Of all the children who have come into and out of my life, Mariah is the hardest to write about. Oh, Mariah herself is a wonderful child. She was much easier to parent than a lot of children would have been given the circumstances. What makes it hard to write about her hinges on how she came to live with us.
When I was little, I was practically raised with a boy named Drew. His family and my family went on every vacation together. We all crowded into one car each Christmas to go shopping at Lazarus department store. We spent our weekends together in family activities. Drew and I were like brother and sister, or at least first cousins. He was the brightest, funniest, most charming boy: everyone loved him.
We were also each other’s sexual “first.” Our parents were a little late in realizing we were too old to sleep in the same room. Drew and I were always just friends, but with the most comfortable closeness I ever knew in my childhood. We had “casual sex” before it became the national pastime.
Once we grew up, Drew and I had little contact. Our lives were far flung, in lifestyle and geographically. While I was a graduate student, Drew was a laborer. That kind of far flung.
Drew had a little girl with a woman he was later divorced from. The mother was in prison for drugs and Drew had full custody of their daughter. I had a little boy with my partner. Drew and I saw each other’s children only once, when we were all back home for Christmas. The kids were toddlers: my son, Asa, and Drew’s daughter, Mariah.
A few years went by. One day I got a call from my father. He had shocking news. Numbing, nauseating news:
Drew had been charged with child molestation and pandering underage porn. He’d had sex with Mariah’s 14 year old babysitter, and he’d filmed it.
I can still feel the shock and the grief. You know how, when you hear something like that about a stranger, you think that scum, that sub-human, a monster like that deserves to die. Well, let me tell you: it is a different feeling when you love the person involved. It is waves of confusion and complexity. Denial is the only refuge.
And there was Mariah, 6 years old. She stayed with her grandma, and then an aunt, and then a second cousin. When Drew’s trial was over, I asked if they’d send her to me. I wanted to make sure she heard good stories about her daddy. I figured I had more of those stories than anyone. Drew figured I did, too, and signed the paperwork.
Drew was sentenced to 24 years. I’m not sure what “hard time” means exactly, but that sounds like it to me. While Mariah lived here in Maine, we would fly to Ohio to visit Drew in prison. I don’t know if I can capture the tension of those visits. We were there for 6 hours. Come in at 9; go through a degrading search; no one out ‘til 3. An open room with fixed tables and chairs. A hundred people with disheartening stories sitting in that stark, gleaming room all day. Mothers trying to keep their children from running around. One of the dozens of rules: Inmates are not allowed to touch visitors in any way... so, no hugging when you see them. Try explaining that to his daughter. You stand feet apart and say, “Hello!” and “I’m so glad to see you!” and he says, “Thanks for coming. Thanks for bringing her,” and starts to cry.
|I just realized—that|
little thang is wearing
At the end of the second school year here, at age 10, Mariah decided to go back to family and be closer to Daddy. I’m ashamed to admit that I felt released from a heavy burden.
It is hard to raise another person’s child. I don’t mean if you’ve adopted; but when they have a fall-back position, things get sticky. For the child, someone else should be in charge. Not you, who have made an unfavorable decision. And poor Mariah--she desperately wanted Daddy to come back so she could just live with him again. I heard "Daddy would never do that," so many times that I was afraid I'd respond.
But in the end, we made it through and at the very least, Mariah was away from the small town back home long enough for people not to think of what Drew had done every time they saw her.
Mariah called me after she had been back home a while and said, “Mama, thank you so much for teaching me manners. None of the kids here have any!” I tell that story a lot.