“What do I have to be afraid of? What did I have to lose? Everything.”
Journal Entry: September 23, 2016
For the record this blows, but Dr. Grey thinks writing this stuff out will help. What does getting it out do? What does crying or screaming do? I’ll tell you what it does, nothing. It does jack squat. I don’t want to get it out; I want to get out! So, I guess if that means that I have to suck it up and write to get away then I will. I’m just making sure that whoever reads this knows I hated doing it. I hate going over it. I hate this stupid journal as much as I hate needles, even as much as I hate the dark. That’s saying something because darkness is what I hate the most. Darkness is what I remember the best.
She was out of money again, her and Georgie, that pot-bellied loser. So, of course, I had to foot the bill. Again. Her dealer, Davey, was over at the house with another guy I hadn’t seen before. I remember her not being so willing to hand me over this time when Davey started to put the needle in my neck. My guess is that she was dumb enough to think she could get his top shelf Skag by charging for the other guy too instead of the Tar he threw her way when she couldn’t pay up. She started to yell at him about it, this “wasn’t fair”, I shouldn’t be getting better stuff than her. Idiot. Then he started to yell back, I can’t remember what he said but she tried to rush him. It was the one solid she’d ever done me in my entire life. That was when I ran for it. It didn’t hurt but I could feel blood from where the needle had been yanked out, the Skag was starting to make me feel hazy and I was so sleepy. I couldn’t make it to the door, but I could get to the closet.
My closet was normally supposed to be my punishment, but it looked like Heaven right then. I could see the glow of Georgie’s phone sliding my way. The struggle just seemed to get louder and uglier the more I tried to crawl for my closet. I might have been floating, but I had enough of myself left to know as I felt the closet slam shut behind me that this was going to end badly, but I had at least gotten the phone. Maybe it was the drugs, but for the first time I did what I wasn’t supposed to do, I snitched. I called 911.The last thing I remember is telling the guy on the other end to help me. That was when I blacked out, balled up in the closet, the darkness came.
They say you see a bright white light when you die, it’s true I did. I also saw some blue flashing ones too. No, I didn’t see the face of God, but he did get an honorable mention. In fact, it was the last thing I heard before I blacked out again.
“Oh my God…”
Anywho, when I woke up the nurse said I had an overdose and they kept me out to let me detox, she was nice, I liked her. The next day Veronica came with Ms. Sandy and Dr. Grey, they broke the news that she was dead. Her and Georgie both, Davey knocked them off right before the cops put him down. What should I feel, because right now I’ve got nothing? I feel like she got what was coming to her, all three of them did. Is that bad?
All of the kids in my group have some nice fuzzy moment with their mom or dad; they had something that gave them hope. I didn’t have that with her, the truth is that she had no love for me and I didn’t have any for her. Hell, I still don’t. She never hid what she thought of me, the worst choice she’d ever made. One time she even said she should have thrown me in the dumpster when she had the chance. If there was some problem in her life she always found a way to blame me. Did the electricity get cut off because she spent the money on booze or Skag? My fault, kids are just so damn expensive. My father was her favorite subject when it came to things that I did wrong. Somehow when she had a bad ride or things were rough he came up. He was gone because of me. She loved him and he left so I owed her, and I paid. I paid and paid.
The next week, they shipped me off to Saint Monica’s; it’s not a bad place. It’s weird to be in a place where everyone is nice, but the truth is I’d rather be left alone. I’m not a fan of people, but some of the kids in my group are cool. I guess I was getting used to it here until Sandy paid me a visit yesterday during group; it was a nice treat to get away. We normally didn’t get a visit from her unless it was something major though so part of me was freaked out, and sure enough she dropped the bomb.
“Moxley, honey, we’ve found your father. He’ll be coming in about a week or so, you’ll be going home to live with him.”
It wasn’t just a bomb it was a super atomic nuclear warhead of doom, my father? This had to be some really messed up joke, no way, but she showed me the papers. This was real and he was coming. Sandy went into this big speech about it “being scary” and “big changes”, but I don’t think she realized that I had nothing to be afraid of. It’s hard to be afraid when I have nothing to lose
Well, that was what I was thinking last week. I wasn’t sitting here staring at an old picture of him and waiting for him to show up, if he even shows up. What do I have to be afraid of? What did I have to lose? Everything.
“I found out that for once Misty had been telling the truth. I had a daughter.”
I sat in the parking lot of Saint Monica’s Safe Haven for Children, it looked just like the pictures I had seen online. A big brick main building with a cobblestone walkway and perfectly trimmed bushes with matching red brick and iron fences surrounding the place, a lot of land, it was a good place for kids. I was glad she could come here instead of going straight into the system. I still couldn’t believe I was sitting here staring at it, or even the reason I was here. It seemed like days instead of weeks ago that I had been in San Juan celebrating my latest win in the cage. It was one more step towards the highest achievement a guy in the biggest company in my line of work could attain. It was the brass ring we all chased. I was sitting in the hotel room waiting for my girlfriend, Camden, to finish getting ready to go out when I actually hauled off and checked my now full Voicemail inbox. It would be a choice that shifted the course of my entire night.
“Mr. Clay, this is Veronica Howard with Pennsylvania Social Services. If you could please return this call at your earliest convenience, my number is 215-852-5719. Thank you.”
Yea, Pennsylvania fucking Social Services, I could only imagine what Veronica Howard had to tell me. Little did I know, no form of preparation could possibly get me ready for what I found out? It all started eight years ago with Misty Michaels, she was one in a long line of crazy exes. Turns out, after we split she got a little surprise in the form of a baby girl and my name just happened to end up on the birth certificate. She wasn’t even woman enough to come tell me she was knocked up. When Veronica first told me, my reaction was to laugh. Like hell this kid was mine! In fact, I was so sure; the state even obliged me with a paternity test.
After my mouth had been swabbed with plenty of files and pictures thrown my way, I found out that for once Misty had been telling the truth. I had a daughter; I could try to ignore the fact that the little girl in the pictures was my spitting image with bright blue eyes and thick sandy hair. In fact, there was a voice in the back of my head that still wanted to deny it, saying these things meant nothing. I couldn’t ignore that test though, it was right there in black and white. This little girl, Moxley Grace, was my own flesh and blood.
That was when Social Services gave me my options: I could sign away my parental rights, making her a ward of the state and head home kid free or I could take custody of her. It was how I ended up in a concrete colored office with a foam cup of stale coffee and two file folders in front of me. Each one held an option, the paperwork that would make each choice official. Veronica and an advocate named Sandra Morgan from the center that had temporary custody of Moxley sat across from me. I took a sip of the crappy coffee, trying to ignore the awkwardness as I stared at each file. However, Sandra wasn’t having it and slid me a third folder.
“Mr. Clay, this is Moxley’s file.” Sandra explained with a soft smile
I was beginning to tense up in frustration, I’d seen so many files over the last few days, I was sick of it! I’d already seen her picture; I know she’s mine, moving on!
“She truly is an astounding little girl,” She continued pushing the file closer to me “While speech is a constant struggle, non-verbal tests show that she is in the top ninety-seventh percentile for children her age. She shows a mental age of eleven with reading and math scores that are off the charts. Moxley is by definition gifted, possibly beyond.”
“Gifted,” I answered with a snort “You sure she’s my kid?”
This got me an irritated noise from Sandra.
“Mr. Clay,” She said in a tone that seemed like it was holding a forced calm “In twenty-three years, I have seen many different forms of abuse. However, what this little girl has suffered is on a level of brutality that I can’t even begin to put into words. This is not a time to joke.”
“Abuse?” I choked the word out as best I could, unable to look at the two women. No one said a damn thing about abuse!
“Sandra, please.” Veronica interjected “This is already a lot for him to take in already.”
Sandra, once again, wasn’t having it.
“Yes, Saint Monica’s is a shelter and rehabilitation center for children who suffered domestic and sexual abuse. That file contains everything that has lead Moxley there, what we know about her, and how she is being treated for what she has suffered.” Sandra clarified with knitted brows “were you made aware of anything about her, anything at all?”
“No,” I answered, pinching the bridge of my nose. I could feel my heart pounding in my ears, it was like one of those movie scenes where time slows and everything moves to the sound of a heartbeat.
“Mr. Clay, I’m about to say what we are not supposed to say,” Sandra hissed placing her palms flat on the table and narrowing her eyes at me “I’ve seen so many cases like this one come through our center, through this system. Fathers and relatives like you that walk into this office knowing absolutely nothing about who the child or children in question are or what they have been through and stare at this paperwork as if it means something. I suggest you read that file, and while you are at it think like a parent. You need to be a parent to her even if it is just this once because as much as this may inconvenience your life; her life is depending on you.”
I knew grown men that didn’t have the balls to talk to me like that, Mama Bear had guts. I had to respect it.
“Drita…” I trailed off, opening the file “My name is Dritan…”
The file started with the basics:
Moxley Grace Michaels, Age: 7, Date of Birth: July 29, 2009
It started with a lot of test scores, most of which I couldn’t understand. From what it said though, Sandra was right she was pretty amazing. She looked a little healthier in the picture attached to the folder than the other ones I had seen, her lips were turned up in a small smile. I ran my thumb over the little wallet sized photo, she had my dimples. She showed solitary behavior and seemed to prefer outdoor activities and animals. I was the same way, maybe I could teach her to fish. She ate books up and loved crafts; she was a good student too. My guts clenched when I saw that she didn’t speak, “undetermined if related to trauma or social anxiety”. She was in group counseling for Post Traumatic Stress, but “practices a variety of non-verbal cues in order to actively participate in group discussion”.
The file went further into detail about her life with Misty, it was information gathered over time. She had been picked up for prostitution a couple of times, and was supposedly shacked up with her boyfriend, still turning tricks and chasing the dragon with Moxley in the house. I squeezed my eyes shut, rubbing my eyes as I read on. Every word was like history repeating itself until I saw what came next.
If I thought that reading what had become of Trina had been bad, the next part of the file should have come with a damn warning label. It was what they found when they brought her in, I’m a grown man and I nearly puked right there in the office. Every word popping off the page at me was turning my insides into pulp as my eyes moved down the page.
“Patient treated for Heroin overdose upon admission…”
“Dark upraised scars along veins located on arms and neck, as well as fresh upraised points in various stages of healing…”
“Scar tissue due to severe vaginal and rectal tearing…”
I could only make it through a few more lines before I nearly lost my shit. I must have scared both the women when my palm hit the table, slamming the file shut because both of them were staring at me with wide eyes. Call it paternal instinct or whatever you will, but without thinking I slid the file holding the unsigned parental rights papers to Veronica and placed the second file on top of what I had just read. Swallowing hard I fought for the words.
“So where do we go from here?” I rasped thickly.
“Well Dritan, we’ll walk you through the steps.” Sandra said with a reverent nod.
In that moment, I had no idea how, but I was going to do right by her. The question was, how in the hell was I going to pull it off?
It was the same question I was asking myself as I walked up the cobblestone sidewalk. I was silently thanking whatever deity that would still listen to my prayers for Camden and my best friend Joe, those two had been with me through the phone calls, paperwork, and constant arrangements with tutors and counselors. They offered to come with me, but this was something I had to do on my own. Joe even gave me the new dad crash course before I left; it was how I ended up bringing her a stuffed rabbit. I adjusted the pink ribbon one more time before I entered the main office. I hoped Joe’s firm belief that deep down all little girls loved stuffed animals was true and she wouldn’t think I was lame right off the bat. Not long after I made it to the reception desk I was met by Veronica, Sandra, and a small older woman who was introduced as Dr. Grey. We had spoken a lot over the phone for the last few weeks; she had referred me to a counselor with a group session and helped me enroll Moxley into a gifted kid’s homeschooling program. I figured we could enroll her in school soon, but home might be better for now. Dr. Grey said so long as we can keep structure on the road, she could even travel with me.
I tried to keep Camden and Joe’s words of support in my head as I moved through the brightly colored halls. While Dr. Grey and I went over Moxley’s treatment and schedules one last time. I tried to keep focused on how Dr. Grey had complimented what I had done instead of my nerves, but Sandra pulled me out of it quick, fast, and in a hurry.
“Are you ready, Jon?” Sandra asked gently as we stood in front of a large window that looked in on what looked like an art covered play area.
“As I’ll ever be,” I croaked drumming my fingers up against the belly of her rabbit and shifting my weight back and forth on my boots.
With a small nod of understanding and a small smile Sandra and Veronica entered the room. I looked in and it didn’t take me long to spot her she was the little girl in the corner, flipping through a book with a pair of ancient looking headphones placed firmly over her ears. She had a ponytail at the nape of her neck, and in a moment I knew I was right. Her head popped up slowly when she felt the vibration of Sandra tapping the table she was sitting at. With a short nod she pulled off her headphones, picked up a beyond banged up looking backpack, and stood. She looked so small in a charcoal colored sweatshirt that swallowed her up and a baggy pair of jeans that looked like they had fit her at one point or another; she looked like her shoes had seen better days too. I felt my heart drop from my throat to my stomach as the two older women lead her outside and guided her in front of me.
“Moxley, honey, there is someone I’d like you to meet” Sandra began as she moved to stand beside her “This is the man I told you about, this is Dritan, your father.”
That was when she looked up at me; her bright blue eyes were blank. They weren’t cold, but guarded. Her little hands were fisted and her jaw clenched, like she was ready to run at any given moment. I knew that was my cue to at least try, so I got down on her level like Dr. Grey instructed me to. “Its okay, Squirt. I’m scared too, scared shitless.”
“Uh, hey Moxley, it’s nice to meet you,” I greeted with a deep breathe.
She lifted her chin, lightly pursed her lips, and gave me a firm nod. She had the most expressive little face; it was like I could see the little thought bubble above her head saying “Likewise,”
I swallowed hard and extended the rabbit to her “I ,uh, I got this for you. I wasn’t sure if you liked rabbits or not, but I hope you like it.” I’m so lame…
I tried to ignore the background noise coming from the women and caught myself holding my breath when she took the rabbit with shaking hands. Finally, I deflated when she held the rabbit to her chest and gave me a small smile, showing me her dimples. Somewhere in the distance, I could hear Joe saying “I told you so”. The first round was on me when I got home, I could feel it. Like an ass, I was so wrapped up in the fact that I scored points with a stuffed animal that I forgot what Dr. Grey had told me. Moxley wasn’t a fan of touching, but extended my fist to her anyways. Her brows began to knit together as she stared at it for second and locked eyes with me once again. I could see her little thought bubble coming back to say “Are you serious?” She surprised me though when she took a deep breath, covered her fist with her sweatshirt, and touched her knuckles to mine. With a deep exhale, she gave me a firm nod and looked back at Sandra with eyebrows raised expectantly.
“I’ll take it you’re ready then, Moxley?” Sandra asked with a soft smile to which Moxley answered with a thumb up and a couple of soft nods “Well then, I think it’s time we got you on your way…”
Leaving Saint Monica’s consisted of about fifteen minutes of good-byes and discharge paperwork. Considering the last few weeks it was almost a relief to know that her birth certificate now read Moxley Grace Good. There was no more bureaucracy or social workers, but more importantly there was nothing tying her to them anymore. We were both free.
Finally, we were sitting in the Jeep. Her backpack was sitting in the passenger seat next to the slim accordion file folder holding the paperwork that marked a fresh start. I looked over at Moxley sitting shotgun, it wasn’t nearly as awkward as I thought it would be but I could tell she was nervous again. She was looking straight ahead, her rabbit was clenched in her little fists, and sitting ramrod straight. This didn’t surprise me, Dr. Grey had already warned me. It was just her and me now; I tapped the wheel with my thumb and forefinger and took a deep breath. What the hell do I do now?
“Hey, Moxley” I began shifting my weight to face her, after a moment she followed suit “So, I was thinking we could grab some food.”
She looked cautious; I couldn’t say I blamed her. She pulled her rabbit close, staring at me with her wide guarded eyes. I’d been fighting long enough to pick up that she had shifted herself in a way that would allow her to start kicking me in the face if I tried something. I felt pride mix with my rage, in spite of it all she was a scrapper. Even what I had seen in those files hadn’t killed the fight inside of her, her spirit. This little spark helped guide me, Dr. Grey said to give choices and options, okay.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m starved.” I said lamely trying again, keeping my hands on the wheel. “Are you hungry too? We could get a sandwhich or pizza.”
If she was anything like me, this would be a no-brainer. She held her rabbit a little tighter and pursed her lips before giving me a few small but firm nods.
“Does a cheeseburger sound good?” I asked giving her a small smile; this earned me a smile in return and a few more confident nods.
“Good, I know a little place in the city. You’re in for a big treat.” I chuckled as I hit the ignition. We were finally on our way, because nothing broke the ice better than bonding over food. Progress right?