Jordan felt as if she had landed on a strange planet. While a little blood still trickled down her arm to remind her of the anxiety she felt in the courtroom, this was an entirely different place. Her eyes opened wide and she sucked in her breath as she looked around the judge’s chambers.
She was surrounded by dozens of green plants and white and violet orchids. Colorful art work hung on the deep blue walls. The shelves were filled with books and small sculpture. She heard music. It sounded like the sweet strings of a harp.
Skip broke her reverie when he hugged her tightly. There were tears in his eyes.
“Have a seat at the table with me, Jordan and Skip,” Judge Dahlen said, gesturing to a round wooden table and four chairs. “I’ve asked Dr. Visconti to come in and talk to us about the condition of your arms—what you showed me in court.” She gave Jordan some tissue to blot the blood, “This is our private conversation. Nothing recorded.”
Jordan instinctively rubbed the sleeves of her sweatshirt, while looking around. Her eyes lit upon a small, flat wooden string instrument next to the open window. She looked at the judge, who smiled and nodded, so she walked closer to it.
“That’s harp music. My momma, or rather my foster momma, and I listen to that in church. Is it electric, or run by batteries?”
The judge laughed. “You young people think all music is electronic. No, Jordan, it’s a very old Aeolian harp made in Norway, where I was born. The light breeze coming from outside is enough to make music, at least the faint music that you can hear. Go ahead, pick it up. You can’t hurt it. It’s made of very old wood.”
“It’s pretty,” Jordan said as she turned it in her hands. “I love harp music.” Emboldened by the judge’s friendliness, Jordan pointed to a framed poster on the opposite wall. On a background of blue, orange and black, a ghostly man was standing on a bridge holding his hands to his ears, mouth open wide.
“That’s a picture of the mask some of my friends wear for Halloween. I think it’s called ‘The Scream.’”
“You’re right, Jordan, except that the original painting was done many years before anyone thought of making it into a Halloween mask.”
“It’s exactly how I felt in court this morning, Judge,” Jordan said. “I wanted to scream out loud.”
“So did I,” Skip added.
Kristin leaned toward Skip as they all sat down.
“And so did I,” Kristin announced. “I don’t blame you for feeling like that, Jordan. Now, the poster is a print of Norway’s most famous painting by Edvard Munch. It is called ‘The Scream’ and it always reminds me of someone yelling after hearing bad news. I think that’s how you felt this morning,” Kristin said.
Jordan turned away from the poster and walked to a nearby shelf. “What are these funny little creatures?”
“You can pick them up, Jordan. They’re also made of wood, quite unbreakable. They’re trolls that I collected as a girl, when I was about your age actually, in Norway. To me they represented all the different feelings I had as a teenager: happy, sad, angry, guilty, shocked, shy, laughing hysterically. Which one do you like? I have a lot more of them at home and I’d like to give you one.”
How cool. Jordan picked up a few of the small trolls. Each had a shock of stiff white or grey hair and a body of painted-on clothes, mostly shorts, shirts and colorful suspenders, bright red, blue and yellow. And, yes, each had a huge red mouth, buck teeth and vastly different expressions. She chose two of them.
“I can’t decide. One is very angry and the other looks so sad.”
“Like the way you feel today, Jordan?” Kristin asked again. “You can have them both.”
Before Jordan could reply, the door opened and an out-of-breath, dark-haired woman Jordan had never met before burst into the room. Was this the doctor the judge had mentioned? She looked so young and so pretty. Jordan took a deep breath, trying to hold in the dark swirl of confusing emotions.
The judge gestured that they should all sit down. Jordan sat. She liked the judge in this room. She smiled more than she did in the courtroom. She seemed almost friendly and her voice was kind, not so stern. Jordan sat next to her at the table, clutching a troll in each hand.
The doctor settled down next to them on a small red couch, took a deep breath and composed herself. Then their eyes met.
“Hi Jordan. I’m Dr. Visconti. I’m a psychologist who works with Judge Dahlen.”
Jordan looked at Mary. Oh no. Now they think I’m crazy! Her eyes quickly filled with tears.
Mary reached over and gave her a tissue. She didn’t say anything more and neither did the judge. Jordan liked that. She didn’t feel rushed or pressured. She felt like they were giving her space. Maybe this doctor would really listen to her. That would be a change. The tears stopped.
The doctor waited for her to speak first.
“Judge Dahlen saw what I did to my arms.” She put the trolls down and pushed up both sleeves of her sweatshirt past her elbows. I’m Ugly… Kill Me. It felt like the bloody words were jumping off her arms. What would the doctor think? That she was crazy?
Doctor Visconti’s words seemed soft and caring. “I know you are in a very tough situation, Jordan. You have been brave for a long time now. You were dealt a difficult deck of cards with your family. It seems like you finally let yourself bond with your foster mom and now that’s being snatched away.”
The tears began to fall again in a slow stream down Jordan’s cheeks. She didn’t even try to wipe them away. The doctor didn’t mention the cuts. She didn’t ask about the words. She didn’t say how dangerous it was. Instead, she got right to the heart of what was bothering Jordan so much. Her heart was being torn apart. She understands.
Jordan looked up as the doctor leaned forward just a bit, put her hands on her quilted skirt and continued to speak gently. “However, Jordan, you also have an ace in the hole. Do you know what that means?”
“That I am going to have good luck?”
“It means that Judge Dahlen is in your corner. She and your court-appointed guardian, Skip, are working hard to make sure that you are safe and happy.”
Skip pursed his lips, nodding to the doctor.
Jordan burst into tears again. She’d almost forgotten the judge sitting next to her. The mention of Skip, as nice as he was, reminded her of the court proceedings. This time the judge put some tissues in her hand. When she looked up to thank her, she saw the judge give Dr. Visconti a baffled look that said “Do something.”
No one said a word until her crying stopped.
“It sometimes seems easier to cut yourself than to face the pain you’re feeling inside, or to allow yourself to hope,” Mary said.
Jordan nodded. “I just don’t want to go with them. I feel so helpless. The lawyers in court said there was nothing the judge could do about it. It’s the law, and she can’t break the law.”
There, she’d said it. She was smart enough to follow what was said in court. The judge may feel sorry for her and she seemed to like her foster mom, but she couldn’t break the law. Not even judges could do that. Damn, stupid law.
“I know you are used to worrying about adult problems, Jordan,” Mary said. “Let the adults handle this situation. The truth of the matter is you may have to go your aunt’s house for a while or for visits, but we will have safeguards in place for you. If you can’t stay with your foster momma, then she can still be a part of your life. We are going to work through this situation. It may be slow and not exactly how you like, but we will get through it.”
Jordan stiffened. She heard the doctor’s words. They didn’t hold much hope. They were sympathetic but she didn’t want sympathy. Kindness, yes. Understanding, yes. Listening to her, oh yes, yes, yes. But not sympathy. That’s what the dogs and cats got at the shelter before being rescued. Pure sympathy. She was tired of feeling weak and having no control. Was it wrong to want to have some power, some control over her own life?
Then her shoulders drooped and she knew her eyes had that flat look the social workers were always worried about. She pulled her sleeves down and began rubbing her arms again.
“I know you’re feeling like there is no way out right now. Sometimes when kids feel that way, they make decisions they later regret,” Mary said, not giving up. “Sometimes the pain goes deeper and they think about hurting themselves, even ending their lives. I am wondering if you ever feel like that.”
Jordan looked over the couch and out the window. While the doctor’s words and voice were still caring and gentle, she heard a new, more professional tone.
“Sometimes I want it to end. I am tired of suffering.” Jordan could hear the flatness in her voice. Maybe she really didn’t care anymore.
“Do you have a plan on how you would end your life?”
The judge stood up abruptly. Jordan thought she looked distressed. Dr. Visconti waved her hand lightly to silence the judge.
“I’ve thought of a few different ways. I was thinking that maybe I could take a bottle of aspirin or jump off the roof of our house, but I am not sure if they would work or not. I’m not a good swimmer. If I jumped off a bridge, I would probably die. Sometimes I just wish a bus would hit me.”
She heard the judge inhale sharply, but didn’t look up at her. The doctor continued, calmly.
“It looks like you’ve thought about this quite a bit. I’m worried about you. I think you need to go someplace safe for a few days. I’m going to have your foster momma and Skip bring you to a hospital, where you can rest and talk about these feelings. Meanwhile the adults will be working on a solution for the home problem.”
Jordan turned back to Dr. Visconti. If they expected her to yell, scream, get hysterical or cry some more, they were in for a surprise. She didn’t speak a word, and she knew from experience that her face held no expression.
She could barely hear what the doctor was saying to the judge. Something about “disassociating from the situation” and “retreating inward” and “the alternative too tough.”
Then she heard the doctor say, louder, “Judge, please ask Jordan’s foster mom to meet me in my office in a few minutes. I’m going to fill out some paperwork for her and Skip to take Jordan to the children’s crisis unit.”
Kristin headed for the courtroom. “I’m going to tell them just that. And I’m going to continue all proceedings until we take care of this situation.”
Jordan should have been happy about that, but she felt nothing. She sat next to Skip and Dr. Visconti on the small red couch. No one said a word. Jordan had stopped rubbing her arms.
She squeezed the wooden trolls as hard as she could.