I can go through all of the times in my life when my sister and I had been failed. It seems like we were failed from the beginning. Our mother shouldn’t have really had children, as she was unstable. Her marriage to our father was unstable by this point as well. So one can say our lives were doomed from the start. Unstable mom…..failure number one. Our dad left….failure number two. The worst failures I’ve seen in my life against us were when the police and school were involved. Both of those should have had a guarantee that our lives would get better.
We were in grade school. First grade, maybe second. It was Fall, so the nights were cooler. We had light weight clothing on. My mom had decided she needed to go to the local Thriftway down the road for groceries. In all likelyhood, she had run out of wine and needed a way to dull the burden of raising two children alone. We get in the car and being siblings, began to fight over who sat where in the backseat. We were warned, “You two stop fighting or I’ll leave you at home!” That didn’t deter us, and she meant what she said. I asked for the house key so that we could unlock the door to go inside. She drove off, as we stood there watching her speed away.
We went to our front porch and sat in front of the screen door. It must have been about 7:00 or 7:30 p.m. The store was five minutes away. She surely wouldn’t be gone that long. We waited for what seemed like forever. We were scared because we were cold, it was dark, and there was a registered sex offender that lived directly across the street from us. We had always been told to stay away from him; that he did really bad things to little children. So we just sat there watching his house.
At some point we got too cold to continue waiting for our mom. We decided to try our neighbor to the East of us. He had been a retired Multnomah County Sheriff’s officer. Clearly he’d have no problem watching us. We rang his doorbell, but no one came. We tried the neighbor to the West of us. She had always been kind to us. She was elderly and had a little dog that looked like Toto from the Wizard of Oz. She answered her door when we knocked. We asked if we could come in. “Where’s your mom?” “She went to the store.” “When did she leave?” “A while ago. We’re cold. Can we stay here until our mom comes back?” She said no but gave us a blanket to cover up in. Then she closed the door. We went back home.
We huddled close together, covered with this blanket. At some point we fell asleep. We woke up to the sound of the car pulling into the driveway. A Portland Police officer pulled up along side our curb in front of the house. When I saw him, I thought, “If he asks us what happened, I’m going to tell him the truth.” He walked up to my mom, “Hi. How are you doing tonight?” “Fine.” He says, “So what’s going on here?” My mom just looked at him, then at us, “Just went to the store to get groceries.” “I got a report that you left your children alone outside. That they’ve been out here for a while.” “I’ve only been gone for maybe 30 minutes. There’s nothing going on. They were being rowdy and fighting. I didn’t want to deal with that!”
The officer looked at us, then said, “You smell like you’ve had a little to drink. Have you been drinking?” That upset my mom. “So what if I’ve had something to drink! It’s not unusual. I’m here now.” I could hear the conversation, but the officer was obviously trying to be discreet. “Listen, ma’am. I got called at 8:30p.m. that your children were left outside alone. It’s after 11 and you’re just now pulling in. I’ve been keeping an eye on them because there’s an offender that lives across the street. I don’t know what your problem is, but I’m sure it’s not the first time this has happened. If I get anymore calls about you neglecting your children, I’m taking you in and Children’s Services Division will take your kids.”
I don’t think he had the nerve to look at us as he was walking away. He told my mom, “Take them inside. Feed them dinner and put them to bed.” I was crushed as he walked away. He got into his squad car and drove off. My mother let us inside, and maybe out of slight guilt, gave us dessert for dinner and let us watch our favorite show. (Dukes of Hazzard) We fell asleep on the couch. It was then that I knew, my hope in anyone saving us was only a pipe dream. Everyone knew what was going on, but no one wanted to get involved. This was the secret in the family…..the pink elephant in the living room. The emperor had no clothes, yet no one bothered to mention it. This is when I learned to wear a mask.