The newspaper could have depressed me this morning, had I been in the mood of being blue. The charming story of a police officer buying shoes and diapers for a shoplifter's six daughters nearly got lost in the juxtaposition of the Confederate flag debacle down south and the Trumpeting of bigotry. Omar Sharif's death occupied a smallish filler, and the resignation of a Cabinet member anchored the left side of the second page. A lopsided world, the printed page -- and one gone to press too early for the scores of the rain-delayed game of my home-town team.
So I let the newspaper fall into the recycle bin and go to the kitchen for more coffee. I sit down at the secretary, the desk pulled out, the computer waiting. I glance at a figurine on the bottom shelf -- a little boy playing a pipe. I never asked my mother-in-law about the origins of any of the delicate objects which she kept in this secretary. I'm regretting that now. I check the bottom of the figure and see the words, Hand painted in Hungary. I wish I knew where Joanna got this little guy.
Yesterday I confronted a decision which I must make on Monday: Whether to recommend termination of the parental rights of a three-year-old's imprisoned father. The violent and lamentable circumstances of conception prompt the child's mother to want to protect her daughter from the biological progenitor. If a stepfather waited to adopt, I would have no problem with the choice. But my client's twenty-one-year old mother simply wants the Court to sever all legal ties with the man. While I agree that the child should have no contact with him, I hesitate to make the situation immutable. What about Social Security benefits, should this man die, of which he has a greater chance in prison and back on the streets as a felon? What about the little girl's thoughts on the matter, which no one would now ask and which will no doubt fluctuate over the coming years? What about the chance of rehabilitation, which surely exists, however marginal? Am I then the arm of God, to sever this connection? Is it in the child's best interest? That the man has consented -- should this be enough to convince me, if his horrific conduct were not?
Over a lawyers' lunch yesterday, one present spoke of a schizophrenic defendant's quest to gain release after hospitalization on an insanity plea. Between that conversation and my meeting with the three-year-old's mother, I am reminded of a woman whom I once represented, whose paranoid schizophrenia resulted in her wholesale inability to provide for her children.
I might have written of her in these pages before now; but she still haunts me. Please, forgive me if I repeat myself.
Children's authorities in Kansas took my client from her mother at age twelve, and placed her with an aunt who worked full-time and left her alone after school unaware of her emotional decline. My client started roaming the streets all afternoon, searching for the family she had lost. She told me the story early in my representation, when she still held a small thread of sanity.
She sat in my office and spoke of the migrant workers who tarried under a viaduct by the foster home where she lived as a teenager. Her thin pale face tightened. She raised a hand empty of the cigarette she craved in my non-smoking office. She twitched her blond hair off her bony shoulders and pulled her shoulders together. I realized that I was one of them, she told me. I was Mexican. I had to be. Why else would I feel so good when I walked the streets with them? They had to be my real family. I knew that. It felt wonderful, to find my people -- to have my people find me.
She began to speak Spanish, taught to her by the drifters, one and then another, blurring together, seemingly the same people, week after week. One of them fathered her first child before moving west for the winter harvest. By the time her second son came into the world, she had completely disassembled and no longer even thought in English. She stopped feeding her children. Someone called the state; the children went to families able to care for them while the court sorted out the situation.
I got a guardian ad litem appointed to represent the interests which I could not get her to consider. We made what choices for her we could -- agreed to services, insisted on psychiatric evaluation, got orders for therapy. But our client's condition deteriorated. She stopped eating, stopped visiting her boys, stopped appearing in court. She came to see me once, bearing a large velvet cloth with gold fringe. I wanted to give this to you, she said. She presented it to me, draped it across my desk, peered triumphantly into my eyes. Isn't it beautiful? You've done so much for me, I just thought of you when I saw it. Please take it! I tried to demure -- a lawyer should not accept gifts from a client, particularly a crazy appointed one. But she backed away from the fabric, dropped the bag in which she had brought it, and dashed from the room, muttering, You've been so kind.
I never saw her again.
I withdrew from her case, in time. I could not do more for her. Parental rights to both her children eventually were terminated, and I assume the families who fostered her babies got to adopt them. Six months later, I saw her name in the paper. Aurielle. . .arrested for snatching a little boy from his front yard. The article recounted the event, including that the woman had a friend cruise past the house from which she took the child, telling him, that's my baby. It was not. The child did not even resemble her sons, but he looked like her: Blond hair, blue eyes, porcelain skin. The boy was reunited with his family, and my former client went to jail.
I sent an e-mail to her public defender, describing my dealings with the woman, urging him to get access to the Juvenile Court records of her sad decline. He did not reply.
So the innocence of the children haunts me today. The innocence of the children, and the sorrows of their parents. Sometimes I leave work with an urgent need to stand under a hot shower until my skin shudders under the water's sting. On other days, I just want to sit in my porch rocker and let the evening air soothe me. I come home from court and call my son. I re-read my favorite Sara Teasdale poems. I gently, carefully, open my mother-in-law's secretary and stroke the silken surface of the pretty things which stand on its shelves.
And then I make a cup of tea, go back outside, and let myself surrender to the stars.
Saturday, July 11, 2015
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The Missouri Mugwump™
- M. Corinne Corley
- I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.
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