I arrived at work Monday morning to find voice mails and e-mails alerting me to the weekend news: Reggie had AWOLed off-campus with Sydney.
Reggie and Sydney are a bizarre combination. Reggie has borderline intelligence and Sydney, while not high up on the IQ scale, is one shrewd cookie. So we — the treatment team — were all scratching our heads imagining this unlikely duo roaming the streets together.
Sydney was adopted when she was five. “We didn’t know about her history for a long time,” her distraught father told me, when I called to tell him there was still no word from Sydney, “the caseworker kept it from us.”
Sydney’s father was referring to the sexual abuse Sydney had suffered in foster care. The sexual abuse that ignited a chaotic adolescence marked by heavy drug use and sex trafficking in different states.
Working in residential, you begin to spot the kids you can help, and the kids who are too far gone. Sydney belonged to the latter group.
Multi-ethnic, mocha-colored, flawless-skinned Sydney would sit on my couch, arms crossed, rocking. The psychiatrist told me the rocking was a residual effect from meth use. I think that’s true, but I also think she had so much internal chaos that she rocked to try to dispel it.
When she rocked on my couch, she told me how she and other underage prostitutes had been corralled into a hotel room in Vegas, told to keep their heads down in deference to their pimps. She told me that she drank, or smoked meth, or shot up heroin, until she wound up in the hospital.
“What?” she asked, when she saw me looking at her. “What are you thinking? That I’m disassociated?”
“Is that what other therapists have told you?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I just kind of know what it means,” she said.
“What does it mean?” I asked, knowing full well what it meant: a phenomenon in various psychological and psychiatric disorders, in which people feel cut off from themselves and their surroundings.
“It’s like…I’m funny, I make people laugh, and I can talk to anyone. And people think that I’m part of the group, but I’m not. I mean, I’m there…but I’m not.”
“Is there anyone you feel close to?” I asked.
“Not really,” she said.
“Would you like to? Feel attached to someone?”
“I don’t care,” she said, rocking. “It doesn’t matter to me.”
* * *
Reggie sat in my office for his Treatment Plan Review last week. My boss chewed him out for his ongoing offenses: frequent on and off-campus AWOLs, yelling at Staff, insisting that he be treated as an adult when he was acting like a nut case.
“Your social worker is trying to find you a better place, Reggie,” said Sharon. “And I’m trying to help her. But when you AWOL, and threaten to fight people, you put me in a very difficult position. How can I advocate for you when I don’t know if I can trust you?”
“You guys took me too seriously. I wasn’t going to hurt that girl.”
“But you said you were, Reggie,” I said. “And then you’ve told me since then you’re going to run your program, but you don’t. So how do we know when to believe you?”
Reggie paused and looked around the room at the treatment team members.
“I’m bored,” he said.
* * *
Apparently, Sydney was bored too. Because on Sunday evening, after Sydney’s parents returned her from a home visit gone awry, she and Reggie walked out the gates of the campus, out into the foggy night. Staff filed a Missing Person’s Report on Sunday night, but on Monday morning, when I arrived at work, there was still no word from either of them.
I talked to Sydney’s mother on the phone for a long time. She told me how the home visit had blown up: how Sydney cursed out her parents, and told them everything bad in her life was their fault.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have brought her back early,” said her mother. “Maybe if I’d kept her at home this wouldn’t have happened.”
“You did the right thing,” I said. “You can’t keep a kid at home if they’re acting out like that.”
“She said everything was my fault…I feel like this was my fault. If I’d just kept her home..”
“If you’d kept her home, she would have run off a different time,” I said. “This is what she does.”
“We’ve tried everything,” her mother broke down in tears on the other end of the phone. “We don’t know what else to do…”
“There’s nothing for you to to do. It’s up to her now,” I said.
* * *
I sat in Sharon’s office later that afternoon. A Staff said that he had driven past Reggie and Sydney in a bad part of town, and pulled over to tell them to come back. They just laughed, and waved him on.
“Sydney can handle herself,” said Sharon. “She’ll just turn tricks. But Reggie…what’s he going to do out there? How’s he going to take care of himself?”
I sighed and shook my head.
“I don’t know.”
Elizabeth Aquino says
It’s all so astonishing. I think I know things, and then I read this, and I know that I know nothing at all.
Yes. The older I get, the more I realize how little there is to be sure of. On the lighter side — I had just opened up your Santa Ana post as your comment came in!
That totally sucks. I knew a girl who had the rocking habit. I didn’t know it was a meth thing.
This sounds so sadly familiar. I took in a family member from foster care who had been diagnosed with attachment disorder. He was 15 at the time with no prior treatment. We couldn’t safely keep him in our house and he ended up in residential treatment. After he turned 18 he was left on a street corner, by his social worker with garbage bags with all his stuff in them. Today he lives in a bush and has a drug problem and a lot of anger. I am scared for his future. I don’t know what the solution is, but we are really failing the people who have had it the worst. I know that your job is not easy because many of the kids you meet are beyond help by the time they get to you. Bless you for doing the work that you do anyway.
This breaks my heart. There is a part of me that doesn’t want to believe that some kids are too hurt, too damaged, too far-gone to become healthy (or even just healthier).
Having close family members with severe mental illness…there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to give up hope in a healthier future. What do you think, Pauline?
Me too, Matt…I think a lot of it comes down to having a strong support network, whether that’s family-of-origin, 12-step groups, or friends.