After the first day or two, whenever April was awake, she was rifling through this gigantic stack of cards that she had and writing in them and addressing them to her kids. She put in photos she had of herself with the new baby as well. She asked if I had any stamps.
The first time I asked her, “I thought you didn’t know where your kids were. Do you know how to reach them?”
“They are in Escondido with their dad,” she said. “I’m not allowed to see them though.”
She claimed to have 10 children. I think it might have been true, judging from how many cards she wrote and the different names on them.
Sunday morning she had gone out for a while, to mail cards. There was an entire container of leftover brownies that disappeared about the same time she left as well. Not that I cared much about that. But the container did belong to someone else.
Monday morning, we were back into our regular routine, me making breakfast for the kids and talking them through their morning chores. I heard her outside on her phone. She had a pay as you go cell phone.
“What are the kids doing? Are they getting ready for school?”
It was obvious she missed them.
“I was a good mom,” she claimed. “It was the only thing I was ever really good at.”
Monday morning she asked me for coffee.
“Do you like coffee?” I asked.
“No, but I want to try some, I need some energy. I have to get off the streets today.”
She downed 2 whole cups in less than 10 minutes and started to get jittery.
I was making calls and checking maps to figure out where to take her and how to get started when she came in.
“Okay, I’m just gonna go by myself then and get this done. I can’t waste any time today. I have to take care of some things.”
Between the rest and the coffee she was a completely different personality.
I told her what I was doing and what the plan was if she wanted to wait for me to take her and she decided to come with me.
The first place we tried gave her an appointment for Wednesday. It’s an amazing program. They take homeless families in for 3 years and teach them job skills and life skills and she could keep her son with her once foster care released him.
She was devastated that it wouldn’t happen that morning. “I need to be able to show the court that I’m trying. I have a custody hearing in September. I need to get in somewhere today. I need to get in somewhere that will let my husband join me when he gets out of jail or he’ll go right back to using.”
They asked her point blank if she used any drugs. “Sometimes,” she answered, “I can’t deal with my life so I take things to make it hurt less.”
They suggested residential recovery programs.
I stopped at the store to buy her oranges, to help her calm down. She said they helped. I could see that she was really trying, and really struggling, and was getting more, and more on edge. I didn’t connect it to the caffeine right away though, which I would regret later.
Somehow, the way our conversation was going, with her so jittery and on edge I was unable to truly just talk to her, explain about Aaron being gone and needing to find her somewhere for the night, and to plan what would be best to do. She just needed action to feel better.
We called one residential recovery program as we sat in the car in the grocery store parking lot.
That’s how I learned her last name, and her age, and that she had the baby while in custody for drug possession. I believed her that she hadn’t used since she found out she was pregnant. I’m not sure she knew she was pregnant until she was arrested though. I also believed her that she hadn’t been high since the baby was born. We didn’t mention alcohol though.
They told her they would put her on the waiting list. She started telling people we talked to that she was going to just go out and get high again if she couldn’t get in somewhere. They bumped her to the top of the waiting list.
After the 3rd place and more disappointment she came up with a plan. She would go and get food stamps so she could eat that month. I tried to talk her out of it. I was still waiting on some answers from people I called for the night, for medical care for her. I didn’t think that food stamps were a very high priority right now. She needed to feel like she had accomplished something that day.
I had stopped at Del Taco for lunch, the kids in the back seat feeling hungry. Wanting to be kind I offered to buy her a Dr. Pepper, along with lunch, because I remembered she liked it. She had had nothing but water at my house until that day, even though she didn’t like it, because I had nothing else. I kept pushing it at her to get her to hydrate.
I had already forgotten about the 2 coffees in the morning. As we drove I asked her about why she couldn’t see her other kids. It had something to do with her not testifying against her attackers 3 years earlier. But she was vague.
“Were you in the hospital a long time.” I wondered. “Is that why CPS got involved.”
She was silent. “I really don’t like to talk about it,” she said. “It was a horrible time in my life that I don’t like remembering.”
“But maybe there’s a way to fight it,” I wondered. “Why would they not let you have custody just because you were attacked.”
She was starting to get angry, horribly agitated. “Now I’m going to have nightmares! Now I’m thinking about it again and I won’t be able to sleep. I don’t want to talk about it!”
“I’m sorry,” I told her, “I’m just trying to figure out how to help you.”
“Everybody’s sorry! Everybody tells me they’re sorry. Well, sorry doesn’t fix it, sorry doesn’t make it go away. No one really cares.”
I wanted to ask her why she thought I had already spent hours that day driving her around if I didn’t care, but I didn’t.
The food stamps office took forever. After more than an hour she was still not even in the first line. My kids were getting restless, they all had coughs. We played outside as much as possible to stay out of that horrid office. I read them many books. A woman stared at me point blank for as long as I nursed Judah.
We people watched. There is a community there. People greeting others and asking after them. Glad to see they are ok after hearing bad news. I enjoyed being reminded that no matter where you are, people mostly care about each other.
Aaron’s mom called me. I had asked her earlier if they might be able to give her a place to stay until her appointment on Wednesday. They called to say that yes, they would take her. They were getting the spare room ready.
I found her and suggested we leave and try another time. We could get ready to go over to my inlaws. I would pick her up the next day to drive her to her visitation with her baby.
She was adamant. “I have to finish this. Otherwise I have to start all over again later and then all my time here was wasted. And I don’t know why you even want to me to go and stay with these people I don’t know anyway.” Her voice was starting to catch. I wondered if she thought I was rejecting her by trying to arrange a new place for her to stay.
She started to walk away. Again. The whole day had been trying to chase after her and make her stay still long enough for a conversation that accomplished something.
I understood that all this motion was her way of trying to keep it together, so I was trying to be patient. But it was past just me being patient any more. If the kids were taken care of I could have stayed with her all day. But they needed me to take care of them now.
“April,” I called. “I can’t stay much longer, the kids are really tired, Bam Bam needs a nap, they are coughing and sick, and getting other people sick.”
“Fine, go!” she huffed. “I would take the bus back if I had any money to get there. This will be my last night at your house and tomorrow I’ll go do what I have to do on my own.”
I had no cash.
“Can you call me on your phone when you’re done and I’ll come and pick you up?”
“I’m out of minutes.”
The security guard standing nearby gave her money for the bus. Shocked that I would want to leave early after waiting so long, not knowing the rest of the story.
“I’ll try staying a bit longer,” I told her, “but we really can’t do much more today.”
While we waited I received a call. I had found some information about a grant that funded free care for homeless people. I had left a message and they were now calling me back. They were so sweet, and helpful, and found me the closest medical clinic, less than 2 miles from where we were, and told me how to get her in. “Go before 3:30,” she warned, “walk ins close at 4.”
I had told them that I was concerned about her. Her hands often stopped working properly, she couldn’t grip things tightly. Also that she was 7 weeks postpartum, had had no follow up care, and was still bleeding.
They told me to tell them it was urgent and they would see her right away.
Only one problem. I couldn’t find April. She was lost in the maze of offices and no one could tell me where to find her because of confidentiality reasons. I waited. I looked. I walked to the car and loaded the kids and did another slow drive by to see if she was done. By then it was 4. There was no chance of seeing a doctor today. My kids were way past done, and I drove home, praying she wouldn’t find someone to give her drugs while there and break her clean streak.
I wondered if she would come back. If she came back would she be high? How would I get her to my in-laws house if she came back after bedtime? Did she even understand that she wasn’t going to be able to stay at my house another night?