...currently, there's a file in my email containing a set of cover designs, accompanied with a handful of fresh title ideas from my indie-pub. One of them I'm even quite fond of.
And yet their requests for an opinion have gone unanswered.
The manuscript is going through its final edit. A beta reader has been recruited, the project nearing completion with a press the size of a Mac truck eagerly awaiting.
And yet I've held my excitement in check.
An acknowledgment is due, and I've yet to begin.
My new manager at the dayjob, whose badge number just happens to be 666, has already issued me a verbal warning for reading Karin Slaughter's "Undone," while on the clock.
I suppose I should be concerned, but the reprimand has failed to inspire angst. (Insignificant foolishness sprayed from the mouth of an obtuse twit.)
For the past week, something's been on my mind. Something bearing far more consideration than reading on the job, or even concentrating on a dream.
...she's a lanky twelve year old. Shoulder length hair. Armed with a "quick to the plate" mouth full of spit-fire, at times harsh, but more often, just silly...and lost. She's property of the state. A girl permanently imprisoned in the foster care system, both parents no longer in the picture.
Too old for most available suiters, too young to be considered "mature enough to decide her own fate," she's been living in a foster home, sharing a spare bedroom with three other teenage girls, considered more of a number than a name.
My wife and I, licensed foster parents, accepted an invitation for a weekend of respite care for the girl a few months ago. In a nutshell, respite care is simply a change of scenery for the foster child, some peace and quiet for her foster home, a chance for reflection for both.
Prior to her visit, we were warned of a girl quick to spout off, whose mood swings hinged on bi-polar tendencies. Who'd managed to run away from home a time or two. A girl in the dark, lost and searching...for what, she had no idea. I was told of a girl uncomfortable around men, to be patient with her.
Contrary to what we were told, the girl was well-behaved. She spent the weekend playing with my daughter, the two of them like long lost soul mates, scurrying about in the field behind our house, playing the way children did before the likes of X-Box Live and Sony's latest electronic marvel.
She revealed to us that her mother has a mental disability, that her father's been out of the picture since before she was out of diapers. That she's been in counseling for years, doctors probing, medications prescribed like candy.
The weekend was a hoot. Swimming at the YMCA. A Sunday afternoon barbecue. She left in tears, hinting of an eventual return, to which we agreed.
A month later we received a call. The girl was asking for a second weekend of respite, and was requesting us. Despite a busy schedule, we agreed.
I didn't arrive home from work until 2:30 am last Friday night. The house was dark, the wife and kids in bed. I pulled into the garage, staggered out of my car, joints whining from fatigue, when I sensed the door to the mudroom quietly opening. I looked up and saw the silhouette of a girl, and remembered her visit.
"Hello," I said. "You're up kinda late, don't you think?"
"Yeah, I guess."
"I'm a little tired."
"Well...is everything okay? Why are you still up?"
I watched the shadow of a bare foot scuff along the door frame, her head lowered, lost in thought. Then, "I just wanted to say hi. I missed you guys."
"You waited up for me?"
"Is that okay?"
I felt a tightness in my chest. "Yeah, that's okay. And it's good to see you too."
Despite a ten hour shift and the need of a hot shower and a night of slumber, I spent the next hour and a half on the back porch under the stars, talking with a girl whom I'd been told didn't know how to conduct herself around the company of a father figure.
Over the course of the weekend, she informed us that she'd been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. Of how her foster family pushed for this prognosis, declaring her mood swings unmanageable. She then spent the next three hours surrounding herself in a heap of Legos with my daughter, constructing the next great metropolis.
Rather than crying, this time around, she left quietly, accepting a hug from each of us, and offering a wave from the passenger window of her ride.
Late Sunday evening, after tucking the kids into bed, my wife took me aside and informed me that before leaving, the girl had confided in her several points of interest.
She told my wife that I was the first adult man she'd ever been able to speak comfortably with about any subject. Like an actual dad. She revealed that she'd recently started her first menstrual cycle, something I scratched my head over, wondering if in fact that explained the reasoning behind those mood swings her foster family was struggling with.
Then she asked my wife if we'd ever be interested in adopting her.
As foster parents we're taught to have skin thicker than lead. To manage the unmanageable. To find a way to change the life of an unfortunate victim, earn their respect, perhaps even their love, only to release them back into the world in a year's time. And we do.
Like the girl, I also grew up dealing with a mother stricken with mental issues, thus inspiring the drama behind my upcoming novel. I can easily see myself in her shoes, a twelve year old lost in a world boasting of cruelty.
In this state, one would find the act of moving mountains a bit easier than reaching out to a twelve year old girl already in care, with the purpose of changing her living environment, much less beginning the process of adoption.
She immediately made friends with my daughter and younger son. Any fears of awkwardness between her and my teenager were quashed upon watching them play catch in the back yard like long lost siblings. And when she's gone, she's on our minds, like a family member's absence.
The book is nearing completion, a lifelong dream soon to be realized. The hours I keep due to writing and the dayjob should be bottled up, shelved in a closet, and not spoken of. My wife and I argue over unpaid bills and household repairs long ignored. My kids fight over the WII controllers and who gets the last scoop of Moose Tracks wedged into the bottom corner of the freezer-burnt container.
And yet to her, we're perfect in our dysfunction. Because it's something normal. It's something real and concrete, without the worry of being scrutinized by doctors, each one waiting for the next screw up in order to diagnose her with her mother's disorder.
And so we'll wait until the time is right. For if it's meant to happen, it will. And perhaps someday she'll return...this time with more than a suitcase and a pillow.
Thanks for reading,