|Posted on July 20, 2014 at 7:25 PM|
. . . in church, today.
I quite often cry in church. I guess it’s because it’s a safe place. Tell me a sad story, a happy story, point out the goodness in my fellow human beings, point to the injustices, point to someone who has triumphed above persecutions, to the simple faith of a child – the Christmas pageant, flowering the Cross at Easter – heck, two-year-olds toddling, thumping to their fannies, and, without missing a beat, gaining their hands and knees to crawl across the lawn after that next Easter egg – I’m there. If I could have opened the floodgates as easily as a kid actor, I’d be a multi-millionaire, by now.
Have to admit, sometimes it’s absolute jealousy. I envy pure, simple faith. I’ve often wished I didn’t think, so much. Then, maybe, I could get back to the time when I knew, without a doubt, that God loves me, that He protects me and always will, that growing up hasn’t meant growing away.
Don’t get me wrong; I still believe it – no, I know it. But damn, it’s plain hard to keep it in the foreground, with all the static jamming the air. I know He never allows me more than I can handle. If it’s in front of me, I can handle it – when I start to doubt His knowledge of my capacity, that’s when I get into trouble.
But today I got blindsided. It’s nearly seven hours later and, intermittently, I’m feeling that awful, hideous fist-clamp around my heart – it’s there, and then it’s gone, and then it’s back again – that happens when there’s real loss.
I figure I’d better write about it, right now, because I can’t get back to Richard III until the distraction goes away, and I’ve got to get that book Out There. It’s my way out of the hole. I know it. Has to be.
So, it’s July. The choir is off, in July. People go on vacations. Usually, there’s a serious slump in attendance – not so much at Prince of Peace in Woodland Hills, California. We have Sunday at the Movies. The presence of Christ’s wisdom and the universal lessons for humanity that can be found in secular films.
“Finding Nemo.” Great movie. Tenth on the list of ten all time great animated films. Not even I can do “forgetful” as brilliantly as that little blue fish.
I was enjoying the heck out of the snippets, the Homily between snippets – and then, from nowhere, I was back in the ’60s, and the phone was ringing, and I was being told that, within the hour, my son nine-year-old son was being put on a plane to Dallas.
It’s a longer story than there’s time for, here, but it boils down to the fact that, when Pat Hogan died, we were pretty well left destitute. Patti was seven, Jimbo almost six, Kathie just had turned three, Brian was fifteen months, and Shawna was six weeks.
In the ensuing two-plus-years, I was told that I should give up my kids for adoption, they were still young enough to find good homes. I was told that I did not qualify for Social Security or Veteran’s Administration widow’s benefits because – oops! – Pat’s first wife’s attorney never picked up the final divorce papers. What little there was – and I thank God every day that I could feed all of us on $20 a week – wasn’t enough. All my kids qualified, though, as Pat was acting as their father.
We were lacking $100 a month - the child support payments Jimbo’s father had been ordered to pay when he was in my custody – and there was nothing I could do about it.
(Advice: Never get a divorce in Nashville when your husband lives in Texas and you live in California. They take your nine-month-old baby out of your arms in the courtroom, and you don’t see him until he’s shipped on a plane six months later, for your six-month visitation period. This goes on for two years, until, one day, his Daddy, who owes all kinds of child support, doesn’t show up for his turn because he knows he may go to jail as a deadbeat in Santa Barbara, California. Also, make sure that, after a year of no contact and no child support, when your new husband applies to adopt the now “paternally abandoned” little boy, that the guy doesn’t get sick, and die in six weeks of cancer, in the very week Child Services phones, wanting to do a follow-up interview.)
After six months, when I couldn’t afford to continue paying the rent, mom and dad bought the modest little house we were living in.
There was the day that the Social Worker showed up at the door because someone had reported I was abusing my children. She took one look at my happy, boisterous crowd, said she didn’t see anything wrong, and handed me her card, telling me she was available, if I needed anything.
I knew I was unraveling. Office work didn’t pay – I had to pay a sitter, there was nothing left. The day I had to leave a room, because I knew if I didn’t I would unjustly and viciously smack a kid, I called for help.
When (a different) Social Worker showed up, I said I knew I needed help. Could they please find me a counselor, a psychologist?
The answer was simple. They could help, but only if I put my kids into foster care.
I didn’t know what to do. I knew I needed help, or I couldn’t help my kids. I figured that, if I had a chance to calm down, to get myself together, they’d only have to be away a short time.
What I wasn’t told until after the children had been taken away, and I was forbidden to see them for a month, was that they would confiscate the Social Security and V.A. benefits, for the kids’ support, and place them in five different homes: Burbank, Saugus, Woodland Hills, Pacoima and Van Nuys.
The shrink was at Olive View.
I didn’t have a car. It had been wrecked – not by me – another story.
I got a call from my folks telling me that, now the kids were gone, I had to repaint and fix up the house, they were selling it.
He never sends me more than I can handle. I handled it. I can’t – or don’t want to – remember how.
I fixed the house that they bought for $26,000. (It’s worth half a million, plus, today. Sherman Oaks.)
I got temporary office work. Found a falling-apart teeny little former farmhouse in Van Nuys. Finally hired on in the International Dept. Secretarial Pool at Max Factor. Was making payments, buying back my car, which had been rebuilt.
My ex-husband, who had never paid a penny of support after the first $300, found out Pat was gone went to court in Tennessee to sue for custody of our son. The attorney who last represented me, did again, as a personal favor; he knew I could not afford it. The court found in the ex’s favor. I had thirty days to appeal.
A week later, the phone call, as I was getting ready to go to work.
It was Jimbo’s foster mother. She said they were coming to pick Jimbo up, to put him on a plane to Texas, and she wasn’t supposed to let me know, but she had to let Jimbo say goodbye.
The ex had convinced the Department of Social Services, over the telephone, that he had won the case. My thirty-day Appeal was being mooted by a Social Worker.
I had no car.
My little boy was hysterical.
I was dead calm. I told him I’d get there.
A friend finally got me to Saugus, to be told that he was gone, already on his way to Delta Airlines at LAX. We dashed for LAX.
And arrived at the Delta counter to be told the plane was taking off, as we spoke.
I did not make a scene at the airport.
I went to Legal Aid, sued. When the case was called, a lawyer I didn’t know, who hadn’t read the file, represented me. The county offered me $500 to settle. I told them I couldn’t get my boy back, or appeal, on that little money. They would go no higher.
My seat-of-the-pants lawyer fell on his ass.
The judge ruled against me.
I let out a wail, “Oh! No!”
You would have thought a bomb had gone off. My lawyer tried to comfort me.
I couldn’t stop weeping, cried, “You don’t understand! I’ll never see him again!” I could feel the wave of shock roll through the room.
I didn’t see him, or know where he was, or what was really happening, for five years.
And it got worse. But that’s for another time.
Yes, he came home. But I wasn’t there for him when he needed me most. And, for him, it poisoned everything that followed.
He hasn’t spoken to me for – what? – I don’t like to think about it – seven years?
Talk about finding Nemo.
Thanks. That helps. Maybe it’s time to take a nap.