Tag Archives: parent-child relationships

Updates Part II

In the prison good news / bad news” category, I’ve got some doozies.

First, I was highly amused to read about a brilliant project in which prisoners create portraits of people they think should be in prison. This was in The Guardian—a liberal British newspaper that reliably reports on the most embarrassing elements of American life:

“To find the artists, the activists approached art rehabilitation programs in prisons, but those groups were not interested in being involved with something political. So the pair turned to eBay, where there is a section devoted to art made by prisoners and sold by family members. They found similar prison art networks on Facebook and began conversations with the families of people whose worked they liked. From there, word spread around prisoners and other artists began sending them work.”

No surprise, they’ve captured (ha ha) the usual suspects (ha ha ha) in art: the Koch brothers, Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein, BP’s former boss Tony Hayward. But then there was the CEO of one of my favorite companies, along with Pillow King and Bob Barker Inc. (that’s sarcastic, in case you can’t tell): JPay.

I was disappointed to see that the guy’s name is Ryan Shapiro. He must have a Catholic mom and a Jewish dad. I hate to see stories that reinforce the stereotype that Jews are better at making money than most people. Exploiting—oops, I mean “providing services” to prisoners and their families is very, very lucrative.

JPay Prez

Speaking of Jews and prison, a local organization called Jewish Community Action (JCA) has taken up two prison-related issues:

“Jewish Community Action is currently working on two campaigns related to criminal justice reform and the impact of mass incarceration: One addressing the for-profit private prison system and seeking to push back on the building and opening of private prisons in Minnesota, and one demanding the restoration of voting rights to felons who have completed incarceration and are living and working in their communities.”

I wrote to the executive director and shared the link to this blog. I can’t remember exactly what I wrote; I share the blog with a lot of similar organizations and usually hear nothing back. I mentioned that we’re Jewish and that we’d be happy to support their efforts if we were able. The executive director and two staff members replied—first, to assure me that ours is not the only Jewish family that’s had a run-in with the law or the prison system and second, to ask if Vince and I would come in and meet with them. That will be in a couple weeks and I’ll write more after we meet.

I am not a big fan of Oprah; I have nothing against her but she tends to promote books like The Book Thief, which I regard as one of the most poorly-written books I’ve ever read. But she is currently promoting a book written by an ex offender, Shaka Senghor, called Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison. Next week, Oprah will air an interview with Senghor on her network, OWN TV. I haven’t read the book; I’m only mentioning it because it’s written by an ex offender.

I’ve only ever read one prison memoir, and I can highly recommend it: Willow in a Storm, by James Peter Taylor. The writing is just okay, but the story is harrowing and heart breaking and he tells it real.

Finally, there is this (in the end) uplifting story about Albert Woodfox, who spent FORTY YEARS in solitary for the murder of a prison guard at Angola prison in Louisiana.  He maintained his innocence all these years.  He was released on his 69th birthday.

Updates

Travel, addiction, prison … sometimes I feel I have to justify why I write about these seemingly unrelated topics. How about this: they all fall under the meta theme of “feeling trapped, or just bored, and wanting to escape.” There—does that explain it?

I was at a big work meeting and we were discussing human rights in the countries where we operate in the Middle East and Africa. Someone said, “What about solitary confinement? Shouldn’t we be advocating against it?” Everyone clamored in agreement. As far as I know, I am the only employee with a family member who has actually been in solitary. I was tempted to raise my hand and make a speech about how, if we decided to advocate against solitary confinement, we’d damn well better include the United States. But I didn’t feel like being a spokesperson for prison reform that morning.

Vince is off lockdown, after a month of confinement to the house except for work and AA meetings. It may not sound that bad—after all he had Facebook and phone to communicate with friends. He could binge-watch movies and cook real food and look out windows and take a shower without 50 other guys around. He had a pretty good attitude toward it, but I know he was really chaffing toward the end. He had steadily been earning freedoms after his release, then they were all taken away. The offense was so petty compared to the consequence. Most of all, he just had no power or choice about his comings and goings.

Regardless, it’s over now, and today we are doing a make-up birthday outing for me—going to hear the Minnesota Orchestra play the entire score of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, accompanied by some Finnish choir. I expect it will be either fantastic or dreadful.

Nothing has happened with the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 in the five weeks since I wrote about it and about how Republicans are using its bipartisan popularity to shove in language making it harder to prosecute corporate criminals.

Then there’s the controversy swirling around The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which is being blamed for creating mass incarceration. Bernie Sanders says he only signed it because of the good stuff in it, even though he disagreed with the sentencing parts. Hillary has been confronted by Black Lives Matter activists about ruining millions of Black people’s lives because she voted for it. Bill Clinton has disavowed it—his own law. I give him credit for that, even though it may only be a political tactic. Ugh. I would have to write five more posts to get to the bottom of that one, if I ever could.

Anyway, a poll from Pew Charitable Trusts shows that all Americans—Democrats, Republicans, Independents, men, women, Latinos, African Americans, seniors, young voters, and even law enforcement households agree we need to fix our broken federal prisons system. If you’re an American and you agree, please sign this petition urging Congress to pass the Act now. These are all the celebs who are endorsing the call for reform.

new_Cut50_Celebs-04_REVISED-900px

A lot of what I do in my job involves raising funding from foundations. I was happy to see that 42 foundations have banned the box on their employment applications that asks, “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” This is really only symbolic, since foundations have abysmal records of hiring people of color or even just people who aren’t wealthy and well connected. But they are calling on all philanthropic institutions to follow suit, so maybe it’ll catch on.

Anytime anyone speaks out in support of ex offenders I am thrilled. The president of the Rosenberg Foundation, in announcing the foundations’ move, said, “It is time to end the pervasive discrimination against people with past criminal records. The era of mass incarceration and the war on drugs have done severe damage to families and communities, with an enormously disproportionate impact on people of color. Everyone deserves a second chance and the opportunity to compete for a job.”

Housespotting

 Today is my last day housesitting for my friend. It’s been two glorious weeks of having a place to myself. It isn’t that Vince is a terrible roommate. The timing has worked out well, because Vince has been on lockdown for the whole time, meaning he cannot leave the house except for work and a couple AA meetings. I hope he has enjoyed having the place to himself; I think I get on his nerves.

My friend is a psychotherapist and her husband is a retired computer-something from the university. So they’re middle class but combined they can afford this four-bedroom house in the most sought-after neighborhood of St. Paul, St. Anthony Park. The house has at least twice as much space as my condo, and it’s got 25 windows vs. eight in my place, so it’s flooded with light. That means a lot during a Minnesota winter. I could never, ever afford to buy a house like it on my own, so I’m enjoying it while I can.

St. Anthony Park is near the university’s very large St. Paul campus, which is focused on agriculture, so there are lots of open fields—probably sown with GMO crops—but they look pretty even in the winter. And there’s a great collection of mid-Century modern homes nearby, so I’ve been enjoying walks among them.

mid mod 4mid mod 1

mid mod 3mid mod 2

Another reason I’m enjoying this stint in St. Anthony is that I just like change, in general. I like having to travel a different route to the gym, cooking in a new kitchen, perusing other people’s bookshelves, and even just figuring out how to use unfamiliar appliances.

My commute to work from the condo isn’t long—15-20 minutes—but this house is only 5 minutes away, so I’ve been a happy commuter for two weeks.

Those are the obvious reasons I am enjoying my house sitting gig, but most of all, I like being alone. And I feel like I have to justify that somehow, because our society frowns on that.

Think about it: The police catch a serial killer. The TV news interviews his next door neighbor. What does she always say? “He kept to himself.” As if that explains why he murdered people.

I happened to catch a TV show about eccentric people in Minnesota. They were interviewing the sister of Francis Johnson maker of the world’s largest twine ball. When asked what she though motivated her brother to undertake such an endeavor, her answer was, “Well you know, he never did marry.”

Loner, recluse, hermit. I am struggling to come up with a list of similar negative words for extreme extroverts.

I just realized that this post will go up on Valentine’s Day. Happy Valentine’s Day to you all! I don’t have a valentine this year, but I never rule out the possibility that I could bump into Mr. Right at the grocery or happy hour or on a plane. It’s been 56 years and it hasn’t happened yet. I would be happy if that happened, but will also be content if it doesn’t.

I just sent a valentine to U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, urging him to pass the prison reform bill currently under consideration in Congress.  It was easy–please do the same if you are a US citizen.  Just watch this video valentine from Alicia Keys, then submit the form that follows it.

Alicia and Paul

Two Lists

The New Orleans trip is beginning to take shape. My English friend Lynn will fly over to St. Paul from Aberdeen, Scotland, where she lives. We’ll hit the road and wend our way south, taking about three days to reach New Orleans. I booked a suite in a B&B. Our friend Christine, an Australian who lives in Oxford but spends much of her time working in Africa or Asia, will fly over to join us, as will my cousin Molly, who turns 50 that week.

So it’ll be four of us all together for French Quarter Festival, then Lynn and I will drive a different route back. My friend Ferruh also lives there with his wife. They’re Turkish. He’s a drummer who used to play in a belly-dancing troupe, then moved to Denmark and then the US, all the while working on his PhD. Now he teaches at Tulane. He’s a great guy and I hope we can all have dinner together.

I alternate between worrying: “What if the car breaks down in rural Tennessee?” and feeling excited about the music, the heat, riding in a swamp boat and feeding marshmallows to alligators, touring a creole plantation and one of New Orleans’ fantastic cemeteries, maybe getting in on a second line, which I was lucky enough to do last time I was there.

My mom’s husband, Jim, is from St. Louis, so I sat down with him and pored over an atlas. He is 86 now and done with road trips, but they took some great ones and they love to talk about them. It must be hard to know that you’ll never drive to St. Louie again, or fly to Phoenix to escape the winter cold.

Jim had drawn up a list of things to do and see in St. Louis and Memphis:

Jim's List

I find these scraps of the folks’ handwriting endearing.

Jim told me about the great Italian neighborhood I had to visit in St. Louis. “We called it Dago Hill when I was a kid,” he said a little sheepishly. “But now it’s just called The Hill.”

I also want to write a bit of an update on Vince and how well he is doing despite the challenges he still faces.

When he was put on indefinite lockdown he was phlegmatic about it. “They’re trying to get me to react,” was his take on it. “And I’m not going to. This too shall pass.”

I know it’s called Alcoholics Anonymous, but it’s no secret that Vince is in the program and I think it’s okay to say that he’s really working it—he found a sponsor, who is like a mentor, and they are working on the 12 steps together.

He’s taking care of his health. He hasn’t taken up smoking since being on the outside. Besides just being bad for you in every way except for being an instant stress reliever, smoking is hugely linked to drinking and drugs and can trigger a relapse.

My sister gave him a used Bowflex machine. It’s in our basement, which could win an award for grossest, creepiest basement ever. But he goes down there and uses it. I told him he should feel free to clean the basement up and make it his man cave.

bowflex

He’s eating decent food. It would be easy for him to buy lunch at the Arby’s that a few blocks from his work, but instead he packs a lunch every day. He even bought lettuce and whole grain bread! We’re talking about bacon sandwiches, just to assure you he hasn’t completely gone around the bend and become a gluten-free, chewy crunchy vegan.

Vince was beginning to meet people and make friends when he was granted more time out of the house. That’s off the table now due to the indefinite lockdown. Thanks to social media, he can still be in touch with the outside world.

Most gratifying of all is Vince’s gratitude—for those who send words of encouragement, read his blog, and in particular to the anonymous person who gave him a new laptop so he no longer has to type his posts with two fingers on his phone.

Locked Down

As I write this, the phone is ringing. The landline, that is, that I am required to have as a condition of Vince living with me. I had forgotten how loud a landline phone is, and we can’t turn it on silent because Vince has to answer it when he’s home. He’s not home now but I hesitate to turn it off because I might forget to turn it back on, and that could get him into trouble.

When we first got it, there were numerous calls for Mohamed, apparently the previous number holder. Those finally tapered off, but there are still calls now and then. Like now. And the phone is still ringing … 15, 16, 17 rings … I am tempted to pick it up and tell whoever it is to bugger off, but if it’s a robo caller, that just verifies that the number is a potential customer to be strafed with more calls. Still ringing … 18, 19, 20 … ah, silence, finally!

My birthday was last week, and I asked Vince if he would consider going to a classical music concert with me at the James J. Hill House, St. Paul’s equivalent of Downton Abbey.

HillHill Hall

I was pleasantly surprised when he said yes. In fact, he was excited to go, and he spent the next few weeks searching for nice clothes to wear. I told him that Minnesotans are sloppy, but he wanted to dress up anyway. I thought that was great. I always dress up too.

He found a good pair of men’s dress shoes during his community service job at the Goodwill. If you’re a thrift store shopper, you know that decent shoes are the hardest thing to find second hand.

I’m house sitting for a friend for two weeks, and it’s heavenly to have my own place. I’m sure Vince is happy to have the condo to himself, too. Unfortunately, this was the week that the condo association chose to have the chimneys cleaned, and the sweep dropped his tools down our chimney, breaking the flue control so it’s stuck open, allowing all the warm air to be sucked out. I’m just home to write this post, and it’s really cold in here. After many calls back and forth, a guy finally came and shoved a tarp up inside of the chimney. He promised someone would come back “soon” to fix the flue.

It was also at the Goodwill that our concert plan came undone. Vince’s probation officer called him twice, and Vince didn’t answer because he just didn’t hear his phone ring. It’s true, cell phones don’t ring nearly as loudly as landlines. Vince works in a warehouse amid fork lifts and dumpsters and people yelling, so that seemed like a reasonable explanation, but not to a probation agent. Or at least, not to this one on this particular day.

The agent put him on indefinite lock down, which means Vince can’t leave the house except for work or AA meetings. So he’s back to square one.

This happened just a few hours after I posted this piece about the Department of Corrections people in the class I am co teaching. Connection? I don’t know. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean someone isn’t really out to get you, right? And I had written and rewritten this piece to tone it down in case someone with the DOC was monitoring the blog.

This all happened the day before the concert. Vince called his agent and left a message asking for an exception for this one night—his mom’s birthday, tickets reserved weeks in advance, etc. The agent never even called him back. I told Vince we will go to another event.

I went to the concert by myself. The mansion was open for wandering, and it is splendid. Some people, including me, were dressed up but most were not. The woman in front of me looked as though she had just gotten out of bed and hadn’t bothered to run a comb through her hair. Yuck. The music was not good. I go to a lot of classical concerts and it’s rare to have someone play painfully badly, but this was the night. Oh well. I went, and that’s what counts.

From AA to LA

This is the eighth and final post in a series that begins here.

Vince went to live with my mother, and I attended outpatient chemical dependency treatment.  If you are in the “helping professions”—social work, psychotherapy—or if you even just have common sense and empathy, you won’t be surprised to learn that I wasn’t an alcoholic.

The expectation had been that I would go through pregnancy, birth, and adoption without any support, then go on as though nothing had happened.  People seemed surprised that I was sad and angry.  They were uncomfortable when I talked about it.

“You signed the papers; it’s over—why keep bringing it up?  Just don’t think about it.”

Alcohol is a time-honored stress reliever in such dissonant situations.

Sobriety—and a break from being a full-time mother and student—helped clear my head and face my emotions.  I spent the month working the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and reading piles of self help books, and doing all the other things people do to get back on track.

After a month Vince came home.  What–you were expecting some big drama?  Sorry.  In Minnesota we don’t like drama.  In fact we are all about avoidance of discomfort, or as I call it, “reality.”

I didn’t drink for a couple years.  I went to AA, where the members often listened to my story skeptically and said, “I don’t think you’re an alcoholic.”  I should have been referred to Alanon, which is for family members and friends of alcoholics.  People impacted by alcoholic behavior act just as crazy as their alcoholics, but there’s no rehab for them.  In fact I can recall my mother complaining that my dad got to go to “that country club”—Hazelden, a rehab center nestled on a lake with a pool, wooded walking trails, and tennis courts—while she stayed home with the four kids, the house, and the bills.

I got a job, moved out of the hi-rise, and started paying back my student loans.  Vince began school and, while his grades were never great, he was popular with teachers and students.   I made sure he brushed his teeth and washed behind his ears.  I took him to baseball practice, religious school, and family functions.  We watched Dr. Who together and went on little road trips to Lake Superior to hunt agates.  You know, normal life.

Every spring I would find myself feeling blue and wonder what was wrong with me.  Then it would hit me: Ah ha!  Isaac’s birthday is coming up.  On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, I would tear up when they read the story of the sacrifice of Isaac.  Every couple of years I would send a letter to be placed in his file, knowing it would probably never be read.  When my mother talked about how many grandchildren she had, didn’t count Isaac.  Intellectually, I knew this was the whole point—that it remain forever a secret—but to me he was always out there, somewhere.

When Vince was 10, I got entangled with an abusive guy and we ended up losing our home.  Three times in one year, we had to move and Vince had to change schools.  I chose this time to tell him about Isaac.  I thought it would comfort him to know he had a brother out there somewhere, assuming he was alive.  Clearly I am not a psychotherapist, or I would have known this would backfire.  Vince was devastated—it was a loss on top of losses.

He met his brother, eventually, and some day one or both of us will write about that.

Did these events have a permanent effect on Vince?  They deeply affected me, so why not him, since he was so much younger and couldn’t understand what was happening?  If they did affect him, it’s his job now to delve into them and resolve whatever leftover effects may be holding him back, which is what he seems to be doing in AA.

Thanks for reading this series.  Several people have commented offline that it’s been emotional to read.  I’m ready for a happier subject for the next post: my plans for a road trip to New Orleans!

Labeled

This is the seventh in a series of posts that starts here.

If you have read all these posts, thank you. They’ve been hard to write but at the same time it’s liberating to tell the story that’s mostly been kept secret for decades.

What I have described in this series of posts is a closed adoption. Once parental rights are terminated, the birth parent has no rights, period. Ironically, there was a massive change in adoption laws a year or two after Isaac was born which made open adoption the norm. This is where the birth mother can choose to maintain some level of contact with the child—everything from photos once a year to monthly visits—worked out in cooperation with the adoptive parents. But that didn’t help me, since my case was closed just before the laws changed.

As my emotions thawed after terminating my parental rights, my predominant feeling was rage. True, no one had forced me to place Isaac for adoption, but I hadn’t felt I had any other option. All the forces of society had been arrayed against me keeping him.

I thought about Charlie Brown, the doctor who had offered to find me a baby buyer; about Judy, the Catholic Charities social worker who had made light of my concerns; the perverts who had hit on me—a pregnant girl at the bus stop with a baby in a stroller; the mugger who assaulted me; Ronald Reagan, who ensured I would start my career with student loan debt; Dr. G., who invited a dozen strangers to observe me go through one of the most excruciating moments of my life; and the judge, who had asked me pityingly if I understood what I was doing.

I wasn’t angry with The Creep; he would soon go on to father three more children. Vince and I have joked that they could form their own support group, “Adult Children of The Creep.” The guy had dug himself into such a deep hole that I figured the rest of his life would be his punishment.

A few weeks after I signed the final papers, it occurred to me that I should have a photo of Isaac. I told myself this was for Vince—when I told him some day. I called Judy and there was a long pause after I said my name, as though she had already forgotten who I was.

“Why didn’t you ask for a photo before the papers were signed?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I stammered, feeling stupid and ashamed. I hated her but I knew I was at her mercy. “I would really, really appreciate it if you would ask the parents.”

She told me I would have to put my request in writing, which I did. Six weeks later she called to say that the parents had denied my request.

“Since you didn’t request a photo before you signed the papers, they’re under no legal obligation to give you one now. They’re concerned you might see the baby in a shopping mall or something … they wouldn’t want any scenes. It’s for the best.

“They want you to know that they love him very much and they gave him a beautiful name. Of course, I can’t tell you what it is.”

Wow, she was really enjoying herself. I added Isaac’s adoptive parents to my hate list.

I had lost control with Vince, screamed at him, and shoved him to the floor. I called the county and asked to speak with a child protection worker. She asked a bunch of questions then pronounced, “Based on your family history and your recent drinking behavior, I think it’s clear that you’re an alcoholic.”  She recommended I place Vince in foster care so I could go to rehab.  “You can say no, but there may be repercussions,” she said ominously.

I didn’t think I was an alcoholic but I placed Vince in foster care and got ready to go to treatment.  The next day my mother demanded that I sign Vince over to her, so I did. This time it was only temporary, right?

Unfrozen

This post is the sixth in a series that starts here.

It was 1980, I was 20 years old and had just given birth to my second son, who was in foster care until his adoption was finalized.  I had kept the pregnancy and birth Top Secret except from my mother and sister.

Now I moved forward with my life as if nothing had ever happened, and I never gave it a second thought.

Haha!  Just kidding!  That was never going to happen.

Six weeks had to pass before the adoption would be finalized.  I suppose that was to ensure I wouldn’t change my mind.  I didn’t.  I gave birth on a Sunday and walked out of the hospital that afternoon.  Finals started the following week, so I was back in school studying for and taking exams the next day.

Once I finished exams I had to study for the big test that would make me a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant.  There were lots of other distractions to keep me busy and keep my mind off of Isaac.  I would think of him as “Isaac” for the next 20 years.

I got the highest scores in my class, so I won an all-expenses paid trip to the National Occupational Therapy convention in San Antonio, Texas.  This was a big deal for someone who lived in public housing, took the bus everywhere, and washed laundry by hand in the bathtub.

Six weeks passed.  I went to the courthouse.  In the courtroom it was just me, The Creep, the judge, and about 50 strangers who were there for other cases.  The Creep and I didn’t speak.  This would be the last time we would ever see each other.  He was pleased, I was sure, that he’d be off the hook for child support—not that he paid any for Vince.

There’s a psychological phenomenon called dissociation in which you seem to separate from your own body because you are under so much stress.  This must be what happened to me, because it was like I was a spectator to myself.  It was like I was sitting in the jury box, watching the judge lean forward and ask, “Do you know what you’re doing, miss?”

“Yes,” I replied.

Again, like when I signed the papers in the hospital, it was as if I was watching a mannequin hand sign my name at the bottom of the forms.

It was over in 10 minutes.  I stumbled, dazed, out of the courtroom with the official-looking order that said Termination of Parental Rights at the top and my signature at the bottom.

I went to San Antonio, which was my introduction to the concept of “open bars” at conventions.  Free drinks!  I drank all night, then slept by the pool all day until the bar opened again.  What a great professional opportunity!

I came home and kept drinking.  School was over so I had all the time in the world to spend with Vince.  Except that my relationship with him had changed.  I had gone from doting, passionately-engaged mother to detached, emotionally-absent caretaker.  I escaped by cleaning the bathroom, applying for jobs, reading thick novels, scouring the kitchen sink, making lists of things, and drinking.

I kept busy, in part, to blot out the fact that I kept hearing the sounds and smelling the smells of a hospital delivery room.  I knew from psych classes that sometimes the mind reacted like this under severe stress—I wasn’t psychotic—but it worried me.  What next—would Dr. G and her residents show up in my bedside?

Vince had never been needy before but now he started whining and hanging on me and it really got on my nerves.  He was 18 months old; was this some kind of annoying phase?  I tried to gently put him off but that only seemed to make him want more attention.  Finally, I lost it.  I shoved him and yelled, “Get away from me!”  He tumbled to the floor, whimpering.

I was horrified and rushed to comfort him, pulled him onto my lap and rocking him.  Was this the future we had to look forward to?

It’s a Boy!

This is the fifth post in a series which starts here

I was 20 years old and eight months pregnant with my second child, which I planned to place for adoption.  This plan included avoiding my family and friends so that it could be kept a secret.

But in early April I ran into my aunt and cousin Mary, who was 14, at the grocery.  My aunt chatted about the weather, not dropping her gaze below my neck.  Mary gawped at my belly but didn’t ask any questions.

The pains came early in the morning.  I woke up and tears came, silently, so as not to wake Vince.  I had been able to freeze my emotions for six months but now, on the precipice of saying good-bye, they came.

I flung myself out of bed and called my mother, who dropped my sister off to stay with Vince and drove me to the hospital.  The pains continued, fast and strong.  As I laid writhing on a gurney a doctor I’d never seen loomed over me and said, “Good morning, I’m doctor G___, and I’ll be with you during your labor and delivery.”

The labor went fast.  My mother sat by the bed while I panted.  They wheeled me into the delivery room and Dr. G appeared again.  “You don’t mind if a couple of residents observe, do you?” she asked—more of a statement than a question.  I consented with a grunt, not really caring or understanding.

A line of residents in gowns and masks filed into the room and stood against the wall—there must have been eight or 10 of them.  “Do you want a girl or a boy?” asked Dr. G, obviously trying to show off her people skills to the residents.  “I don’t care!” I groaned, “I’m giving it up for adoption!”  She recoiled.  A nurse leaned in and whispered something to her, maybe my instructions that I didn’t want the baby handed to me.  I couldn’t hold it or I might change my mind.

“It’s a boy!” Dr. G exclaimed, holding him up for the residents to see.  She stepped forward and held him up to show me.  I saw that he had all his fingers and toes and was plump and healthy.  She handed him to the nurse, who took him out of the room.

I'm a Boy

They wheeled me down to the geriatric ward.  It was for my own good, the orderly said.  This way I wouldn’t be surrounded by happy mothers and fathers with their babies, or tempted to go find him in the nursery.

My roommate was an old woman who was moaning in agony.  “The pain!” she kept shouting.

It couldn’t have been more than an hour after the birth that Judy, the Catholic Charities social worker, showed up.  Had they called her?  She didn’t ask how I felt or if I had any second thoughts, but thrust a clipboard toward me and started flipping forms and pointing to where I should sign.

Just then my sister walked in, carrying the baby.  “He’s so beautiful!” she said.  “Just hold him once!”

Judy looked horrified.

“Take him away,” I pleaded.  She moved forward an inch, hesitated, then turned and walked out of the room.

Judy laughed when she saw the name I had put on the form.  “Isaac?”

I tried to explain that, in the bible, Isaac was sacrificed, and that was how I saw what I was doing.  I thought it was odd I had to explain this to someone from Catholic Charities.

“I should have told you not to give him a name.  His parents will change it.  You have to admit that Isaac is kind of a weird name”

I said I’d be happy to write and explain why I’d chosen the name, how meaningful it was.

“That wouldn’t be a good idea.  They want to know as little about you as possible.  A clean start, you know.  It’s for the best.”

I signed the forms.  I watched my hand moving across the paper like a mannequin hand.

After Judy left I got dressed, walked out, and caught the bus home.

Muggers

This is the fourth post in a series which starts here.

In March I was mugged.

My teenage sister babysat Vince while I went to get groceries. She adored Vince and couldn’t be kept away, so she was in on the Big Secret but we never discussed it.

It was the first of the month; everyone had cashed their AFDC checks and was flush. I was walking home, a bag in each arm, when a guy asked me the time. I said I didn’t have a watch. Seconds later he tackled me from behind. I did a belly flop onto the sidewalk. The groceries flew. I saw the eggs popping open. The milk bounced but didn’t break, then spun around on the ice and harpooned a snowbank 20 feet away. The guy ran off with my purse.

It all seemed to happen in slow motion. My wrists and palms and one cheek were bleeding. I scrambled onto my hands and knees and looked behind me. He was running down the hill, laughing. The joke was on him, since I had just spent all my money.

I leaped to my feet and screamed impotently, “Fucker!”

I gathered up what was salvageable of my groceries. Then it hit me that I hadn’t given a thought to the baby and how hitting the sidewalk might have hurt it; I had thought only of the groceries. I reasoned that any shock would have been cushioned by amniotic fluid, but I felt no connection to this baby like I had with Vince.

Could the baby feel the lack of love? Would it cause him to neglect his own children, or be an alcoholic, or become criminally insane? I jerked my mind away from these thoughts and any rising doubts or feelings that welled up.

Feeling wouldn’t be a good idea. It might make me change my mind. This was like a prison sentence, I thought. I have to wait out my term, separated from my friends and family. Once I was released, I would keep it a secret from everyone, forever, including Vince. That was the point. That was to avoid the shame.

My grandmother had dropped in on me on New Year’s Day. My mother had told her I was missing from the family Christmas gathering because I had taken it into my head to start my own family traditions.

I was five and a half months pregnant and wearing a baggy sweatshirt. I wanted to fling myself on her, tell her the truth, beg her forgiveness, and tell her it was all going to be fine after April. But instead I acted cold. I could tell she was bewildered and hurt but she didn’t ask any questions and she didn’t stay long.

Time flew. I was like a serious machine whose job it was to keep moving, always moving. Read papers, churn out papers. Interact with fellow students as if I was one of them. Transport Vince from home to daycare to home again. Feed him, clothe him, clean him. Clean the apartment so everything looked normal.

I was on a fiscal austerity plan, thanks to Ronald Reagan. I now washed all my laundry by hand in the bathtub, including the cloth diapers, and hung everything around the apartment to dry.

I had received a $2,500 tuition bill.

“Don’t you watch the news?” the financial aid lady asked. “About the big welfare reforms? Your programs got axed.”

One of the programs in question was social security survivor benefits for widows and orphans. Since my dad had died when I was eight, I received a few hundred dollars a month. This was supposed to last until I was 22. I broke the no-contact rule and called my brother, who was also in college. “Yeah, that bastard Reagan pushed a reform package through Congress that lowered the maximum age to 20. I’ll get cut off next year.”

“That fucker,” was all I could say.

The job training benefit that was covering my tuition had also been cut. I was forced to take out a student loan to pay my tuition, another reason I had to graduate and get a job—so I could make the loan payments.