Thursday, February 18, 2010

Our Client's Children, Part II

The storm closed YANA, trapped most of us in our homes, left the Washington/Baltimore area frustrated and out of sorts, but for Lilian it became a source of profound enjoyment. She used it to engineer an overnight visit with her children and grandchildren and was still glowing with the pleasure of it when she came back to YANA. Lilian, like the other women she lives with in her transitional home, is required to follow a strict schedule with curfews. She got up early the day our second storm was expected and took the long bus trip to her children's home. By the time she was "ready" to leave, there was no transportation, and she was forced to stay overnight.

"You engineered that!" Her house manager said when she finally returned at the end of her second day out. "Why else would you have gotten up so early to go out there?" I don't know how Lilian answered at the time, but she laughed gleefully when she told us the manager was absolutely right. She had engineered a long visit with her grandchildren, and it was wonderful. She even slept with the three of them and cooked for them the whole next day. Lilian also explained, quite offhandedly, that the five year old and six year old boys are "slow" because they're drug babies. The 11 month old daughter is smart, though, and fast, and "evil." And then Lilian went back to her grandmotherly pleasure in the baby's fat thighs and boisterous ways and how lovely it was to have a long visit with them at last.

I picked Diane up yesterday, and both of us waved to a little girl sweeping snow on a neighbor's porch. Diane told me that the girl, like other children from the area, visits her often. The visits were painful for Diane, though, because they make her more lonely for her own children, who live with Diane's sister. Diane does talk to them every couple days, though, and believes that she will get them back soon.

Annie went to jail recently for protecting her daughter. The daughter's boyfriend had managed to throw her and their children out of their apartment, but the daughter had returned with the help of the landlord and regained the apartment and gotten a restraining order against the father of her children. He broke back in while Annie was visiting.

You don't always know which stories you hear are true, but I thought, and Sid, with her many years of counseling expertise, also thought, that Annie was telling exactly what she remembered. Annie's eyes got big as she marveled over how fast the man moved, rushing through the door and straight at her pregnant daughter. He got his hands around her throat and was choking her when Annie's own vision began to falter. The room dimmed for Annie. She wasn't sure of all the things that happened next, but she knew they resulted in the boyfriend on the floor, his nose gushing blood, straddled by Annie. She also remembers thinking that it was her daughter who was pulling her away and only slowly realizing that it was actually the police. Annie, belligerent, hyper-aroused Annie, was the one who ended up being arrested. And within a few days, the daughter began letting the boyfriend back in for visits. "I'm not going to jail for her again," Annie announces in her flat, gravelly voice. "I've been there once. I'm not going again." The daughter still calls, though, and Annie still goes.

Tina spent a lonely Christmas in the hospital, but was cheered when someone brought her a picture of her daughter beside the tree. The little girl was smiling, surrounded by an enormous pile of presents for her and her cousin. Wisely, Tina has consented for her daughter to be raised by her paternal grandmother. The child visits with Tina often, and Tina can see that she is being well cared for. Tina explained that her daughter's father had ten brothers and sisters, and that they each were given only one present for Christmas. The women at the table all agreed that this was a reasonable decision on the parents' part and the children were probably happy to get that.

Tina didn't argue this point (though I'm not sure she agreed with it either). Apparently, however, the girl's father had at some point mentioned the possibility that one Christmas present would be enough for their child. Tina's usual monotone took on emotion at this. "Oh no," she said. "Oh no, oh hellll no." She shook her small head. "I told them this isn't the old days. My daughter can't get just one present." Tina's little girl gets all the presents her family can manage, and Tina contributes as much as she can. Whatever donated toys and clothes Tina can get her hands on at YANA (we don't have many, but Tina is actually quite gifted at acquiring whatever is in sight) go to that little girl. So does Tina's money from her small disability checks. Tina has never said anything about the toys and presents she got as a child, but she mentioned just recently that her godmother's son raped her when she was eight. Tina told the godmother, who responded by putting her over a chair and beating her with a belt. I doubt she even tried to tell her own mother.

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