I sat myself down on the couch, still holding the picture close to me and crying my eyes out. It was about five minutes later that I simmered down and took a closer look at the picture. There were two people holding hands both with big smiles on their faces. One was obviously me and the other was Steven. Under the picture of the child was his name and under me was the word "Dad". All sorts of things flashed through my brain as I thought more and more about this picture. I also noticed that even the sun had a smile on its face.
Why had Steven drawn this in the first place and what did it really mean? How could someone that did not know me, had never known me, had never even interacted with me, see me as his dad? Was his life so convoluted that this was how he wanted to see me? I could answer none of these questions but did decide there and then I would look into Steven's life even further. I had some serious doubts about his mother who had left him outside all day and night with nothing to fend for himself. There was also the fact that he was only 7 years old – far too young to have to be involved in this.
Boys of this age should be out kicking around a ball, taking their dog for a walk, playing hide and seek with other children or just generally being active all day long. When mom calls, then it is time to come in for dinner, later a shower and finally, off to bed. A successful day now finished. This was obviously not the case for Steven.
The laundry was finished so I hung out the sheets, made the bed with new sheets and folded the night shirt to be replaced back in my drawer. As I held the shirt, I flashed back to Steven wearing it and standing looking at me. He was so small, and it was so large, there was hardly any of him to be seen. It actually dragged on the floor. I remembered that when he hugged me there was a feeling of how frail and fragile, he was. He was just a small sad boy.
I got everything done in the house and decided to call Madeline. She had presented me with her card before she talked to us, so I pulled out the card and called her. I was surprised that she picked up the phone on about the third ring. I told her my name and asked what more had transpired with Steven. She filled me in with what they had learned which was not much and no surprises. His name was Steven Free, and he was already in the system from a neighbor complaint about six months ago over the same thing, left alone outside with no one at home.
When I asked about his current situation, she indicated that he was in the office room just playing with some of the toys. I was worried about him and let her know. She just tried to calm me with the usual, "He will be looked after by the city now." I was sure this was really an empty sentence with no real meat to it. I asked if would be OK to see him while he was with social services? Since he would be off to a group home very soon, Madeline said it would not be a good idea. I had no immediate argument, so I thanked her and hung up the phone. I really felt like his interests were not being met but there was little I could do about it. The legal system was in charge now.
I had to get ready for work, so I grabbed my things, locked up the house and took off for the pool. It was another uneventful night. As I locked up the pool and got in my car, I stopped and thought back to last night and this morning. I have to admit that my mind was racing at a hundred miles an hour. That is when I saw a movement once again. No way I thought – could this be a repeat of last night.
I opened the car door and watched as Steven raced to me, jumped up and latched himself, in a giant hug, onto me. I was shocked and greatly concerned. Once again, I noticed that he was really smelly – he had obviously been scrounging in the garbage bins again. I backed myself into the front seat with Steven still securely on me and began to ask him about what had happened. This time I started to get some answers.
Apparently, he was taken to a home with about 20 other boys and girls. When he started to play with some of the toys, the older boys took them away from him saying these were not his toys. Then they began to tease him and call him names. He ran to his room, opened the window and escaped out the backyard gate. After I heard this, I just sat there quietly with him securely attached to me. I had my hands around him in a very secure hug. I have to admit that everything at that moment felt good and right with the world.
However, once again, I knew that my plan was fraught with problems. I took Steven out for a burger, fries and milkshake and then proceeded to my apartment. I asked him to once again have a bath that I filled for him and for the second night in a row, got out my shirt for him to wear to bed. I tucked him in, kissed him on the forehead, turned out the lights and as I was starting to close the door, once again I heard him start to cry.
I returned to the bed and grabbed him in a hug. He returned with the same. It only took him about 15 minutes, and he was once again sound asleep in my arms. I placed him in bed, then covered him with the sheets and blankets. I decided that a second kiss on the forehead would make everything seem right and then left the room. Tonight, I would leave the door ajar and turn out the lights in the hallway.
I went into the living room and, for the second night in a row, I called Roger. Once again, he told me about how much trouble I could get in. I asked for his advice and he told me he would fill out a report with the time and date for tonight and I could sign it in the morning. There was no way around him having to call social services in the morning. I did ask him to leave it for as late in the morning as possible since I felt that Steven was very tired and anxious. A good night's sleep is really what he needs.
I went to check on Steven one last time and noticed a steady rise and fall of the sheets indicating he was sound asleep. I walked to my room, showered and changed and then promptly feel asleep.
Something in my sleep scared me awake at about 4:30 am so I got up and went to get a drink of water. On my way I looked in on Steven. He had obviously tossed and turned all night since the sheets and blankets were all over the place, but he was still asleep. What was really troubling this young boy, was all I could think of. I drank some water and then returned to my bed for the rest of the night.
Morning was a repeat of yesterday. When I woke up, there was Steven standing beside my bed looking at me. When I sat up, he ran and jumped onto me giving me a big hug. I returned the favor.
"Dad, can we have pancakes again this morning?"
It was everything I could do to hold back the tears even though my eyes definitely watered. Finally, I answered that I thought it would be a great idea. He let go of me, grabbed my hand and led me to the kitchen where once again, I made pancakes with syrup, toast and jam and orange juice and milk. This time I added blueberries to the pancakes. Steven looked at them with a strange look but after he tried one, he downed the other two.
While I cleaned up breakfast, I sent him back to his room to wash, clean up, get dressed and brush his teeth. That is when I remembered, I had forgotten to wash his clothes. What I saw come into my kitchen was both sad and disgusting. It did not seem to bother Steven at all. I was ashamed I had forgotten this. Today was a day when new clothes were definitely in order, even though I knew he would once again be taken back to the group home.
It was nine o'clock, so I called Roger and told him we were leaving to go shopping for new clothes and some other needed things. It told him I would stop by the police station about ten o'clock and we would go from there.
Shopping was not as easy as I thought. It was obvious Steven had never done this before. We tried on new pants and shirts, new shoes and sneakers and I just made the best guess for underwear and socks. On our way out, I thought about a jacket, so we detoured to try on these as well. I felt he would also need a way to keep all these things together, so I found a real nice day pack for him to store it all in.
We took it all home where Steven changed into some blue jeans and a really nice Calgary flames shirt. I decided to throw away all his old clothes since they were tattered and torn. Not really worth keeping or washing. He continually looked at himself in the mirror and I guessed that he had never really ever been given anything like this before. I never got a thank-you but the smile on his face was worth it all. Now it was time to return him – but a plan was brewing in my mind. I helped Steven to gather all his things and pack them into his day pack. Then we got into the car and drove to the police station.
As we entered the station, Steven practically glued himself to me. As I had seen before, it was obvious he was scared of policemen and the police station. I wondered why this was since they were only there to help. I asked for Roger Milton who came out to meet us about two minutes later. Once again, he got down to Steven's level and shook his hand. Steven seemed to relax with this but there was no way he was going to "unglue" himself from me. I picked him up and we went to Roger's desk where he sat on my lap he entire time.
I asked Roger what else could be done with Steven. I thought it did not seem fair that he was placed in a group home that did not care for him when I did not mind looking after him until something more permanent could be found. Roger told me it was just the way it was, and the system did not look positively on people doing as I did – it was in fact kidnapping if I had not filed a report. I watched sadly as Roger called social services and informed them that Steven was at his desk with me. There were several exchanges of information and a couple of "Yes" and "nope," before Roger hung up. He let me know that social services was on their way over, but it would still be about 30 minutes. I thanked him and told him I would wait in the waiting room so he could continue his work.
Out in the waiting room, I started to explain to Steven what was going to happen. It went over like a lead balloon. Almost immediately he broke down in a hard cry and threw his arms around me not wanting to let go. What he said next totally surprised me – this seems to be happening a lot lately.
"Daddy, don't you want to keep me?" Ouch, that really touched and tugged at the heart strings. I tried to explain that nothing would make me happier but at the moment it was not allowed to happen since I was not his real dad. Ms. Madeline would come and take him back to the group home. One thing I knew I had to do was ask for visitation privileges.
This last part was not accepted well by Madeline. She vehemently objected to this saying it is not allowed since I am not legal kin. I argued and argued the point but there was no way she was going to give in. I told Steven to keep his chin up high and also let him know that the next three nights were my days off from the pool – I think he got the hint. I was very shaken as he was led away by social services.
At that moment Roger came out and wondered how it went. "How did it go?" I retorted, "It was awful and a travesty of justice." Then he handed me a card and told me to make the call. This might be the help I was looking for. I gave him a hard, questioning look, but he turned on his heels and returned to his desk.
I went home and spent the rest of the day sobbing and feeling sorry for Steven. I fell asleep that night, but it was not a sound sleep. Something was happening to me and it was creating a lot of uncertainty.