The walk from his car to the office was an uncomfortable one. Ethan had inhaled the burger and fries he had purchased from a drive through within minutes, unable to recollect whether he even chewed his food or not. The speed at which he consumed his dinner, not to mention the quality of it, had developed a stomach ache that made any form of movement uncomfortable. The food felt as if it was stuck in his throat.
Walking straight into Lin’s office, he sat down and tried to get comfortable. There was no position that he could contort his body into that would relieve his pain, short of lying down and sleeping it off.
Lin noticed how uncomfortable he was by his facial expressions. “You eat too much too fast? Here, you can thank me later,” Lin said as she pulled a bottle of Pepto-Bismol out of her desk drawer, throwing it to Ethan.
Unprepared to react quickly, the bottle landed on his stomach before he could catch it, nearly making him puke. “Thanks, Lin. I really appreciate it.”
While Ethan poured the pink syrup into the plastic measuring cup that came affixed to the cap, Lin detailed the living arrangement options she had discovered while he was out getting dinner. “Camryn has been in and out of several foster homes over the past five years. Now she’s old enough for a group home. Her case worker is en route to pick her up.”
Ethan shook his head. “I’m not really a fan of group homes when the kids are a bad influence on one another. I hope they place her in one without the usual bad apples.”
“I’m familiar with one home that has several attentive group home staff employees. They have proved to be quite effective in preparing the children to live on their own and monitoring all their activities. I think it would be a nice change for Camryn and would help her more than being placed with new foster parents. I’ll be suggesting it to her case worker.”
“I suppose you’re right, Lin. You have been doing this longer than I have. I really wish more people were up to the challenge of adopting the older kids, though. Teenagers struggle the most within the system.”
“It’s a shame, but you can’t blame them. Everyone remembers being a teenager. Now take that memory and multiply it by all the trauma these kids experience. It’s very difficult to raise a child like that. That’s the way life is,” Lin said, raising her eyebrows and smiling. “The good news is that I found Lindsay’s grandparents.”
Ethan perked up and ignored his bloated stomach. “Really? That’s great! Well, that depends on whether they condone how her mother and father were living?”
“That’s the good news. They apparently had no idea Lindsay existed. Their daughter cut off all contact with them when she fell in with a bad crowd and started doing drugs. I talked to them on the phone and they sounded very eager to meet their granddaughter. They’re on their way down from Bakersfield to pick her up. Should be here within the hour at this point.”
“Thank God. Lindsay needs a stable home that can provide the love and care every child deserves. I’m so glad to hear that, you have no idea,” Ethan said with a sigh of relief.
“Until the parents get out of rehab and prison to get custody back. Then the child’s life gets upended again.”
“The way they treated this girl, I don’t think they’ll be interested in regaining custody,” he said, smiling on the inside knowing that he had made sure they wouldn’t pursue Lindsay. “What about the infant? I’d be willing to take that adorable boy in if I didn’t have a baby of my own at home.”
“Tomi’s case worker assured me that there were a few couples interested in adopting an infant, so I’m confident we don’t have to worry about that little guy.”
“I’m sure of it. If you saw him you’d know why.” Ethan raised his palm, initiating a high five. “You do damn good work, Lin.”
“You didn’t really think I became supervisor without being one of the best, did you?” Lin smirked. “Speaking of good work, how has Bailey been doing with Eleanor?”
“They have been getting along great. She told me that Bailey has some bad days where she is really quiet and somber, but they try and do something fun with her during those moods. I think taking her in has been very rewarding for Eleanor.”
“I’m glad it’s working out. Hopefully you feel more accomplished and confident. You weren’t responsible for what happened to Kevin, but you were responsible for giving Bailey a productive second chance. I hope you can see it that way,” Lin said as she got up to leave the office. “Let’s go see how the kids are doing.”
Ethan stood up and followed her toward the visitation room where the two girls were hanging out together under the supervision of a visitation supervisor. Before Lin could open the door, Ethan stopped her. “Lin, could I ask you a personal question?”
Lin raised an eyebrow portraying how intrigued she was. “Depends, how personal is the question?”
“I would like to know, in all honesty, how you deal with the psychological trauma? You’ve been doing this fifteen years longer than I. That’s a lot of abused, battered, and neglected children. Then there’s all the despicable and disturbed people abusing those children. How do you not get disheartened?” he said, enthralled to hear her response.
Lin placed her hand on his shoulder. “It wasn’t easy at first. When I was younger, I didn’t know how to handle failure. I just had to fail several times before coming to terms with reality. We can’t save them all, but it’s not for a lack of trying.”
“I don’t feel like I can accept that. What if it’s not something I can get over?”
“I know what you’re going through, Ethan. When there isn’t enough evidence to convict or even pursue a case against someone you know is guilty; witnessing the crippling fear and abashment in a child’s eyes when asked about the crimes committed against them; and of course, realizing that everything you do to the best of your ability may not result in a positive outcome. After seeing all that, and many times over mind you, you ascertain that this is the way the world is. You may even come to expect it.”
Having expected Lin to have the magic answer that would allow him to evade the misanthropic attitude he had begun to develop, was his own fault. “That’s really it? I just have to accept it?”
Lin took her hand off his shoulder and raised her index finger at him. “Ah, I never said accept. Even knowing the reality of our judicial system and human nature, you never accept it. We continue to fight with the belief that we can change the way things are. You either continue the fight for the children, or you secede from the idea that you will ever make a difference. Wouldn’t you also argue that helping even one child and changing their life for the better is worth all the losses combined?”
While appreciating the honest perspective that she was kind enough to share, he couldn’t help but feel more morose than uplifted. “I appreciate your personal opinion. I will continue to fight and do everything I can for the children. If we don’t, then who will?”
Lin winked at him and entered the visitation room. “Hello, children. Camryn, could you come over here so that I can speak with you?”
Camryn walked over to Lin while Ethan sat down on the floor next to Lindsay. She sat playing with a wooden train track, her eyes heavy and droopy from drowsiness. Ethan felt the same way. It had been a long day for both of them. “Good news, Lindsay. Your grandma and grandpa are going to take you home. I understand that you haven’t met them before, but they are your family and they can’t wait to meet you.”
Lindsay looked at Ethan and smiled. “Really? I didn’t know I had any grandparents. Are they nice?”
“I haven’t met them yet, but they sound very nice. They’re like your neighbors. You really liked Claire, didn’t you?”
“Good. Do they have a bath? I want to take a bath tomorrow again,” she said, showing more enthusiasm for bathing than most kids did for toys.
“I’m sure they’ll let you take a bath as often as you want to,” Ethan said with a smile.
Lindsay desperately wanted to close her eyes. “I’m tired.”
“Come here,” Ethan said, picking her up and allowing her to lay in his arms. “You can lie down and I’ll wake you when your grandparents arrive.”
“Thank you, Ethan.”
Lindsay had only just met Ethan, but she was comfortable enough with him to fall asleep in his arms. At that moment, after all the frustration from his travails throughout the day, just knowing that Lindsay was now going to be in a normal household in contrast to the junk yard he had found her in, gave him solace. Now that his job was done, he yearned to be home holding his own sleeping daughter. Any day that started and ended with a sleeping child safe in his arms was a good day.
While holding Lindsay for fifteen minutes, sitting in silence and allowing the child to rest, Ethan began to fall in and out of sleep. Before he could completely pass out, an older couple entered the room following the visitation supervisor. Appearing to be in their fifties, he assumed they were Lindsay’s grandparents.
Lin approached the couple, greeting and directing them over to Lindsay.
Ethan lightly tapped Lindsay’s chest, giving her a gentle shake to try and wake her. “Lindsay, your grandparents are here, honey. Wake up and say hello,” he whispered in her ear.
She began opening her eyes as the couple approached. The grandmother had a tight-lipped smile and tears in her eyes, while the grandfather had a big grin on his face.
“Ethan, this is Keith and Mattie Grimes,” Lin said to introduce the couple.
Ethan helped Lindsay to her feet and shook both Keith’s and Mattie’s hands. “I’m so delighted to meet you. I was worried Lindsay didn’t have any other family to take her in. Even though I just met her, after spending all day with her, I can safely say that she is an amazing little girl.”
“We were even more delighted to find out we had a granddaughter,” Mattie responded. She then crouched down to one knee and reached her hand out toward Lindsay. “It’s so nice to meet you, Lindsay.”
Lindsay was hesitant, but she could tell how gentle Mattie was. “It’s nice to meet you too, Grandma,” Lindsay said, shaking hands with Mattie.
Allowing the new family time to bond, Ethan walked over to Camryn. He couldn’t tell if the teen was happy to see Lindsay with her grandparents, or if she was resentful of her. “I’m sorry you’ve had a tough childhood. Growing up in multiple foster homes isn’t easy, and if I could give you a normal childhood I would. I just want you to know that I check up on every child that I cross paths with. The most important advice I can give you is to be responsible. Use what you’ve learned about being independent and control your own future. Stay out of trouble.”
Camryn turned away from everyone and just looked down at the ground. “What the fuck do you know?”
Disappointed by her attitude, but not surprised by her reaction because he had seen children react similarly before, Ethan decided not to lecture her. “More than I ever wanted to, Camryn.”