I started out my professional career as a social worker in Waxahachie. The work was interesting enough. The benefit of knowing that what I did made a difference in the world, was something I wanted to live for, for the rest of my life. Ever since I was a teenager I knew I could never be a tycoon in the business world. It all seemed too impersonal, with too many facades, business suits, khaki pants, Polo shirts, having to suck up to people you despised, things that didn’t describe me. I had tried. Even you’re voice was prescribed to you from the higher ups in the corporate office.
Eventually these things soaked through your skin to your spirit, and started telling it how to act too. They took you and shaped you into their corporate soldier, dulled conscience and all. I guess I may have just heard one too many horror stories about businessmen who lost their humanity somewhere on the busy streets, with the cars that moved as fast as the day, or that by mistake they had misfiled whatever it was that defined them.
College was tough because of this; I didn’t know what exactly I could choose as my life’s work that wouldn’t change me into something colder. Social work seemed like the best alternative.
I left Social work ironically for exactly that reason. I hated telling parents that they couldn’t see their children. I loathed the dismay I felt when recovering drug addicts, gang-related kids, and the abused would go back to what they knew best.
The breakdowns, the threats, and the successes, each reminded me of what it was to be human, but the rules and the politics of it all set up camp inside me, and despite myself, I began to change.
It was impossible to abide by all the policies, be efficient, and still connect with my clients. Without realizing it, I became harder and colder, just as I promised myself not to earlier in life. I stopped trying my best to look at people as themselves and started looking at the facts. Picking apart their profiles.
“Black male, 25yrs. History of crack cocaine. One son. 0 daughters. Arrested for driving while intoxicated for the fourth time, and possession of marijuana for the 8th.”
“White female. Low-income home. Smokes two packs of cigarettes a day, on parental probation for bruises found on her Child’s legs.”
˜Spanish female. Low-income home. On probation for malnourished kids, and the truancy of her oldest son Javier.”
People became files, they lost their faces, many of which had the tendency to lie. I had let people by too many times, made too many mistakes to trust everyone. Its harder to know than you think. Once a man by the name of Jim came in and told me, “We stayed up all night on Saturday, just talking about Jesus and reading the good book. Things have changed for me, because Christ came down and touched me. It’s a whole new world. He sent you along, and you got me all turned around onto the right path.” His smile was brilliant, as he gave me a quote they had read. “All those who cometh to me I will no wise cast out. John 6:37, that’s my favorite one,” he winked at me. After I had signed his papers letting him move on to the next step of recovery, and giving his license back, I found out through one of his friends, that the reason he had stayed up all night reading was because they were both on coke.
Another time I had to tell a little girl that she would be moving in with another set of parents. Because her mom couldn’t stay away from alcohol, and it wasn’t healthy for her to stay there.
The mom had been clean for a whole month by the time the child had been taken away, but the decision had already been made. She was a little girl mixed with oriental heratage named Constance. The most beautiful angel anyone ever saw. She got her soul ripped out of her in that new big house, with the one set of new clothes her new parents bought her, forced to do all manner of things a child of six ought never need to do.
Even though the government gave the parents enough money to take care of the child, they spent only enough on her to keep up appearances. They were being paid to have a 3’6″-foot servant in their house. At the age of 8 Constance had been forced to skin, cook, and eat her own cat for a meal. “It’s a delicacy where you’re from,” The clueless foster mother said, gently patting the child’s head, holding her body to her chest. “Now get in there, and I’ll tell you what spices to use.” The Mom was clearly operating on prescribed and inaccurate stereo-types.
Nobody knew about it until Constance was nine, and she heard that she might be getting her real mother back. It all came out in court. Mother and child were quickly reunited, or rather what was left of a child, the body of a child, not the eyes. The foster parents were forced to pay back most of the money they had received from the government, but at the time couldn’t be jailed because their abuse never got physical.
The case made me sick, I couldn’t believe that I had been involved. I hadn’t selected the parents, but I had supported the choice to relocate her. At least at first. Few people have ever experienced this level of depression and guilt and have lived through it.
I resigned my position, hoping the next guy that stepped in would be better. I couldn’t sleep for three days. The back of my eyes had been tattooed with the hollow brown irises of Constance. The sleep on the fourth night was short, and pointless. I woke up after two hours feeling as if I hadn’t slept at all.
After a while I got my A license and began driving trucks. I didn’t need much sleep anymore anyway. It was a decent job, with a decent wage but it lacked contribution. It felt empty. Just like the brown eyes that kept staring at me. I began to wonder if I was still capable of meaningful contribution. Her brown eyes began to cross in my mind’s eye as I was driving. They started to move from their sockets. They had now completely crossed the small straight yellow nose on her face. They grew bigger and brighter; they jutted to and fro frantically. “HHHHHHHHMMMMMMMMPPPPPPPPP!!”
I woke up on the other side of the road with the realization that I was still at the wheel. My truck had run the lonely car off the road. Perhaps it was a businessman on a late night. Perhaps it was a husband, on his way back to meet his wife, after a night at the Holiday Inn with his girlfriend. Cynical was an optimistic word for my state of mind.
“Time to pop another doze.” I said thinking that hearing my voice might wake me up. I reached over and retrieved the small bottle of No-Doze from the console.
It wasn’t my voice that did the waking, or the small white pill. It was the thought of life lived. The renewed sacredness of mind inside the other car. Their life was fixed, temporarily. Sacred. Good. They would be steadfast at the moment. Closer to God. Closer to their kids. Closer to everything they had packed up in lost files, or forgotten to remember. No longer indifferent, or casual, or above anyone. They had to take time and reckon with themselves, with their mortality, and the way they’d been living and treating others. They would be forced to consider that however good or bad this was, there was at least a small possibility that it would all come toppling back on them ten-fold after they were dead.
I’d seen it happen many times as a social worker. Near-death experiences changed peoples lives. One drug-addled man became a preacher. Now he led the biggest church in Waxahachie.
Something in that light you see when you know it’s all over, changes you, it wakes you up. Maybe I’d finally found a way to change things! “I bet that mother wouldn’t have been such a whore to her kids if she had been forced to look at herself.” I said in a determined voice, as my massive semi ran another car off the road.