I was down to just Essie in the house with me, and our mother/daughter time had just about pushed me over the edge. The clocks had been set back so that she would go to her room for bed an hour and half before the appointed time. The social workers called me to the office on a Tuesday afternoon. I knew I was in trouble when they both wanted to meet with me. That was when they broke it to me that I was getting a new child. The good news was that she was actually a child. She was sixteen years old. The bad news was that she was a felon. The home had worked out a deal with the Georgia Juvenile Justice Department that allowed felons to serve their time by living in my house. Neither social worker would even make eye contact with me as they broke this news to me. They knew what they were doing was horrible, but they had been given orders by the administrator.
I should have gone directly to the administrator’s office and told him exactly what I thought of him and his “of course your children will be safe” speech he had given me during the interview. I didn’t. I was too mad, and, as usual, I had 30 minutes to get prepared for Margarita’s arrival.
It was a rare occurrence that my family was in town. I cooked supper and set the table with an extra plate for our newest addition. Margarita arrived right in time for dinner. I had not yet had the opportunity to talk to my family about where Margarita was coming from. She had been serving time in prison. She had been found guilty of attempted murder as she tried to stab her stepfather with a butcher’s knife, and now, she was going to live in my home.
Margarita came in, looking demure and pristine. She had on a pretty tank top that showed her arms. During dinner, the Goose, being the Goose, was just trying to make polite conversation and to get to know Margarita a little. She chattered on about her tae kwon do lessons and asked Margarita if she had ever done martial arts. Margarita said no. The Goose asked her if she worked out and asked how her arms got so muscular. Margarita said it was from doing push ups in prison. My family laughed as they thought she was kidding. Mr. Everything caught the look on my face and realized it wasn’t a joke. I thought he was going to choke on his beans.
On Wednesday morning, Margarita went to school. She and Essie went to the same school, although they were on separate sides. Essie’s side was for mentally disabled kids, and by walking down the halls, you could watch children throwing temper tantrums and being restrained. There was always yelling and wailing on her side.
The other side of the school was an alternative school for kids who could not make it in a “regular” school. I’ve always wondered why in the world they would put society’s meanest and most dangerous kids in the same building as the most disturbed. It doesn’t take a genius to realize what a dangerous situation the school board had created. Again, my tax dollars hard at work.
Margarita made it in school 30 minutes before I got the phone call. She had cussed out the deputy, so I had to go pick her up. That meant I got to spend the whole day with her. Lucky me.
The strange thing was that Margarita, by far, was the most polite and well behaved of all the girls I encountered at that children’s home. She spoke respectfully, unless she was angry, and she said, “Ma’am,” and, “Sir,” without fail. However, just being around her made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. She had an anger in her eyes that was unmistakable, and I had no doubt that she would hurt me or my children if the opportunity arose.
Throughout the week, I got to know Margarita a little bit. She could be funny, and she could joke around. For the most part, she was pleasant and easy to live with. I still didn’t trust her any further than I could throw her.
At one point, I was filling in for the parent at another house, and Margarita was with me. One of the girls from the other home started being terribly disrespectful to me. I had never been talked to like that, and I had no idea how to handle it. Margarita stepped in and said something to the girl. I could not hear what she said, but the girl immediately backed off. I probably didn’t want to know what Margarita had said, but at that moment, I was just thankful that she did. Later, when she and I talked about it, she said something that has stuck with me to this day. She said that some people saw kindness as weakness. I asked her if that was what she thought, and she said, “No. I can tell you’re tough.” She was right.
We made it through the school week and into the weekend without any other incidents. Margarita managed to go to school and stay there for a few days. Then, Sunday came, and she was about to spend her sixth and final night in my house.
We were coming back from Sunday evening church. I was driving the big white bus. My family was in town, so Mr. Everything was in the passenger seat and my kids were in the back with the crazies. When we got home, the Goose got out first, and she jokingly said, while holding the door handle, “Hurry up! Hurry up! I’m going to close the door in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1….” She was six years old, and she was joking. Essie laughed and got out in a hurry. Margarita stopped, looked my child in the eye and said, “Do it again, and you won’t wake up in the morning.”
I bit my tongue and controlled my anger and sent everyone else on into the house. Mr. E had not heard the comment, thank goodness. Keep in mind that this was not an average child who said this to my baby. This was a convicted felon. I stopped her by the door, looked her in the eye and quietly and calmly said, “I just want you to know that I will not tolerate threats in my home. You will not threaten my child or any other child as long as you live here. Is that clear?” She said, “But she was bothering me.” I responded, “And I am telling you again that you will not threaten anyone, especially my child. Understood?” She stood there for a minute and said, “Understood.”
We went on in the house to start warming up leftovers, our typical Sunday night dinner. Margarita said she was not hungry and went to her room. I gave her a while to cool off and then went to see if she wanted to eat. She refused to come out of her room.
As a side note here, both of my children slept with dead-bolt locks on their doors. They could get to each other’s rooms through their bathroom, but no one could get in unless they unlocked the door. Mr. Everything and I also slept with a dead-bolt on our door. My children had been instructed that, if at anytime I told them to, they were to go to their rooms and lock their doors. They only had to do that once when Beloved was throwing a fit.
On Monday morning, Margarita would not come out of her room. It was spring break, so the girls did not have to get up early for school. Finally, around 9:30, I knocked on Margarita’s door, and she did not answer. I told her to come out, and she still did not answer. I was starting to get worried that she had hurt herself. I got the door open and found her, sitting on her bed, staring at her wall. I told her it was time to go to the office and talk to the social workers.
She followed me after I loudly insisted, and together, Margarita, Essie, the Goose and I all walked over to the office. I’m not sure why I allowed the Goose to go, and in retrospect, I shouldn’t have.
We got to the office, and I told the Goose and Essie to have a seat in the hallway. They were within sight of the receptionist, so I felt safe leaving the Goose near Essie. I walked with Margarita, and we went down the hall to one social worker’s office. I told him that we had a problem, and I began explaining the events of the previous evening. All at once, Margarita went crazy. She went running down the hall, knocking pictures off the walls as she went. She ran out into the sitting area where Essie and the Goose were, and she stopped and looked at my baby. I was getting there as fast as I was, and lucky for her, she moved before Mama Bear got there to rip her face off. Margarita ran into the bathroom and locked the door. I looked at the Goose and said, “Go. Home. Now!” For once, my child listened and complied without questioning me. She ran home as fast as she could, bless her heart.
Margarita came storming out of the bathroom and headed toward me. I was against a wall at this point, and she came at me with her fist raised like she was going to hit me. I don’t remember much, but those who witnessed it said I did a tae kwon do block. (Watching all that tae kwon do did come in handy!) Meanwhile, the social worker stood nearby and did nothing but watch. Later, he said he would have defended me, but he knew it was illegal for him to put his hands on her. Whatever.
The police were dispatched at once, and Margarita was arrested right there in front of me. It was sad to watch as she just stood there and let them handcuff her. She knew she had messed up. While I should have felt anger toward her, I really just felt sad. She was the most damaged of all the children I encountered while at the home, and I wondered what had happened to her to make her so angry and so hurt.
Speaking of anger, Mr. Everything reacted much stronger than I expected him to when he heard what had happened. He has never been the jealous or over-protective type. However, just hearing that this felon had almost hurt his child and then his wife was enough to push him into a rage. It was at that moment that I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that we had to leave, and we had to leave soon. He left the next day to take our kids back to Brandon where they could be safe with my parents. Then, Mr. E came back, we gave our resignation, and we packed our stuff. By the end of the next week, we were gone.
On our way out of town, I had to stop by juvenile court to testify against Margarita. It was an appropriate ending to our saga at the children’s home. She was found guilty and was returned to a detention center to finish serving her time, plus three extra months (woo!) for attempted battery on me.
We returned to Brandon hurt, disappointed and broken. What we thought was an answer to prayers was actually a nightmare. We had left for Georgia so excited about the opportunity and returned to Brandon in worse shape emotionally and financially than when we left. The worst part was when people made comments like, “Well, I knew it wouldn’t go well for you. Children’s homes are difficult, and it takes a special person to be able to work there.” As if we were not special enough, and as if we went into it thinking the whole thing would be rainbows and butterflies. We learned a lot of lessons, some funny and some not, and in my next blog, I’ll tell you what those were. -Al