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.