Joe

I see the journey the path I have taken like the wake of a great ship.

I drift to the left. This is not a political statement, Heck I do a lot more than drift left politically. I am left, no drift needed. No I drift left when walking and even while swimming. I do not understand why but I have to compensate for this drift all of the time. Perhaps its because the bubble in my left eye is larger or heavier because I can see the heavy outline of it almost all of the time. I have a little more swelling over there, as its been poked and prodded more than the right. I am on a special drop to  minimize the inflammation. I have a walkway from my front door to the street and it is slightly downhill and there are bushes to either side of me. Almost every time I walk down I nearly fall over the left set of hedges. Compensating for this will sometimes get me dizzy. I swim four times a week but in the lane I drift left and have to always adjust every single lap. I drift left.

So after one day of training I inherited a group of boys. There were five beds in each room and four of mine were filled. I had the oldest boys all age eleven or twelve, They were amazing. That is not to say they did not cause me some grief especially those first few weeks. I had to get help from aides to help manage them because they decided that I was the reason their previous group leader had left, abandoned them. They were sad, and angry and I became the target.  The leader of my little group of merry makers was a boy named Joe. Joe was the smallest of my kids. He was tough and he never seemed to realize how long to test someone. He had multiple failed adoptions, failed foster home placements and of course he had been badly abused by a drug using mother. This was pretty typical of all of the kids that were there. Joe was smart and boy could he find your buttons and push them. Joe decided that I was only there for the money. If he knew how little I got paid he might have laughed at this little inside joke but he turned all of the kids away from me, even the ones that were not in my group. He created disruption in every activity and even something so simple as going to meals or evening showers became giant headaches. After two weeks the supervisor began meeting with me before shift to plot strategy. It seemed a twelve year old had me on the run.

My supervisor was only a year or two older than me. She was the coolest chick I ever met and her birthday was a day before mine. Her name was Diane and it was her opinion that I needed to push Joe into making a mistake that would warrant restraining him. He needed to know that I was in charge and he needed to know that I would not hurt him even when I needed to control him. With his abuse history I thought it was a risky strategy and Joe was also incredibly smart to act out but not to the point where he was not in control. We had to occasionally restrain kids, and we did so safely going through a lot of training. I had gone through instructor training and I later became the instructor there and at other Catholic Charities facilities that dealt with potentially aggressive situations. I did not want to restrain Joe. Another two weeks would go by before things came to a head.

Normally my shift started right after school. The aides brought the kids back from the classroom area which was about two hundred yards, maybe less from the main hallway where the kids lived. I was there early one day and I went with the aides who were short to get the kids and bring them back. Joe had had a very bad day and the aides let me know before we ever got to the classroom. When Joe saw me it was like a bull seeing red. I asked him what was going on and he stormed ahead of the rest of the kids shoving a girl to the ground in the process. Joe had made a big mistake. I caught him and took him down, right in front of the administrator’s office where a meeting was being held that included Diane. I safely took Joe to the grass and had him in a position where he could scream, holler kick and thrash but he was not leaving my grip. I was comfortable,  It was a perfect position but I was acutely aware of the eyes watching me. An aide stood by in case I needed help but a few minutes later Diane came out and asked if I needed anything and I said no. I apologized for being outside the admin’s office but Diane said not to worry they had seen everything and were in agreement. It was law that I had to let Joe go after fifteen minutes but Joe was not ready. He had a lot inside of him so after fifteen I let him go and he tried to kick me so down he went again. After ten minutes Joe started to cry and at that point I knew the worst was over. We started to talk and I asked if he was ok. He said he was and I slowly started to ease up. It became a moment where we went from restraint to gently stroking his back to him crying on me while I held him. We finally went inside and I acted as if everything was normal which it actually became.  Joe never gave me any more trouble. He became close to me and we had a lot of talks in the evening. I would make up stories and tell them at bedtime usually making them laugh uncontrollably instead of going to sleep. I loved that group of boys.

I moved on to another job within Catholic Charities but I still worked at the home, either in a relief supervisor mode or just helping out. I made sure that Joe and the other boys did not do to the next group leader what they did to me. I slowly though started working there less and less and then Diane let me know that Joe had been adopted by a family in Michigan. Joe wanted me there the night before he left so I showed up for him. We stayed up sitting in the hallway talking until midnight, him holding my hand and being so scared that they would not love him. I comforted him, listened to him and gave him a little advice not to challenge them like he could do, to give them a chance and realize that everyone was going to have to adjust.  He finally went to bed hugging me before he went. It was the last time I saw him. I can still feel his hand in mine.

I wish I could tell you that it was a happy ending. Happy endings rarely happen for some of us though no matter how hard we try. I am sure Joe was as challenging to his new adoptive parents as he had bee to me. Joe expected everyone to hurt him and reject him even though all he wanted was for someone to love him. Sound familiar? Any wonder why these kids pulled me to them like moths to a flame?  I heard that the adoption failed about a month later. I was pretty angry with those adoptive parents. How do you adopt a kid with that many problems and then expect that it is just going to be easy? How do you compound years of abuse with abandonment after only a month. I don’t know where Joe went afterwards as we never got the story. I think about him from time to time. Joe would be in his early forties, hard to believe.

Joe was tough and smart with an incredible sweet side and he went though more in his first twelve years than anyone should ever have to go through. I gained his confidence by caring about him. I still care about him, still think about him.

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