Nicole Spence woke up one morning and her mother was gone.
The seven-year-old girl and her four siblings had been brought to P.E.I. by their mother a year before. It was the latest shuffle between neglectful parents in Cumberland County, N.S., and P.E.I.
However, on this day, Spence and her four siblings were taken into protective custody.
Ultimately, she would remain in P.E.I.’s foster family system for the next four years until the age of 11.
“We woke up one morning and our mom was gone. There were five of us,” said Spence, who shares the details of her traumatic childhood in the memoir, “Somewhere North of Where I Was” (Acorn Press).
The book follows the young girl whose childhood innocence was stolen through years of poverty and abuse. Although she was separated from her parents, Spence’s years in foster care also included sexual abuse at the hands of a foster parent.
“There were horrible things that happened to me here in P.E.I., but most of my happiest childhood memories are here in P.E.I. I have such a fondness for just being here.”
- Nicole Spence
While Spence said it is not hard for her to share her story, it was a difficult one to write.
After writing the first version as a 15-year-old Grade 9 student in her school journal, Spence sometimes left writing the story for years at a time.
However, she always returned.
“It took me about 25 years to write it,” she said during a recent P.E.I. launch for the book at the Confederation Centre Public Library.
And revisiting the province isn’t as difficult as one may assume for Spence, who still has fond memories of her formative years growing up near Summerside.
Although some of her most traumatic memories occurred in P.E.I., she describes the province as the “home of my heart”.
“There were horrible things that happened to me here in P.E.I., but most of my happiest childhood memories are here in P.E.I. I have such a fondness for just being here,” she said. “I never associated the bad things that happened with the place. I’ve always had a propensity to look at the bright side of things, even in my darkest moments.”
The book opens with Spence’s first memory of being taken out of bed by her mother when she was two-and-a-half years old and escaping a fire that destroyed their Nova Scotia home.
From there, it details her earliest memories of her parents and the first move to P.E.I. when she was more than three years old before returning back to Nova Scotia and another return to P.E.I. The story then details her years in foster care with some follow-up chapters about what happened afterwards.
She says readers will have to pick up her book to find out what happened for her to leave foster care at 11 and where she went.
She said she hopes those who read the book take away a message of understanding.
“My life has been one long lesson in forgiveness,” she said.