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About The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current | View Entire Issue (Nov. 13, 1992)
Oregon woman traces abuse,
fights demons with faith and love '
Bruises that aren’t skin deep
Maria Stockbridge of Keizer, Ore., put her
trust in society’s caregivers — orphanages,
adoption agencies and foster families. But in
most ways, they failed her. This is her story.
By Stacey McKenzie
His sagging effigy, nailed to a cross, hangs
high above the altar at St. Joseph Catholic
Church in Salem, Ore.
“Look at the cross and tell me what’s
wrong with it,” Maria Stockbridge says.
“Jesus isn’t there any more,” she says with
a laugh, and she means that.
Her smile straightens and her round, browr
eyes narrow as she explains.
“People aren’t using their heads, you
know. They go to church, but they are still
thinking that Jesus is hanging.
“We celebrate Easter because he rose from
the dead, so if he rose from it, why is he still
This tiny-boned, 22-year-old woman from
India loves the Lord. She attended St.
Joseph’s Church when she was in grade
But church — its crucifixes, Bibles and
devils — is forever tainted, and sermons are
no comfort when they fall from the mouth of a
Faith is her savior, Maria says, because it
has provided her with the only unconditional
love of her life — self-love. Faith, she says,
has helped her fight the demons of abandon
ment and abuse.
In the mid-1970s, when most American
children her age were being dropped off at
nursery school, Maria was abandoned by her
mother at the gates of a white-bricked, Roman
Catholic orphanage in Patna, India.
Maria temembers, “After she walked away
I started to get lonely. The pain in my heart
made me almost stop breathing. 1 felt as
though I was going to die.
“My heart was beating slow like a drum,
and my mind was almost like a vegetable.”
The nuns at the orphanage found her, let
her sleep, fed her and clothed her.
“I felt reborn.”
Maria was one of hundreds of orphans*' ,
Three church services, school and chores
filled her day. She had few clothes and
sometimes had to share her bed, or sleep on
the floor. I
Life was redundant, with little play and
Darkness came to mean danger.
“I can remember sometimes at night, I
would wake up screaming, and no one would
be there to hold me or talk to me.”
One hot Christmas Day, when 7-year-old
Maria was playing outside, a priest picked her
up and took her inside the building where he
“At first, I did not care because I was
having too much fun, but it did not make
sense why he took me somewhere else.
“Then he put his hand under my pants. I
told him ‘No,’ but he would not stop. I could
not scream, because there was hardly anyone
around, and 1 thought I would get in trouble.
The priest tried to calm her: “Be quiet, just
be a good girl.”
“I knew the priest was
doing the wrong thing, so I
tried to get down from him
but it was too late. The
other priest and him
ganged up on me. They
both kept touching me
and playing with my
“They were hurting
me sc) bad, the pain felt as
though somebody was poking me
# inside with a needle.
9 Today, it is hard for Maria to
remember her childhood in India.
Some memories are blocked,
others have faded. But the horrors
of sexual abuse — distrust and
* guilt — will never be erased.
She remembers selling
. ' clothes, and
especially for food, because the nuns pun
ished children who fell asleep in God’s house
by not feeding them.
One time, as she lay in bed, her stomach ii
knots from hunger, a priest picked her up,
took her to the cemetery behind the church
and raped her on a tombstone.
A nun walked by but never stopped.
‘7 can remember sometimes
at night, 1 would wake up
screaming, and no one
would be there to hold me or
talk to me, ”
- Maria Stockbridge.
October rains are fading the bright summe
colors of Oregon’s capital city.
Maria wants to visit the house where her
adopted family used to live. It was her first
home in the United States.
She stands on the front lawn where she
pulled weeds after school.
“I wonder if anyone is home?”
She knocks on the door, no one answers,
and she wants to leave. Her stomach hurts,
and she wants a glass of water.
“I can hear her voice . ..,” she says.
Maria always will remember August of
She was a scrawny and scared 11 -year-old
adoptee on a plane to Portland, Ore., from
New Delhi, India.
Her new family, from Salem, picked her u
at the airport. The adoption, arranged by
PLAN International Adoption Agency of
McMinnville, Ore., saved Maria from povert;
and an arranged marriage to a 16-ycar-old
“I said to myself, ‘maybe I’m wrong, but 1
got the feeling that there was something
wrong with this family ....’”
Cliff and Dorris Stockbridge had four
children, three from Cliffs first marriage, an<
an adopted girl from India named Joji.
Maria made five.
The first month in the United Stales was a
mixture of confusion and awe. Maria under
stood little English but was impressed by the
family’s car, radio, swimming pool and
Her first glimpse at television, “Happy
Days,’’ spawned a TV addiction.
To determine where Maria should be
placed in school, her parents took her to a
doctor, who looked at her bone structure,
size and teeth, and determined that she
was about two years behind Americar
children her age.
—- So Maria picked out a new
birthday —June 25, 1971 — and was
enrolled in the third grade at St. Joseph
1 School rules weren’t hard to figure out, but
family rules were — at first.
One evening as Maria dried the dishes,
some plates slipped from her hands and broke
on the floor.
Dorris came into the kitchen, and changed
into a woman Maria didn’t recognize.
“She just grabbed me and hit me and
dragged me in my room, just screaming at me,
you know. I tried to tell her that, hey, it was
an accident, but an accident was not enough
for me to stop her.”
Abuses like that continued until Maria was
filled with fear. She stayed overnight with
friends to escape it.
Mary Luyet was a neighbor and friend of
the Stockbridge’s. She worked with Dorris in
the cafeteria of St. Joseph Elementary School.
She’s a robust woman with four daughters,
but looks a little tired from all her matriarchal
duties. Her daughter, Catrina, became best
friends with Maria when the two girls met in
Mary remembers when she first saw Maria
r — it was her second day in the United States.
“She was just really tiny -*• those big
brown eyes. She was just real shy at first. But
it didn’t take her long to bounce back. She
learned the English real fast.”
But there were problems in the Stockbridge
home, Mary says, and she feels guilty about
not doing more to help Maria.
“Being a friend of Cliff and Dorris .. .1
knew there were some problems there, and
Dorris had told me that there were some
problems. She was pretty blunt about it and
pretty open about it. She really didn’t try to
John Stockbridge was in his late teens
when Maria became his adopted sister.
When he talks about his childhood, his
p pleasant, pale face hardens. His eyes look
piercing, his forehead creases in the center,
and his hands cut the air with emphasis.
i John says he saw his adopted sister abused
by his parents, and he understands what she
Dorris Stockbridge says Maria is lying
about being abused.
i nai kju was never misireaieo, uorns
j Maria ran away, Dorris says, because she
wanted to live with a bigger family.
“She loves my husband, and why she
doesn’t love me, I don’t know. I would try to
hug her, I would try to talk to her .... She
would not get close to me.”
One day, Maria says, when she was 16, her
father gave her “whips after whips, until I
couldn’t sit down any more.”
Consequently, Maria became the fourth
Stockbridge child to run away. *
She never came back.
Willamette Valley winds are crisp today.
Maria wears an oversized gray sweatshirt
over a black turtleneck and black leggings.
Black is her favorite color. It’s the
• darkest, just like her skin is when she
compares tans with girlfriends.
Maria’s black, curly hair swings
across the middle of her back as she
walks into Pay Less Drug Store.
She has some cash today and will
buy cigarettes for herself and a card
- for a friend.
- “See, my problem is, when I have
the money, I spend it so fast and it is
_ gone. I mean, I get the money for a
reason, but I end up using it for
somebody else or something else.
“I always feel like I owe people
money, or I owe them something.”
When Maria ran away, she pedaled
a stolen bicycle about eight miles to
downtown Salem and called 911.
The police picked her up and called
The Stockbridgcs arranged for
Maria to move in with another family, a foster
family with about 20 children — 15 boys and
five girls. The family was not certified with
the Oregon Children’s Services Division.
During her six-month stay, Maria says she
was raped twice by one of the young men
living in the home.
She told her school counselor what was
happening and was removed from the home.
In December of 1986, Maria was made a
ward of the state, a foster child.
During her time in the foster care system,
Maria lived in four homes — two for short
periods and two for longer periods.
In her first real foster home, Maria found a
woman — Stephanie Peters — who would
become a mother figure.
Stephanie gave Maria attention and love.
“There was something between us, you '
know, really nice, mother-daughter.”
But Stephanie’s husband didn’t want
children in his home, and Maria sensed it.
During this time, things were growing
worse for Maria at Cascade Junior High
"Girls would beat me up and throw me in
the locker and throw me in their garbage and
take me and dash my head in the toilet.”
“And the boys, oh gosh. I was known as a
‘dog.’ Every time I came to school, there
would be a bunch of people standing there,
‘woof, woof, woof,’ barking at me, you know.
I mean, I was a very ugly kid.”
Her grades also suffered.
After eight months with this family, Maria
got herself kicked out by threatening to kill
herself with a kitchen knife.
“She just grabbed me and hit
me and dragged me in my
room, just screaming at me .
- Maria Stockbridge.
It was Jan. 14, 1988, Maria’s birthday —
at least according to her adoption papers from
Police took Maria to the Oregon State
Mental Hospital, where she stayed two weeks
before being put in another foster home.
The police officer wrote in the report:
“Miss Stockbridge stated to me that she didn’t
have any reason to live. I did not feel comfort
able leaving Miss Stockbridge in the resi
dence or unattended.”
“What 1 was trying to do there," Maria
says, “was trying to have them kind of notice
me, talk to me ... try to help me, that’s what I
Even today, when the world feels like it’s
crashing in, Maria says, she considers killing
In her next long-term foster home, Maria
stayed almost two years. She developed a
tolerable, sometimes rewarding relationship
with her foster mother.
But once again, there were problems with
the foster father.
On Maria’s first night in the home, the
father approached Maria’s foster sister in the
bedroom that the two girls shared. He kissed
her foster sister fully and slowly on the lips.
"And so he came to me and kissed me,
just once. Then he tried to do it again, but I
held back. That’s when he realized that I
wasn’t going to be his girl.”
As the months passed, Maria fought
more and more with her foster family.
She threatened suicide again, this time
with sleeping pills. ^
Foster care case notes from that
time state: "Maria gets distraught
over thoughts of getting older and the i ,
possibility of ending up homeless.” \\\
Maria “has a severe inability to
trust and lack of bonding,” the notes say.
In May of 1989, Harley Miller became
Maria’s new foster care case worker.
Maria’s comments to Miller during the
first few months of counseling made him
suspicious of her foster father.
“There were all sorts of kinky games goin;
on in the home that were not going on for the
first time. I took her seriously. I knew that sh
should not be there because ... she had felt
Almost two years after she arrived, Maria
‘ was removed from the home and the family
During the investigation, the foster sisters
said Maria was telling stories.,
In February of 1990, more than three
months after Maria had moved out, Maria wa
told that her former foster father had died of i
heart attack during an attempted rape of a
After living for two more years with
previous foster mothers, Maria moved in witl
Mary Luyet and got a part-time job at Myrle’
Chuck Wagon, where she made friends with
workers and customers.
After she graduated from North Salem
High School in January of 1991, Maria
moved to Austin, Texas, where she attended ;
Her college grant didn’t go far, money ran
out, and she moved back to Oregon.
Today, Maria lives with her adopted
brother, John Stockbridge, and his family.
The gravel driveway to the one-story hom
is trampled by children sporting Kool-aid
Maria stands outside in the morning drizzl
and smokes a cigarette — Cambridge today.
She’ll smoke any brand.
“That’s the easiest way for me to play it
cool,” she says.
No one is allowed to smoke in the house
because of the baby.
Maria baby-sits the three Stockbridge boy:
five days a week so John’s wife, Denice,
doesn’t have to hire a baby sitter while she
works at the bank. John works for the state,
usually at night.
Maria wants no money for baby-sitting hei
brother’s children. She owes him, she says,
for letting her stay with his family.
And she still feels like she owes her
“I feel guilty, because they paid a lot of
money for me to come to the United States to
be their daughter. And I appreciate America
very much, but I didn’t appreciate what they
were doing to me.”
To get money, Maria still is tempted to sel
“A lot of things I did in my childhood, I
still do... I don’t want to, but I do it
because I hate to go to my brother to ask
for money. I feel guilty. And I am
trying hard to look for a job. But it
is hard to find 0
4 a job.”
While Maria was in Texas, she wrote a
204-page autobiography, “Victim with Faith.’
She hopes one day to have her book, her
most precious possession, published.
In fact, Maria says she wants to make
l writing her career.
“I want to be rich and famous so I can
; give, so I can travel — give what I’ve
got, and tell people, ‘Hey, I was
once locked up, now I am free.
Here is something I’m going
to give to you to remind you '
that I am free.’”
Mary Luyet has read
Maria’s book. *
“It’s too bad she 7
s couldn’t have somebody ••
i help her,” Mary says. ' . *
“I think she lives a •' *
little bit on the edge ^ j *
of fantasy and ■ y mJ A
i reality. / *9+ *
s “The reality */ m
has been so far
off, sometimes it’s *
hard for her to
decipher — not
i saying that these things
didn’t happen to her, ^B^fc
because I truly believe that
most of them have. But I think •
sometimes that they might have
been embellished a little bit.”
* On Sundays, Maria, Denice and the
children pile into John’s truck to go to
the Salem Gospel Center, a Pentecos
e tal church.
Maria goes to church to please her
brother. She says her faith in God is
strong enough without it.
“I don’t believe in going to
church,” she says. “But, as far as
having faith in myself and
» believing in God, I know I can
go anywhere and get
through a tough time.”
Before the family
‘ volunteers to sit «
children in the
Maria likes it better in the chapel, because
the preacher there is a woman.
Once the children are seated and listening,
Maria looks around.
There is no cross, no Jesus, just Maria and
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