There was No King

In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes. Judges 21:25

“His parents would leave him for six hours at a time to go get drugs,” the intake worker said.

How do I say no to that?

“We were going to quit fostering,” I said, “but we can take him for a little while, and you can work on finding someone to do long term care.”

I wonder if the social worker only heard, “We can take him.” People hear what they want to hear.

She arrived minutes later, holding a cute, wide-eyed baby boy.

“Lots of people had keys to the place and could just walk in anytime,” she said. Then, she described the stench in the house, but there was no need. Ronnie exuded a wake-the-dead, garbage-dump odor. We opened the windows, sponged the baby off and dumped all his clothes in the washer. I wanted to borrow some incense from the stoners across the street, but my wife, Mary, wouldn’t let me.

Ronnie wasn’t quite a year old, and he was a head banger, literally. When he was mad, frustrated or didn’t get his way, he would put his head on the floor and start slamming. There was a time when we were fantastic, eagle-eyed watchers, but it wasn’t so easy anymore. Our toddler daughter, April, liked having Ronnie follow her around even though she was jealous, and yet because of the head banging we had to hover over them at all times. You have to do that with any baby, but there is a difference between:

  1. staying in the same room with a child, and…

  2. waiting a few feet away, staring intently, twitching nervously and remaining poised to leap forward to prevent serious injury

The birth parents were not much more mature than the baby. They saw nothing wrong with leaving an infant alone for up to six hours. After all, the pit bulls were left in the apartment to watch him, and other people could walk in and out of the house.

On the second visit the birth mother followed Mary out to the parking lot, yelling at her, telling Mary she was demanding that a county nurse check Ronnie out. Mary wanted to know why a nurse had to examine the baby. “I am his mother!” she screamed, “And I have to look out for my child!”

We originally promised two weeks, but Social Services held on to us with a death grip. Two weeks became seven months, and we eventually had to write a letter asking for Ronnie to be placed in another home. Yes, we felt guilty, but we had other promises to keep, and crystal meth was out of the question.

At a Family Meeting, the woman who presided over the gathering asked if Ronnie’s parents were following their program.

The social worker said, “They started today.” Better late than never, right?

They were given six more months to work a program. Mom wound up back in jail for violation of parole, and dad couldn’t stay the course either. Ronnie is now with an adoptive family.

While he was with another foster family we could go see him every once and a while, and he and April could play. Now that’s not possible.

April wanted to know when she could see him again, and we explained things as best we could. She finally understood Ronnie would not be coming back. She cried like she never cried before. It’s tough to understand this as a child. Hell, it’s tough for adults to comprehend.

There are wonderful aspects of life that we sometimes miss. I was blinded to the incredible possibilities that life offers because of my own cynicism.

Hermann Hesse wrote about, “…submitting to chaos and nevertheless retaining faith in order and meaning.” He was talking about history, but there’s plenty of tension in the struggle between chaos and civilization right at this very moment.

Mary and I have experienced heartbreaks, but we have also seen some triumphs of the human spirit. (Ooooh! I hate that kitschy phrase, but sometimes it works). Life isn’t all about murder and mayhem, chaos and selfishness.

Our adopted daughter, April, has changed the way I look at life.

I came home from the hospital after minor knee surgery, and April kissed me as I lay down. I was drifting in and out of sleep and realized dimly that she was dumping something on my bed. Through the haze and the wavering, waning anesthesia I saw that she was placing her favorite doll, her toy lion, beside me. “Li-Li will make you feel better,” she said in a voice full of conviction.

She was right.

One day April told me we were marching to Tennessee. That’s two thousand miles away. I asked Mary about it. She was as mystified as I was. Finally we put the puzzle pieces together and figured it out: Mary told her we were going to Tennessee in MARCH. In her mind that was translated as, “We are marching to Tennessee.”

We drove up to San Francisco for the weekend, and April loved the tall buildings, the mass transit and the crowds of people. She stopped suddenly as we were walking down one of the sidewalks and said, “Look at the pigeons, Daddy. Aren’t they beautiful!”

Pigeons! Beautiful? I looked at their black-green shiny feathers, gleaming in the sunlight. April was right.

They were beautiful.

Later on, we stopped at a coffee shop and got sandwiches. The owner was striving to win a bitchiness contest, but April charmed him with a description of our trip to the zoo. She even made him smile when she said, “Next time you can come with us.”

I’m such a lucky cynic. There are two optimists in my life. They have had an effect on me. As Leonard Cohen said, “There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in.”