Tuesday, August 3, 2004

PART 26 - The Pretender

OK, enough bullshit. Back to the story. Part 26 is hosted by the inimitable Jackson Browne

The Pretender
I’m going to rent myself a house
In the shade of the freeway
I’m going to pack my lunch in the morning
And go to work each day
And when the evening rolls around
I’ll go on home and lay my body down
And when the morning light comes streaming in
I’ll get up and do it again

I want to know what became of the changes
We waited for love to bring
Were they only the fitful dreams
Of some greater awakening
I’ve been aware of the time going by
They say in the end it’s the wink of an eye
And when the morning light comes streaming in
You’ll get up and do it again

Caught between the longing for love
And the struggle for the legal tender . . .
Where the ads take aim and lay their claim
To the heart and the soul of the spender
And believe in whatever may lie
In those things that money can buy
Thought true love could have been a contender
Are you there?
Say a prayer for the pretender
Who started out so young and strong
Only to surrender

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Rules be damned, I decided to tell my sister in law about Daniel. She had 3 little girls that came to my house on a regular basis, and even if I HAD agreed to protect him and his privacy, I wasn't willing to do that at the expense of any other little ones. My sister in law, true to her word, kept my confidence. She was shocked, of course, but more than that, she was saddened. "You know that some monster bastard has warped that kid - kids just don't DO that kind of thing on their own," she commented.

To prepare for court, we met with a court appointed attorney. A child advocate had been appointed as well, and it was from her that the story unfolded. Daniel had been in and out of the system many times during the first few years; he had been in foster placement 4 times before he was 9 years old. His father had served an additional stint in prison after pleading guilty to contributing to the delinquency of a minor for forcing Daniel to "service" a couple of his meth customers when they were all high, and there had been at least 2 charges of sodomy filed against the father's business partner; the charges weren't pursued because he had already been sentenced to 25 years in the federal pen on drug charges.

Once Daniel knew that I knew about the charges and all of the past transgressions, he grew cold and distant. To tell the truth, so did I. I'm not proud of it, but I counted down the days until court, silently urging time to move on to July, 1990 as quickly as possible. I still cooked meals for him, I still provided clean clothes and a warm bed for him, I still looked at his homework and accompanied him to a weekly therapy session, and I never had any harsh words for him, but I couldn't summon any warmth for him, either.

And the nightmares. Jesus. They were relentless and terrifying. I woke up, drenched with sweat, over and over again. "What is WRONG with you? Why does that keep happening?" he asked everytime I sat bolt upright in bed at 3 am. And I would sip water, and lay back quietly, smoothing out the covers and staring at the ceiling until sleep returned.

The court proceedings were very matter-of-fact. The psychiatrist spoke, the policeman that responded to his mother's home that awful night was next, and the emergency room doctor had submitted a lengthy affadivit detailing the injuries the girls had sustained at Daniel's hand. There were a couple of social workers that halfheartedly asked for leniency and offered alternatives to incarceration, but in the end, the judge sentenced Daniel to a juvenile detention center until he reached 18 years old, and with that, he was escorted out of the court. I remember feeling nothing but relief as I saw him being led away. I comforted his mother, who was just overwhelmed with grief and anger. She tearfully thanked me for having cared for him, and with that, he was out of our lives. Almost.

To the outside world, things seemed idyllic. We still had the beautiful house and pool, we were still the great young couple that helped out needy kids, he was still the heroic fireman who had come from nothing, we were still the lovers that had beat the odds and survived the first hard years. We seemed to have it all together, we both had great jobs and so much promise. As we had always done, we still put on a great performance when we were out among friends and family.

But the truth was, things were deteriorating very quickly for me.

I was still managing to get to work and do my job, but after work, I spent way too much time just sitting and staring. Because of the nightmares, I wasn't sleeping well, and I was exhausted most of my waking hours. The house began to quickly go to shit, and he would be furious when he returned home from work to find the dishes from the night before still in the sink, the laundry in piles, and dust collecting on all of our beautiful furniture. I was binging again, and this time, he didn't have a hug and a chuckle. He was mad.

His barrage of questions wasn't helping - I refused to tell him what I was dealing with. I couldn't admit that having Daniel in our house had brought back all of my painful past; it was too raw, too embarassing to admit that such a thing had happened. I feared what he would think of me if he ever knew, and I withdrew more and more. Night after night, I turned away from him in bed. Sex of any kind was out of the question, and when his frustrations proved too much for him, he would turn on me, hissing poison that cut me to the bone. "You fat bitch . . . no one ELSE would want you, who are you to turn me away? You won't be satisfied until I leave you, and believe me, I will!" he would threaten, and I would retreat just a little more.

As late summer gave way to fall, things between us tempered to a cool quiet. He was working extra shifts at FedEx to help with the holiday rush, and I was putting in extra time at the office, making the transition from the small startup I had joined to the big leagues: we had been purchased by a large insurance company out of Sydney, Australia. We were immediately moved from our humble office space into a glitzy glass and metal highrise just outside of Atlanta. Everything stepped up a notch: responsibilities, expectations, and pay. Having to give extra time and effort was a welcome diversion for me.

When I received another placement call one weeknight evening that October, I wondered how I would balance kids and work as I was being asked to accept a brother and sister for possible long-term foster care. Ronnie and Kimberly were 6 and 2, and without knowing quite how it would all work out, I told the case worker to bring the kids over that evening.

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