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Thursday, December 2, 2010
"You okay?" I glanced over at the young woman riding in the front passenger seat of my blue Dodge Nitro. Maggie, whose hair was all one color nowa shade of blond that complemented those big brown eyesstared straight ahead. "Yeah."
"No, really." Maggie knew I wouldn't let her hide from me.
Some days, being the new and single foster mother of a fourteen-year-olda girl who'd been sexually active far more recently than I hadwas more challenging than sorting out the various personae of a patient with dissociative identity disorder.
I had experience with the latter. And training.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" I asked, making a turn and then another.
"You don't have to." "I know."
"You don't owe her anything."
Maggie's head swiveled toward me, and the emotion I could see in her eyes caught my stomach. And my heart. "Don't I?" the girl asked, her voice more mature-sounding than any teenager's should have been. "Whatever else she did, she gave me life."
That was something Maggie's mother did often invoking the invisible bond of biological family. A bond that was meant to comfort but sometimes twisted insidiously and could lock you into a seemingly inescapable hell.
"And then she stole it from you," I said without a pause. "One fact negates the other."
"So why'd you come back to Chandler and take care of your mom until the day she died?"
I didn't regret telling Maggie my life story. It had won me a measure of her trust, which helped save the girl's life. As a result of the whole messwhat her mother had doneI had custody of her for the next four years.
But all things came with a price. I could have pointed out the differences between her story and mineif I'd had the time, which I didn't. But it wouldn't have mattered. Maggie couldn't hear me right now.
With a heavy feeling of dread, I turned into the prison complex.
"Maggie?" If she'd still been a client I could've distanced myself. "Yeah?"
I waited until she turned and looked at me. "I'm here to stay."
The girl nodded, but her solemn face told its own story. Maggie wasn't believing in happily-ever-after at the moment.
With what she'd been through, how could I blame her?
* * *Even the unlocked halls in a prison were creepy. Gray. Long. Not enough doors. Staying as far as she could from the butch-looking prison guard walking her down to the dining room, where some female prisoners got to sit at the tables to have visiting time with their families, Maggie tried not to think about getting trapped in there. About some wacko criminal breaking loose.
"You been here before?" the gray-uniformed woman asked. Her voice was all sweet and high, like she was talking to a freakin' puppy. Maggie wondered if the guard knew how bad she looked with that inch of gray showing at the roots of her pitch-black hair.
"Yes," Maggie told her. Because being polite was important. "Once."
Kelly had offered to come with her today, like she had the first time, but Maggie needed to be alone with her mom.
Now she wished she'd asked her foster mother to walk with her to the dining room. Kelly had a way of making the craziest things seem not so bad.
Probably came from being a shrink.
Maggie spotted her mom right offat the same table they were at before. The one in the corner as far away from everyone else as they could get in the too-small room.
Tables here were only big enough for four. To keep down the chances of riots and fights, Kelly had told her.
To keep these freaks from forming gangs, Maggie figured. Like they'd ever be able to prevent gangs. Rape and violence happened in prisons. Maggie knew that. She wasn't a kid.
There were only a couple of other orange-suited women in the room, with one visitor apiece.
"Hey, baby," Mom said as Maggie nodded the guard away and slid onto the hard plastic seat across from her mother. Her mother in the orange jumpsuit.
Mom reached out her arms, like she was going to hug her. Maggie pretended not to see, staring up at the ceiling until the stupid tears went away.
There were a couple of bruises on her mother's arms.
Andsomething that had been happening a lot lately Maggie had a flashback .
She was about six. Wearing a new pink polka-dot dress. She'd tripped getting out of the car, fell in the dirt outside the trailer door and stained her dress. She'd started to cry about her pretty dress, but before she could do more than hiccup Mom was there, scooping her up with both arms, holding her close and telling her everything was going to be all right. That nothing was worth seeing her baby cry. It was only a dress
Coming back to the present, Maggie blinked. It wasn't only a dress anymore. And everything wasn't going to be all right.
"Kelly said you got ten years for child endangerment and solicitation of a minor."
"It's not fair, Mags," Mom said. "I had no idea Mac and you"
Maggie's face must have shut down because Mom stopped and took her hand. "I'm sorry, honey. It's not your fault. Don't ever think any of this is your fault."
Maggie wanted to shrug off her mom's hand. Because it was warm. And familiar. And inaccessible for the next ten years.
Because her mom had betrayed her. Lied to her.
Her mom's sentence had nothing to do with Mac. Mom had sold her to a corrupt deputy as a drugrunner.
She held on to those fingers for all she was worth. "I love you," she told the woman who'd given birth to her at sixteen rather than have an abortion. The woman who'd quit school and kept a job for every single one of the next fourteen years; who'd been able to chase away the boogey-man when Maggie had nightmares; who'd sat with her when she had the flu and thrown up all over the place; who'd always made sure there were presents under the tree at Christmas.
"I know, baby. I love you, too." Mom leaned forward.
"Yeah." Maggie wanted to ask the same, but couldn't. Those bruises She wondered if anyone had gotten to her mother. Hurt her. She was scared to death of that.
She lay awake in bed at night wondering about it.
"How're your classes going?" Mom had asked every single school day of Maggie's life. Until this year.
So far, Maggie's first semester in high school had been pretty much a nightmare. Living on the wrong side of the tracks in a small town had been bad enoughbut being the victim in a major criminal scandal that involved drugs made fitting in at school almost impossible.
"Good. I'm getting all A's." She had to. She was going to college.
They talked about her classes. Her teachers. Mom asked if she missed cheerleading. Maggie didn't. And then she asked if Maggie'd met any cute boys. Maggie didn't bother to answer that one.
What Mom didn't ask about was Glenna. About being at school without her best friend who'd been murdered by the bad cop. The one who'd paid Maggie's mom for access to Maggie.
And she didn't ask about Kelly. About life at Kelly's house.
"She's never going to replace you," Maggie finally blurted out. It was part of what she'd come here to say. "I know." But Mom's eyes filled with tears. And Maggie changed her mind about saying the rest of it. She'd been stupid to even hope that Lori Winston would be okay with Maggie's growing feelings for her foster parent.
But maybe Kelly had it all wrong. Maybe it was all Maggie's fault. If only Mac would contact her like he'd promised. He'd help her see the truth.
Kelly wouldn't approve of Mac talking to her. She'd freak. Call the cops. But that was because she didn't understand.
Maggie wasn't like other teenagers. She'd grown up fast. And smart. She was mature. Didn't act like a drama queen.
Mac loved her. It wasn't their fault that he'd been born twenty years before her. Or that she was only fourteen.
"Listen, Mags, I've been talking to someone in here." Mom's voice got that tone, like when she was planning to schmooze the landlord out of having to pay rent. Or calling in sick when she wasn't sick at all.
Maggie felt like she might throw up. She wanted to leave. But she couldn't, even though the guard was right behind them, leaning against the wall, watching Maggie and waiting for her to signal that she was done.
"I want you to be careful." Mom's voice got all whis-pery. "There's this woman in here who used to be an attorney. She says Kelly Chapman can't be trusted. She says Kelly lies to people to get them to tell her things, and then she turns them in."
"The only reason she called the cops on me is because I was a minor," Maggie said. "She had to. By law. And for my own safety."
"You were safe, Mags. What you were doing, delivering that stuff, you weren't in any danger. And we were making enough money to get you to college."
"That stuff was drugs, Mom. And we could've gotten loans for college. I wish you'd talked to me. We could've figured something out "
It was the same old story. Maggie went over it and over it in her head. And never got anywhere.
"We would've been fine if it wasn't for that woman."
Mom stopped and Maggie knew she was thinking of Mac. Mom didn't get it, either.
"I didn't do anything wrong," Mom said. "I didn't have anything to do with the drugs. Never saw them. Never touched them. I don't take them. And I made sure you weren't in danger. I'm a good mother. And when I got worried about you, I got help. I trusted that woman, Mags. I sent you to her so she could help us, and instead, she took you from me. Took you for herself. Look at her, with her fancy degree and her house and her money. But does she have a husband? Has she ever had a kid? No. She lets people like me sacrifice and do all the hard work and then she takes the rewards of our efforts for herself."
Mom's reasoning was skewed. But not completely.
"I have my rights, Mags. That's what Thea, this attorney, was telling me. They strong-armed me. Scared me about losing contact with you."
Mom was right about that and Maggie felt sicker.
"Thea says I can go back to court. I have grounds to make a motion because of the way they kept yelling at me that I'd never see you again. I'll get a hearing and if Mac won't testify for me, then we'll subpoena your records from Kelly. They'll show that I had your best interest at heart. They'll show how much I love you. I'm the one who called the damned shrink "
Mac was a good guy. They could say anything they wanted about him, but if he was so bad, they'd arrest him. They didn't because they knew he wasn't a criminal. Maggie was sure of it. They said he had another life, a family, but Maggie didn't believe it. They were confusing Mac with someone else. Mac was hers. He would've told her if he'd had a family. He loved her. And she loved him.
"Mac can't testify for you, Mom. You pled guilty."
"Only because they dropped a bunch of stupid charges. That's why they said I did so much stuff, honey, so they could scare me into saying I did some of it. Thea told me how it works. It's all to save the state from having to go to trial. But with the new motion I'll get a hearing."
Maggie knew what a plea agreement was. She'd done a lot of reading on the internet since Mom's arrest.
"Mags, please, just until I find a way out of here, watch your back, okay? I love you so much "
"I know. I love you, too." That was always there. This attachment between her and Mom.
"You're my life, Maggie. You're everything good about me. The only good thing I've ever done."
"That's not true. You've done lots of good things."
"Just take care of yourself. I'll get out of here, I promise, but until then we can't let anything happen to you."
"Nothing's going to happen to me." Starting to feel scared again, Maggie thought of Kelly. And Sam. They were keeping her safe. They had to be. They'd made sure she didn't get in any trouble for the stuff that she'd done. They knew she hadn't understood what she was doing.
This was just another one of those things Mom didn't get, right?
And then she thought of something else. Mom had said she was getting out
Mom, who always figured out how to get around whatever got in their way. Maggie leaned forward. "You aren't planning to do anything that'll get you in more trouble, are you?"
"Of course not."
"Don't, Mom. Please. I'm begging you . Do what this Thea says. Make a motion, or whatever. I'll say you can use my records with Kelly." She wasn't sure she could do that as a minor, but Kelly would do it if Maggie asked.
Mom's fingers were soft on her face and Maggie had to fight tears again. She wished she could lay her head against her mom's shoulder and cuddle up and go to sleep. Like she had in the old days.
"I'm going to be fine, sweetie," Mom said. "I don't belong in here. They'll see that. And in the meantime, just sleep with one eye open. Do it for me. Okay? That's not too much to ask, is it?"
Wishing she could change who she was, Maggie shook her head. No, it wasn't too much to ask. She turned toward the guard. And felt horrible about how relieved she was that she could go now. About how badly she wanted to get back to Camy, her new, very bossy, little-sister toy poodle, and the room Kelly and Maggie had decorated together.
They'd had fun. Laughed.
While Mom was in this hellhole.
And maybe she deserved to be.
Still, Mom was Mom. And Maggie was Maggie.
And they'd always be related.
Friday, December 3, 2010
The first Friday in December was an unusually warmfor Ohioforty degrees. That's still cold, though, and I was outside in-line skating. Was I nuts? Judging by the absence of fellow exercisers on the trail, maybe. Except that even in the middle of summer, I was often alone out there.
What could I say? I loved to skate. Loved the sensation of flying with the wind rushing past me. Skating had always been my time to reflect. So, cold or not, I'd gone to my usual place, a section of disused railroad track that had been converted into a paved bike path that stretched eighteen miles or more through several counties.
And it was midmorning, to boot. Most people were at work. Or involved in the business of their day, so I got to be there alone. Not everyone had these random two-hour blocks of time in the early afternoons.