Sunday, July 22, 2007

Last visit to Sally's house

Sally and I kept in touch for the next while on and off. I told her that she should call me as soon as she had any updates. After some time though, I started noticing some weird signs. I asked her if I could come by the house because I had realized she hadn't signed my paper last time I was over. Billing time was approaching, and I had to send my paperwork into my agency in order to bill the state for services. I also wanted to get it over with as soon as possible because going into the house hurt me; it made me wonder where Ben was all over again.

Sally opened the door for me, and I couldn't fully read her expression. She didn't seem to be suffering from depression, but it was clear she was upset Ben was gone.

It was so strange to be in the house. It was completely quiet. Her older children were at school, Sophia was taking a nap, and the atmosphere felt so empty without Ben and Emily around. (I always wondered why Sophia was not enrolled at school. What five year old doesn't attend some sort of preschool or kindergarten??)

I sat down at the kitchen table with Sally. It was slightly awkward but I took out my papers and had her sign them right away. Then we began yet another conversation that left me dumbfounded. Sally claimed she still didn't know why Ben had been taken, and according to her, the lawyer was simply taking a long time to get back to her. I thought that was very interesting considering Ben had been gone for just shy of a month now.

"Jessica told me not to give up," she told me. "She said she had a scare too, with her son."

I stopped writing, and looked up at her. Now this was some interesting news!

"Jessica's son was taken by social services?" I asked.

"Oh yeah," she replied. "She fought for him back. They're horrible people, social services. One violent scare and they take drastic measures. I mean, come on. There are so many other people really being abused, they don't do anything to them."

My eyes bugged out of my sockets. Aha! We were finally getting somewhere.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Life Goes On

I have to admit, I did just that. I couldn't help it - what else was I supposed to do? I had no support system whatsoever. I didn't give up; I promised myself I wouldn't. I guess you can say I just tried to go about my daily life so that my days wouldn't revolve around waiting around for an update.

It was a good thing I didn't, because the only person that called me regularly was Sally. If I didn't hear from her for two weeks in a row, I would call her. She never had a real update for me; it was always the same "I don't know why they took him" kind of stuff. It still made no sense to me, but I kept the connection to her because it helped keep Ben in my mind. My days were never the same without him.

About three weeks after Ben was taken away, I had a conversation with Julie, the autism administrator of my agency. I told her how distraught I was, and that it killed me to see what happened to this child. She didn't know what the full story was, nor did anyone else.

Aside from pain on a personal level, I was having such difficulty knowing that Ben would now be regressing. I tried to explain this to Julie as professional as possible -- not an easy task, considering I had gotten really close to Ben on a personal level.

I wondered what had caused Ben to be removed from the home. I assumed it must have been serious because in essence, they had taken a special needs child away from his familiarity and stopped his therapy cold turkey. That wasn't fair to Ben. I pleaded with Julie to speak to social services so that I can at least resume therapy with him wherever he is now. After all, I wasn't his only therapist; there was Jessica, and also Bob, his speech therapist.

"That is not my department," Julie said. "I know it's unfair and I agree, but right now there's nothing we can do."

In the meantime, I kept busy with my other clients. I actually got really busy with one little boy named Scott. (I'll get into more details when Ben's story is finished. Scott's really worth mentioning - another little enigma!)

We were now in January. (Ben had been taken right before the holidays, the month before.) I began to look forward to a vacation I had planned with my husband for the end of the month. And that was pretty much it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Am I the Only One Who Cares?

I left Sally's house about 45 minutes after I had arrived thinking I was going to have a session with Ben. As I walked to my car, I couldn't help but wonder why I hadn't received a message from Jessica, or even the autism coordinator of my agency. I would have thought the normal thing to do would be to touch base with me. Why had I heard this all from Sally directly? After all, she had told me Ben was taken away days before. Come to think of it, why hadn't Sally called me before my session??

I couldn't help but feel angry. I was angry at everyone - Sally, Jessica, Social Services, and my entire agency. I was angry at the world for our messed up system. What did they all expect me to do? I had been working with Ben for about five months now. Was I supposed to just forget he ever existed and say "aw, poor kid, got taken away, oh well. On with life!" Grrr, that made me so mad.

I had no choice but to take initiative myself. I put a call into Jessica when I arrived back at home. When she called me back she let me know she had known Ben had gone with Social Services. I wanted to ask her why she didn't call to tell me, but I held back. After all, what was the point of that? No use crying over spilled milk.

"I guess we'll be in touch," was Jessica's last sentence before our goodbye.

So apparently I was expected to just move on. Interesting.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Putting the Pieces Together

Feeling numb is a strange feeling. It's like your mind is racing, but your body is in slow motion.

Needless to say, I forced myself to speak. I don't quite remember exactly how the words came out, but I'm guessing it went something like this:

"What happened?" I asked. "Tell me the whole story."

Sally began to speak. She didn't give me details, but at least she gave me an idea of what was going on. Apparently, Social Services had come to speak to Sally the other day. I thought for a moment, then remembered that there was indeed a woman at the kitchen table last week speaking to Sally when I arrived for my session. I didn't think much of it at the time, but perhaps I should have!

I sat with Sally for a few minutes, dumbfounded. I didn't know what to say, but I didn't want to leave either. There were just too many questions left unanswered. I didn't want to force her to confide in me, but I felt like I wanted answers. I know I wasn't their social worker, but I WAS Ben's therapist and I thought I had a right to know where he was, and why he wasn't right here, ready for our session.

"Can you tell me more?" I asked. "I still don't understand why they took him."

"I don't know," was Sally's response. "They didn't give me a reason, and when I asked them for one, they refused to tell me." She resumed her sniffling. Meanwhile, Sophia arrived into the kitchen and parked herself at the table. It was too quiet. I suddenly realized Emily was nowhere to be seen.

"Where's Emily? Is she still napping?" I asked, confused. I looked at my watch and realized it was lunchtime.

Sally blew her nose and then lit up another cigarette. "No, they took Emily, too." She almost said that matter-of-factly.

"What?! Why?" I couldn't stand being in the dark about this. It was all too strange. I wanted answers!

Sally left to get another box of tissues, and I waved away all the smoke - it was starting to get to me. Sophia sat at the table like a perfect angel, taking it all in. I wondered how much she understood. I didn't think it was so appropriate (nevertheless, ethical) to be speaking of all this in front of her - after all, she was only six years old.

On her way out, Sally answered my question. "Told ya, I have no idea," she said.

How could that be? If I was their mother, I would've demanded answers! Something wasn't right.

I thought of Ben and wondered where he was. Was he with a strange family who didn't know anything about him? Was he in some shelter somewhere? Wherever he was, was he being taken care of? Was he scared? Was he crying? Was he okay?

I thought of his bright blue eyes and how they twinkled when he smiled. I thought of his little smirk and how he giggled when he was being silly. I thought of his desire to always learn new things.

At that very moment, I promised myself I wouldn't ever give up. I told myself that under no circumstance would I stop trying to uncover the truth. I simply cared too much.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Where is Ben?

Things continued to progress as we continued with our routine. Then, the unthinkable happened.

One ordinary day, when I arrived at Ben's house, I got out of my car, popped my trunk, took out my therapy bag, and skipped over to the door. (Yes, I did skip... generally I was excited for my sessions with Ben!)

But when I knocked on the door, there was no answer. I knocked twice more, anxious to get in, as I was freezing cold outside in the snow.

Still no answer.

Finally, the fourth time, Sophia opened the door, but just enough to let her little head through the crack. "Hi, Sophia..." I began, waiting for her to open the door enough to let me through.

When she didn't, I started getting anxious. I wasn't really in the mood for her games. "Sophia, it's cold. Where's Ben?" I asked.

She finally opened the door a drop more. "Ben's not here," she said, matter of factly.

"What? What do you mean, he's not here? Where is he?"

"Lady, I SAID, he's not here!"

Nope, not good enough, Sophia. I went from despising her games to praying this was one of them. But as I walked into the house, there was no sign of Ben. No giggle making its way over to me, no pitter patter of feet at the sound of my therapy bag shaking up and down. I walked into the living room and asked again, "where is Ben?"

Sophia rolled her eyes and shrugged her shoulders dramatically. As she walked away, she shouted, "I don't know!"

I didn't know either; I had absolutely no idea I was about to find out what I did.

I walked into the kitchen slowly, to find Sally sitting at the table. One of her hands held a cigarette; the other covered her eyes. She removed her hand and barely looked at me, but it was enough for me to see the tears.

"Sally! What happened? Where's Ben??"

She turned away from me. "They took him."

"Took him?! Who?! What are you talking about?!"

Before she had a chance to answer, my stomach fell to my knees. I felt sick. But one second later I felt even sicker.

"Social Services. They took him." Sally puffed smoke into the air, and then blew her nose.

I went numb.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

My Little Sponge

"Hey lady, can I come in today? Hmm?"

That was Sophia, of course. She has called me "lady" since day one, and I never corrected her. I guess I didn't really care, nor did I see a point. Plus, Sally would laugh every time she did it, which only encouraged her.

(I felt bad calling her annoying, but she truly was.)

"You can come in at the end, Sophia, like you usually do, okay? Right now Ben and I need to work without anyone else around."

I got the usual "hmph" as Sophia marched away from me, and then Ben and I entered the room.

We began to work at the table, then took a break. I sat on the floor with Ben on my lap and began turning the pages of a "touch and feel" book. Ben LOVED those books, as well as my prized possessions -- "touch and feel" flashcards. (Those flashcards have worked wonders with every one of my clients!) As I turned the pages, Ben would spontaneously point to something, and label it. They weren't always word labels, but he would at least verbalize associations.

"Ball!" he announced, completely out of the blue. I stared at him in disbelief. "Yes, that's the ball, Ben!" I validated.

"Lookidat!" he said, as he pointed to an umbrella.

Did Ben just say, "look at that??" I was stunned! This child knew so much, and every day we were together, he would prove that more and more. Nobody was gonna tell me this child wasn't smart - No Jessicas, no Sallys.

Ben was like a sponge - he took things in from his surroundings throughout the day, and they would creep out habitually. If only I could've squeezed him to get it all out at once!

As I sat with him on the floor, I'd reach into my bag and pull out one book after another. I didn't want to stop, and all I could think, was "wow."

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Run That By Me Again?

The weeks flew by. Ben took very small steps, but there was noticeable improvement. Some days he would happily enter the room ready to work, and other days he would persist indefinitely. There was really no way to tell what mood Ben would be in upon my arrival, however I did continue to enjoy my sessions with him because he was so engaging and loveable. Every moment of our session I would wonder how such a child could be put into foster care. What mom wouldn't want this child??

Before I new it, the weather got chilly and Thansksgiving was approaching. Sally called to cancel our Thursday session. Cancelling on a holiday made perfect sense, but now that I thought of it, she had cancelled numerous times. I never questioned her reasoning, but our conversations were quite strange. She would always call at the last second and give me some lame excuse - it almost seemed as if they were made up on the spot. Something never sat right with her - but I couldn't pinpoint exactly what it was.

I sort of had mixed feelings about Ben's foster family. Here was a couple that took in children from all walks of life - including one with special needs - but then something weird would happen that would cause me to question them entirely. There was just something unesettling there - maybe even trashy.

The following Monday after Thanksgiving I arrived bright and early for our session. As I was getting my things ready, Sally began talking to me about how she had gone out shopping on Black Friday for some bargains.

"I met some Jewish guys in Wal-mart at 6 in the morning," she said. She tried to stifle a laugh, then remarked, "they were just being so funny!"

Uh, okay. Not sure what that was supposed to mean! As usual, our conversations made me feel slightly uneasy, but my job wasn't to sit and talk to her; it was to work with Ben, and so off I went.