SOME WAY HOME - Sample Pages

SOME WAY HOME - Sample Pages 

Progue: Adam and the Untamed Fury

     Crouching at the bottom of the stairs and peering into the smoke, my eyes adjusted to the dark. I couldn't see the boy or any movement in the shadows, but I knew he was there, somewhere. So I called his name, demanding and coaxing both at once. This basement was familiar but seemed much larger than I remembered. The blazing fire in the far right, back corner was toxic. Its crimson glow illuminated the labyrinth of stacked furniture, boxes and bulging trash bags piled between me and its consuming flames.
     Dylan was my client, a foster boy on my caseload, and I couldn’t be responsible for his death. So, shaking, I stood enough to shuffle forward with my knees bent deep, keeping low to the cement floor while covering my mouth and nose. The flames slid up to the unfinished ceiling and rushed laterally along the heavily laden shelves that lined the back wall. If I hadn’t played hide-and-seek with Dylan many times there, I’d be completely lost. I fought my instinct to run away and moved toward the flames as swiftly as I could manage.
     I knew he was there. That basement was a playground to Dylan and I. To Mona, his foster-mother, it was a storehouse of personal treasures. Burning it was the most traumatic wound you could inflict upon her. The fire would be a disaster for us all, if we survived.
         The speed with which the flame moved was terrifying and I knew the piles all around had cans of cleaning and painting products, aerosols and other combustible things. Would I have time to find Dylan and get out before I was overcome by smoke and heat?
         Turning past a stack of boxes; I saw his thin, muscular shape facing the rising bonfire. His arms held high, his fingers, like feathers above his head, extended up and out. He began to bounce and then dance before the inferno. His face was wild as he encouraged the flames like a shaman in the untamed fury of a ritual fire.
     I lunged toward him. I had to grab forcefully to turn with him and run, but when he felt my grasp, he jerked forward and then back with huge force, hitting the bridge of my nose with the back of his substantial skull. The pain was a bright flash. My knees buckled and I went over, hitting the back of my head against something hard. For a moment without time, I thought I might be slipping into darkness, for I saw nothing but black.
        I startled awake full of dismay, drenched in sweat in the warm, wet tangle of my bed sheets. For a second in confusion, I wasn’t sure if I’d been there that day of the fire. But then I remembered I was and this is what happened. Was I also with Dylan years before that, on the night his aunt was beaten and her blood shone dark in the moonlight like spilt and pooling ink? No, I realized I wasn’t, but I'd imagined it completely and so saw it in other dreams.
       My name is Adam MacDonnell and, long ago, I chose Social Services as a career. For the most part, I’ve worked hard at it and hope I’ve done some good. But of late, my thoughts return to all my mistakes as I search for causes to blame for the effects I didn’t want. The consequences of my work are beat out in the lives of the most vulnerable and I know I haven’t always kept true to the maxim: First: Do No Harm. Sometimes hurt and abandoned children suffered as the result of my inadequacies and miscalculations. But of all the disappointed and hurt faces I remember, nothing pierces me, nothing accuses me, like my thoughts of Dylan.
       In many ways, Dylan was an ordinary foster kid on my caseload. He matched the normal statistics and background demographics of the typical disenfranchised child in America. But in my life, he was anything but normal. He was a primal force, disastrous in both scope and impact. The wide path he cut through the landscape of my past devastated my self-concept, mocking my rationalizations. Above all other failures, Dylan plays repeatedly in my mind.
      I don't even know if he's still alive. That's why these images return to me in troubled sleep ten years on. I often dream of a drunken, Bad-Daddy Bruce, who staggered, hit and burned the boy. I see the sweetness of Aunt Patti trying to provide comfort before slipping permanently into unconsciousness and witness the hospital staff doing their best with a broken little boy. I dream of Mona’s sweaty face falsely welcoming us at the front door of her over-stuffed house, soon set ablaze. I recall the joys and the bitter disappointments of Dylan's brief time with the Blanchard’s and even scrutinize my social worker's slight-of-hand in monotonous reiteration. Had his adoptive parents taken care of or dumped him? I didn’t actually know.
      Awakening, I untangled myself and sat outside on a lawn chair in the still sticky night air. I listened carefully as if I might hear the answer to my questions in the sounds of an outlying breeze shuffling through the dry trees or in the buzz of the seven-year cicadas.
     To save myself from the gloom of regret, I needed to put all these memories in perspective. To understand my true culpability before I could seek forgiveness, I had to review what happened to Dylan and face the results of my efforts as honestly as I could.
     So this was my task: I was determined first, to review Dylan’s story to my understanding and second, to find out what became of him and how the adoption turned out. I was resolved to search for the person who knew and interview him until satisfied. I had to go and find the truth because only in Dylan's complete story could I find my hope for release.

Book 1: Broken Wings
A Beginning of Sorts

     So . . . almost unnoticed, a boy named Dylan was born. He was born into chaos and handled roughly when handled at all. At five months of age, he was placed into foster care. I didn’t meet him during that initial foster-go-round. First other things came.
     According to the reports, he entered the system after he was abandoned in his crib, malnourished and naked, covered with dried excrement and hot shingles. The police found him as they responded to calls concerning feral children down on Telegraph Avenue, children who’d been seen playing reckless, demanding food from neighbors and generally making trouble.
     His mother didn’t think she’d abandoned them. She’d simply made a long trip to the market and things happened along the way. That was all. Tricks and trade-ups for a bad crack habit had led her on in an updated quest for the Holy Grail: puffing incense to the homeless.
     Her six children were rounded up from the efficiency apartment, little ones from the front, older ones from the alley in back, and Dylan from his crib. Like seed spilt out along the highway, the brothers and sisters were scattered into the child protection agency. All became temporary foster children, some later adopted by separate families, while others became long-term wards of the state. No one was sure who would be the lucky ones, those less damaged.
     Before the police came, in Dylan’s mind there must’ve been only one long, exhausting wail. The fierceness of hunger, cold and infection must’ve converged in the infant’s preverbal mind to form one constant cry of distress. Therefore, the first thing Dylan learned was that this world hurts.
     In Dylan’s first foster home, there was a regular routine. Warm and dependable, a nameless woman’s arms swept down to change and provide him with an efficient bath and clean pajamas. He was part of a schedule. His basic survival needs were met but nothing more came to him as he was most often left alone in his crib, while the T.V. buzzed somewhere else.

      But babies need the human face and the rich communication of touch. In the foster-home, Dylan’s world was sterile and anonymous. He stared at the blank ceiling for endless hours.

      The foster-lady reported him to be a quiet baby who didn’t require much. The pediatrician noted he was listless but clean. And Dylan’s brain was imprinted without any reflection of how he might matter to anyone. He was alone.
      Then, inside himself, Dylan felt some preverbal kind of No! response to the world. It came sharply into his awareness. Although unspoken, it was surely a word and with it he rejected whatever it was that’d rejected him. This new No! response was as loud as a cathedral bell and as firm as an anchor as it sustained and steadied his mind. It stopped the draining of his soul that began with his birth and clarified his surroundings as different and distinct from himself.
       What a powerfully sweet little concept, “No!” It was as sharp as a razor and as insistent as scissors. With it his mind snipped himself off from the rest of the world and made him separate from all the things that had caused him pain. It removed him a sweet distance and insulated him, giving control and protection.
        As months passed and the internal No! grew, Dylan heard it finally become a sound. At first his lips couldn’t form it properly. All that came out was a breathy but angry “Ah!” But still, he chopped the air with it. When the woman came to bathe him, he spoke up. He slashed into her neatness with “Ah, ah, ah!” and beat her with his scrawny arms and legs. Each time she entered the room he battled her, fighting as fiercely as he could.
      When he became strong enough to push her hand away, it took her longer to complete her chores of caring for him. Consequently then, the second thing Dylan learned was that if you pushed hard enough and long enough, the world couldn’t dismiss you so quickly or completely. As a result, he would push into and against this woman and pull away from her simultaneously.
      The records said Dylan was a good-natured and loving baby at five months of age when he was removed from his mother’s efficiency in poor physical health. But by the time he left his first foster placement at fourteen months of age, in relatively good health, his temporary mother described him as a “live-wire,” a toddler who couldn’t settle down. “If you pick him up,” she remarked to the caseworker, “he’ll push you away. If you try to put him down he’ll cling to you for dear life.”
        Then things seemed to take a positive turn when Dylan’s Aunt Patti volunteered to take two of her sister’s children. She chose the youngest ones since she’d always been partial to very small children. In exit interviews with the agency, Patti said everyone thought the little boys were the luckiest of all.
        However, it turned out that her good intentions paved an unwitting path to hell, as through romantic love she delivered them to a man named Bruce. Later, Dylan remembered him only as the “Bad Daddy”.
       But things didn’t begin as horribly as they ended. When Bruce wasn’t drinking, things weren’t too bad. There was actually a time when Bruce believed he was a good father to his old lady’s nephews, but his tie to the boys was too weak and the turmoil he carried inside too strong. Eventually, he came to see them as rivals for Patti’s attention and as blocks to his own potential success.
     To set the scene for the boys, you need to know about Bruce and Patti and how they got together. To see Bruce on the street you’d probably not think of him again. To meet him at a party, you might be superficially receptive to listening to his litany of “dreams and schemes”. You see, Bad Daddy Bruce had only a small character flaw. It didn’t show much until it broke everything up.
      Usually, Bruce got by on charm. He loved its smooth, slick feel and enjoyed the things it got him without much effort. With it, he disarmed customers down at the store and got them to buy more appliances than they could afford. Charmer was the role he relished playing and was his main approach to taking from the world. But the effects of charisma inevitably fade with age. There are always new, fresh faces to replace those growing old and corrupt, tangled up by their own cons.
       About then, Bruce met Patti and, for a while, she was taken in by his singular vortex. She became his favored audience and then his stage. He loved to see himself sparkle in her eyes. And as for her, what if he was becoming a bit frayed at the edges? So what if he drank more than he should? She forgave those things. After all, hadn’t she been around, a time or two, too?
       The only real problem with the relationship between Patti and Bruce was that it was mainly about Bruce. But as such, it was remarkable for him. With her feminine roots and nurturing power she lifted him up and became a living stage upon which he performed his life. She didn’t mind letting him have the spotlight. She never wanted too much attention. In fact at first, he kept the social pressure from her. She liked the way he talked and he was still cute when they first met.
          The problem was that, for Bruce, the first blush of their love was too good. To be the center of her attention, simply awed him. It seemed to be everything he wanted. Consequently, he forgot himself and soon got carried away the day he told Patti all his “dreams and schemes.” Every one of them from beginning to end! He’d never done that before. It all just tumbled out in a rush one morning over coffee.
         When he was finished, he was shocked to hear how different his plans sounded spoken out loud from thinking them in his head. As long as he never told anyone them all at once, they were a work in progress and seemed to glitter in his imagination, full of promise. He could confidently drop a casual mention of his plans into a conversation and people seemed to respect his ambition and vision. But by being genuinely interested and listening to his plans, Patti had somehow stripped them naked. Once everything was said, Bruce stopped with an odd, frightened expression.
         Patti had never seen him at a loss for words before and it shocked her. Concern showed on her face. For Bruce, the doubt and pity he thought she felt consumed the magnificent image of himself he had carefully cultivated there in her eyes.
        Graciously, she turned away, giving him time to think of something to say and finish things off.
      He saw this gesture as a rejection and a lack of faith and therefore began to hate her.
       She smiled and said it all sounded just great.
       He grabbed a couple of beers and went for a drive wishing to take everything back. But he couldn’t.
      The incident didn’t really matter much to Patti and she forgot about it quickly. She suspected not much would ever change with Bruce and his job. But it was good to be with a man who put up with her with little fuss, who seemed safe, who could tell a good joke and who brought home a regular paycheck.
      But for Bruce, that conversation changed everything. He thought Patti now saw him as fake and a fear, a feeling that nothing different was ever really going to happen, settled into his gut.  He drank more beer every day and watched his dreams burst like amber bubbles.

The Ghost

     Patti never really understood that something shifted that day in Bruce. And for a while thereafter Bruce was more affectionate to her. She got caught up in romantic fantasy. But the truth was: Bruce began to blame her for each little failure or setback he had, real or imagined.
      It was just about then the boys came to live with them at Bruce’s apartment. Patti and Bruce had already been living together nine months. Without foresight, anyone would’ve seen the arrival as great good fortune. It certainly seemed that way to Dylan’s older brother, Casey.
      The long hug Aunt Patti gave them in the hall said they were home. And she kept repeating, “Welcome home. You don’t need worry no more. You’re safe now . . . welcome home.” There was cake and ice cream together, a sloppy mess in their bowls and on their faces. There were two fresh single beds to lie down on.
        Late that night as Casey slept, Dylan fell in love. It started when he began to fuss. He cried and Patti was there at once. Dylan was small for his age at fourteen months. Patti, as petite as she was, could easily pick him up and comfort him. But with all his well-hidden might, he pushed her away. He became rigid and poked at her with elbows, knees and toes till he no longer felt like a little boy in her arms. He resembled more barbed wire tightly coiled around blocks of wood nailed shabbily together. He was unnaturally twisted and contorted. She startled and laid him back down. But then he began to fuss again and grabbed angrily for her hair, which hung down over him like a baby’s mobile.
        She thought for a moment and then picked him up once more. He pushed at her but this time she was prepared. When his body stiffened and twisted she spun him about in her arms so fast his eyes widened in surprise. She stopped him, face-to-face and began to push against him. She held him with one arm and pushed against his hands with the other.
       Caught, Dylan was uncertain what to do. He didn’t know whether to cease opposition or to try to force her to put him down. He looked at her mouth but it was her eyes that caught him up. Dylan and Patti were soon in a game of blink-don’t-blink.
       She pushed against him firmly. He was held out and suspended like a frozen figurine. Her force remained constant and matched his exactly. Then a deep, insistent hum rose from the back of her throat. The noise grew until it was loud enough to wake a soft sleeper. To Dylan, Patti had transformed into a big, mamma-bear growling as if to say, “Who’s sleeping in my bed?” Then her expression changed, this time, into an exaggerated and comical snarl.            
        Not in a way he could’ve explained but intuitively, Dylan suddenly understood the simple elegance of what she was doing. Not with words but in the more primitive language of behavior, he knew that she wouldn’t hurt him nor leave him alone. In the face of his opposition, she had chosen to play with him. You see, her behavior was an exaggerated version of his attitude. She was imitating him and he got it.
        This realization took him by surprise and his defenses broke down. Something loosened deep in his middle and a giggle was let loose from an unknown spot inside his belly. It bubbled up his throat, cool, crisp, and playful. No longer were the muscles in his body entirely at his command. They moved and jiggled about, convulsing into joy. She heard the giggle move inside him like gas. She felt it, tumbling up from his belly and pop in his throat near her ear.
         At that moment, Dylan fell in love. He and his Aunt Patti were in love together. After that, there was no distance between them.
       The next months raced by as Dylan turned one-and-a-half, two and then two-and-a-half. He and Patti and Casey were inseparable.
      Bruce was still working, consequently Patti had every day, all day, to spend with the boys like the proper mother she wanted to be. She was completely engrossed in the work of being a mom. There was something to it that was solid and filled her deeply. When she was with the boys she felt connected to something that anchored her to the north, south, east and west of her life. She was no longer drifting and no longer alone.
      Bruce noticed Patti’s happiness and despised her more for it. Often the apartment was empty when he came home from work all knotted inside with stories of the bosses who didn’t show him proper respect and the idiot-loser customers who drove him nuts while he baited, hooked and reeled them into providing their signatures on his form.
       He needed to unwind but no one understood his struggles or cared. When Patti and the boys were at home, he could hardly get a word in edgewise with all the laughing and goofing around. The apartment was bedlam. Bruce was high-strung like he knew most talented people were. He needed time each day to unwind and unload. But that wasn’t possible. And to make it worse, he was sure Patti and the boys were mocking him when he left the room.
        Bruce sulked most of the time the boys were with Patti. His salary, however, allowed her to pay all the bills, save a bit, and spend time with the boys. Every day with Patti and the kids was an adventure and every activity became a game the three relished. Baths were expeditions into a menagerie of rubber animals that squeaked and burped and splashed rudely about. Brushing teeth became monkey time with their faces mugging in the mirror. But whatever adventure each day uncovered, the evening was the best time of all. After their typically messy but hearty dinner was finished and set aside, the boys waited. They stood in the living room anticipating what would happen next, while Patti banged a few pots and pans in the kitchen to divert their attention.
      When the boys’ concentration finally, drifted away, Patti would pop out from around an unexpected corner. Usually she emerged in the guise of one animal or another, bouncing, leaping, prowling, or slithering. The boys were endlessly surprised and delighted. The three of them flew around the living room propelled by flapping arms, or lifted high by Patti to soar overhead. Finally, they would collapse into a writhing, tumbling mass of laughter and pretend growls, barks, woofs, meows and chirps, as suitably fitting.
         It was in this way, with play, that Dylan learned to walk and then to run. Much later, he began to talk in fractured sentences. With the exception of a few single words, Dylan talked much later than most children and even then, his words were garbled and inarticulate. Patti made a report to a social worker about his speech during the only follow-up visit from the agency. She was referred to a doctor who diagnosed recurring ear infections with intermittent hearing loss, which was a surprise since Dylan never fussed about his ears at all.
         When Dylan was about two and a half, almost three, the struggle for Patti’s attention between the boys and Bruce began in earnest. It began slowly and in little ways. Since it was initially petty and childish, it isn’t surprising that it was Bruce who started it.
      No longer being the center of the apartment’s attention, Bruce spent most of his time in the back bedroom watching re-runs of COPS and brooding. He left his den only to get a beer and snacks or to make a pit stop. However, more and more often, he was able to end the fun by demanding Patti attend to him.
       The boys were surprised the first time he insisted Patti join him. She and the boys were in the middle of a game. Bruce appeared at the end of the hall and stood with his knuckles pushed into his hips. “How can I stand up to that asshole tomorrow if I’m wearing wrinkled pants?” he chided. “What are you trying to do, beotch, ruin me?” and then he smiled as if this was a charming thing to say.
      Patti slid passed him to fetch the ironing board.
     Bruce strode after her, leaving the brothers with their hands slack at their sides like broken wings.
      Casey looked down and kicked softly at the corner of the couch.
      Dylan caught Casey’s eye as he whispered, “Bad Daddy.”
      This struck Casey as funny. He laughed.
       Dylan started to march around the living room imitating Bruce, all puffed up and full of swagger, knuckles pressed deep into hips.
        They laughed and scowled for half an hour.
        Bruce’s motives for interrupting soon became clear. He wanted Patti to himself. One night, Bruce stormed into their room to demand of Patti. “You, now” pointing to the open door. “I’ve had enough of this bullshit!”
        Patti protested, trying to figure out what was wrong. She didn’t want to argue in front of the boys so she left in a hurry with Bruce.
       Bruce slapped her bottom hard as she passed him and scowled at the boys.
       Dylan sat upright hearing the crack of Bruce’s flat hand against her jeans. At that moment, Dylan wished Bruce could be crushed by a giant’s heel and smashed into the dirt like a squished berry. The boys heard Patti ask Bruce what’s "wrong with you,". This made him angrier still.
      He yelled that there was nothing wrong with him but there was “sure as shit” something wrong with her.
     The fight got louder when Patti yelled back.
      Then something came back to Dylan’s mind, something from long ago. He remembered his first foster placement, run by that faceless lady who’d taught him to say No! He heard it again inside, No!
      Yes, it felt good to remember.
      “No!” he said out-loud. Yes, it felt so right!
      “No,” he turned to Casey and repeated.
       Surprised, Casey looked up high over his head, lost his balance, and fell back onto his bed.
      But Dylan wasn’t in the mood for a joke. He turned to the hall, no, he thought and while his lips said “no”, his heart pounded yes. He breathed sharply through a partially opened mouth. His eyes narrowed as he looked towards the loud voices barking from down the dimmed hallway. His stomach grew momentarily queasy. Then, resolute, he marched out of the bedroom.
       Dylan had never seen adults fight before. He’d heard Patti and Bruce shouting but it was always from behind the closed door of their room. As he approached, Patti and Bruce didn’t notice him.
       “I’m not your slave!”
       “You ought to be. I pay enough for it, you fucking bitch.” Bruce barked.
      The snap of his words made Dylan involuntarily jerk.
      Patti saw Dylan standing there. The menace in her body melted. A moment before she was strong, even arrogant, but now her strength dribbled away. Dylan’s chagrin undid her.
       Bruce noticed this immediately. He looked and saw Dylan’s expression pleading to Patti, Please, Aunt Patti, don’t. Bruce, knowing how to put two and two together to get an easy answer, found Patti’s weakness. Instinctively, he knew where to strike next.
       He was on Dylan in an instant. “Get out of here you creepy little freak!” he yelled, spraying Dylan’s cheek with saliva. His breath smelled of old food and warm yeast. He pushed Dylan hard and the boy’s neck and shoulder hit the wall with an audible crack.
      Pain pounded in Dylan’s head. It muffled the shouting and confused him.
      Patti jumped and pulled on Bruce’s shoulder, “Don’t!” she shouted.
      “DON’T?" Bruce retorted. "Don’t you tell me what to do in my friggen house!” Bruce slammed the door of the bedroom.
      Dylan was left on the floor in the hall. After a time, Casey came to help him. They heard the sound of several blows from the room but heard no more from Patti.
      In a while, Bruce came out of the room and smoked himself to sleep on the couch. Later still, Patti emerged from the bedroom bruised and quiet. She put the boys to bed without a word. Dylan lay awake for a long time. His head and shoulder hurt as he listened to his aunt move about the apartment.
      She went into the bathroom and stayed there for a time. By the tinkling sounds made when she inadvertently bumped things together, he knew she was moving small glass bottle about. Then, she came out from the bathroom and went to the kitchen. She opened a drawer and shuffled some papers. He wanted a get up and hug her but his arms were frozen at his sides again like broken wings. So, instead, he listened to the sounds of the house until he finally fell asleep.
       The next day was misery. Everyone was awake long before they got out of bed. Patti was first to stir to visit the bathroom. When she came out, Dylan stood looking up at her, his mouth set into a tight, angular frown. The hurt in his eyes was the worst thing for Patti and overpowered her.
        She’d failed at the one thing she wanted more than anything; she’d failed at protecting her child, at being a good mother. She collapsed to her knees and grabbed him, crying softly as he froze like a board. They stayed like that for a long time in the hall until he softened to her. They connected without making a sound. When Patti ran out of tears, they stood up, became separate and started the day.
        Later in the morning, Bruce got up trembling from a hangover and guilt. He had Patti call him in sick, but after that she wouldn’t talk to him. She treated him like a ghost and turned her back when he entered the room, partly out of anger and partly out of shame. She’d let herself be marked by him and hadn’t even defended herself. She felt too embarrassed to let him see the bruise his knuckles had left high on her cheek under her right eye. When he came near her, her stiff back said that she despised him and was determined not to let him hit her again.
        Bruce was glad she turned away from him to hide the evidence of his eruption. It was easier to apologize to the back of her head. He thought he’d get sick if he had to say sorry directly to that mark. For the rest of the day, Bruce worked to tempt Patti out of her righteous anger by doing thoughtful things and promising gifts.
        He was relieved when it became clear Patti didn’t have the intention of moving out immediately. In this, he read her accurately but incompletely, for she was really thinking she needed time to plan a move with two children. She was determined to become a better mother. There would be no next time. Besides, she still needed a place to stay in order to look after the boys. A job, she would need to get a job right away. Then she'd be rid of Bruce and be on her own.
      In this way she spent the day, sending Bruce clear messages that he was "out" with her and that she was in control. Every muscle in her back and neck twisted and strained away when he entered the room. With a quick turn, she’d leave. In her mind, he was a phantom that flitted about, whispering in her ear "So sorry! So sorry!" He was less than nothing. She would train him like a pup. She'd house break him and he would never lay hands on Dylan again.
      Dylan and Casey were on edge and watchful all day. Dylan studied the situation but didn’t like what he felt. Patti seemed not to be as angry as she should have been. Was she forgiving Bruce? What was happening? Bruce had hit them both and Aunt Patti wasn’t fighting back. Dylan hated Bruce most for this.
       Patti and Bruce were engaged in an intricate dance that’s common to adults, negotiations which Dylan didn’t understand. The two were fully occupied telegraphing messages to each other and even though they weren’t getting along, the mood in the house began to soften.
      As the boys watched, Dylan felt increasingly betrayed, mad, distant and inconsequential. In reality, it was he who was becoming the ghost. He needed to push against something to feel real. He leaned into Casey and, for a moment, could remember how the lady in foster care had smelled. So, he pushed harder still.