The Angry, Abused Teen Who Finally Got Adopted
Police officers picked up the angry teenage girl after she’d run away — again — from her eighth foster home in two years.
The officers brought the girl back to her latest placement, a home in a quiet neighborhood in rural Shelbyville, Tennessee.
And 15-year-old Annemarie Rainwater snapped. She cursed, shouted and railed at her foster mom.
You’re not my blood! You’re an awful mom! You’ll never adopt me!
“She was skilled at being able to look at someone and … work out what she could say that would hurt the most. She would go for the jugular,” said Rick Rainwater, then the teen’s foster dad.
After two years of getting screamed at, after two years of pain, after two years of worry and fear, Rick and Phyllis Rainwater did what they knew they had to do.
Annemarie Rainwater cuddles with her adoptive mother, Phyllis Rainwater, at their home on March 26 in Shelbyville. The Rainwaters adopted Annemarie when she was 17 after fostering her as a teen. COURTNEY PEDROZA/THE TENNESSEAN
Inside Nashville Brad Schmitt Nashville Tennessean USA TODAY NETWORK – TENN.
The couple adopted her.
“Even though she could be a real irritant,” Rick Rainwater said, “I love her very much.”
The teen softened and learned to trust her new parents — and to return their love.
The Rainwaters and their adoptive daughter, now 24, have become advocates for foster care. Annemarie Rainwater is a volunteer for Tennessee Kids Belong, a foster care advocacy group heavily supported by Christian music star Chris Tomlin, who’s playing Bridgestone Arena April 19.
The Rainwaters agreed to share their story to promote the concert, where Tomlin will ask audience members to support Tennessee Kids Belong and the foster care system.
Seven different homes in a year
Annemarie Rainwater said she entered foster care after growing up with an abusive stepdad and a biological mom who often wasn’t there.
“When he was in a bad mood, he’d walk through the door, he’d grab me … and he hit me a few times, threw me around like a rag doll,” she remembered, tears in her eyes.
Annemarie Rainwater also said she remembered violence, anger and being called a slut and a whore before she even knew what those words meant.
The first time in state custody in Tennessee, Annemarie Rainwater, then 13, and her three sisters got placed with new foster parents in a house in Manchester, but that only lasted a week.
Then, seven more placements in a year, and Annemarie Rainwater eventually got separated from all her sisters, which often happens in foster care because many families can’t or aren’t willing to take in sibling groups.
In those years, she felt unlovable and stuck. Annemarie Rainwater knew she didn’t want to be around her birth mother and step dad anymore. During statemandated visits, her step father sometimes yelled at her, she said — and she lost hope of being a permanent part of any family.
Two of her eight sets of foster parents promised to adopt the girl, but never did.
“That’ll do something to you,” she said. “I was mad. I just knew I was never gonna have a forever home.”
Annemarie Rainwater went to her final foster placement bitter, defeated and ready to act out.
Stolen cars and holes in the walls
Rick and Phyllis Rainwater met on a blind date 44 years ago, and they’ve been together since.
The two — soft-spoken, church-going, lifelong residents of Shelbyville — got serious about becoming foster parents in 1994 after their older son died. Leukemia. The boy was only 17.
“We had a great loss, and I had thought about fostering for many years,” said Phyllis Rainwater, 62, who manages rental properties.
“It was filling an emptiness in that time.”
With the blessing of their surviving son, Eric, the Rainwaters started taking in foster kids in 1996, and they haven’t stopped since. The couple estimates that they’ve cared for more than 100 children, mostly teen girls — and that comes with rewards and challenges.
Several girls vandalized their house, punched holes in walls or stole their vehicles.
“I know they’re mad and they’re hurt, and they don’t want to be with us,” Phyllis said.
Her husband, Rick, added: “On the front end, they just don’t trust you.”
But none of the foster children came with as much anger or cynicism as Annemarie, who arrived with one of her sisters in 2010.
‘Abusive with her words’
The Rainwaters were told the girls did well in school, and that everything was OK, that they’d just had a disagreement with a foster parent.
It wasn’t until after the girls arrived that the Rainwaters were told how many times the girls had been moved. And how badly the girls had been abused.
Annemarie Rainwater’s sister was there for three months, before acting out and being taken to a new foster family.
Then, Annemarie Rainwater started acting out and running away after just a few weeks.
“Annemarie can be quite abusive with her words,” Phyllis Rainwater said, “and she was.”
Phyllis Rainwater sometimes walked away during those confrontations, but her foster daughter would follow her, yelling and flipping over furniture along the way.
“Once she started, she didn’t stop,” Phyllis Rainwater said.
Her husband wanted to give up a year or so in, after Annemarie Rainwater had been in juvenile detention a few times.
“We had concern and care we felt for her through all of it,” he said. “But I told Phyllis, ‘I’m about to the point that I don’t think we’re going to be able to affect a change with her.’” The watershed moment came after yet another arrest.
“Phyllis called me at work and she told me Annemarie was standing in front of her facing the judge in an orange jumpsuit, and she was in handcuffs,” Rick Rainwater said.
“And she said, ‘I want to bring the baby back home. I just want to bring her home,’” he added, sighing.
“That was a toughie. And that wasn’t the last one.”
Still, the couple loved her, empathized with her — and they finally saw her soften. She started to call them Mom and Dad, even snuggling with them on the couch from time to time.
The bonds grew stronger. The Rainwaters were afraid the teen would end up on the streets, that she would be taken advantage of by predators.
They wanted to show her they were serious about standing by her. So the Rainwaters, desperately wanting to bring joy and peace for all three of them, sat the teen down and asked her — “Can we adopt you?”
Annemarie Rainwater’s face went blank.
“I looked like a deer in the head-lights,” she said. “I’d been asked multiple times, and it never worked out. I’d been hurt a lot. It’s hard for me to think this is gonna work out.”
A week or so later, the teen ran away one more time, visiting her biological mom one more time, hoping against hope that she might find love, acceptance and peace with the woman who gave her birth. But nothing had changed.
Yet things were changing in the Rainwater house — Annemarie Rainwater grew closer to her foster parents, and the teen lashed out less and less.
About six months later, a county judge, in front of about 25 of the Rainwaters’ friends and relatives, signed the adoption papers. Her new birth certificate showed her parents as Rick and Phyllis Rainwater.
“It was truly amazing,” Rick Rainwater said. “It was validation that she was ours. She was our daughter.”
Annemarie Rainwater did her hair and wore a dress to the courthouse.
“I had to look cute,” she said, smiling.
“I finally had the love I wanted and was searching for all my life.”
And Annemarie Rainwater has found joy and purpose in advocating for children who grew up like she did.
She has been studying social work at Middle Tennessee State University, where’s she’s expected to graduate in May.
Among her many speaking engagements, Annemarie Rainwater appeared before thousands at a worldwide Jewelers for Children convention in Las Vegas for the organization’s fundraiser for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for abused or neglected children.
As part of her studies, she is doing an internship with the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, the same agency that served her as a child.
“I want to be a DCS supervisor so bad,” she said. “Being able to help kids is my dream.”