Melissa Come Back, recently released by Atmosphere Press, is a dual-narrative memoir chronicling two women’s paths through the foster care system.
In the book, Melissa, a smart and resilient 11-year-old raised in an abusive household, runs away from the comfortable foster home Patrice and her husband, Bob, provide. Twenty years later, an unexpected encounter at a fundraising gala propels them back together, forcing both of them to confront their individual failures. When, after their reunion, Patrice discovers that the adult Melissa and her pre-teen daughters face eviction, she and Bob are presented with an opportunity to make Melissa part of their family once again.
Patrice Keet and Mellissa LaHommedieu, the book’s authors, both live in Santa Cruz. Spoiler alert: They do become family once again, and to this day, the two live in the same house. Their editor, Bridget A. Lyons, recently interviewed them.
Bridget: So, this book has been in the works for about seven years. You must really believe in it! What do you think this book offers?
Melissa: For me, I think it offers a very real look at what it’s like to grow up in foster care—both logistically and emotionally. For so many people in Santa Cruz county, the foster care system is invisible. People don’t know that there’s this other version of childhood out there. In some cases, that childhood is really difficult. In others, it works out well. My story has a bit of both, so I think it provides readers with a good perspective on the life of a child removed from her birth home by the court.
Patrice: I absolutely agree with that. I’d add, too, that this book shows just how damaging the cycles of poverty and abuse are in our society. It’s just really hard for kids who are born into rough situations to find their way in the world. They need all the help they can get. This is why both Melissa and I are avid supporters of CASA—Court Appointed Special Advocates—a local organization that provides every child in foster care with a volunteer mentor and advocate.
Bridget: A portion of the proceeds from this book are going to CASA, correct?
Patrice: That’s correct. I’m a former board member of CASA, and Melissa is a current one. We’re collaborating with them for a number of events in the next couple of months.
Bridget: In order to tell this story, you both had to dig into your pasts. What was the hardest part of that for you?
Melissa: I’ve got a degree in psychology and am a social worker now, so I’ve done a lot of therapeutic work over the years in an effort to understand what I lived through. The hardest part for me isn’t retelling the facts or making sense of them, it’s more knowing that luck has been such a big element of my life. I wish there was some way I could grant other kids that luck. Knowing I can’t, is hard.
Patrice: For me, it was hard to take such a deep dive into a part of my life that I once considered a total failure—Melissa running away from us. I shoved that piece of my history into a closet for decades. Meeting Melissa again after twenty years opened the door to that closet, and writing this book forced me to look at each and every skeleton in there. Sometimes that was painful.
Bridget: But it promoted some healing too, yes?
Patrice: Oh, absolutely. In fact, I think examining my actions was the only way I could heal. And, in the process, I have learned so much about myself and about Melissa—as well as about how hard it is for a young mom to leave an abusive relationship, to get an education and to maintain a healthy distance from an abusive birth family.
Melissa: And I think we both learned about the power of love and acceptance, too. In the end, our story is really about making your own family and loving that chosen family through thick and thin. That’s really inspiring to me.
You can pick up a copy of this book at Bookshop Santa Cruz and Two Birds Bookshop, or at MelissaComeBack.com.