Monday, October 17, 2016

No One Mentioned the Gargoyles

Small town living means that when you dial 911 you get the volunteer ambulance crew. It's just five guys. Five guys who can leave work when the pager goes off.

As you may know, I am an intensely private person in real life. It may not seem like it to read some of the stuff I post here or on other social media, but it's true. I don't let people into my home all willy-nilly. I really have to want you there to invite you in. If one's home is one's castle, then mine has a sizeable moat around it. A moat full of crocodiles. And the drawbridge is always up.

On one recent occasion, however, I had to make an exception.

Thanks to a herniated disk or two (or three), I've had some pretty significant back trouble recently. Normally I don't wear much to sleep in (Wait, what did I just say about my love of privacy?!) and I'm immensely, humbly grateful that on the particularly painful morning in question I managed to get out of bed and get dressed. I accomplished this by doing something, then lying flat on the bed to let my back realign before accomplishing another task or two and repeating the process.

Once I got my clothes on, I laid down again before tackling my shoes, and that's when it happened - a serious spasm that left me unable to sit up. After the requisite gnashing of teeth, I realized I had no choice but to call for help.

That sort of pissed me off, but what must be done, must be done.

The ambulance was quick to arrive. The crew dragged a stretcher in through my unlocked front door and down the hall, struggling to manipulate it through the narrow space and into my bedroom. Once inside they surrounded the bed and stared down at me.

It was a most welcome invasion of privacy.

They discussed my situation amongst themselves, briefly, before deciding the solution was to lift me by the bed sheet and transfer me to the stretcher.

I was not going to be able to lie flat because they had to raise the head of the gurney to get it out my bedroom door and into the hallway. I was not looking forward to that ten foot bit of the trip, so I took deep breaths and tried to psych myself up for this tiny trauma. Just before lifting me, the man positioned at my left shoulder leaned down and looked into my face. I didn't really focus on him. Not until he said "I wondered why you weren't in your office yesterday when I went to see you."

Suddenly I recognized the face I'd paid scant attention to. A face attached to a man, in my bedroom, who was preparing to move the top of my fragile spine and the bits of me attached to it.

Have I mentioned that I'm a probation officer?

He didn't drop me. He didn't jerk the sheet. He didn't even whack my head against the headboard. I should probably give him community service credit for that.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Because It's Fun To Do This To Monica.

This morning I met with a woman who'd arrived in town only moments earlier, after spending almost a year in a treatment center.

We had a lot to talk about.

In the past 18 months she has lost custody of her children and now there is a restraining order in place, preventing her from attempting any contact with them.

Her father died.

Her mother, who was coddled and cosseted by her husband for the majority of her life, has collapsed into deep and abiding depression and the accompanying ill health.  She will not survive for long.

She has committed a felony offense that will forever prevent her from working in any field associated with her four-year college degree.

Her husband continues to use any and every illegal substance he can get his hands on.  When he picked her up from the 30-day program she tried prior to being sent to long-term treatment, he had a car full of his latest score and a motel room rented just minutes from the treatment center so they could use uninterrupted until it was gone.

This woman is a little younger than me, but not much, which means she's old enough to know better.  Her bachelor's degree is in psychology.  She has been through almost a year of the best treatment the court system can provide.  It may not be Betty Ford, but it's still pretty damn good.  Her family is desperately supportive of her.  She has friends from a Christian community group that have provided her local housing with a couple who run the only 12 step group in the county.  They have a car for her so she can drive to the neighboring county for work and recovery meetings.  She will be receiving one-on-one counseling through a program my office provides.  She'll be seeing me at least twice a month. She has already paid an attorney who will handle her attempt to regain custody of, or at least access to, her children.

All of that.  She has all of that.  And she chose to have her (ex)husband to pick her up from the treatment center and drive her 400 miles to see me.

I stood with her next to the window of my office on the first-and-a-half floor.  We looked down at the truck parked below, with the twitchy guy sitting at the wheel.  And we talked about choices.  And how she was choosing prison if she chose to get into that truck with him.

At that moment, in a truly inspired bit of timing, the man who is offering her a place to live, food to eat and a car to drive, showed up at the office door.  He knew she had to see me as soon as she got into town.  He was there to offer her a ride 'home'.

How much more of a godsend could there be? The woman, who is overly emotional on even her most sober days, rhapsodized over her good fortune.

He and I double-teamed her on the importance of "be still and know".  (He started it, but I've been to lots of southern revival meetings and I could play right along.  I've always thought that verse was God calling humanity to aspire to the deity and perfection of introversion, but I digress.) Promises were made by one and all.  Expectations were tendered and checked.  Small steps were plotted along a slow and steady path.

Then they left.

I shuffled papers.  Read an email.  Got up to stretch my back.  It's been giving me trouble and sitting too long is a problem.  I stepped over to the window and looked down.

I watched her get into the truck with the (ex)husband.  And then they drove away.


I told my secretary I needed to move around and I was going to pace the hall for a bit.

Walking past the County Clerk's office, I recognized one of my guys, leaning over the counter to study a form, along with his girlfriend.  He saw me too and on my return trip he came out into the hall to talk.

He's not a smart man.  He doesn't have mental retardation, but he's not far from it.  He's not had an easy life and drugs and alcohol were his only escape for a long time.  Now he has his own struggling auto body repair garage. And a woman to care for, which makes him feel like a man.

He peered up at me, his eyes huge behind the thick lenses and thicker frames of his charity eye glasses.  "We had a miscarriage," he said.  "We're here to get permission to bury the baby on the farm."

I offered what few sincere condolences I could.

"I've forgotten when my next appointment is," he said.  "Can you tell me when it is?"

I told him not to worry about it.  We would send him a reminder.  At his last appointment he'd made a special effort to get there.  They were driving in from the doctor's office, 50 miles away.  They'd had an ultrasound that day and he had pictures he wanted to show me.

Side by side, we leaned against the cold marble wall, pretending to read the posted foreclosure notices.  We stood together, dry-eyed and silent.