An hour later, reluctantly, I arrived at the clinic holding the door open, and ushering the girls inside. I noticed there were no other kids or parents scheduled at the same time as we were. I wondered if they had opened just for us. I rang the bell at the counter, took a questionnaire to fill out, and plopped in a chair. My girls busied themselves exploring their surroundings, investigating all the toys and books a-plenty.
The waiting room was kid friendly but cold like a funeral home. Cushioned chairs lined the walls plastered with billboards regarding child safety laws. Small toys were scattered on the gray linoleum, and bookshelves were crammed with picture books and stuffed animals. A small fish tank rested on the counter, and a yellow Legos table sat in the middle of the room. Above the sign-in window hung a large round clock.
I wanted to flee but rang the bell again.
A petite, white-coated woman emerged behind the counter. She looked odd wearing glasses too large for her narrow face, with an over-exaggerated smile as wide. She held a clipboard in her hand and glanced down, skimming the pages.
“The gangs all here?” she inquired.
I nodded. “Yep.”
“Right on time. I will be calling your girls one by one to go into the examining room.”
“Do I get to go in, too?” I asked.
She answered with a phony grin.“Won’t be necessary.” Then, she turned and called in a sing-song voice, “Anna?”
She and Anna Marie disappeared behind the door. I glanced at the clock.
I flipped through the pages of a magazine. Diana tossed a picture book on my lap that she wanted me to read. Glad to occupy some time, I made up the words and pretended to read to her.
Minutes passed before Ms. White-Coat with her fake smile and tone returned. Anna Marie skipped by, chewing gum, and joined her sisters.
“Diana. You’re next,” Ms. White-Coat chirped. Diana glared at her suspiciously, but when White-Coat produced a piece of candy, Diana’s face lit. They vanished behind the door.
My mind scrambled as I paced.
What questions are they asking Diana? She won’t understand nor will be able to answer properly. They’ll trick her or have her repeat whatever they want her to say. What if they ask if her Mommy ever spanks her? Or takes things away? Or sends her to her room?
I wanted to drill Anna Marie about what Ms. White-Coat had asked but feared the room might be bugged.
I stared at the clock, unseeing. The tick-tock of the second hand turned. I peered out the curtain and watched an ant crawl along the windowsill, carrying a big crumb in its mouth, too heavy of a load for such a tiny thing. Like I sometimes felt.
Diana wasn’t kept long. The door burst open, and she scampered out with a balloon in her hand and a grape BlowPop in her mouth. I smiled. She’s no dummy; she got what she wanted. I hope Diana gave Ms. White-Coat-Goodie-Two-Shoe a run for her money.
“Okay, I guess we have finished anyway,” she said out of breath. “That leaves you, my dear. Angela, right?”
My baby girl held onto my leg shielding her face. “Mommy, no,” she pleaded.
“It’s okay, Angela. Mommy will be right here waiting,” I said.
White-Coat held a doll and in her ever-so-fake-sweet voice coaxed my daughter to go in with her.
Once the examination finished, another woman came out to talk with me. She introduced herself with a last name I couldn’t pronounce. I read her name tag: Gretchen. She told me that the physicals went well. The tests came out clean and she saw that my girls were happy and that I cared for them. Yet, on account of our history of alcohol and violence, she deemed our home an unsafe environment for the girls.
Here it comes. I held my breath and stared at the floor.
“We understand your dire straits; however, due to your present condition”—I cradled my belly— “and financial situation, you have expressed you haven’t any other place to go. For this reason, we must remove the girls from the home today into a more stable and suitable environment.”
A wave of nausea washed over me.
She rambled on. “Before the girls can return home, you must provide a safe place for them to return to, or . . . your husband moves . . . .”
Lost in my thoughts, my mind spun; her voice faded in and out.
“. . . recommendations . . . ,” “. . . counseling . . . ,” “. . . seek professional . . . ,”
“. . . proper care . . . ,” “. . . unfit . . . ,” “. . . temporarily . . .,” “. . . so sorry . . . .”
Stability, I thought. Where were these jokers when I was a kid?
My baby kicked. I went back to the waiting area, feeling light-headed.
“Girls, Mommy has to go away now.” On bended knee, at eye level, I struggled to control my queasiness and hide the devastation in my voice. This is the darkest day of my life!
“You will be staying at another place for a short time . . . until you can come back home again. . .” I felt my composure slipping and didn’t want to say too much and alarm them.
“You’ll have fun.” A tear escaped my eye. “Remember, Mommy loves you so much. . .” I felt I might freak out at any time, bawl in front of them and never stop.
“Give Mommy a kiss. Mommy will see you again soon. I promise.”
Anna Marie focused more on the toys in her hands than on what I struggled to convey. She nodded when I gave her a kiss and a tight squeeze. Diana repeated, “Bye-bye,” hugging her balloon instead of me.
But my two-year-old Angela clung to me tightly. She wouldn’t let go and began to cry hard. Somehow, she understood. She felt my pain.
After kissing and hugging the girls, I trotted away as quickly as possible, leaving them behind with a CPS worker. Sobbing in the elevator, I couldn’t breathe. My heart ripped from my chest. Seeing black spots, vigorous waves thrashed about in my head. I felt like a drowning child again, greedily grasping for air; only this time, CPS sharks encircled me, and I, the bait.
I was five-and-a-half months pregnant. I cradled my belly, holding my unborn child in the safety of my womb. They won’t take this one away from me!
I numbly attended a brief court session and had to consent to relinquish temporary custody of my daughters to foster care. I went through the motions of that ordeal alone, but remembering the details afterward remained a blur. When I arrived home to the empty apartment, the quietness jarred me. I imagined my girl’s chatter and giggles. My head echoed in what a failure I was. Hadn’t God given me three innocent beauties to care for? My own heart felt like I’d surely die from brokenness. And guilt.
“Where are the girls?” Donny demanded after he came home and looked around.
“Where do you think they are?” I growled. The look of shock on his face drove me onward, with rage. Before he uttered another word, I lashed out, “CPS took them so they can be someplace safe. They have a right to a healthy, normal childhood I never had. You’re not going take that away from them!” I ran from his sight, locked myself in the bathroom, and bawled my eyes out.
“Mary, come on,” Donny pleaded. “Whatever it takes, we’ll get them back.”
He almost sounds like he cares. “Go away.”
“You’re going to get yourself sick. I promise I’ll make it up to you.”
“Leave me alone.”
“You’re going to have to come out sooner or later.” His voice trailed away.
“I can’t stand you!” I shouted.
But I hated myself even more.
(Although more in the book, this completes the excerpt from Chapter 32 “Running in Heels – A Memoir of Grit and Grace.” To read Part One of this chapter go here. In posting this for you my readers, the emotions of those three dreary months as a young struggling mother were one of the hardest I’d ever gone through. Prayer sustained me. God’s Grace got me through.)
© M.A. Perez 2014, All Rights Reserved