I got some bad news via email this morning. Not terrible news like the death of a family member or a blown engine. Just annoying news that I didn’t expect.
Stumbling around the kitchen with a sliced apple and yesterday’s coffee, I shook the fog from my brain. Practical solutions to the irritating problem began to seep through the fog. I was an inch away from a good mood when I caught sight of the accordion file from yesterday’s visit to an appointed client in prison.
I pulled a few pages from the pile of neatly organized items. The scheduled visit had been arranged last week. I had to produce a list of what I wanted to bring with me. Legal pad, one pen, 199 pages of exhibits, one consent form, one agreement form, notary seal.
Photo ID, Bar card.
I left my inhaler locked in the car with my pocketbook, phone, tablet, and laptop. I could have brought it with me, which I didn’t realize until I thumbed through the Visitation Rules while waiting for my client. I left the cardiac monitor at home because I just didn’t want the hassle.
I had never met this client but even if it had been a general visiting day with lots of folks milling around, I would have known her. Long uncut hair pulled skin-tight back from a gaunt heavily painted face. Short, thin, haggard — looking a decade older than her twenty-three years. Her eighteen months in prison had gifted her with a pasty pallor and a mild scattering of blemishes from bad food and sleepless nights.
She greeted me with the warm, earnest thanks of her generation towards mine. We signed the form requested by the guard acknowledging that she had done her job and given us a safe, private place to meet. My client carefully wrote her name, with little curly-ques that nearly made me cry. I scrawled my name and asked if I should add my bar number. The guard shook her head, took the form, explained where the restroom was, showed me the panic button, and left us.
An hour passed. I talked for the first fifteen minutes. Then I asked some probing questions and listened as my client told more of her story than I had known. Forty-five minutes into the meeting, my client said, softly, shockingly, that she had decided to let her brother adopt her two-and-a-half-year-old son.
The elephant in the room: The TPR trial scheduled for Friday at which she would appear by video-conferencing. The 199 pages of exhibits told the case against her, and quite frankly, would probably be dispositive. But she had a chance to consent. Until we met, she had been adamantly opposed to the adoption. Her disembodied voice over the phone line pleaded in earnest cadences with persistent words. But somehow, on seeing me, meeting my eyes, perhaps knowing that I would in fact defend her regardless of potential outcome, she changed her mind.
Or maybe my visit had nothing to do with it.
She said, My son is happy. I asked her if she had learned this in her recent call with her grandmother. She shook her head. Tears began to stream unbidden down her face. I asked, You just know? She nodded, rendered mute. We sat without speaking for a few minutes and then a whisper came from her: I feel his heart.
Nothing remained but to do the deed. I took out the consent and had her read it. She initialed where she needed to initial, and signed her name. I notarized her signature. A few minutes later, she pressed the bell for the officer. We stood outside the meeting room beneath a sign which read CORRIDOR. I found myself wondering why the hallway needed a name tag. Other details imprinted themselves on me: The smooth beige of the painted cinder block walls; the pristine surfaces of the metal doors; a sign denoting the room next to us: BATHROOM.
The attendant came. My client said, Should I go? and the officer nodded. My client thanked me. She turned, opened a door that I had not noticed at the end of the hall, and slipped through the three inches that she needed for her frail body.
My belated farewell landed on the spotless tile floor like an abandoned Kleenex.
Now that consent lies in a folder on my dining room table. In an hour, I will scan it into the system. Tomorrow morning, her projected image will ask the judge to accept it. He will, no doubt, honor her request, and the child will be lost to her forever.
No words. I carefully slide the three-page document back into the folder, and go upstairs to dress for work.
It’s the sixteenth day of the thirty-eighth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.