Last Tuesday I arrived at work to find an agitated Reggie in the rotunda. He had returned from his AWOL with Sydney, drunk, talking mess about going off on Staff if he couldn’t take a peer’s skateboard.
“Pauline, can I take Dwayne’s skateboard?”
Reggie lurched for me but the Staff Supervisor stood in his way.
“Nuh-uh, Reggie,” Brenda said. “You’re not gonna drag Pauline into this.”
I sighed and walked into my boss Sharon’s office. Normally unflappable, she was as frazzled as I’d ever seen her.
“He came back this morning and has been threatening everyone. He’s in my office every two minutes. I’ve had it with him.”
I was close to the end myself. The past few months — chock full of hospitalizations and arrests and threats to peers and fights and fruitless meetings, phone calls, and e-mails with social workers — had been agony. Agony being unable to stop the train wreck that was Reggie.
“And — get this! Sydney’s with her birthmom,” said Sharon.
“Jane called me.” Jane was Sydney’s adoptive mother. “She went on Facebook and found Sydney’s picture with her birthmother.”
“But Sydney’d never met her!”
“Well, she has now. I guess she found her on Facebook too. Jane said they both looked high as kites.”
I sat on Sharon’s couch and took this in. Jane and her husband had gone to the mat for Sydney. And now Sydney had left them to return to her original mother. A mother like so many of the other mothers of the kids I work with: drug-addicted, abusive, and abused.
“Jesus,” I said.
* * *
A few hours later I stood in the doorway of the boys’ living room as three male Staff members held Reggie face down on the floor. Reggie had broken the TV and hit a Staff in the head, and was now being restrained.
I could hear Reggie’s soft moans as he cried.
Sharon and Brenda stood behind me.
“We could call the PET team…” said Sharon.
“Nuh-uh,” said Brenda. “He’ll have calmed down by the time they get here.”
“Then I’m calling the police. I can press charges against him for breaking the TV.”
“Sharon…” I said.
“Pauline, he’s got to go!”
* * *
An hour later, I stood in the doorway again, this time watching two policemen flank Reggie. He was standing now, his hands cuffed behind his back, his legs trembling, tears streaming down his face. The corners of his mouth turned down as he sobbed.
As the cops led Reggie out the sliding doors to the lawn, Sharon and Brenda once again weighed the odds.
“Bet they just give him a talking-to in the car, then bring him back,” said Brenda.
* * *
The police ended up arresting Reggie. Sharon closed his bed. Which meant that when he was released, he couldn’t come back to our facility.
A few days later, the police released Reggie to his mother. His on-again, off-again drug-addicted mother who had come back into his life when she learned about his trust fund. The mother that every child advocate in Reggie’s life, every social worker, and lawyer, and therapist, had tried to shield him from.
I walked into the rotunda to find Reggie’s mom sitting in a chair, like the Queen of the Nile, a trash bag full of Reggie’s belongings by her feet.
“Hey, Pauline, how you doin’?”
“Fine, thank you. How’s Reggie?”
“Oh, he’s doin’ real good, real good.”
“Good. Please tell him I said hi.”
I walked into Sharon’s office and closed the door. We looked at each other and shook our heads.
“Who would have thought Reggie and Sydney would end up with their mothers?” I said.
* * *
That night I sat in the auditorium at Franny’s school and watched her class perform the play they had written. They had studied Civil Rights all year and Franny played the role of Rosa Parks.
Lily-white, freckled Franny sat on a makeshift bus seat, and repeated her one line, with all the grace and dignity of the legend she was channeling:
“I’m tired. I’m not giving up my seat.”
After the performance, the kids served the parents a meal they had made: stew, cornbread, incredibly sour lemonade, and lots of desserts.
I looked at Franny, at all the kids — well-groomed, well-educated, well-positioned in the world — as they served their parents dinner. I thought, what a roll of the dice it is, who you’re born to, and the circumstances you’re born into.
And after working with emotionally disturbed, at-risk youth, I can tell you this: ruptures with parents can break kids. Forever.
“How is it?” Franny asked, watching me put a spoonful of stew in my mouth.
It was bland. And needed salt. But of course I didn’t say that.
“It’s great,” I smiled. “And you were an awesome Rosa Parks.”
Franny grinned up at me.
Elizabeth Aquino says
This makes me feel even more gloomy than I already was feeling given the gloom of the day. I am glad that you are out there, doing this work, and I am even more glad, though, that your children have you.
Monica C. says
“I thought, what a roll of the dice it is, who you’re born to, and the circumstances you’re born into” = T.R.U.T.H
I am glad you are out there doing this work, too. I don’t know if I could do it – I would be a sobbing mess way too often. Thank you for sharing.
Annah Elizabeth says
It is so tough to watch these children whose dice didn’t turn up a lucky combination. Working with my town’s “inner-city kids,” I constantly hear things like, “I get to see my daddy, today! He’s getting out of prison.” This from happy, innocent, twin four-year-old pre-schoolers.
And they’re not the first…
Yesterday I had a conversation with a 6th grade boy. He and his younger brother are frequently moved around, and when I last spoke with their non-working mother, she bragged about having seven children in the home, five whom she’d recently taken in. “The house is just chaos,” she said to me.
Her eldest boy, who is often left in charge of making his troublesome younger brother toe the line, had just come from the principal’s office at the end of the day and was clearly angry and in distress.
As I watched him, especially knowing that the family will be on the move again next week, all I could think of was this: I want to take Jullian home with me, to love him and show him there is hope and some semblance of stability out there.
But I can’t bring him home and I can’t protect the world from hurt. But I could offer him hope, maybe, maybe just a shred of something that he will carry with him throughout his life…
Thsi is what I said to him. “Jullian, can I tell you something? I want you to know that sometimes life gets pretty sucky, but I believe you have what it takes to pull yourself up from it and make the kind of life that you want for yourself. I believe in you, Jullian. I’ve worked wtih a lot of people in my lifetime, and I see in you something special, things that will carry you through those times in life that just seem sucky, sucky, sucky…really sucky… Can you remember that Jullian? Always remember that. I believe in you. Believe in yourself, Jullian. You’ve got what it takes to rise above the craziness.”
Less than thirty seconds. Sometimes that’s all we have…sometimes that’s all we need…
Here’s wishing that Reggie is carrying some of your compassion, tucked away in his soul, just waiting for a time when he is ready to handle the generosity. And here’s even more wishful thinking that maybe, just mabye, Jullian will fully accept what I said to him, and use it to keep his life from spiralling out of control…
Hugs and healing, Pauline…
Wishing Reggie’s story had a happy ending – but alas, this isn’t a Hollywood movie! Thanks for keeping us updated — keeping him in my prayers!