Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Affective Needs--Chapter Twenty One

**New chapters posted here on Wednesdays**

When my mother pulled up in her Camry, she found me in the center of an emergency circus. The bright red-and-blue flashing lights rotated on top of two police cruisers and an ambulance all jammed onto the narrow road running between the rows of mobile homes that now had people spilling out of them, craning their necks to get a better look at whoever it was getting hauled off by the cops.
The whoever was Porter’s dad, who looked nothing at all like what I had imagined. The picture I had created in my mind of a slobbish, piggish, fat-knuckled thug of a man who would obviously beat his kids with one hand while the other clutched a beer can was not the man the cops pulled out of the trailer in handcuffs.
Porter’s dad looked a lot like Porter.
Taller than both the cops leading him to the backseat of one of the police cruisers, he had the same broad shoulders and narrow waist. His hair was the same shade of brown as Porter’s but he kept his shaved closer to his head instead of the tousled mess that Porter was always pushing out of his eyes. With his arms pulled behind his back, the hard, lean lines of his muscled arms stood out and I could see that the one closest to me had an inky tattoo, but he was too far away for me to see what it was.
When she saw her dad in handcuffs, Paige started to cry all over again. “Daddy,” she sobbed, then wiggled out of my arms and ran to him.
“Paige!” I shouted and started to run after her, but before I had moved two steps, a curly-haired woman I hadn’t noticed before stepped into Paige’s path and intercepted her. She knelt in front of Paige and held her arms firmly until the cops had Mr. Creed in the backseat with the door closed.
Paige screamed.
Not knowing what I should do, I watched the woman, still holding Paige’s arms as she tried to say something to Paige.
Paige kicked her, screamed louder, started to pull and buck, thrash her head and cry, “Dad! I want my dad!”
The woman’s face never changed, as if she were required to hold screaming children every day while their parents were arrested. When it was clear that Paige was not going to calm down or listen to her, the woman simply stood, moved herself behind Paige so that she wouldn’t get kicked, and held Paige’s arms around her body, like a giant self hug—an invisible straightjacket.
Paige screamed again and started banging her head back against the woman’s stomach, “I want my dad!” she sobbed. “I want my dad!”
I turned and looked into my mother’s eyes.
Her face had its extreme-worry expression. She reached out with both her hands and grabbed my arms while her eyes scanned my face like a detective. “Are you okay?” Her tone was serious, almost like I was someone she didn’t know. She was assessing me, I realized—assessing me as a crisis worker, not as my mother.
Words weren’t coming, I just stared at her as a riot of emotions competed for release. I didn’t know what to do with myself—what had happened here?
My mother took a shaky breath. “Ruth.” Her voice commanded my attention while her eyes focused on mine like a laser. “I need you to answer me.” She let that message sink into my fuddled brain. “Are you okay?”
I nodded.
She exhaled and nodded back at me. “Okay, good. Now, did you get hurt? Physically?” Her eyes now scanned my arms, my body, my legs. When her eyes returned to mine, I shook my head to indicate that I was not hurt. No, I was not physically hurt. But . . .
“Porter,” I blurted.
Just then, the trailer door opened again. My mother and I both turned to watch what was happening. I had been so focused on the chaos of the cops arresting Porter’s dad, and Paige’s huge meltdown, I had almost forgotten that Porter was still inside the trailer with the EMTs.
They had rushed in with a rolling stretcher, the legs retracting up, like landing gear, when they carried it up the stairs. My first thought was that I didn’t think they would be able to get it up those narrow stairs and into the door of the trailer—but they had. My second thought—my God, is that for Porter?
They were all coming out now, one EMT helping Porter walk down the stairs. I allowed an ounce of relief to settle in my throat. It wasn’t so bad that he couldn’t walk out on his own—and then he turned his face toward my mother and me.
The smallest of sounds, like a strangled bird, escaped from my throat before my mouth snapped shut.
Blood ran down the side of his face. The front of his shirt was soaked in it.
My mother and I, as if with one mind, started to walk toward Porter in the same breath.
Paige’s scream split the night—we all looked to see what had happened.
The police car with their dad in the backseat was pulling away. Paige’s hysterical sobs crescendoed, as if she could undo the entire night’s events by wailing loud enough against them.
The woman with the soft brown curls was losing her grip on Paige; for every thrash that Paige made, the woman lost more footing and the ability to keep them both upright. Seconds later, they were both sprawled in the dirt and Paige, being seven, was much faster at getting up and getting loose.
She ran after the flashing lights carrying her dad away to jail.
“Paige!” Porter yelled as he shook free of the EMT still trying to help him and rushed down the stairs.
The police cruiser was disappearing quickly into the night. “Daddy!” Paige screamed.
Porter ran after her, his steps clumsy and labored. After only a few steps, his eyes blinked hard and his head rolled like he might pass out at any second. He stopped running and propped himself up with his hands on his knees.
My mother ran after Paige.
I ran for Porter.
“Paige!” He managed to shout again even though the effort of it looked like it might knock him over. “Stop! . . . Right now!”
When I reached Porter, I placed one hand on his back and the other on his forehead, as if that could possibly keep him from crashing into the dirt if he passed out. His gaze was locked on his sister, and when I looked, I could see that she had heard her brother and stopped.
“Come here!” he barked.
Paige turned right as my mother reached her. She took one look at my mom and dodged in case my mother was going to pounce on her like the woman with the soft brown curls, and started running for Porter. When she was closer, I could see by the porch lights of the surrounding trailers that her eye was getting blacker and blacker by the minute and the cut on her lip was swelling like a small balloon.
When she was only a few steps away, Porter managed to stand up and meet her halfway. He grabbed her arm and pulled her to him, lifted her off the ground, and clutched her to his chest like a precious doll.
“Don’t you ever do that,” his voice caught on the words until the last one came out as a sob. He placed her on the ground in front of him. “Do you hear me? Don’t you ever run from me.”
Paige nodded while her mouth contorted into the saddest of frowns—she rushed forward and wrapped herself around Porter’s legs. He bent and picked her back up, her tiny, dirty legs clinging to his waist as she buried her face in his neck.
“Are you okay?” he asked her.
Paige shook her head and didn’t lift her face.
Porter pressed her back with both of his hands and tilted his head to the sky, as if some solution to this horrible night could be found in the soft clouds drifting without a care above our heads. Tears ran from the corner of his eyes. “It’s going to be okay, Paige. I promise.”
“Dad’s gone,” she cried, and started sobbing all over again.
I watched Porter, his face a bloodied and bruised mess from their dad, the same dad who had given Paige a black eye and a bloody lip. Porter squeezed his eyes tight and swallowed hard. “I know. But it’s going to be okay.”
“I didn’t mean to,” she whispered into his shoulder.
“It’s not your fault.” He shook his head and, for the first time, his eyes met mine.
I felt the lump in my throat rise up and choke my words. “Are you okay?” My mother reached us and stood by my side.
“What are you doing here, Ruth?” he asked me.
“I wanted . . . I needed to talk to you.”
“How did you—”
“Porter?” The woman with the soft curls joined us along with the remaining police officer.
Porter froze. He didn’t look at the woman; he only stared at me. He had that look on his face, the one that made my heart bleed for him.
He was desperate.
“It’s time, Porter,” the woman announced. “I’m sorry.”
His eyes never left mine, but he shook his head as his face broke into agony and fat tears rolled down his face. “No.” His voice was only a whisper, but everyone was so silent, we could hear his every breath. “Please don’t do this.”
I looked around at everyone else. It felt like they all knew something I didn’t, even Porter and Paige.
Porter turned to the woman and the officer, a stout man who looked like he was sympathetic to the situation, but wished he could just go home. “She’s only seven,” Porter said.
The woman took a deep breath and sighed, “I know how old she is.” Her eyes swung to my mother. “Carrie Ann? Any words of wisdom?”
I turned to my mother. Obviously she knew this woman—what was going on?
“Porter . . .” my mother started, and then shook her head. “It’s a horrible situation; I know that.” She was trying to reason with him, but about what I had no idea. “It’s what’s best for her right now.”
Porter whirled and turned on my mom. “You can’t know that! You have no idea what might happen to her! I’m what’s best for her!”
Porter was starting to lose his temper, but my mother didn’t seem fazed by his shouting. She lowered her voice. “Sara has good people set up for Paige. She’ll be well cared for.”
Porter’s expression was incredulous. “Good people? Like the ‘good people’ who took care of me when I was eight? The good people who—” his eyes locked with mine and the rest of his sentence died on his lips.
“I know you have no reason to trust us, Porter.” My mother shot a glance at me, like a secret code to Porter that promised she wouldn’t say too much. “But I can swear to you, these are good people. I know them personally—both teachers with two older girls. They could be a stable place for Paige, a loving place until all this mess gets cleared up.”
“Look,” the cop suddenly decided to chime in. “She’s leaving either way. You can make it easier or harder for her, but sooner or later, and I’d prefer much sooner, the two of you are heading out.”
Sara and my mother exchanged exasperated glances and watched to see what Porter’s reaction was going to be.
“What’s going on?” I finally asked.
Porter, who had been staring daggers at the cop ever since he had started talking turned on me, “What do you think is going on? Think, Ruth. Because you called the cops, Social Services is now going to take my sister away.”
My complete shock must have been plastered across my face because Porter nodded and said, “Yes. So thanks for that. Because of you, Paige—”
“Because of your father,” my mother interrupted him. “Not Ruth. Because of your father, Paige is going to a foster family.”
“I had everything under control!” Porter shouted.
My mother’s shoulders slumped. “Porter, keeping your father from beating on your sister by making sure he beat you instead is not ‘under control.’ You deserve better than that.”
“And she deserves to not feel afraid in a house full of strangers. She needs me.”
“You’re right,” my mother said. “She does need you, Porter. She’s going to always need you. But right now, she needs you to make the hardest decision you’ve ever had to for her own good—she needs to know it’s going to be all right, and she won’t know that if Sara has rip her from your arms while Officer Reed restrains you.”
“I can take care of her,” he argued.
“Not until you’re eighteen,” Sara pointed out.
“This isn’t forever, Porter,” my mother added. “But right now, it’s the only legal option there is.”
I watched Porter give up. Slowly—at first it was only his shoulders, then his forehead, his eyes, and finally his mouth as the truth of what they were telling him sank in. Paige was leaving for her foster family tonight, one way or the hard way. He buried his face against her ear and whispered something only she could hear.
Paige shook her head, “No, Porter,” she cried. “I want to come with you.”
“You can’t come with me,” he choked. “No little bugs allowed.” He tried hard to smile for her, but his tears made it difficult for him to lie.
Their foreheads touched and she held his face between her two small hands. “Please, Porter.”
He closed his eyes and sobbed. “I’m sorry, bug. But for now, we have to. Remember that I love you, and I’m going to come and get you as soon as I can.”
It happened fast. Before any of us knew what was happening, Porter turned to Sara, pulled Paige off of him, and placed her in Sara’s arms. Porter was three strides away before Paige figured out what was going on.
“NO!” she screamed. “Porter!”
But Porter didn’t turn around; he never once looked back. He headed straight for the still-flashing police cruiser and waited for Officer Reed to catch up and open the back door for him.
“Porter! No! No! No!” Paige screamed and screamed and screamed until her voice seemed to break from the effort.
Sara and my mother carried her, kicking and thrashing, to Sara’s car. They managed to get the door open and Paige into the backseat once my mother pried her tiny finger from the doorframe.
My mother slid into the backseat next to Paige and Sara closed the door. The back window rolled down and I could hear Paige continue to cry and yell from inside.
“Are you okay to drive yourself home?” my mother called out to me.
I nodded.
“I’m going to be a while—” she turned her head away from the window and I could see she was struggling to calm Paige down and keep her from bolting out the other door.
I walked closer to the car so she wouldn’t have to shout. My mother managed to get Paige buckled into what looked like an extra-large carseat and then turned back to me with a deep sigh. “I don’t know how long I’ll be. At least until Sara can get someone else to come out and help her. Are you sure you’re okay to drive?”
I nodded again.
“You look like you’re in shock,” she said bluntly.
I looked all around us—was that what this was? Shock?
My mother shook her head. “You’re not driving anywhere.” She pulled her phone from her purse, scrolled through her contacts, found who she wanted and placed her phone to her ear. “It’s Carrie Ann . . . yes, I’m sorry. I know it’s late but we have a little bit of an emergency situation here . . . No, she’s fine, but I need you to come and get her.”
Who was she calling? The only people I could imagine would be Eli’s parents. I listened to my mother give the brief version of what had happened while Sara spoke to Officer Reed through his open window.
Sara nodded. “Yes, they’re expecting him at Tennyson.”
Porter was sitting in the back of the police cruiser with his head tilted all the way back against the headrest. Officer Reed’s window rolled up and they drove away.
Was Porter being arrested too? “Where are they going? Where’s Tennyson?” I asked Sara.
She watched them a second longer and then turned to me. “Honey, I’m sorry, I can’t tell you that,” she said, and slipped into the front seat of her car.
I shook my head, not understanding where Tennyson was or what it meant that Porter was going there.
My mother hung up her phone. “Ruth,” she said, and I forced myself to focus on what she was saying. “I need you to listen, okay?”
I nodded.
“Go to your car, sit in the backseat and lock the doors.”
I stared at her.
“Do you understand what I just said?”
I nodded, but my mother shook her head.
“No, I need to hear you say that you understand. What are you supposed to do?”
I looked at Vader parked twenty feet away. “Sit in the backseat and lock the door.”
“Good. Your father will be here in about fifteen minutes to drive you home.”
“Ruth! Do you understand me?”
I couldn’t possibly have heard that right. “Dad?”
“Yes, he’ll be here in fifteen minutes.”
I shook my head because that didn’t really make sense but I said okay anyway.
“Go now.”
Sara started her car and began to pull away.
“Now, Ruth, so I know you’re safe.”
I walked to Vader, opened the back door, and slid onto the split black leather. My mother watched me the entire time while Sara pulled her car around to face the right way. When I closed the door, my mother moved her hand up and down—Lock the door—through her now closed window.
I locked the door.
My mother circled her finger: Lock all the doors.
I got up from where I was sitting and reached into the front seat so I could lock all the doors.
My mother smiled, gave me a thumbs-up like I was seven, then disappeared into the night to help take Paige to her new foster home.

Alone in the backseat, I sat stunned and silent for several minutes, then burst into tears.

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