Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States // March 8, 2013 // Friday // 05:30pm
The city of Philadelphia seems to always be in a state of perpetual traffic jam on Fridays. What should have been a thirty to forty minute drive required over an hour to complete, and there I sat in an ambulance, the second time in my life riding in one, wary of the tears I know were being dammed behind a wall of effete will. It will eventually give, but I would prefer to be alone in a place where no one can hear or see me when it happens.
Remembering my husband’s words about medical professionals being required to report injuries sustained by children, I wonder if something had triggered an investigation. If so, then this incident is going to get more involved and complicated than usual. Just remember, unless they served you a warrant, no one can come into your home, I reminded myself.
Catelyn sat like a princess on a small throne, eyes wide and alert, as she was wheeled into the emergency wing of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, what they refer to as “CHOP” for short. I found that rather distasteful, so I’ve always simply just abbreviated it as See-A-Ch-Pea (C. H. P.) so it didn’t sound like a slaughter house to me. The row of nurses behind a large odd-shaped counter all cooed and ahh’d as she entered. Phrases such as “Oh, she’s beautiful!” and “What a doll!” greeted and trailed Catelyn all the way into an older, but almost identically equipped as Virtua, patient room.
The place was all hustle-and-bustle, and I noticed two women standing in the hallway between our glass wall and the nurse’s counter as they looked down one hallway and then the other between talking with one another. Both were tall, one with dark skin, and the other pale skinned with European facial features. With the large bags and arms laden with folders and legal notepads, I gathered they weren’t hospital staff. The dark-skinned woman was dressed casually while the fair-skinned woman standing next to her was wearing a casual suit. With their paperwork-laden arms, I didn’t think they were police investigators, nor did I have any reason to think police investigators would be there for me. Even if I was to have a brush with some form of investigation, I assumed the first point of contact will be with a uniformed police officer. Detectives aren’t as common as what television would like us to believe.
A tall, slender Asian looking man greeted us shortly after we got ourselves situated in the room. He was the resident-on-call that evening, and he almost didn’t look like he belonged there. Where most of the other people were either slightly overweight or didn’t seem to have much in the way of muscle, he was sporting a fit and lean-muscled look. I can only assume that was the direct result of weight and cardio training during his off hours to help with the stress of his career. His facial features reminded me of my son’s, a mix between having an Asian parent and a Caucasian one, and his mannerisms were a near-perfect balance between good professionalism and awesome bedside manners. I appreciated that; a whole metric ton of a lot.
“So, we were told that she suffered a supracondylar fracture of the humerus. Do you understand what that is?” Dr. Brian asked, and I wasn’t entirely sure I kept the surprise off my face. Most doctors simply delve into an explanation about an injury regardless if the family of the patient needed it or not in an effort to save time from the typical “what is that?” questions.
If Dr. Brian is taking the time to ask questions, then time wasn’t a factor to him. This wasn’t about how quickly he could get out of this room and onwards to another patient. He will take all the time needed to provide the level of care he believed in. This meant that my daughter was more than just a numbered patient and a little face in a sea of faces.
We mattered, and to this day, Dr. Brian is still the person I think of whenever C.H.P. is referenced.
“No, I don’t. Please, explain,” came the words, as clear and solid as if I was having a debate about the application of physics theory instead of standing in a hospital emergency care room.
“The humerus is the bone in the upper arm and it ends just above the bend of the elbow. Catelyn fractured the backside of it above where the elbow bends. It’s not a complete break, but it’s more than just a fracture. That’s why it hurts when she tries to straighten her arm and the swelling is so severe,” Dr. Brian explained. “Any questions?”
His voice reached over the turbulent sea that was my insides to calm it like Jesus ordering the oceans to be still. Despite the hesitancy within, I felt myself relax just a small bit.
“So what’s going to happen?” I asked.
“Most likely, after our head of surgery takes a look at her x-rays, she will have a pin put into her arm to hold the loose piece of bone back in place. It will stick out the back side of her arm, but that’s nothing to worry about. It will all be protected by the cast,” Dr. Brian explained.
“Okay,” I nodded. When I had no further questions to ask, Dr. Brian explained that with all surgeries, there will always be a risk of complication. The risk is minimal for surgeries such as Catelyn’s, but certain conditions could come up during the surgery, others will arise during the healing process, and he made me aware of all of them as best as he could. I penned my John Hancock on the forms he presented, and he turned his attention towards Catelyn and her bandaged arm.
If Catelyn disliked being touched before, she had learned to hate it after all of this was over. Another round of crying echoed within the room. Unfazed, Dr. Brian started a conversation with Catelyn just like the person who first bandaged her arm back in Virtua. While it didn’t completely quiet her down, Catelyn didn’t fight quite as hard.
“How has she been eating today?” Dr. Brian asked.
“Not much of anything thus far. Just some chicken noodle soup and cheddar goldfish. She isn’t interested in her water bottle. Probably dehydrated by now,” I replied back.
“I’m going to get an IV in her to give her some fluids and re-wrap this so we can observe the elbow. We’ll also use the IV to administer pain medication when she needs it,” Dr. Brian looked at me and I nodded in reply.
As Dr. Brian bustled about the room to grab the items that he needed, I was somewhat relieved that this is probably the last time I will have to hold down Catelyn for anything else. Once the IV is in and the arm re-wrapped, there wouldn’t be any more pokes and prods beyond what was absolute necessary – like the taking of her vitals. That will allow Catelyn to adapt somewhat to a completely foreign environment. Having just been overseas three months ago for a period of three months, Catelyn was extra wary of anywhere that didn’t look like her bed or her parents’ bedroom.
“When will the surgery be booked for, do you think?” I asked.
Dr. Brian settled back down on the stool next to the bed. “Most likely first thing in the morning,” he answered.
“Thank you,” I replied. The IV was placed in Catelyn’s arm, and Dr. Brian said he will check back through the night. I gave him my thanks as I thumped Catelyn gently on the chest to help calm her cries. Remembering that I had cardboard books and stickers in my purse, I fished them out one handed, passed them to Catelyn who happily busied her free hand with page flipping. I leaned back to give my aching shoulders and numb spine a break. My throat hurt from all the talking, and I couldn’t remember the last time I had a sip of water. I was probably as dehydrated as Catelyn was, but there was no way to leave her side to find a vending machine or a cafeteria for bottled water. I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to ask the nurse for some. I never ventured to find out.
I tried to get some rest while Catelyn entertained herself, but it was difficult to miss the two women still standing just outside. Then, as if by some signal I didn’t give but they received, they both looked at me and made a move to knock on the door to enter. When they were both standing inside the room, the dark-skinned woman slid the door closed and introduced herself and her associate, “I’m Kim Johnson, and this is Alyson Quin. We’re from DYFS. Department of Youth and Family Services.”
Alarms went off like a pending nuclear strike in my head, and I soundly kicked myself for letting my guard down. If DYFS was here, that meant I was now officially under investigation, probably for child neglect or abuse, maybe even both. Undaunted by my silence, the woman who introduced herself as Kim Johnson continued. “We need to ask you a few questions,” she said.
I crossed one leg over the other and left my right hand on my daughter. “Questions about what?” I asked. One never gives a statement of affirmation to people who have “questions” to ask about one’s personal life. These two women were about to get personal. Real. Damn. Personal.
My brain was frantically rolling through all the things I knew about legal rights and privileges, setting up barriers, and giving a mental number scale of one for seemingly harmless questions to five for loaded questions where one couldn’t answer either-or without the possible risk of self-crimination. Since this wasn’t a criminal interrogation, these two women did not have to read me my rights – or more accurately, they did not need a law enforcement officer present to recite the Miranda Rights that gave me the right to remain silent and the right to be legally represented; Fifth and Sixth Amendments of the Bill of Rights, consecutively. I knew this was never going to be about the facts presented, but rather how the facts were interpreted. This is a challenge of wit and words, and to the victor went the spoils – my children. I dislike confrontation, but I have learned how to manage them when situations arise. I’ve just never had to deal with it on this level before. I have a lot to lose, and the terror was enough to make bile sit at the bottom of my throat.
Just as Kim was about ready to move onto her list of questions, a knock came at the door. A woman with another portable desk like ones used at Virtua smiled and entered when Alyson slid the door open. “Hi, I’m with the hospital administration. I have some paperwork to fill out with you. Should I come back later?” the woman asked.
I glanced at Kim and Alyson and, against my better judgment, answered a prompt “no.” I reasoned that this would give me a little bit more time to think about what those two women from DYFS would ask me and how I was going to go about answering questions that are both vague and specific. The woman wheeled in her mobile station, and the process of paperwork questions began again with Catelyn’s name and date of birth. The two women never excused themselves from the space. I should have asked them to leave. They shouldn’t be privileged to this conversation. Thoughts failed to become vocalized requests, however.
When the questions turned to our medical insurance coverage, I gnashed my teeth as quietly as I could. The moment I began spelling out my husband’s name, his date of birth and social security number along with our home address, Kim and Alyson began scribbling in their legal pads. I was starting to get a headache from the anxiety knotting my stomach and found myself gripping my left knee so tightly that the joint ached. I could feel panic rising with the acidic bile of an empty stomach.
Calm down, I told myself as I struggled to process the questions of the administration woman and answer as clearly as possible; but, every scratch of pen on paper only served to wind my nerves tighter. Keep it together, I told myself, rather uselessly. With the transfer of information from Virtua, the session with the hospital representative was short. After penning more papers with signatures that granted the hospital and its doctors to provide the medical care required for Catelyn, the representative left. That still left me with the unwelcomed presence of the two DYFS employees.
Open pressure cooker. Insert yours truly.
I felt like I was back in Jr. High; only, instead of having missionary kids pick on me, trashing my locker, and broadcasting every word of my journal to the masses, there were two women out to ask questions about my personal life that I was quite certain were not in my best interest. Or my children’s, but I’m sure DYFS would beg to differ.
Not a word was offered from my lips. Whatever it is they wanted, they will have to pry from me with questions. Hesitation was never a part of their jobs.
“So what happened?” Kim asked.
I thought about that question for a moment or two. It wasn’t any different than a doctor or a nurse asking, but the situation was completely different. I looked at the women, steeled myself against the expected onslaught, and answered their question with one of my own. “Why are you here?” I asked. I can assume and make educated guesses all night long as to why the women were there, and I’ll probably be correct. However, in my best interest, and for all who I am protecting, it was important to establish credentials. Make them state in no uncertain terms what it was they expected at that moment as well as moving forward.
“Why are we here?” Kim repeated the question back at me.
“Yes, why are you here? For what reason are we having this conversation?” I asked again, unsure of the reason why I needed to repeat myself. I doubt they didn’t understand me.
“We are here to find out what happened to Catelyn. Why her arm is broken. How it came about,” Kim replied.
“I already told the doctors what happened. Why is it any of your business?” The more I asked questions, the surer I felt of myself. The panic began to recede, and my brain felt like someone just gave it four espresso shots of caffeine.
“We just want to make sure she wasn’t abused or neglected.” And there it is, Wynter, my mind piped up at the answer.
The answer entered into the Audubon network of my mental highways, dissected, analyzed, and programmed into the right channels for all bells, whistles, and alarms to work accordingly. Now, it’s time to see if all those hours spent listening to friends whose professions specialized in law stuck with me. “Ah,” I replied neutrally, neither affirming nor denying if I understood. Let them assume. It makes the fight on my side just slightly easier, and I’m all for advantages.
This isn’t about the facts, I reminded myself. It’s about how the facts are interpreted.
“So what happened?” Kim asked again.
“My daughter woke up at midnight screaming. I thought she was hungry and brought her downstairs to the kitchen for some food, and that’s when I noticed the swollen elbow. We left for an ER, but realized they had moved. I didn’t know where another one was. As it was snowing, I decided to go home. Took Catelyn into our pediatrician first thing in the morning, then I found myself at the Virtua ER. Then here. You know the rest,” I replied curtly.
“What’s the name of your pediatrician?” Alyson finally asked a question.
My version of a yellow alarm sounded in my head, and after a second or two of debating with myself, I answered the question with “Advocare. The Farm Pediatrics.”
“Which doctor does she see?” Kim asked.
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. Advocare is a private practice made up of a group of pediatricians who are also affiliated with a couple of local hospitals. There isn’t a single doctor my children always saw. While it is possible to request for specific doctors for wellness visits, when it came to impromptu colds, flus, or other ailments, my children will be attended by whoever was available and on staff that day. It made Kim’s question un-applicable in its entirety. Regardless, if they wanted a doctor, then…
“Doctor Chase,” I answered. Dr. Chase reminded me of my brother-in-law, who is also a pediatrician. He is kind, never got in my face about anything – even things I’m a little behind on like getting my daughter off her pacifier, and answers all of my questions and concerns at every visit without making me feel like things were wrong or I should’ve known better. Both of my children took very well to his jovial nature.
Moments later, Alyson slid a sheet of paper in front of me. I glanced at it, reading the contents spelled out with black letters on white paper, and gritted my teeth. It was a release form, giving them permission to have access to Catelyn’s files from Advocare and to speak with the staff as necessary. It was not a form I wanted to sign, but I wasn’t sure if I should sign it or not. I vaguely remembered someone telling me that I was never obligated to sign anything. However, that applied to criminal charges. While the investigation was for possible child neglect or abuse, it wasn’t a criminal investigation. Therefore, the rules were different. However, the results of their investigation can bring about a criminal investigation. It didn’t matter how the lines were drawn. They were all around my limbs. It wasn’t a matter of “if” I was being hog-tied. It was a matter of “when” that was going to happen and how tightly they wound the ropes.
Without an avenue to find the answer I needed, I penned my signature and gave it back.
“So how is Catelyn at home?”
“She’s fine. Happy. Laughs a lot,” I answered back.
“Does she go to day care?”
“Does she have any siblings?”
“An older brother,” I answered.
“What’s his name?”
“How old is he?”
“He’s three,” I answered, the blood vessels in my temples throbbing from my mental bracing for the questions I was expecting to hit me square in the back when I least expected them.
“Catelyn get along well with Adrian?”
“They’re siblings. Playing together one moment and fighting the next is part of being siblings,” I answered. That was probably not the best way of answering a question, but it was the truth. Anybody wanting to fault a parent for sibling rivalry obviously didn’t have children, or should count one’s blessings for having children who just happened to always get along well together.
“Does Adrian go to day care?”
“Not yet. I’m still in the process of finding programs for him to join. And I thought this was about Catelyn and what happened in this incident?” I asked pointedly, letting them know that I was aware of them stepping outside the boundaries they set themselves. They wanted to ask about Catelyn, so I’ll humor them. My son was never a part of this equation, and I wasn’t about to let them turn him into one.
They switched gears, and it was met with an internal ground of teeth and seething frustration from me. “Do you work?” Kim asked.
I understood that eventually the questions will turn to things about me, and this was where things get a little muddy. There are some things about me that I can share with just about anyone, and there are some things I prefer keeping close to the chest. When under investigation and during an interrogation, it is in my absolute best interest to never talk about anything. One didn’t finish a degree in English and not learn how differently every person can interpret a sentence of written word. Spoken word is more impromptu, and if one wants to use the basis of television shows lately to see how words can be bent and deliberately misinterpreted as a verbal trap, the conclusion was that I was pretty much in rapid waters no matter what safety harness I was attempting to use.
“And what does your husband do?” Kim continued.
My left eye might have twitched, or it could have been a figment of my imagination. Regardless, automated answers I had practiced for years now immediately sprouted from my lips. “He’s a service technician who supports the PSAPs of local and state police in New Jersey, parts of New York, parts of Pennsylvania, parts of Maryland, and Washingon D.C.,” I replied.
“What’s a PSAP?” came the expected question. It took all my willpower to keep my lips from twitching into a smile.
“Public Safety Access Point,” I answered, ever-so-unhelpfully.
For whatever reason, be it stress or just the absurdity of the situation, I found myself rolling in petty glee at their confusion. “What does that do?”
“You will know it as nine-one-one. PSAPs are the call centers that pick up all emergency calls when anyone using a landline or a cell phone dials for help. These centers have programs that allow them to keep callers on the line, relay important messages to emergency dispatchers like the police, EMTs, and fire responders. It also gives them an ANI/ALI map for GPS coordinates from where the call originates from. My husband keeps the hardware that supports all this in working order so the next person needing nine-one-one doesn’t inadvertently find himself or herself talking to someone in California when the emergency is in New Jersey.” Take a breath, Wynter. Don’t be rubbing their noses in something.
Seconds ticked by as their brains try to wrap around the chunk of information I just unloaded. I didn’t blame them. It took me three days to understand it myself, although I was crunching more information than what was just given to these two women. My glee was short-lived, however, when the part of my brain that possessed logic gave me a solid kick in the proverbial ass with a size twelve foot.
It didn’t take a genius to put the coverage area I just sprouted to the job description, as basic as it was, and conclude that my husband dealt with a metric-ton worth of stress on a daily basis. To put things into context, my husband is the primary technician that covered the area I just described. He only has one co-worker, incompetent one at that, who “dispatches” when my husband couldn’t be in two places at once, or if the drive required more than four hours of driving time in any one direction from our house. Now, Florida state alone has eight technicians. When people die because the 911 service couldn’t answer a call in a timely manner due to hardware glitches, that usually meant a lawsuit in the millions. It is, by no means, a light burden for anyone to bear, but carry it my husband did.
“Where is his office?” Alyson asked.
“He works from home.”
“His work doesn’t have an office for him?” Kim followed.
“His employer doesn’t have an office building in New Jersey.”
“Who does he work for?” – Alyson.
“Positron,” I replied and was requested to spell that out for them.
“Where is Positron located?” Kim asked. They were starting to tag-team on the questions so each one could scribble down the answers for the question she asked. This way they kept the ball rolling. Observation of people interactions would show you that the faster a conversation rolls, the less time the person being asked had time to think. Therefore, the answers will have less time being processed and be, as they hoped, more truthful and raw. As long as I was on the lookout for patterns such as these, things were going as well as can be. It was usually the curve-balls that were the problem.
It wasn’t until I saw Kim move the load of things in her arms did I realize I was being recorded. There was a digital voice recorder propped on her binder and held in place by her left arm.
Son of a… BITCH!
I vaguely remembered hearing a very familiar “beep” around the time the hospital administrative staff had appeared for paperwork. I just didn’t remember if it was before the administrative representative and I were talking or if it was after she had departed. Nevertheless, I didn’t recognize the “beep” being the voice recorder until that moment. I had one of those in college for my lecture hall classes, but it had been so long since I’ve used it that the sound didn’t immediately register.
In the state of New Jersey, it is illegal to record someone and use anything in the court of civil or criminal law without first notifying all parties that the conversation was being recorded. While that handy piece of modern technology cannot, in theory, be admissible in court, it still strips the option of “plausible deniability” away from me. Recorded conversations stepped between the spoken word and the written word, and that meant second opinions could be asked for while the conversation could be taken entirely out of context.
I racked my brain for any hint that these women had warned me about this conversation being recorded and came up empty.
“Their headquarters are based out of Longmont, Colorado,” I groused.
“And how often is he gone?” Kim asked.
“Sometimes a few days out of the week, other times not at all. Very few are overnight trips, though. It depends on how critical an issue is and if he could resolve it over the network or if it required him to be physically at the site,” I answered back.
“Are there any family who help you with the children?” Alyson asked.
“No. None are close by.”
“Where is your family?” Kim asked.
None of your business, I wanted to say and would be theoretically correct.
“In Asia,” I replied. This was where I didn’t want the questioning to go.
These women didn’t know that I was a permanent resident in the United States. They had no way of knowing without a social security number to feed into the information system. As far as they could tell, I could be a United States citizen born in the United States to immigrated parents or foreign parents, or I could be a permanent resident through marriage to a United States citizen. The latter was the more likely assumption.
Learning that my family was in Asia, these women could very well group me with what they understood of people from Asia and how I could have been raised. I am sad to admit that we’re infamous for corporal punishment that can, and sometimes do, end up being child abuse in the name of discipline.
I am hesitant to say that I was a victim of racial profiling, but here I am – Asian, living in the United States with no family support network, married to a husband with a stressful career, and possibly no time or space to call my own with two very young children. From an outsider’s point-of-view looking in, I believe many would have made the same assumptions if someone else showed up at a hospital without knowing why her daughter’s arm was broken. And it wasn’t in the women’s job descriptions to give me the shadow of a doubt. I am willing to give the women a shadow of a doubt that they didn’t intend on profiling me – racially or otherwise. Regardless, the aura in the room took a shift into the “it’s-not-going-to-be-nice-anymore” territory. Not that it was nice to begin wth.
“Where is your husband’s family?” I automatically glanced back to Alyson as the tag-team two hundred questions continued.
Really none of your goddamn business, woman. “Scattered further south. North Carolina to Alabama,” I replied and felt my eyes automatically flicker back to Kim.
“Does your husband get time to himself?” Kim asked.
“Yes, every other weekend I urge him to go to a park and fish if the weather allowed it. He enjoys the outdoors. We all do. We have plenty of trails where we live,” I kept my gaze steady and focused on the pens scribbling on legal pads.
They had no viable way of confirming what I just told them. They can confirm that my husband pays for a fishing license every year, but that’s about it. Truth is, my husband was “on-call” even on weeks where he shouldn’t have been, and regardless of where he was or what he should be doing, his phone was always in his pocket. I’ve never seen the man not pick up a phone call on it. One did not ignore calls that could be a PSAP site blowing up or shutting down. Problem was, the people calling my husband could be one of the sites he is responsible for, or it could be another technician in a different state altogether facing a problem he had never seen before and was directed towards my husband to see if he might know a solution.
“What about you? What is your schedule like?” Kim shifted the gears back to me, again.
This kind of interrogation is like story telling without the assistance of a notebook or pre-planning on a subject one knows little about. What one wrote in chapter one may not align with what was to happen in chapter four. Now that they know how my husband’s schedule sort of worked, learning about mine will provide them with a partial answer to whether I was negligent in my parental duties, or if the stress might have affected me enough to take my frustration out on the children.
“I get up around seven-thirty every morning, get the children up between eight and eight-thirty, feed them breakfast, play with them a little before getting to my morning chores or grocery shopping. Then it’s lunch, nap for them, afternoon activities like going to the park, reading, watching a TV show or two, snack times, dinner prep, dinner, a bath, some snuggling time. In bed by nine and lights out by nine-thirty. Then I spend whatever left over hours I have for chores and with my husband.”
There was a pause, and Kim looked at me in the eye. I looked right back. If she was expecting me to be skittish like a doe protecting her young, she didn’t get it.
“So when’s Mommy time?” Alyson asked the one question I saw coming from a mile away; complete with horns and blinking neon signs.
“When my husband is home, he would keep watch over the children while I disappear for a couple of hours on my own to stores I don’t normally get a chance to visit,” I answered, offering a half-truth.
“How often is that?” Kim asked.
“Once a week, sometimes twice,” I fibbed.
I am not a shopper. I only ever leave for groceries or items I need from general convenience stores. Anything specific I need is usually purchased online, and that included children’s clothing. Large crowds of people make the atmosphere oppressive, and for someone like me who feeds and recharges off a certain balance in the atmosphere, I prefer places like a library or out in the woods if the trails weren’t buried under six inches of snow. I used to find escape in the book stores around the city, but with the economy tanking and stores closing, lost in a hostile takeover, or merging and diversifying to other areas that didn’t involve books, they no longer held my interest.
Kim took a moment to glance at her list of questions and decided on this next one, “Do you or any of your family members suffer from depression?”
“No,” I said, voice steady without any inflection to hint otherwise.
The seconds of silence that suddenly appeared at the end of the last question was sudden and deafening, and I had to mentally reel myself back lest I fell on my face, proverbially speaking. The women made glances at each other, peered at each other’s legal pads, and made the motion of agreement. Never had I been so thankful that I was a people watcher and had learned how to read body language rather well. Theirs said to me that they were in agreement of their assumptions, no matter how inaccurate they may be about anything. As much as I disliked the personal questions up until this point, I had a feeling I was going to enjoy the next batch even less. I was incredibly thankful that I hadn’t eaten anything all day.
“We have a few more questions. Just basic ones we have to ask,” Kim stated.
I didn’t say anything in return. Catelyn, having been on her best behavior for long enough, decided to start whining and whimpering. I turned my focus to her, trying to soothe her back down and looked around for something new to distract her with. With few options, I finally handed her my phone. Satisfied, she settled back down and played with the buttons that made the screen lit up.
The next batch of questions focused on our living conditions, whether we rented an apartment or owned a home, how I was able to keep my eye on the children when working on my chores, if dangerous problems have been rectified, and the like. The questions were all met with simple one or two word answers. Then I found myself in awe with, “Are there drugs in your house?”
There were two ways I could answer this question. “Of course. Tylenol. Motrin. Mucinex. NyQuil. DayQuil, Midol…” I listed off all the over-the-counter (OTC) drugs in my house. I was being a smart-ass and I knew it, but answering the question as I did served a purpose. It gave them the assumption that my understanding of the English language was literal to the letter. I hoped that it would force them to be more specific to make it harder for them to ask me “loaded” questions. I also hoped that it would make them assume as long as they spoke in American slang, I wouldn’t understand.
“No, I mean, other types of drugs,” Kim explained with a semi-chuckle of what sounded like amusement.
“Like prescribed medicine? I just use hydrocortisone for Catelyn’s eczema,” I replied.
“No, like ones that are illegal,” Alyson tried to explain some more. If the situation wasn’t so dire, I probably would have chuckled.
“No, of course not,” I replied. It would be absurd to think that anyone, even if one was in possession of controlled substances, would incriminate oneself on this question. It would be more accurate for me to assume that the question served more as a “lie detector” of some sort. By answering “no,” I was giving them a statement, to either test the trustworthiness of my character or mark me as a liar. Unfortunately for them, they need a warrant to set foot in my house.
“Does your husband own weapons?” Kim asked.
“What do you mean by weapons?” I asked.
“Like guns. Does your husband own guns?” Kim clarified.
Unfortunately for me, the second question didn’t make it any easier to answer. I wanted to sob in frustration. “Yes, but we don’t have most of them,” I finally answered.
“What do you mean?” Kim asked.
“Most of my husband’s guns are in South Carolina with his father,” I clarified.
I was getting trapped, and I could feel it. I needed to pull the plug on the interrogation and wait for some back up. I needed my husband here, now, before any more questions about him are asked.
“And what about the ones not in South Carolina?” Kim asked.
I wondered why Alyson wasn’t tag-teaming with Kim on the questions. The woman had been checking her phone every few minutes, sometimes replying, other times just reading. Then with a glance at her partner and a finger motion that suggested she needed to go tend to something, she left.
“It’s an air rifle my husband and I use against rodents,” I replied. I wasn’t sure how knowledgeable either of these two women was about firearms.
“Is that in a safe place where the children can’t get to it?” Kim pushed.
A pause, then Alyson reappeared at the door, knocked on it, and motioned for Kim to follow her in an enthusiastic gesture. Kim excused herself and followed her partner. I collapsed into my seat, rubbed at my aching temples, and then retrieved my cell phone from my daughter’s hand.
I pushed the number that was my husband on speed-dial.
“Hi, Honey. How’s it going?” my husband answered.
“I’ve been ambushed by DYFS. There were two women waiting for me here when Catelyn and I got in. Then as soon as the doctor left, they came in and tried to ask me questions. The hospital administrative representative came in for paperwork, and those two just stood right there and took down notes,” I babbled into the cell phone. “They started asking questions about everything. The black lady was recording this whole conversation. They just left… I think they’re profiling me. They’re asking me questions about you. They’re not being very nice about the questions… can you come here? I need you here. I can’t do this on my own… please,” I completely fell apart by the time I was done, half-crying and stuttering. I didn’t know if my husband could understand me.
Apparently, he understood enough. “Let me get Adrian, pack you and Catelyn some things for the night, and I’m on my way. Don’t talk to them anymore, not until I get there,” he said. I didn’t need to see my husband to know that he was pissed.
“Honey?” I called through the sniffling, trying furiously to get myself under control.
“Could you pick up something for us on your way here?”
“I’ll be there in an hour,” he said.
I nodded out of habit before remembering that he couldn’t see me. “Okay,” I managed. I ended the call and tried to clean myself up with my shirt sleeves. I hoped I didn’t look like I was crying.
Kim and Alyson returned together and entered without too much prompting on my part. Before either one got comfortable enough to ask any more questions, I spoke up. “I’m sorry. I’m done answering any more questions. I’m not comfortable without my husband,” I said.
“Sure. Where is your husband? Is he home? We can drop by the house if he’s home. We have some questions for him as well,” Kim asked.
“No, he’s not home. He’s out,” I answered.
“Do you have a phone number we can reach him at?”
“Apologies, but I’m not giving you his number. If you wish to talk to him, then you’ll have to wait. He is on his way here,” I replied.
“Right now?” Alyson asked.
“Yes, right now. He will be here later.”
“Okay, we’ll be back later then,” Kim replied as if we were just friends having a catch-up conversation with one another instead of this being a completely invasive interrogation. The women left. I leaned my head on my arm and tried to get some rest, willing the next hour to pass as quickly as possible.
* * * * *
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States // March 8, 2013 // Friday // 07:15pm
I heard my son’s voice before I saw them rounding the circular walkway of the emergency wing. People greeted the enthusiastic three-year-old as he passed and waved. I stood, and just as I reached the glass doors, my husband was at the counter, trying to ask the woman what room his wife and daughter were in. I slid the glass door open enough to lean out of it and called for him, “Honey, over here.” Just lifting his eyes placed me in his direct line of sight.
Adrian gave me a hug the moment he got within arm’s reach, and I hugged him back, happy to see him after so many hours of being apart. Up till the incident that placed my daughter in the emergency room, I had never been away from my children for more than four hours at the most. Even if my son wasn’t suffering separation anxiety, I was having my own grown-up version of it.
Inside the semi-privacy of Catelyn’s patient room, my husband held me tightly and we had our first kiss of the day. Tears threatened to spill at the physical contact. I felt overwhelmed, and I could sense that my husband knew it. He walked me over to a chair and sat me down before letting me go. He fished out two snack bags filled with chocolate teddy grahams, gave one to our son and one to our daughter. “I got you a subway club to share with Catelyn. Do you want it now?” he asked.
“No. I’ll eat when this is over, if it’ll end,” I said with a heavy sigh.
“Okay,” he acknowledged, grabbed a second chair, and seated himself close to me. “Tell me what happened,” he said.
My husband is James Wynter, in his mid-to-late-thirties, a United States Air Force veteran, and specializes in designing, building, and maintaining security networks and information systems architecture for data centers. He is over-qualified for this current employment, but he optioned to be employed as a maintenance technician so he could work from home most days out of the month to spend as much time as he could with the children before the school years. “It also gives me the added bonus to add this specialty to my resume. Most companies jump for people with emergency backgrounds,” he told me with a smile the day he decided he was going this route and wanted my support. His enthusiasm to learn and make the most of everything was one of many traits that I loved about the man.
I described in detail everything that had happened with the women from DYFS, and his expression was clouded over with controlled anger and frustration.
“I’m here now. Let me deal with them,” he said. I nodded, somewhat upset at myself that I needed him to step in, but understood that I could have made matters worse by pretending I knew what I was doing. After all, some answers had to come from him, not me.
We sat and waited, my small hand interlaced in his big one. Adrian distracted himself with different items around the room, and I hung onto the feeling of being in a safety net. He had been through the military version of investigations, which were arguably worse than the civilian counterparts of anything. He knew our rights and privileges better than I did.
Kim and Alyson walked by to check on me, noticed that James had arrived and entered. My husband stood up and walked to the foot of Catelyn’s bed, physically inserting himself between the two women and me. He was determined to shield me from everything else the women were contemplating of throwing at us.
My knight in well-used armor, an inner voice practically swooned in its hopeless romantic self. There were no mirrors in the room to confirm it, but I was pretty certain I rolled my eyes at myself.
Mind-numbingly tired, pressure-cooked, and with my insides feeling like they’ve been through a meat grinder, I simply listened to the re-introduction of the two women before the questions began again. I felt like someone dumped liquid lead on me and allowed it to cool and solidify in place. The first three questions were basic. My husband provided his full name, his social security number, and confirmed our residential address.
“Can you tell me what happened?” Kim asked. I swore the two women carried a different tone when asking my husband the questions, unlike when they were talking to me. The atmosphere wasn’t as stifling or oppressive as before, and while it could have all been in my head, I sincerely begged to differ.
“I believe my wife already did.”
“I would like your version of the event,” Kim said.
My eyes narrowed and red bled into my vision. While I had kept my husband as up-to-date on the details of my conversations with people, this was dangerous ground. In a criminal investigation, they cannot compel either one of us to testify against the other. This led up to the possibility of a criminal investigation, so the waters were murky. While we did not have to answer any questions, that could simply make matters worse, but so could answering questions.
“I turned in a little after eleven, woke to my wife’s calling from the dining room. Saw the condition of Catelyn’s arm, got my son in our vehicle and left for the ER we knew, but it was closed. We didn’t know where another ER was. Catelyn was calm and sleeping at this point so we decided to return home as it was snowing heavily and to take her to the pediatrician in the morning,” James summarized to Kim’s scribbling.
“Did anything happen during the day?” Alyson asked.
“Nothing out of the ordinary. I was dispatched in the morning, and the children were fine when I got home in the afternoon,” James answered.
“What do you do again?” – Kim.
“I’m a field technician for emergency networks, mostly nine-one-one call centers,” James recited the same answer I did.
“For the county or the State?” Alyson asked. Apparently, the two women had been doing a little bit of research while waiting to talk to us again. I wondered who they talked to for the information, and how much did they gather and believed applicable to this.
“I support both and Federal,” James replied.
“Is there anyone we can call to verify that?” Kim asked.
“NJSP ODU Headquarters for State, and Chief Stahle in Somerset,” James answered and read phone numbers off his blackberry.
“What about Federal?” Alyson asked. I sucked in a deep breath and held it so it wouldn’t leave me in a rushed exhale. My husband remained unfazed, reached for his wallet, pulled out a business card, and held it up for Alyson. She leaned in, reached for it, but James didn’t relinquish the card, forcing the woman to read it from his hand. Alyson’s eyebrows rose into her hairline after a moment of squinting and straightened back up. “Oh. I see. That won’t be necessary. Thank you,” she said and disappeared with the provided information, probably to run my husband’s social security number through their system.
And that would alert the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). I didn’t know what kind of impact being under investigation would have on James’ job, but in the worst case scenario, he could lose his security clearance. He could get terminated from his job, and finding employment in a fallen economy with this hanging over our heads will make our lives a struggle even more than it already was. Even if my husband didn’t get terminated, the loss of ability to support one specific site might cost us a drop in his salary. The DYFS investigation was only the first hurdle of our troubles. I fought the urge to cradle my head in my hands.
“How much time do you spend at home?” Kim asked as soon as Alyson was gone.
“As much as I possibly can,” James replied.
“Are you away from them for extended periods of time?” Kim pressed on.
“Not if I can help it.”
“We had asked your wife earlier about weapons, but she seems to not understand us very well,” Kim explained. From where I was, I didn’t know if his facial expression changed or not, but the rest of him was as stock still as a mannequin in a shopping window. “Do you own any weapons?”
“I own a whole assortment of weapons. I collect survival gear which includes knives. I have arrow heads I’ve collected since I was a child and an assortment of gear from when I was in the military,” James replied.
“Are they locked away?”
“Yes, in my office,” James replied.
I brought home an entry door lock from Lowe’s one day, handed it to my husband, and pointed at his office. There were simply too many sensitive things in his office for us to use a standard interior door lock that could easily be unlocked with a flat-head screwdriver. This prevented any curious parties from entering the specific room without a key.
“Any guns in the house?” Kim asked.
“Yes, and with the exception of an air rifle, all other weapons have their firing pins removed, taken mostly apart, and secured, also in my office.”
Paper shuffled, and I assumed it was Kim flipping pages on her legal pad to a fresh page for note-taking. I hadn’t heard the sound of a voice recorder being turned on since they had started and wondered if they dared not record my husband because he was obviously a citizen. The thought that they would cross lines based on citizenship status served only to rile me some more.
“We have concerns that this came from a moment of neglect. Has your wife ever ignored your children?” Kim asked.
The words drained my body of warm blood and replaced it with glacier ice. My mind flared with anger for a split moment before despair took me. My heart sank, collided into my stomach, and both left my body to fall through the floor of the hospital. I forgot how to breathe.
“Excuse me?” James asked, rhetorically.
“I’m asking if she has ever shrugged off any one of your children crying in pain,” Kim rephrased the question, as if we didn’t understand her the first time.
“Do you have children?” my husband asked.
“That’s not relevant to this, Mr. Wynter. Have you ever seen your wife not check on the children?” Kim asked again. Push just turned into shove.
James shoved right back. “Neither my wife nor myself have ever neglected either one of our children when either one cries for any reason,” he answered. My brain reminded me that oxygen wasn’t optional.
There was a pause as Kim debated if she wanted to continue shoving against us. Then she glanced at Adrian, who had been sitting beside me through the whole interaction. “Does your son talk?” she asked.
“No, but he does understand what we say to him,” my husband replied.
Her efforts thwarted, Kim turned back to my husband. “Do you understand why we are asking these questions?”
“Yes. I work with the New Jersey State Police on a weekly basis. I understand the law and the need, but you should not be treating us as if we withheld care. It is obvious that we didn’t, and…” my husband was interrupted by Alyson running back to our room, knocking on the glass door, and beckoning in a harried motion for Kim to join her. Kim excused herself, and we were left to ourselves.
My husband turned to me, “This is how they treated you?”
I nodded. “What do you suppose that was about?” I asked, hand gestures indicating to the women running off. James turned his attention to Catelyn.
“They probably just ran into a brick wall, Hon,” James replied. My eyebrows scrunched together in confusion. “If they’re using the system I know of, the moment they plugged in my social security number for any personal information past the basics, the screen will flash something red and probably tell them to contact the FBI,” James explained.
“What does that mean, exactly?” I asked, daring to hope but being uncertain if I should.
“That means for them to move any further into my background, they will have to call the FBI, and the FBI will shut them down, simple as that,” James replied.
Maybe, or maybe not, but I finally understood what my husband was trying to explain to me more than a year ago what was to be expected when he took on this site. I heaved a stuttering sigh. “What’re we going to do?” I asked no one in particular.
“We stick to our guns. We didn’t do anything wrong, honey,” James replied.
“No, that’s not what I mean…” I trailed off, voice cracking from a dry throat.
“I brought you some water in the bag,” James pointed out.
I tugged the blue Samsonite luggage bag on wheels I used as a carry on for airplane travel towards me, flipped it on its back, and unzipped the top flap. Inside were necessities, Catelyn’s blanket that she couldn’t sleep without, and four large bottles of Smart water. I helped myself to a bottle, my parched throat singing hymns to the liquid of salvation. When a third of the bottle was emptied, I set it aside and turned back to my husband. “Would this cause you to lose your security clearance? What if you lose your job over this?” A tear finally slid free of my right eye, and I reached up to brush it away with a sniffle.
“I doubt it, honey. They might suspend my clearance pending review, but I doubt work is going to fire me over this,” James replied.
Too much had pushed against us for me to be convinced, but I had left the conversation at that. I couldn’t remember who it was that once told me, “Hope for the best, but plan for the worst. It’s the only way to come out ahead.” It seemed overly applicable to the current situation.
Kim reappeared at the wall of glass, and I wanted to throw something at the woman. She opened our door and stepped inside with a hurried question, “Did Catelyn suffer a fall? Earlier in the evening perhaps?”
James immediately stepped to the foot of the bed again, inserting himself between DYFS and the rest of us. Despite it all, my heart swelled with mixed emotions of pride, love, and the small spark of fight in my heart bloomed into a full fire again. “No…” James began to say, but Kim’s question made pieces of the missing puzzle fall into place.
“Yes, she did, shortly before her bath,” I interrupted.
“Why?” James asked the woman.
“The doctors said that Catelyn’s injury is consistent with a fall,” Kim finally elaborated. “So she did fall?”
“When?” James asked, face frowning with confusion as he tried to remember.
“Remember, honey? You were downstairs on a conference call with your boss and co-worker, and I was upstairs playing with the kids in our bedroom,” I clarified. “You even paused for a moment to ask if things were okay?” I got up to stand next to him, my hand reaching for his.
“What happened?” Kim asked, and I didn’t miss the enthusiastic lift in her voice. It set off warning bells in the back of my mind and made hair stand on end.
“I was on the bed with my son playing with programs on my iPad. Catelyn had been climbing on and off our bed all night, and she had just tried to jump up over the footboard of our bed when she slipped and fell. She did cry, more so than usual, and I checked on her. I tried to pat every place I thought she was hurt at, but she didn’t act like something was seriously wrong. After a while, she calmed down. I called it time for a bath as it was nearing their bedtime. I even checked her again during the bath and after, but there weren’t any signs of anything being seriously wrong. There wasn’t even a bruise on her arms. You know the rest,” I explained, wary of how much I disclosed.
“All right. I’ll be right back,” Kim said as she disappeared again.
My husband and I looked at each other. “Was it just me or did she seem like something was going on?” I asked.
“No, there was definitely a change,” James confirmed.
The doctor, or maybe even doctors, had said that Catelyn’s injury was consistent with a fall. While Catelyn did suffer a fall, everything was still speculation. My daughter could have hit her elbow on the wooden trunk at the foot of our bed on her way down; we can only assume it to be a ninety-percent educated guess at best. We will never truly know, but that’s the angle they’re going with. I allowed myself some breathing room, believing that it would soon be over from there. All that was left was to get Catelyn the surgery she needed, and go home.
Unpleasant surprises were the theme of the day.
A man near-four-hundred-pounds, dark-skinned, and dressed in scrubs appeared at our room’s entry way, and my first thought was please be telling us we’re being transferred to a room. “Hi, I’m the radiologist. We’ve got Catelyn scheduled for x-rays. Could you follow me please?” he said.
“What? Why does she need more x-rays? I thought you had the ones from Virtua?” I asked.
“We need to take a full-body x-ray, ma’am,” he said.
“For what reason?” my husband asked. I was tired, and I had no interest in putting myself or Catelyn through a full-body x-ray. She suffered a broken arm, for crying out loud, not experienced a car wreck!
“We want to make sure she didn’t suffer any other injuries,” the man said.
I wanted to curl into a ball and scream my frustrations. I dragged my exhausted body over to the bed and gathered Catelyn into my arms. The man led me down a hallway to the radiology room. Catelyn was in a full-body screaming fit the moment I tried to settle her on the table. I didn’t blame her. The room was cold, the table colder, and she was in the flimsy hospital gown that I’ve grown to detest since I was a child. The radiologist handed me an apron that I threw on without properly fastening the Velcro ties as no one would help me prevent Catelyn from thrashing off the table.
If I ever had a reason to hate hospitals and technical staff any more than I already do, that day stamped it in stone for me. The radiologist ordered that I hold Catelyn down while he juggled all the plates of x-rays around and manhandled a terrified two-year-old without the slightest ounce of love, care, or gentleness. I wished bodily harm on the man, cursed his very existence, and had to remind myself that hitting him would be a bad idea with DYFS just outside my door. By the second set of three, my ears were ringing from Catelyn’s screams, and I couldn’t stop the shaking that gripped me. I barely had the strength to hold down my daughter from exhaustion and just how much the day had drained my energy. I also couldn’t bring myself to hold down Catelyn as strongly as the man wanted me to.
How could I?
Catelyn’s eyes, tear-filled as they were, looked at me with accusation that I was allowing hurt to be inflicted upon her again. I was one of two people in the whole world she trusted with her all, and yet I was holding her down for another person to hurt her. Every time the radiologist held her in a specific position for an x-ray, Catelyn was screaming in pain; the exact same scream when she woke up with a swollen elbow. I couldn’t stop the tears from falling from my own eyes and struggled to see through blurred vision at what I was doing. Eventually, it got too much.
“You’re hurting her. Her arm is broken. Please be more gentle,” I told the radiologist.
The nerve of that man had the audacity of replying, “You’re not keeping her down good enough.” I wanted to walk around the table and hit him, possible broken hand be damned. He had spent every walk between every set of three x-ray films chit chatting with the other people in the room about his weekend plans as jovially as if he was barbequing in his backyard instead of tending to a hurt girl in obvious distress towards his harsh handling of her.
And I was the one being investigated!
The moment the last x-ray shot was finished and confirmed usable, I ripped off my lead apron, scooped my daughter into my arms and ran back to the emergency room. My husband sat with our son, and immediately got up when I half staggered, half stumbled, and was sobbing my heart out when I crashed inside. He took Catelyn from my arms, put her back on the bed, and reached over to hold me tight while everything I had been holding in broke the dam and poured forth like the floods drowning New York City in The Day After Tomorrow.
“What happened?” he asked when the wailing dampened down to noisy sniffles and hiccoughs.
“That… that…asshole…” I spat through my stuttering and sobbing. “The nerve of all of them! Accusing me of neglect!”
I was ranting without rhyme or reason, but James didn’t stop me. I didn’t care who heard me. I had every right to vent. “Twenty godforsaken x-rays from the crown of her head to her toes, and that fatass demanded I hold her down while he yanked and pulled like Catelyn was a dead pig instead of a breathing human being in pain! He had the nerve to stand there and talk about his goddamn weekend plans while hurting her!” I sneered through the hiccoughs.
James held me tight, and I felt Adrian’s arms encircling my lower half in a hug. Catelyn’s little fingers wrapped around the fingers of my left hand, and I just let it all go. I was done holding it in, with being nice to the DYFS representatives, with anyone whose interests didn’t lie in helping Catelyn. One did not corner a dog with pups and not expect to bared teeth and warning growls.
Every single one of their presumptuous asses be damned.
I pulled myself together, apologized for soaking James’s shirt, kissed the little fingers wrapped around mine, and knelt to wrap Adrian in a bear hug.
“They came back while you were gone,” James said.
“What did they want this time?” I spat.
“They asked more questions about you. I shut them down,” James said.
“Do you think we’ll have access to her x-rays?”
“We better, or they better not charge us for a single one,” James said.
That wasn’t my concern, or why I felt like I was being touched without consent. I didn’t know if these women could access Catelyn’s x-rays or if only the doctors could see them. While I knew that the x-rays wouldn’t show anything except for a fully intact skeletal structure that suffered a broken elbow, just when did DYFS become the relay between my doctor and me? If my doctor was concerned about Catelyn’s fall, he or she should have asked me the question directly and gotten an answer – my answer. With DYFS playing messenger, there wasn’t any semblance of doctor-patient confidentiality anymore. It was a dirty tactic, and I resented the two women and the hospital for it.
We were told that Catelyn’s x-rays showed that she suffered no further injuries. When I inquired if we’ll have access to the x-rays that were taken, we were told that it was for hospital use only. We weren’t going to have access. My fury could level a metropolitan city by that point. Ranting and raving wouldn’t have gained me access any quicker than negotiating, and I wasn’t in the mood to do so. If nothing else, I came away with a very painful lesson: Always… ALWAYS… make the hospital write a clause in their paperwork that avail parents to every record the hospital has on any patient that is a minor. They will have to sign it before I do. I’m finished with institutions protecting themselves on my dime.
Kim and Alyson returned shortly after we were informed of the x-ray results, and I honestly didn’t know what else these two women wanted from us. Setting her things down on the counter space in the room, she started pulling out more papers, handing a couple to James and what looked like duplicates to me. “We’ve gotten pretty much everything we need for now. If you could, please fill out this paperwork. It’s information about your family members, because… just in case we have to take your kids away, we want to put them with family instead of in the system.”
My chest ached from my heart skipping a couple of beats under duress, and I could feel my facial features contort in a grimace. Take my kids away? What was that supposed to bloody mean?
James took the paperwork offered, and I followed suit, brain numb from the woman’s words. I looked at all the slots offered, and it covered everyone from grandparents to aunts and uncles. I dug a pen out of my purse and filled in my parents’ names. When I noticed that James didn’t so much as twitched to fill in his paperwork, I stopped what I was doing.
“We’re not giving you anything else. You have what you need. Leave,” James said with unmoving calm. His gunmetal blue eyes had lightened to baby blue. I knew that meant thunder was roiling under the calm surface. The women, if they knew what was good for them, better pack up and get out. Now.
Alyson scooted out of the room first. Kim took back the paperwork, packed up her things, and followed her co-worker out the door. It took a minute or two for me to find the channel between my brain and my ability to speak.
“What did she mean? Take our kids away? Why? Whatever for?” I rambled, knees threatening to buckle. My right hand was holding onto the frame of the bed hard enough for my knuckles to be white.
James caught me just as I nearly missed the chair I was aiming for. “They won’t. They have no ground to stand on. It’s just an empty threat,” he reassured as he sat me down in the chair, then sank to balance on the balls of his feet next to me. “It’ll be all right. They have nothing on us,” he continued.
I stared into his eyes, back to the usual gunmetal blue. Adrian pressed into my lap, and I pulled him into another hug, all the while feeling like an ant being threatened by a size thirteen boot worn by a pre-teen debating whether or not stomping on me would be fun.
Another eternity passed before someone showed up and informed us that Catelyn was being transferred upstairs to a hospital room.
* * * * *
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States // March 8, 2013 // Friday // 09:25pm
“Here, Hon, eat something,” James said when he had us settled into the room Catelyn and I were to call home for the night. I looked wearily at the sandwich James held out to me and accepted it with hands shaking from exhaustion.
“Thank you,” I said. I wasn’t hungry still, my body having given up on reminding me that it was running on fumes hours ago. The bed dipped where I settled next to Catelyn and offered up my sandwich. A little mouth opened enthusiastically at the food, and I flashed a smile, albeit sapped of strength and glow. I fed Catelyn, tiny morsel by tiny morsel into a willing mouth as she chewed and swallowed. Her cut off time to eat and drink for the surgery in the morning was midnight, and I was determined to feed Catelyn as much as her little stomach could take before then so she could finally settle down into some pain-free sleep. With any luck, a full tummy will lull her to sleep without fuss. I needed rest, and just some time to try to right my world internally.
“Adrian, hungry?” James asked our son. Adrian settled onto the bench that doubled as a bed and attacked his subway sandwich as enthusiastically as his little sister. James stabbed a juice box with a straw and settled that on the built in table next to Adrian before digging into his own six-inch sandwich. If it weren’t for the location and what we just went through as a family, this was almost like a picnic we had as a family in the spring and autumn months.
“Did you happen to bring a juice box for Catelyn?” I asked.
“Mm..! Yes!” James mumbled through a mouthful – not a habit of his, thankfully, and made for the overnight bag. After stabbing another straw through the new juice box, the item switched hands and found its way to Catelyn’s eagerly waiting lips. Having not drank much of anything all day, water must’ve left a nasty aftertaste. I made a mental note to seek out the floor’s food area for more juices just in case Catelyn was still thirsty for more.
James wrapped the remaining six-inch back in paper and tucked it out of the way. Body warmth flowed from his lean torso to settle around me as we sat cuddled with each other on the bench. I sank into James’s warmth and just let myself be as Adrian tried to climb into both our laps and then tried to wiggle between us.
“You know how I’ve always said nothing will ever come between us, love?” I asked as I relinquished my place at James’s side with a sigh. James looked at me with eyebrows drawn in concern. I smiled to relieve his anxiety. “Well, apparently I was wrong,” I said, my right hand dancing in the air as I motioned to Adrian happily squished between our bodies.
“You know the other day, when I was trying to take that nap I oh-so-needed, he came crawling up my side of the bed. Wiggled himself between my knees and wedged-shoved his head as hard as he could back up… I honestly thought he was trying to crawl back into my belly,” I recalled to James’ further chuckling. “I was like ‘I don’t care how much sense that makes in your head, kid. It doesn’t work that way!’”
James and I both glanced down at Adrian with a smile, and he looked back up at us, his chocolate brown eyes twinkling as a wide grin split his adorable and handsome face in half.
An abused child would never look that way at his parents. I glanced over at Catelyn, happily helping herself to a zipped bag of baked chips. An abused child wouldn’t cry when the mother leaves her side, or clutch at the adult hand that held hers, or fall asleep in her mother’s arms. A neglected child wouldn’t look for the person who neglected her when she needed comfort and love… My vision blurred as tears welled back up.
I felt James squeeze my hand. My eyes found his, and I found understanding. He knew what was going through my mind, understood why I had to recollect stories of my children.
I squeezed my husband’s hand in return. “You should get going. It’s late. Adrian still needs a bath and get to bed,” I said.
“Are you sure?” James asked.
“Yeah. I got things here. You need to go home and get some rest. Gods know what tomorrow will bring. I’ll leave messages to keep you updated,” I said as James got up.
“Okay. Call me if you need anything, even if you just needed to talk,” James said.
I sighed and nodded in reluctance. I didn’t want my husband to go. We had been best friends for nearly a decade, considered each other husband and wife even before Adrian turned up positive on a pregnancy test, and he was the only person the in the entire world I allowed past my personal defenses into the little sphere that is truly me – something no one else got to see, not even my own parents. If there was one person in the world who should be with me that night, it was him, but parental responsibilities meant the children came first. I will just have to deal on my own.
I crouched and gave Adrian another huge hug and a kiss. “Be a good boy, okay? Mommy needs to stay here with Catelyn. You get Daddy all to yourself for tonight,” I asked.
“U-kaie,” Adrian replied in his baby talk as he hugged me in return.
“I love you very much,” I whispered against his forehead as I kissed him. Adrian answered in his baby babble that made me think he was trying to say “I love you, too” in return. I could not wait for the day to hear those exact words from that little being.
With a final kiss and whispered words of love and goodbyes, they were off. I watched father and son until they rounded a corner and slipped back inside the room before the first of the tears fell.
* * * * *
To be finished… in chapter 3.