By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
"But you are," I replied.
Sophie was silent for a long moment. "Here's how it is," she said finally. "I'm okay for a while. Then I get scared and I start to panic. So I try to find some new guy to take that fear away. A year and a half ago, I had a good job, I had my car, I had the kids in good day care. I had everything paid. Now I've lost it all." A pause. "I keep wanting my life to be the way it was before. When I can't make that happen, I don't feel good about myself. So I want to be around someone who will help me feel good. Even if it isn't real."
After Sophie stopped talking, I told her I thought at her core she was a strong, good woman, but she had bones that were broken long ago, none of which had ever had a chance to heal. I said I loved her and the boys, but I had run out of ways to help. So I was taking myself out of the game. She was on her own now.
WE WRITERS ARE AN ODD BREED. We do our work in part to communicate, but mostly to make sense of our lives, to order the confusion inside us through the words we unfurl on paper or across the electronic screen. As I draft the story of Sophie and her kids, I realize it has no good conclusion. It's not so much that it ends terribly (which it does), as that the ending is aesthetically wrong. The narrative drive demands a final episode that none of us has had the courage to provide.
Once, about six weeks ago, when Sophie was out of the apartment, I called and got Peter on the phone. "How're things going?" I asked him. "Okay," he said.
"Were things easier at Isabel's or now with your mom?"
"I'm glad to be with my mom again," he said, his voice sounding small and tired.
"But things are pretty hard," I said.
"Yeah," Peter answered.
When I questioned him further, I learned that nearly all the clothes and toys given so recently to him and his brothers had somehow been left behind. It was unclear whether Isabel, in her anger, had failed to pack the stuff, or Sophie had failed to take it. Whatever the reason, it was one more loss for these boys, one more piece of each of them left abandoned on the road.
If we could just be sure of this one small thing: that in foster care Sophie's sons would be looked after with the kind of concern and affection that anybody who loves children can muster for any kid, then the course of action would be clear. But there is no such assurance. Maybe if I were a better person, I'd take these boys into my home, tuck them under my wing, but in the end I can't. Or won't.
MAY 15, THE DAY AFTER MOTHER'S Day, Father Greg calls to tell me he's gotten a letter from Sophie. "It's postmarked Colton," he says. "But there's no return address. In the corner of the envelope where you'd normally write it, she's just printed the boys' names." Peter, James, Matthew. Inside the envelope was a glossy studio photograph of her three sons, plus a business card with a phone number.
Two days later I get the same envelope, photograph and business card. When I call Sophie it's a relief to hear her voice. She tells me she is working for some kind of computer-training company. Her bosses have promised to put her through the training, a prospect that excites her. She's got her own apartment, she says, and a new boyfriend. And she's clean, she tells me. She's not drinking or doing any kind of drugs.
"Do you believe her?" Father Greg asks when we talk again.
"I don't know," I answer. "No. Not really."
He sighs. "Most addicts I know don't get clean without some kind of rehab." He is also uneasy about the fact that, as it stands now, no one is monitoring the boys' welfare: "I mean, unless something really alarming occurs and they come to some authority's attention," he says. "At least in foster care, there'd be a modicum of oversight."
Greg's voice suddenly sounds extremely weary. "You know, every kid I encounter in a juvenile detention facility speaks of abuse, neglect, abandonment and emotional terror," he says. "There are no exceptions to this. I mean, every single kid. And maybe one or two kids had those abusive experiences in a foster family. Everyone else was abused at home."
So there you have it. Six of one, half-dozen of the other, the devil and the deep blue sea, frying pan and fire. Bad choices everywhere you look.
The next day I learn that Isabel has also gotten the same photo -- sans card and phone number. "The boys look good," she says. Then there is a long pause. "I've been feeling a lot of resentment toward Sophie, you know, because of the kids. But I've been going to church a lot and that's helped. For a while, I thought maybe I should try to get in touch with her. But finally I decided all I can do is pray for Sophie. She's broken so many . . ." Isabel's voice trails off and she doesn't finish the sentence.
"Hearts," I say finally.
"Hearts," Isabel agrees.LA
*The names of Sophia Vidal, her children, Isabel Trujillo, Angel, Gus and Henry Marquez have been changed to protect their privacy.
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