Thursday, January 19, 2006

So what happened with David? (Long story)

I am going to tell this story as honestly as I can. It's a long one, and it is a story as much about my limits and weakness as it is anything else.

David came to us the summer of 2003. It was a very bad time for me professionally. Many of the details don't matter, but several of my closest colleagues had been laid off, the institution was facing challenges, and the tensions were high. I told people that David was a source of strength during that time. He had, still has, a way of being cheerful no matter what. He is quiet, responsive to other people, affectionate.

I wonder if I can think of anything bad that happened the first 14 months that he lived with us. There must have been something. Andrew and he got along enormously well. They were 14 and 16 in 2003. Brian sometimes felt left out, but there was no tension that was not easily manageable.

The largest frustration in David's life was that we lived 25 miles away from every place and everyone that mattered to him. We took him to the city to visit friends twice a week, but it was still difficult for him. I learned that he had had a habit in the past of disappearing from his foster homes and living with friends for days or a week at a time, but he never tried that with us. He followed our rules -- until just before his 18th birthday.

His birthday is in Febuary when school started after Christmas vacation he had a hard time. He had a boyfriend who was only 17 and but was living on his own (with roommates). At first he asked and got permission to go out with the boyfriend on Friday evening. Then he called at 10:30 pm to say how sorry he was that his ride home fell through. The youth group leader said he could sleep there, was that okay? We confirmed with the leader and agreed.

After he did that twice we stopped letting him go on Fridays unless we had firm arrangement for getting him back. We agreed to let him spend every other weekend with an appropriate friend.

On the weekend he turned 18 he did not come home on Friday. He did not answer his cell phone until Sunday when he asked for a ride home. He clearly expected a show-down.

We did not give it to him. We had already talked with the social worker and therapist about this possibility. We all agreed that he wanted us to kick him out so that he could make the boyfriend take him in. We decided that we could tolerate him spending weekends away if that would keep him in school.

Then he started disappearing during the week.

There were meetings, negotiations, rules set and defied. We kept thinking that he wanted us to kick him out -- but we kept hoping that we could come up with a plan that would keep him in school.

Just before Spring break the school called -- he had reached the maximum number of absences. He failed to serve the detentions he had been given for unexcused absences. They were willing to work out a contract with him so that he could finish the year, could we bring him in?

Spring break that year started with Easter weekend. When I came home from work, early, I found that he had left school in the middle of the day. Late in the evening I got a text message from the boyfriend saying he did not know why David would not talk to me, but he wanted me to know they were going to his parents' house for Easter -- 75 miles away.

We kept trying to call him, but he would not answer.

On Wednesday we went to his therapist appointment. We planned on giving him an ultimatum there: follow the rules or move out.

He did not come to the appointment so we talked to the therapist ourselves. We told him what we had been planning to say. He said, "And what do you think would have been the result?"

"He will either tell us that he will just move out or he will agree but then defy the contract."

I told the therapist that I wanted to give him that chance though -- even if I knew he would not take it. Hubby told the therapist that I was wearing myself out and that the strain was being to affect him, Andrew and Brian. We talked about how it was also our Spring break and how we had time right now to pack his things.

The counselor asked me to count up how many nights he had slept at our house in the past month. I did.

"Where does he live, Beth?"

"With his boyfriend."

When I tell this story I want to edit it. I want to say that I gave him that last chance. That I first explained, then I set down the law, and then I followed through. The truth is that I never did. We packed his things that night.

We had been preparing Andrew and Brian for the possibility that David would move out after his 18th birthday. Still I was nervous that they would be upset at how it was ending. They weren't. Well, Brian had a moment of panic, "Do we have to help pack?"

I left David a message on his cell phone telling him that we had hoped he would be at his therapist appointment so that we could talk about things together. He was not and so we had to make decisions without him. I told him that I could see how exhausted he was trying to live in two places and that I knew how much he wanted to be where he was. I told him that I loved him and that all of his things were at the agency office.

I did manage to ambush him at the apartment a couple of weeks later. I told him how good he looked, how nice I thought the apartment was. I told him I was so sorry he was not at the meeting when we made these decisions. He said, "It's okay." I told him that I missed him. He said, "I miss you too." I told him that I loved him when I said goodbye -- he mumbled.

He has not gone to school or worked a job since he left us. It has been nearly a year. He and the boyfriend broke up and he now lives with friends. I have not asked him how he gets money to pay his part of the rent. I choose to believe his friends are charitable; that they let him stay in return for cleaning and cooking.

He came home for Thanksgiving and for Christmas. It was like it was in the beginning. He was a joy to be around.

I wanted to say, "Come home. Live here and work on your GED. By summer you could have it and then you can apply to the agency for help with school or training. You could have a good life. You won't have to do whatever it is that you are doing." Hubby looked panicked when I told him that -- until he realized that I understood it was impossible.

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