by Judy Andreas

[dropcap]W [/dropcap]hen I met her, she was living in a small, dark apartment with her two small children. I came to her as a caseworker but I left as a friend.
Marie’s children had recently been returned to her after spending two years in foster care. The darkness of those days still hung over her head. There was never enough money, though she was a good worker.
Denzil was a sickly child who needed constant medical attention. His father gracefully bowed out of the family portrait, leaving Marie to make lengthy, expensive trips to a hospital in New York City with a screaming, frightened boy. Her boss, though stating he understood, assured her that he felt terrible about having to “let her go.”
Childhood ghosts conspired to turn Marie’s frustration into anger. Denzil’s little face resembled his abusive, cold-hearted father. Her anger found an outlet. The charge was “neglect.” The consequence was “removal.” Social Services put the children in foster care while the mother endeavored to put her life together.
I did not know Marie then. I wish I had. I met her shortly after her children were returned. Being reunited with her children was a joy that lit up her face.
She told me, “See how fat I am getting. That’s because I am so happy to have them back.”
The children welcomed me into their home. My white skin was no obstacle for them. They had not as yet learned the consequences of color. Sendy would sit on my lap and tell me how much she loved me.
As part of the Social Service intervention, Marie was in counseling and taking a class in parenting. Despite the poor public transportation, she always found ways to navigate the county maze. She loved the parent groups and, with their help, developed ways to cope with frustration.

Art by Christa Occhiogrosso
Art by Christa Occhiogrosso

It was almost Christmas and Marie was certain that this would be the best holiday ever. After the two-year separation, she was back with her children and had found a job. The apartment was small and dark, but to Marie, it was filled with light.
One evening, while she was bathing her 6-year-old son, he began to share what had happened in foster care. He told his mother what the foster mother’s son had done to him, how he had hurt him. Marie reached onto the sink to keep from fainting. The words were like knives slicing her flesh. Denzil’s wounds had now become his mother’s — the pain that did not go away. Both Denzil and Sendy had been sexually abused over and over again, by a 14-year-old boy.
“Sendy was only two years old at the time,” Marie cried to me. “Where was the foster mother? Why had Social Services snatched the children from my loving arms to put them in harm’s way?” Her head was reeling. There were no answers to the questions.
The detective bought Marie a Christmas tree and I got her ornaments for it. A volunteer donated seven bags of food for her holiday dinner. Marie uttered words of thanks yet the words were empty. Her heart had been broken.
The year was ending and soon everyone would be yelling “Happy New Year.” Streamers would be strewn over the streets. Staggering drunk partygoers would be crowding into Times Square with hats and horns of merry hysteria, singing of the days of Auld Lang Syne.
In a small dark apartment a woman sat with her two small children.