Today I started thinking about trust.

It began in a Family Support Team meeting where the father of a tiny child threw a piece of paper down in disgust, snapping.  This does not describe the woman that I’ve known for the last year!  He cradled his daughter while the professionals turned toward him with empathetic faces.  The infant’s mother flashed her eyes but only a handful of people in the room believed her, and none of them wore their names in little plastic holders on a lanyard around their necks.

I lifted the paper from the table, touching it, smoothing out the words dancing across it.  She stipulated to these accusations,  I said, as kindly as the early morning and lack of coffee would allow.  Then she had a lousy lawyer! he raged in return.

On the way back to my office, I thought about his anger.  He believed her to be the kind woman with whom he made that baby.  But I had read the reports:  Her other daughter’s fractured skull, belt buckle marks on her son, the flailing chain of her purse across his bottom.  That man had trusted her to carry the fruits of their affection.  Now a very different image assaulted his eyes.  I could not blame him for rejecting what he saw.

I hammered through the accumulated e-mails, searching for something that I could do which might improve someone’s life.  A dozen miles away, another father spoke into the phone, his motherless daughter cooing in his ear.  I told him what he needed to hear:  No, her grandmother did not sign the stipulation.  She’s still resisting the seemingly inevitable truth.  The law entitles him to his child upon the death of the other parent.  No one counted on the grandmother’s grief; no one thought about a body riddled in bullets, the shooter dead on the floor, two lives sacrificed to the tortured drama of a soured love affair.

The dying woman’s mother snatched up the two-year-old and clutched her to a heaving bosom for four weeks before my client gently took his daughter home.  Now we’re battling.  She wants to cling to the only remaining fragment of her flesh and blood.  Yet the father has a right to raise the child.  What do these words mean?  A woman opened her door to someone whom she thought she could trust.  Now the judge will have to decide between grief and public policy, as the angels wail.

I’ve only trusted a half-dozen people in my life.  I’m fairly certain each intended to honor the faith which I placed in them.  My burned fingers tell another story.  I touched the pan; flames seared my flesh.  Now I stagger, numb with shock.  But no blood seeps into the worn carpet under foot.  I wonder if I’m any less destroyed than the woman who fell upon the floor after that terrible barrage, lying in the silence with a look of shock upon her lifeless face.

I step around the litter of broken dreams.  But when I close my eyes, I know that in a moment, they will open again.  My lungs fill with air, however stale.  I’m juggling only a terrible truth, not the slam of a gavel’s irreversible pronouncement.  The silence around me can still be broken.

It’s the fourth day of the forty-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

I’m told that eventually this stairway will be traversed by judges, so that they do not have to mingle with the rest of us to enter Family Court.

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