days, but I think I prayed harder during that harsh incident than all of the times I had prayed before -- combined! You never know how a prayer is going to be answered...expectations can be quite wild for a nine year-old. My answer quickly came in the form of a bell...a miracle bell. A bell on a bicycle that is. Slowly coming up behind me was a girl on a bicycle -- and she was ringing her bicycle bell. Turning around and wiping the snot and tears off of my gaunt nine year-old face, I came face to face with a freckled face girl riding on a boy's bicycle -- the kind with a seat that could illegitimately carry two kids.
"Hey you better hurry," she exclaimed to me above her loudly ringing bell. She slowed her bike down so she could ride at my walking pace.
"What?" I retorted in fearful shock.
"Oh, I just moved up the street from you and I joined the choir yesterday. Aren't you going to be in the play? We have to hurry if we're going to make it for the auditions," she cried in her best motherly voice. She was that kind of best friend who knows everyone...and knows what's best for everyone as well.
"I can't make it in time," I responded in my angry and dejected 'me against the world' attitude.
"We have to have you. You are the best boy singer in our school!" she said as she campaigned to win me over to her side.
As I kept walking, she pulled slightly ahead of me, bringing her bicycle to a stop. "Come on now, get on! I'll get us both there." She was bigger than me and more persuasive than I could be. I was in no condition to fight against the cold or her offer to help.
This girl on a boy's bicycle got us both to the audition on time. And every morning leading up to the actual Christmas play, there she was: waiting for me out in front of my house to give me a ride on the back of her bicycle. And everyday, her and I used to sing a little louder than the rest of the kids as we practiced our parts. I really got to like this girl enough to actually laugh with her as we both made ridiculous and goofy faces behind the choir director's back.
On the night of the Christmas play, all of the parents showed up to proudly watch their kids perform. All of the parents except mine. My foster parents did not show up. For them, my participation in the school play was merely a means to have one less kid and one less voice to hear in their home. I didn't care. All that mattered to me was the victory that I and my friend on the bicycle had achieved by being in our school's Christmas play. That Christmas, the girl on the bicycle had become my family.
Over forty years have gone by since that Christmas play. I eventually spent many more years in foster homes, reform schools and prisons. It took me many years to undo the tragic abuse that had been inflicted upon me by my own parents and a foster care system that had added further scars to the ones I had already borne upon my skinny, nine year-old body.
For the past seven years, I have been standing up for the kids of my city. I remember what it was like to be so small and have no defenders. With the help of God, I have every intention of fighting for the children of San Diego, California in the hopes that they will always have a voice speaking out on their behalf. As long as there is a breath in my body, I will be the kid on a bicycle who comes to the rescue of abused children -- children who might not make it without the extra help of a mysterious friend who shows up at just the right time.
When my opponents judge me for going after their pornographic businesses they had better realize that I will never stop fighting to keep their wares from harming the children of my city. When gay activists scream at me because I publicly protest the events they hold to target teenagers, they had better realize that I will not move out of their way as long as God is keeping me alive. I know what it is like to be abused as a young child. And I will fight to make sure that every child in my city is free to be children and free from the same trauma that I knew in my early years.
This Christmas, I hope in some small way, like the girl on the bicycle who befriended me when I so desperately needed a helping hand, I can be a friend to a child in need. And Lord knows there are lot of kids who need my help.
This has been a writing from the Journal of James Hartline.
James Hartline is a current candidate for the San Diego City Council
where he hopes to become a bright light for the needy kids of his city.
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James Hartline, Publisher
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