Monday morning, the nurse calls, to notify me The Child is being moved to the psychiatric hospital, the psychiatric hospital calls, to explain their visiting hours and paperwork procedures, and CPS calls, wanting to know when I have some time to meet with one of their social workers.
I know this is probably a standard call, and a standard meeting, but paranoia consumes me: What if it isn’t? What do they ask? What do I say?
How does any of this work?
I know all the details but these, so I call the friend who will know, who used to be mayor, and ask her, What does this mean?
She says, I’m at lunch, and something else I cannot hear; another call coming in cuts off what she’s saying.
It is the psychiatric hospital again, I say, I have to go.
Fifteen minutes, she repeats.
The staff psychiatrist has met with The Child, and wants to review her history with me. In sixth grade she began cutting herself, seventh and eighth she battled bulimia and anorexia. She consults numbers to make decisions, compulsively washes hands, is plagued by depression and suicidal thoughts.
His words fly by as I listen mutely.
Finally, he asks if my impressions are consistent with what he has just described, and I tell him, You’ve just described someone I’ve never met.
I wonder what I truly know and what I have missed, but I am afraid to admit to either, to him or to myself. But it isn’t possible I’ve missed so much, and finally I say that: I would have seen cuts on the child who wears tank tops and no coat regardless of the season, my sensitive nose would have detected the smell of vomit.
He prods me, item by item, demanding details and observations that I simply don’t have. I try to offer information, but his questions and my answers don’t line up: She scratched her arms a lot for a while, I say. She’s always been a picky eater. She talks about handwashing, though I’ve never noticed she washes her hands more than anyone else.
I can hear him becoming more aggravated with each successive reply, and wonder whether his frustration is that I have missed so much from my only child in my own home, or that his time is being wasted by someone, and if so, by whom.
The doorbell rings, and the foster dog starts barking and lunging at the door.
I put the doctor on hold, kennel the dog, and discover the Former Mayor on my front steps. She waits patiently as I return to the call, where the psychiatrist wants to discuss Prozac. It should stabilize her, it has a good track record with teens, he says.
Great, I tell him, and he hangs up.
The Former Mayor nods: that sounds like a good idea. What time does CPS arrive?
In forty minutes.
Good, let’s clean the downstairs first. I’ll stay for the interview, having a witness is useful in these sorts of things.
She is in charge now, telling me what to do, stopping to offer direction and ask where things are. She vacuums and does my dishes, as I put things away; in thirty minutes, the house is transformed.
Do you have tea? she asks. When I tell her I do, she says, make some, and when CPS gets here, remember to offer her some.
Moments later, the social worker arrives, and I remember to offer tea, and we sit at my kitchen table, the one The Child and I picked out together at IKEA after The Departed left. We drink tea and talk politely, like old friends catching up, except that one friend is asking all the questions, and one friend is doing most of the talking, except when, every so often, the Former Mayor chimes in to clarify or ask something.
I talk about most recent argument with The Child, the one last Friday morning, the about past arguments, including one she wants to know about in more detail, when I hit The Child with a shoe.
I’ve hit her twice in my life: The first time, she was two. I spanked her and she laughed at me, so I didn’t hit her again – there wasn’t any point to it, given her response. I did lose my temper with the shoe, last spring. Last spring was full of arguments.
The Former Mayor asks: Was there a police report at the time?
No, says the CPS woman.
The Former Mayor asks: Did the police come to the house?
No, I say. I only found out when the officer called the Child’s cellphone.
I see, says the Former Mayor.
We talk for two hours, and at the end, the woman from CPS gives me her phone number and a list of resources, if I should need help.
I sit with the Former Mayor and our empty tea cups.
She says, Every time you describe something The Child said to you, you raise your voice, as though she was shouting at you at the time. You probably don’t even realize you do it.
I didn’t, and I ask, what was your impression of the interview?
She says, I think anybody who listens to you and listens to her can see very quickly what the issue is.