Monday, February 25, 2008
Wherein I wear my e-heart on my e-sleeve III
I would like to warn anyone reading this that some of it may be a bit graphic, a bit too descriptive for some tastes. However, in order to truly express the seriousness of this, I will be leaving few details out. This all picks up after the longest blog post in history.
Shortly after introducing Kristine to the girls, and sharing my time with the girls with her, we began to notice certain things when it came to them (the girls).
Hindsight being what it is I should have caught these signs much, much sooner.
Whenever we would pick up the girls for my weekend visits, they would consistently have a distinct…odor. Whether it be sweat, or what we refer to as the “puppy” smell, or in one particular instance a very distinct odor of urine. Many were the occasions where we would rush back home with them (windows rolled down) and immediately have them take showers and change their clothes. After time, they would mention proudly that they did, in fact, take A shower that week. As in ONE. Also, I was never allowed in the house when I would pick up the girls. They were either at the door waiting for me, or she would open the door and stand in the door way and call them.
Let me clarify what my emotional state was at that point- I had recently lost my mother to cancer, been asked to move out by her partner (mostly due to the immense amount of grief she suffered at the loss of my mother), spent half of my income in child support, and the other half on rent. I literally did not have an extra dime to my name. This translated into feeling as though my hands were tied. I was simply grateful that I had survived another week and had the opportunity to see my girls. I had resigned myself to my fate as a weekend father, with no significant other to share my time with.
Now, back to the girls. At about the same time, the girls had told me that the electricity in their mothers home had been off for days, that they woke to nothing under the Christmas tree at their mothers’ house that previous Christmas (except the food basket and gifts the PTA at their elementary school had dropped off), and there would be days where the only food they had was the free breakfast/lunch that the school provided. Of course, a little voice in the back of my head would silently ask “What the hell was going on over there?” There really wasn’t much I could do. I was giving her/them as much as I could (even though she never failed to ask for more) and still live.
The girls lived in a home with their mother, their 5 and 2 year-old half brothers, and their mother’s boyfriend, none of whom brought in any additional income at the time to support themselves, by the way. Needless to say, they were subsisting off of my child support and whatever handouts they received. Most would say I should have done something right away—you’d 100% be right, but I was living hand to mouth, even losing a few fingers every now and then. I felt alone, and imprisoned—lucky to simply share the weekends with them. I cannot tell you, mothers have no idea the power they wield over their ex’s when children are the ammunition.
Things were bad, and then they got worse.
At one point my ex had confessed to me that her boyfriend had been cheating on her with at least one other woman (Karma, meet Larissa, Larissa meet Karma. You two are gonna be GREAT pals really soon), and that he had been physically abusing her. I offered to get her in touch with some battered women resources, but that went nowhere. Kristine and I decided at this point we needed to have open conversation with the girls with regards to what is acceptable relationship behavior.
We started a “circle of truth”. We sat in a circle, and we each shared something personal. The only rule was that no one was to be punished or judged for what they were sharing. Sounds simple, but it allowed for the children to open up in ways I’d never imagined. It was obvious that they had been trained to not share information with me, so it became Kristine’s responsibility to communicate what we both felt was necessary. It may sound manipulative, but I was being stonewalled at every turn, and I had to make sure they were not being victimized themselves.
Another odd behavior we had noticed was that my oldest daughter (Danielle) had developed “ticks” (as her mother described them). She grunted, clicked her teeth, forcefully blinked her eyes, talked like a baby, and constantly moved her fingers and hands in a counting motion (index finger to thumb, middle finger to thumb, etc). Not. Good. But all these things had developed over time, and I had grown accustomed to them. Kristine, being new to the situation, recognized them for what they were and had suggested therapy. Having been the beneficiary of very productive therapy sessions after breaking up with my ex, I readily agreed and began to look into the matter.
The very day that Kristine was moving into my place, my youngest daughter (Marissa – age 7 at the time) came to Kristine to tell her that the elderly man that had been paying to park and live in his RV on their mother’s driveway had been sexually molesting child Danielle (my age 9 at the time). Apparently Marissa had walked in, told her mother, and he was supposed to move out. Soon. Kristine immediately told me.
At this point I cannot even begin to express to those of you reading this the depths of the anger, betrayal, confusion, and sheer brutish rage I felt at that time. Only a father could even hope to understand what I was thinking at that moment. I felt lethal.
The next day I called their mother from work to confront her with what I’d learned. She categorically denied everything, and told me that Kristine was trying to feed information to the kids, and that she would no longer allow them to visit me if she were present. I informed Kristine of this and she called her to confront her, at which point Larissa confessed to everything. She said that the man would be moving out, and that he really wasn’t even around all that often. She also admitted that she was about six months pregnant with her fifth child. Taking her at her word, I continued with situation as it were. Of course all of this was going through my mind on a daily basis. It was impossible to think, work, even function properly with the knowledge that my child was being hurt.
One week later we had a birthday party for my Marissa. Kristine picked up the girls, who looked abnormally groomed (she actually combed their hair….seriously, I think it had been about six months since she’d done it herself). Dressed in cute little skirts, they were ready to get their party on. Maybe things were better.
While on the freeway to our place, one of the girls asked Kristine if there were any panties at our house since they didn’t have any on. I repeat - THIS WOMAN HAD A PEDOPHILE LIVING ON HER DRIVEWAY, AND SHE HAD MY GIRLS RUNNING AROUND IN SKIRTS WITH NO PANTIES.
Enough was enough.
After a very lengthy discussion with Kristine over the action I would take and their likely consequences, I called the Department of Social Services that very evening.
The local sheriff visited the mother’s home with a social worker in tow, and proceeded to question the son of bitch living on the driveway, who admitted everything. Now at the time he thought it was my ex that had called the police, so he returned the favor. He informed the social worker and police of the living conditions in the girls’ mother’s home that I was not privy to.
Some of information detailed by the investigating social worker was provided to me during our first hearing is as follows(this will be graphic, but I hope you understand the fire of disgust that still burns in me three years later)
1. Danielle had been molested by the older man since she could walk/talk (this was an old family friend, who at one time lived with my grandmother) and she felt it was necessary to allow it since the sonofabitch was paying to live on the driveway on her mother needed the money.
2. The condition of the house was described as “third-world conditions”.
3. No food was in the home.
4. Pornography was strewn throughout the common areas, and she would frequently have pornographic videos playing, or magazines around..
5. Both my ex and her boyfriend would leave the children alone in the evening for hours at a time.
6. The children had watched her get kicked in the stomach, and punched in the face by her BF.
7. Marissa would often have to wear her mother’s clothing to school because there was nothing else clean. Oh, and on more than one occasion she found a crack pipe (“Drug Paraphernalia) in the pockets of various articles of clothing.
8. Marissa had witnessed her mother having drug induced episodes where she thought there were people outside the home and made the children turn off the lights and stay quiet.
And yes, their mother was using crack cocaine AND she was six months pregnant (the baby still receives physical therapy, and had to wear a helmet for about 6 months).
The girl that I never thought I’d find moves in with me—and three weeks later, BOOM, instant family. We were happy to have them, but it has not been an easy task or transition. The Social Worker placed the girls with me since I was the bio-dad and could house them properly. I made every effort to let my ex’s family know that they were very welcome to see the girls whenever they wanted and made them available for phone calls and visits. Their grandfather on their mother’s side came once. An aunt promised some old clothes that never materialized.
We proceeded to make their new home as welcoming and secure as we could. We bought for them new beds, new clothes, accessories for their room, you name it. This was going to be their island where no one could hurt them and dad was always around. We enrolled them in the local elementary schools and began to look for extracurricular activities for them. Sounds great, right? Sure.
On several occasions we questioned our own judgment (read: sanity) and seriously considered the easier path of just letting the girls move back with their mother. This usually followed especially difficult/emotional confrontations with the girls over disobedience, acting out, or my own arguments with their mother. While Danielle had grown more introverted, Marissa had grown increasingly protective of her mother. She had developed a need to protect her mother that manifested itself in constant references to wanting to live with her mother. As an adult, I couldn’t fathom why she had this desire, but from a child’s standpoint it was perfectly logical: Mommy needed help. If she only knew.
At some point Marissa had been verbally chastised by her mother for sharing with Kristine what she had witnessed. She had told Marissa that she “told the wrong person”. Even though Marissa had probably saved her sisters’ life by telling the truth, this woman (I use that term “woman” loosely) berated her for it. On one very clear occasion, as we sat in the lobby of the DCFS (Department of Children and Family Services) awaiting the completion of my LiveScan, she approached us (myself, Kristine, and both girls), pointed at me and told the girls “He’s why you’re not staying with me”. All of this caused added to the wall of resentment building between Marissa and Kristine. Marissa couldn’t be mad at her dad, so she had to direct her anger at someone. Many times she was blatantly hostile and defiant to Kristine. These days, people often think that Kristine is Marissa’s bio-mom because they have such similar personalities (the good parts, not the hostile ones). The hostility only subsided in recent months due to much communication on all of our parts.
As a result of the investigation by Social Services, their two half-brother’s were then placed in foster care. The ex went to a recovery home for mothers, and her boyfriend went to rehab as well. We fulfilled our obligation to drive the girls to visit their mother in rehab, even though it was more than an hour drive each way. The girls enjoyed their visits, even though taking them to see their mother in rehab left a sour taste in my mouth. Her “poor me” attitude and her family of enablers continued to inoculate her against any true feelings of guilt or remorse over her inability to protect her daughters.
Over the course of the next few months, the two half brothers were switched to two more foster homes after the 5 year-old was caught acting out sexually with another boy that was in the care of the foster family (that’s a whole other basket of issues). Initially, Social Services had done what they were supposed to in their investigation, but they didn’t have him physically evaluated to see if he had been sodomized after the incident. After he acted out again, they discovered their fuck up, and the spin control began. Within a week, the boys were back at home with their mother.
I couldn’t believe it was happening, but she was slowly getting her kids back. Kristine and I prepared ourselves for the worst (losing the girls to “Sybil”). We feared that all the work we had done in the past few months to help the girls adjust and come to terms with what had happened would be obliterated by their mother’s brainwashing. She still saw herself as the victim throughout the entire mess and her only goal was to have all FIVE of her kids back with her, regardless of whether or not she had a home, a stable job to pay for that home, and the means to provide for all five kids.
Then the day came for me to appear in court to hear the judges’ decision regarding our girls. I took one of my few remaining days off of work, put on one of my suits, and made the 45 minute drive to court. Alone. Kristine had used up all of her time off from work on previous court dates, and had to rely on me communicating updates to her via cell. I sat in the waiting area, watching the other broken families waiting around me awaiting their turn to come before the judge. For those of you that have never had to go to Family Court (count yourselves lucky, first of all), it is a singular experience. It’s one that rewards/curses you with the uncanny ability to spot the damaged and the broken. You can spot the fresh from rehab mother’s/father’s with their cobbled together outfits so as to present themselves as halfway decent. You can feel the tension between ex’s as they sit across from each other, silently cursing the other for putting them in this position.
And you wonder…How did I end up here? I’m a good person, right? Anyway…
I sat before the judge, my court appointed attorney next to me. I looked over her mountain of paperwork and files, and wondered at what point she stopped seeing names and started seeing case numbers. I silently prepared myself for the inevitable outcome. After doing some online research and visiting father’s rights advocacy sites, I had realized how minuscule my chances of keeping them were.
What happened next was probably one of the most terrifying, yet exhilarating moments of my life. The judge, very matter of fact-ly, terminated jurisdiction over my case and left both of the girls in my physical custody, with 50/50 split on legal custody. I was now a full time dad again.
My ex (whom we affectionately refer to as “Satan’s lap dog”), still sees the girls every other weekend. She seems to be off drugs, and they enjoy their time with her. She also finds time in her busy schedule of squirting out kids to criticize our parenting, but finds no additional time to attend a school dance, choir performance, softball game, or teacher conference. Her phones calls to the girls that occurred like clockwork every evening have dwindled to nothing. The girls occasionally receive calls from their 8 year old half-brother who speaks like a 3 year old and their soon to be pyromaniac 4 year old half-brother.
We, however, play Rock Band as family, refer to ourselves as “Team Martinez” and have family pictures hung on our walls with pride. Marissa is a star student and Danielle is on the track team, Honor Choir, and has two more Honor’s classes. Kristine gives more of herself to the girls on a daily basis than their own mother does, and I think they know it. I know there will undoubtedly be some discussion of these events when they get older, and we welcome it. We do have our ups and downs as a family, but they know this as their home, they have friends, they have a father and step mother that love them, and they know they are safe.
We did good.
*Update - Danielle just brought home certificates for making the Principal's Honor Roll, having Perfect Attendance, and several coupons for "Jean Day" and "Cut to the head of the line".