The restaurant was dimly lit and the mood was calm and easy, hushed voices whispering stories to one another throughout its interior. It was the place where we had celebrated my daughter’s past few birthday dinners, at her request; she had taken a liking to seafood as she grew up. Personally, I don’t care for it too much, but like most things in motherhood, that factor washed out the window with my child’s stated wishes. There we sat, talking about school and her wide array of “frenemies” there; her face randomly becoming lit by the shadows of light dancing around the archaic candle at our table – her increasing beauty affecting a slap in my face from Good Ol’ Father Time, I recall.
“Can you believe you’re already thirteen?” I teased her across the table, snickering and rolling my eyes in an effort to provoke her into a response.
Our relationship had been heavily strained leading up to this night: her thirteenth birthday – an estrangement that happened as a result of the local courts and child welfare agencies. We had been separated for nearly a year at that time, the very first year of our two-unit family’s still unrecognized, yet inevitable demise; the very first of a long string of years lost down the drains of time.
An imposing wedge in the form of a gavel had been forcibly squeezed between us with a shoehorn. We had suffered a trauma to our daily lives when she had been court-ordered to “residential treatment” at a nearby facility for children who suffer from behavioral issues (which Boo most certainly did).
“No…..it feels like I should be turning sixteen already…” was her response from across the heavily lacquered shine of a redwood tabletop, her large, hazel doe eyes shot up again to meet mine “…feels like I’ve been gone forever…”Boo’s reply was not one of anger or bitterness, as is often the case when it comes to the things Boo says.
And so it goes: A simple observation of Boo’s reality regularly and innocently transforms into a crushing blow to my own.
I reached over and grabbed her greasy hand, locked my fingers tightly around the little fingers so likened to my own, and said, “This’ll all be over before you know it, Kiddo…hang in there, we’re almost done.” Boo smiled, a smile that has the ability to melt away every bad notion that’s ever entered my mind, body or soul, and simply said, “I know, Mom.”
The rest of our dinner had been eaten without incident; and when the waiter and some random servers from other tables came around with a slice of cake topped off by a candle and an obnoxious level of un-harmonized singing, she happily accepted the attention and dessert offering. It was during this last part of her birthday meal that everything changed forever.
She began to talk about her counselor, a man with whom she had grown very fond of and close to over the time she had been at the facility the judge ordered to go to; a man in whom I had always secretly harbored a deep distrust for and could not put my finger on exactly why that was. The details remain blurry but the end result stands out like a black sheep among newborn albino lambs:
– My daughter proceeded to absentmindedly and unintentionally (by attempting to show off how mature she was becoming while away from home, I believe) spend over twenty minutes describing to me in a bragging-like manner (because she was not yet old enough to even comprehend that a crime was being committed against her) – the gut-stabbing realities that defined a new direction being taken in the “relationship” between she and her “one-to-one counselor “at the facility, and it was anything, but acceptable.
This was the true beginning of my own Living Hell, making the time and ALMOST the life I had lost to Boo’s father pale in comparison to the grief, despair, hopelessness, helplessness and injustice that accompanied this night’s discovery of a pedophile on the county payroll, counseling children in a facility to which 90% of them are court-ordered to be.