Monday, March 22, 2010

The Wrath of a Child

I was in the grocery selecting vegetables for the chicken stew when I looked up to find a young woman glaring at me across the onions. I took an involuntary step back as my brain registered a level of hostility that made the alarm bells ring in my head. I summoned up a minimal smile and a nod and moved on to the carrots.
" Ms. Fishy"
I turned. The angry young woman was now standing next to me and she was not just angry but big. I don't mean fat. I mean six feet tall, big boned, muscular and aggressive. Her shoulders were loose but slightly hunched, weight forward on the balls of her feet, hands up but not fisted. More alarm bells were in my head but honestly was some strange young woman going to assault me in the vegetables?

I looked at her face and thought, do I know this person? She is too young to have been one of Mermaid's classmates. I didn't know if she was one of the neighborhood youngsters who came calling every Halloween, or one of the children from the art classes I volunteered for, or a child I mentored doing theatre sets. I just did not know this young woman. She looked to be in her late teens, long blond hair, old but clean and neat clothes, no visible tattoos or piercings and those angry blue eyes.

" You don't know who I am do you?"

I looked into her face and knew she spoke the truth .

" I'm sorry. I have met so many fine young people over the years, why not reintroduce me?"

" I still have them you know."

With this statement came a change from the look of hostility to the look of the wounded.
Who is this person and what could she possibly have that had anything to do with me?
And yet she clearly recognized me. Equally clearly she had some sort of unresolved issue with me which was very damn awkward given the fact I hadn't a clue to her identity.

" Have what?"

" I still have all the coloring pages you made for me. I've even traced over some of them again and again. But I still have all the originals. The ones where you said you loved me."

Quite the stunner.
I made coloring book pages and wrote love to a child I didn't recognize?
I enjoy children and through the years in various activities, with both individuals and groups, I have done line drawings for them to color and have signed the bottom of the pages with a heart2U. It was unlikely I had generated such a strong emotional response in a group situation so this must have been from individual interactions, but where and when?

I studied her face once again and thought I caught a fragment of a memory of a child perched on my drafting stool, being the "artist" on the big drafting table at an office, not in my home studio. Very few little girls other than Mermaid had done this. The others were accounted for so this must be ...

" OMG, what a surprise to see you after all these years! You kept those drawings? How dear of you. Have you moved back here? How are your folks and what are you doing these days?"

The questions tumbled forth from me in a rush before I realized the hostility had returned.
There were no responding smiles or nods. Just a fierce look and rigid body language.
" Jayne? Why are you angry with me? You clearly have something which needs saying. Lets get out of these vegetables and I will get us a pastry and a coke over in the bakery and we'll take some time to get squared away".
Still unspeaking, Jayne followed me to the bakery where she selected a bagel and coffee and then we went to the outside tables for our catching up .

During this transition I was acting in the present but thinking of the past.

When we first moved up here I decided I would not open my own business again. It takes a lot of time and energy to run a business and I wanted to be available to Mermaid during her middle and high school years. But I did accept a position with another business to manage their storefront and be the in-store " consulting" designer for walk in traffic. I did a 30 hour work week with weekends off and I got out the door most days in time to pick up Mermaid from school.

The Carolinas were once the textile capitol of the USA so was big business in these parts. The business I joined had a huge textile store with more than 3000 bolts of in-stock "designer" textiles. People came from surrounding states to shop in this place for good reason. The textiles were top of the line, first quality, being retailed for below wholesale prices. Tons of textiles were sold for reupholstering and other home projects. They did offer some work room services for simple window treatments. When I joined this business they had one in-house seamstress, and 3 outsourced seamstresses of at home moms. One seamstress was a preachers wife, one was a bankers wife. Both of these women were lovely, educated, family focused women who were awesome seamstresses. The third outsourced seamstress was Jayne's mother, Suze.

Suze was different. A big, trash talking, rough biker chick with attitude and a big chip. She'd grown up in a mill town in a mill "village", left high school before graduating and went to work in a mill. Suze was rough, uneducated and very, very smart. She had worked her way up in the mills to being a seamstress back in the days when some of the mills offered fabrications as well as bolt goods. The mill Suze came up in did all the high end bedding ensembles and complicated window treatments for Neiman's and Horchow. Her skills were impeccable. She had the mind of an engineer and when life was good for her, she was amazingly fast and unfailingly accurate. When life was bad for her, she was a high risk gamble. I might send $3, 000 of bolt textiles out the door with her expecting it to be transformed into the ordered custom goods. That might happen in a timely fashion, and it also might not.

When Suze would come by the store to pick up an assignment we would review the textiles selected, review the design drawings, review the time lines and the compensation rate. More often than not she had Jayne with her, usually in peanut butter clad clothing. This was worrisome but never once did Suze ever return a project that was damaged in any way, smelled of her Kitchen or her smoking habit. Never. Suze had a strict divide between her personal and professional personnas.

So often while Suze and I were conferencing over a project Jayne would be at my drawing table happily coloring the drawings I made for her. Since I always knew when they were coming I sometimes made drawings for her in advance and made photocopies of them so she would have extras to take home. She loved when I would give both she and her mother project drawings in two separate file folders. Sometimes Jayne would "make" her mother stop by the store so she could proudly bring me her finished projects. Many of them became the artwork on the tack wall in my office.

About half way thru first grade, the teacher told Suze to put Jayne on Ritalin. She stopped by to talk to me about this. I was shocked. What teacher tells a parent to put their kid on drugs? Maybe have a conference suggesting a medical evaluation but as far as I know, teachers aren't in the business of prescriptions. I asked Suze what were the issues leading up to this suggestion?
Seems the teacher said Jayne wasn't focused. In the mornings she was droopy and after lunch she was not able to sit still and be non disruptive. I told Suze I thought it would be a good idea to take Jayne to the doc and have her checked out. Word came back from the doctor saying testing would be necessary. The testing was not covered by insurance. So Suze kept sending Jayne to school and eventually she got called into the principals office and was told Jayne would be suspended from the school district until she was medicated. I remember being shocked by this and again told Suze I certainly thought she needed to get some help from her doc.

Time passed.
I didn't see Suze for a while until one day I got a panic call asking me to come to the hospital. Jayne was there lying comatose in a bed hooked up to IV's and machines of every description. The story was a sad one. No money for testing etc so they decided to try Jayne on one of the ADD or ADHD meds. To which Jayne was allergic. It had caused inflamation of the brain which had caused swelling which had caused crazed behavior followed by convulsions and coma. Tragic. Suze was stricken with massive guilt and grief. I met Jayne's dad, an old hippy biker type with long gray hair and uncontrolled tears for his baby girl. I felt ill to my core, offered what comfort I could and asked what did they need? Stay with Jayne while her parents met with the social workers, etc. So stay I did.

While I was sitting with Jayne the neurologist came in.
I didn't know he was a neurologist but I knew him as a man I often passed in my evening walks thru the neighborhood. Once all the relationship stuff was sorted thru he read some printouts from the machines and took his leave. Later that evening I saw him again in our neighborhood. He stopped me to ask if I had any information on Jayne which could help him treat her. I shared my shock at drugs being administered to a 6 year old because of insistence by the school system and without testing. I told him I doubted Jayne had ADD or ADHD either one because I had first hand knowledge of her ability to sit quietly and color without difficulty. Her ability to behave properly in a public environment and that conversationally she had no trouble staying on track. He then asked if I knew anything about her family life. Not really I had replied. I knew them via work, not socially but I was fairly certain they kept an erratic lifestyle. I told him I thought Jayne's problems could in part be dietary, that she seemed to mostly live on junk food and peanut butter, that I thought she stayed up late at night with her parents and those things could account for the droopy mornings and the after lunch energy boost at school. He asked more questions about Suze and I told him what a knew; smart and capable seamstress, unpredictable chaotic personal life.

Ultimately Jayne recovered.
Jayne does not have ADD or ADHD.
What she had was modeled behavior.
Suze was diagnosed with adult ADD, ADHD and bi-polar disorder.
Medications for those illnesses cannot be taken in conjunction with booze, which Suze was disinclined to forgo . So her behavior worsened. We no longer used Suze as a seamstress so I did not see Jayne much after her hospitalization. Eventually I took down Jayne's artwork in my office. The colored drawings with the heart2U messages at the bottom. Ouch.

Sitting outside the grocery Jayne told me social services eventually took her away from Suze, placing her in foster care. Before that happened, when things got really tough for that child she would ask Suze to bring her to me. Apparently that didn't sit to well with her mother who in terrible moments told her child I did not care about her, did not love her, never had and never would. When Jayne went to foster care she took her folders of drawings with her and when she needed quiet comforting she would trace the drawings and color them over and over. In one of her foster homes she was punished for writing heart2U graffiti on the walls in permanent marker. When she told me she would lay in a bed at night and beg God to find me for her ?
I cried.
Somehow in her child's soul she believed I would save her, take her home with me, make wonderful drawings and love her forever. I never did. Sometime around puberty she quit
"believing" and started being angry with me for being a no show.

I did explain that I had called her mom repeatedly to no avail. That I had in fact driven to their home only to discover they had moved. That I had not known of her location with Suze or the fosters and that I was touched to hear the folder of drawings had brought her some comfort for a while. As we were wrapping up our visit I wrote my phone number on a napkin and then I drew a heart2U on the bottom.

I did not go back for the vegetables.


Anonymous said...

this is a loooooooong post

Buzz Kill said...

I run into grown-up kids all the time and can hardly recognize them. Even the Boys buddies whom I may only see every few months change so much.

I was an assistant little league coach for 6 years and you see a lot of faces in that time. I doubt that I ever had as profound an affect on any of them as you had with this little girl. Would you try and keep in touch with her now that you have re-established contact? I'd be concerned about the mother and father. It'd be nice if you still had one of those pictures that you could post for us nosey readers.

fishy said...

Well, I guess I am not known for abbreviated posts. Maybe this one is more purge than post. The good news is, none of it is mandatory reading!

as a LL coach I am sure you recognize how something we take as normal can in fact have a larger influence in the life of a child than we know. For Jayne I clearly represented a calm comfort in contrast to a life which must have been far more chaotic than I knew. I left future contact up to Jayne by giving her my cell phone number.
Her mother is not a current participant in her life and her Dad is dead. She is old enough to be out of the foster services. No other relatives that I know of. I guess I am hopeful our encounter will, at the very least, let her dispense with the anger.

Pam said...

(crying eyes) ... I have long felt that in this life, you never know who you touch in a wonderful but unknown manner. I'm glad you two had a chance to visit. Some things need resolved; some things just need acknowledgement. Prayers to you both.

Jenny said...


I can't say I would have offered a "sit down" to discuss the anger so I'm going to think about that for awhile.

This makes me think about the post you wrote regarding your teacher who helped you understand your strengths?

As always, this was a real "page turner" and I was teary at the end to think there was some potential healing for Jayne. Poor child.

fishy said...

Pam, I soooo agreee with you, you never know how you impact the lives of others. I've made coloring pages for lots of children, most were short term entertainment while I worked with a parent. Obviously the circumstances for Jayne were far more severe that I knew. I guess life is very unstable with an unpredictable , ill, mother. On the other hand, had Jayne not had that horrible reaction to the meds, they might never have known her behavioral problems were a result of her mother's illness.

poor child indeed. I probably would not have done the sit down with her had I not seen the wounds as well as the anger.
I was extremely sad over her revelations. As for paying forward the good of my beloved Miss Wiffler... yeah, I'll own that :-)

chickory said...

i was a high school art teacher. now and then, i will run into a student who has a story (none as profound as yours) about something said or did. i never remember but they surely do. they teach at the carnegie school of how to win friends and influence people that maybe people dont remember what you said.....but they always remember how you made them feel.

im with buzz...i would proceed with caution as you never know how resentment can manifest ...(no good deed goes unpunished -apologize in advance for the cynicism)

fishy said...

Well, I guess I am hoping our chat helped Jayne put aside the hostilities of a wounded child.
Which have no place as baggage in her adult life. Her hostility toward me was irrational. She understands this reality intellectually but I guess seeing me was an emotional trigger.
Shhhheeeesssshhhh, you never know what will be cropping up in those vegetables!

h said...

Wow. I doubt if Adult ADD and ADHD and Blah-Blah-BlahD are as over-diagnosed as the corresponding kiddie versions but it's certainly possible Suze (and Jayne) would have been better off self-medicating with Gentleman Jack.

Without a doubt, if the drugs react badly with alcohol, they should have pulled the pills when Suze refused to quit drinking.

Every seamstress I've ever known was a LOT more like Suze than the Preacher and Banker wives.

If I were you, I'd be very circumspect about offering negative opinions about Suze to Jayne. She might not be as "out of her life" as you believe.

And hell hath no fury like a big drunk Biker Chick Seamstress.

fishy said...


"Hell hath no fury like a big, drunk, biker chick seamstress"

Howling funny! A friend who reads this blog called me and said,
" Fishy! Be smart about this. Some big, angry kid who will serve up hate in the vegetables is not to be trusted!" She had a point. How can a casual kindness to a child some dozen years back warrant hostility now? Her perspective: Jayne is as unstable as her Mom.

Karl said...

Good afternoon Fishy,

You know, you're a class act.

I would give Jayne a wide berth. At least until you can read her better. Add PCP or crystal meth to the mix and she could be explosive indeed.