Our whole business then, Brethren, in this life is to heal this eye of the heart whereby God may be seen.
I woke up the next morning when I heard my phone ringing. I checked the area code and it was a local call.
“Is this Monk?”
“This is Bernard from the Harley shop.”
“Yes sir, how are you?”
“I’m good but your bike’s not too healthy.”
“Probably a couple of aspirin will fix it.”
“’Fraid it’s gonna be more than that.”
“So what did you find?”
“I think I told you yesterday that you need a new front engine mount.”
“You did. Anything else?”
“You have a primary leak. Did you know that?”
“Yeah, I’ve been keeping my eye on it.”
“How’s that working for you?”
I laughed. “I’m here aren’t I?”
“Is that it?”
“No, I’m just getting started.” I heard him laugh. “When did you last have a full service on this baby?”
I let out a sigh. “I’d say about 40 thousand miles ago.”
“What else you got?
“You’ve got a base O ring leak, an intake leak and a leak from your shift shaft seal.”
“What was that last one?”
“Your shift shaft seal?”
I imagined trying to say that fast five times. “Yep. What’s the shift shaft seal leak about?”
“Well, it leaks oil which can get on your chain or your tire and cause you to have a bad accident. It’s not safe.”
“What else you got?”
“You have a stripped shifter shaft lever and stripped shifter shaft.”
“Of course I do!” I laughed. “Let me get this straight: I have a problem with the shifter shaft seal, a stripped shifter shaft lever, and a stripped shifter shaft.”
“You got it.”
“I don’t even know what in the hell I’m saying!” I laughed.
“So can you fix all of this?”
“Sure, but it’s going to take some time and some money.”
“The money I can handle but how much time are we talking about?”
“If I order all the parts tomorrow I’d say I could have it finished in about a week, maybe sooner. That’s if I don’t run into any other problems.”
“You in a hurry to get somewhere?”
“That’s fine. Thanks. Go ahead and get started.”
I got dressed and walked back down to the Lancelot Diner. Breakfast was still being served and I took a seat in a red vinyl booth this time. The table had a mini jukebox on it and a fake flower in a vase. I scanned the place but didn’t recognize anyone from the night before. A young waitress brought me some water, silverware and a menu. Unfortunately, grits weren’t on the menu. I settled for scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns, biscuit, and coffee. I took out my journal and wrote down some notes and a few of the events from the last few days. The waitress came and filled my coffee cup and set down a silver carafe on the table.
I heard a bell tingle as the door opened and I spotted Betty, the waitress from the night before, coming in. She walked around behind the counter and was talking to the cook. I couldn’t hear what he was saying but he was talking loudly and gesticulating wildly with his hands. I saw her raise just one hand toward him and flap it like she was saying: go away. She walked over to the cash register, opened it, took out an envelope, squinted at it and put it in her purse. She looked up and glanced in my direction, spotted me, paused and waved excitedly. Then I saw her grab the arm of another waitress passing by. She stopped her, whispered something in her ear and the other woman grinned, took a look in my direction and smiled, whispered something back and they both giggled. The other waitress had mahogany red hair and was wearing a black baseball cap that said: “Lancelot”. And for some reason, I was sure her eyes were green.
Betty came over to me: “Monk Chuck. Good to see you again!” She flashed a big grin while chewing blue gum.
“Nice to see you again too,” I said. If I’m trying to lay low and not use my real name I might as well go with Monk Chuck. I’ll only be here a week. What harm could it do?
She crossed her arms. “You must be staying near here being back for breakfast and all. Unless you got a girlfriend!” She winked at me and then her face took on a serious expression.
“Oh, I’m sorry honey. You’re not one of those priests that can’t have sex are you?”
“No, I’m not. I can have all the sex I want.”
Her face turned red and she shied back a step.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean I can have all the sex, what I meant was that I’m not celibate.”
“Well, that’s good to hear. So you’re staying around here?”
“Yep, over at Larry’s Layawhile.”
“Those are good people over there. They’re Jains, but American just like you or me.”
“Jains? You mean they practice Jainism? Never met any Jains before.”
“Funny people, but nice. You know that expression: ‘Wouldn’t harm a flea?’”
“That’s them. Completely nonviolent. Even try not to step on insects.”
“Huh,” I replied. “By the way, are you okay? The cook seemed to be yelling at you.”
“Pshaw.” She flapped her hand at me. “Shorty. He owns the place. He blows up all the time. It don’t make no nevermind. I just ignore him. He’s angry because Arnie walked off the job and he just hired a new cook who’s taking a while to get the hang of things. Do you need a job? Can you cook?”
“Want me to say something to Shorty?”
“Nah, that’s all right. Thanks.”
“What about being a pearl diver?”
She laughed. “A pearl diver. That’s what we call a dishwasher.”
“Oh, I need to put a bug in your ear about something.”
“I don’t know if you done anything wrong or not but those two policemen you were talking with came back in later last night and they were asking questions about you. I hope you’re not in any trouble.”
“None that I know of.” I lied. Had the South Carolina folks already tracked me up to Iowa? How could they have?
“Well, they’re looking for you. I got to go hon. Picking up the grandchildren and taking them to the park.”
“Bye Betty. Thanks.”
She smiled, moved her shoulders in a perky way and left. The bell rang when she walked out.
“Here’s your food Reverend Chuck.” The waitress Betty had been speaking to said as she put my plate on the table.
“It’s Monk. Thanks.”
“All right Monk Chuck. My name’s Polly.” She said with a cute puckered smile. “Can I get you anything else? Ketchup, jam?”
“No, I’m fine. Thanks. What were y’all giggling about over by the cash register?”
She flashed a broad, crunched smile. “Nothing.”
Damn, she was pretty, and her eyes were green like Maeve’s were. The shade of peridot. I felt the wheels of the old dormant hydraulics shifting again in me. The tug of belts, pulleys and the coiling of springs. The feeling of wonder at the site of a beautiful woman in a baseball cap.
“Polly!” I heard someone yell. It was Shorty. “Go unthaw that hamburger meat.”
“You got it boss,” She replied. Then she turned and winked at me saying; “If you need anything, let me know.”
I nodded and thought about river birch trees in snow, the bark unpeeling and my own heart unthawing.
I was halfway through my breakfast and a forkful of sausage was heading toward my mouth when the bell rang and one of the cops from last night came into the place. I dropped my head but he spotted me and made a beeline for my table.
“There you are, padre. We’ve been looking for you.”
“You were right about that child Mary Ellen. She had been abused. When we confronted the foster mother about the pattern of burns she confessed. Said she was punishing the child for spilling stuff on her white carpet. How’d you know all that?”
“I used to be a social worker. Child protection.”
“Well, I’ll be damned. See neither me nor Stokes has had any training in that yet. We’re both just a year into the job and they figured we didn’t need it because the social workers knew it all. But then the supervisor Jane Rellic left and Miss Sims had to take over. She used to work in Adoption and doesn’t have any experience in Child Protection. All the other staff are brand spanking new.”
“Always a lot of turnover in child protection. Their salaries should be doubled and the number of cases they have limited. Any politician who tells you they support children and families but won’t support that are liars.”
“Pretty strong words there padre.”
“That’s why I ain’t a social worker anymore. I said those same words at a luncheon of state government officials. Told them to spell out whether they supported these two things or to shut up about strengthening families.”
“What kind of reception did you get in Des Moines when you said that?”
“It wasn’t Des Moines. I was, uh, working in another state at the time.”
“Where was that?”
“Well look, let me ask you this first. What happened to Mary Ellen?” I needed to change the subject.
“Miss Sims put her into foster care. Into an emergency shelter that we have. But the child’s not speaking.”
“Make sure she gets some trauma counseling as soon as you can. She’s gonna need it.”
“Well, that’s another problem we have. Our trauma counselor is on vacation. Won’t be back for a week and a half.”
“Come on. Surely you have someone.”
“Nope. Nobody trained and certified. She’ll just have to wait.”
“Bless her heart.”
“Hey, padre. You could talk with her. Just give her some religious support. I don’t think she’s got any. Probably could use some.”
“Well, uh, I don’t think I would be of much help to her.”
“Are you kidding? The girl needs help and you’re a preacher and a social worker. That’s probably exactly what she needs. Look, I’ll make the arrangements, okay?”
This was absolutely the last thing I wanted to do. I’ll probably take one look at her and burst into tears. I let out a deep sigh. But I am supposed to be trusting my journey. You can’t pick and choose what God/Universe throws at you. “Sure. Yep. Glad to help. But run it by that Miss Sims before you arrange it. I don’t want to step on her toes.”
“Good idea.” He patted me on the shoulder and headed toward the door. He stopped before going out and turned back. “I forgot to ask where you’re staying?”
He smiled, gave me a thumbs up, and went through the door.
What in the hell have I gotten myself into now?
After Miss Sims approved of it Stokes picked me up at the motel and we went to the mental health center where I met Mary Ellen. He introduced me in the hallway and took us to a room with a window in the door and where there were toys and play activities. The room had a two-way mirror. As he was leaving I said to Stokes to make sure that someone was watching in the other room. He assured me he would be there.
She sat in a little chair by a little desk and wouldn’t look at me. Sadness hung in the air like old chalk dust. From what I could see of her tiny face she wore a blank expression. Poor girl has probably been interviewed by so many people already that surely I’m the last thing that she needs now. And the worst thing would be to try and get her to open up to another person who then disappears from her life. She needed someone, something, that she could keep, hold on to. I walked around the room and looked at the toys, games, crayons, and markers, the Victorian style dollhouse and the hand puppets. “Wow! These look like so much fun!” I said picking up one of the puppets. I glanced back and caught her eyes following me. She quickly looked away. The puppet was purple and fluffy; its eyes were opened wide in either wonder or vigilance. Maybe both. I put it on my right hand.
“Who are you?” I said to the puppet.
“I’m Merlin.” I made the puppet say. “Who are you?”
“My name is Monk.”
“What do you want from me?”
“Nothing. I just want to tell you something.”
“What is that?”
“That you are loved.”
“I’m not loved. I hate me.”
“Do you really? Or do you hate the people that hurt you?”
“I don’t want to talk.”
“Me neither. Let’s just sit down and relax.” I carried the puppet over to the table, making sure I was giving Mary Ellen plenty of space, and I sat in one of the tiny chairs. I looked at the puppet. “Do you want a hug?” I asked.
“Me neither.” I let out a sigh. “I just want to sit somewhere and feel safe.”
“I don’t feel safe either.” The puppet continued.
“I heard that. I’m so sorry. I know how that feels.”
“Yep, I’ve been hurt before. I felt scared.”
“What did you do?”
“I cried.” And as I spoke I felt the tears building inside but I wasn’t going to let them out. Not here. Not now. “People who love us shouldn’t hurt us.”
“I know. I don’t know who to trust.” The puppet replied.
“Well, you just be that way. Make people prove to you that you can trust them. You just take your sweet time.”
“Thanks. But I need someone I can trust now.”
“Do you want to try and trust me?”
“No thanks. I don’t want to talk.”
“Good. Don’t talk until you’re ready.”
“Can I hug you?” The puppet asked.
The puppet hugged my head.
“You are loved,” I said. “Remember that no matter what, you are loved.”
The puppet nodded. I nodded.
I put the puppet down on the table between us. Moments later out of the corner of my eye I noticed Mary Ellen picking up the puppet and mouthing words to it. As she was talking I went to the door and as I opened it I was met by Stokes.
“Wow. That was pretty powerful. You looked so emotional in there I almost thought it was real.”
“Yeah, how ‘bout that. Do me a favor.”
“Go check with someone and make sure that she can take that puppet home with her. I don’t want to have to tell her ‘no’ if she asks.”
I walked back over to the little desk, Mary Ellen was still mouthing words to the puppet and every once in a while she hugged it, or it hugged her. Stokes stuck his head into the doorway and gave me a thumbs up. I sat down in a little chair at the little table, closed my eyes and just listened and prayed.
“Can I keep him?” I heard a high pitched broken voice utter.
“Yes. He’s yours. He can stay with you.”
She stood up, sensing our meeting was over and walked over to me. “I’m sorry that you hurt too.”
“Thank you,” I said and I watched as she walked over to the door. When she reached it Stokes appeared, waved solemnly to me and escorted her out. I just sat there, smelling the sadness of the chalkdust.
The Ride is the metaphor I use…for how we move through our life…For me, the Ride is best played out on a motorcycle. It speaks to every aspect of how I see life in that poetic way – the need for balance, confronting your mortality, accelerating, breaking, refueling, tune-ups, repairs, accidents, accepting passengers and so forth. The bike becomes a mirror that reflects the whole of my life.
A few moments later the door opened again and a woman entered. She appeared to be Chinese, about 45-50 years old, five foot nothing, long black hair, riddled with grey. She looked harried, suspicious, worried, yet confident. She had to be a social worker. She walked over and stood in front of me.
“Where the hell did you come from?”
I stood up, catching myself in the tiny chair as I did, which made me bend at a funny, almost 90-degree angle. “Officer Stokes brought me here.” I tried but failed to get the dang chair off me. I offered her my hand. “I’m Monk.”
“Catherine Sims.” We shook on the deal of who we would be.
“Here’s my card.” She handed me a card with her name and number on it. “And I didn’t mean how’d you get here, I meant where did somebody that had those skills come from? You’re definitely not from around here.”
“I used to be a social worker,” I said, finally getting the chair off me and putting it down.
“Buddy, you still are.”
“You look too young to be retired.”
“You look too young to have vision that bad.”
She flashed a beautiful warm smile. “Seriously, I was trying to figure out who I was going to get to talk with her. Our therapist is on vacation. Stokes asked me if you could. He said you were some kind of a preacher. I stopped by the room to see how it was going.”
“I hope I did all right.”
“You did just great. She was anxious, fearful and not talking to anyone. By using the puppet you were able to create a symbolic client, which removed the focus from her and gave her the safe emotional distance she needed. You responded with empathy to the puppet’s feelings in a non-threatening way, and Mary Ellen felt that. You didn’t promise her safety – thank God – who can guarantee that anymore? But the puppet that you gave her is now a safety object for her. And you told her she was loved.”
“I wasn’t sure about the part where you shed a few tears though.”
“I’m afraid it’s part of the package you get with me these days.”
She stared at me and nodded. “You don’t want a job do you?”
“No ma’am, I’m retired.”
The corners of her mouth turned up and she smiled. “Well, we’ll see about that.”
“Suit yourself.” I watched her play with her hair. Was that a preening gesture? No way. Just an old man’s hope-driven imagination.
“Can I buy you a cup of coffee?” She asked.
“Sure, can’t go anywhere anyway. My motorcycle’s in the shop and Stokes took off.”
“You one of those biker preachers? Who did they say you were?” She fished a slip of paper from her purse and squinted at it. “Reverend Chuck?”
I laughed and shook my head. “Just call me Monk”
She had a grey Toyota that looked about eight years old. It was poorly parked, head first into a space; the driver’s side rear tire hung over the white line. The car should have been parked in the getaway position, facing out. In case a meeting with some clients suddenly turns dangerous you don’t want to have to take the time to back your car up. Just jump in and high tail it out of there. The backseat of her car was filled with different sized child seats and the floor was littered with trash from fast food places. I stood by the passenger door. The seat was covered with papers, a laptop, a clipboard, breath mints, a half-drunk plastic bottle of Diet Coke, a crumpled pack of potato chips, pens, a bottle of perfume, disinfectant, hand lotion, a black cardigan and a hairbrush. Might as well just have a sign saying: a social worker lives here.
“Help me with these.” She said as she loaded the stuff from the passenger seat onto my outstretched arms. I followed her around to the trunk and waited while she opened it. Inside were two small empty suitcases. She signaled me to put the papers into one of the suitcases.
“You know what the suitcases are for, don’t you?”
“Yep, I had bags in my trunk too. Worst thing you can do during an emergency removal of children is to throw the child’s stuff into a black garbage bag.”
She nodded grimly.
“And the car seats?”
“I had to transport three kids for a supervised meeting with their parents today. Where are you staying?”
“Great!” She said flashing a pretty smile, “I know a nice retro diner near there. Sir Lancelot’s.
Have you heard of it?”
“Yeah, I have.” I climbed into the car. I watched as she flipped the overhead visor over and pulled out a folded sheet that had been rubber banded to it.
“I need to write my mileage down.”
Moments later she cranked the car up and it lurched backward suddenly. I grabbed the hand holder above the door. With her head swishing left and right she pulled out onto the road. Her phone rang and she answered it.
“This is Catherine. Yes, Maggie. Yes. Well Maggie how do you think the family’s going to get to court if you don’t take them? Yes, I know you were the one who removed the children.”
She leaned sideways, put her hand vertically to the side of her mouth and whispered to me: “New worker.”
“Yes, I know you have to stand up and testify against them. And guess what? You get to drive them home.”
She whispered to me again: “Love to hear that conversation.”
“No, you can’t transfer the case. You have to work with the family to get the child back home. Yes, I know they hate you. I’m not fond of you either. What? No, that was just a joke.” She shook her head at me and mouthed: No it’s not!
The car swerved and I grabbed the handle with both hands. She turned into the parking lot and pulled into a space.
We walked inside and were met by a familiar face, Betty, the waitress from last night. “Welcome back Monk! You can sit anywhere you like.”
That earned me an endearingly suspicious smile from Catherine. I hunched up my shoulders.
Almost as soon as we sat down the waitress from this morning Polly came by the table carrying rolled up silverware, two glasses of water and some menus.
“Reverend Chuck, good to have you back again!” She had her back turned to Catherine and flashed me a grin. “What can I get you?”
“Coffee, for now, thanks, Polly.”
“Uh, I’ll have coffee too.” A voice from behind Polly’s back uttered.
“I’ll get them.”
“How long have you been in town?” Catherine asked.
“About 24 hours.”
“Wow, and people already know you. That one was even flirting with you.”
“Nah, she wasn’t”.
“Yeah, whatever.” She said and turned the menu over to look at the other side.
So it wasn’t imagining it. I’ll be damned.
Polly brought us our coffee and stood in a neutral position at the table. “Anything else you two want?”
“No thanks,” Catherine replied.
Then I noticed Polly turning towards me. “The apple pie is to die for.” She said excitedly, as she bounced up and down on her toes.
“Maybe later.” I smiled at her.
Polly stepped back and Catherine caught me still smiling.
“A minister’s not supposed to act that way. Hey, what kind of minister are you anyway?’
“That figures.” She rolled her eyes.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing. Hey, I’ve got another case I’d like some help with.”
“I’m retired. I told you that.”
“You’re also waiting for your motorcycle to be fixed so you have some free time. I promise it won’t cut much into your proselytizing, or your apple pie.” She added with a smirk and then looked at Polly. “Though I think you could do better.”
“What about respecting the dignity and worth of all individuals?”
“I’m sure she has her dignity but I’m not sure how much she’s worth. You’ll have to negotiate that between the two of you!” She laughed.
“I know. I’m feeling ashamed of myself.”
“Are you really?”
“No, not really. Okay, maybe a little.”
“Confession is good for the soul, huh father?”
“I’m not one of those kind of ministers.”
“I’m starting to see that. What kind are you?”
I leaned back. “The kind that likes to ride a motorcycle, who enjoys a good beer and a cigar.
And the company of women.”
“Are you celibate?”
“Why does everyone keep asking me that?”
“Everyone keeps asking you that? You’ve only been in town for 24 hours.”
“Okay, one person has asked me that.”
“I bet it was that waitress Polly.”
“Actually, it was a different waitress. Weird huh?”
“I’ve got to ask you – does this happen often to you?”
“Would you believe me if I said it never has?”
She leaned back. “Nah. I don’t believe much that comes out of people’s mouths.”
“I remember being that way.”
“So, I forgot where you said you’re from?”
“That’s because I didn’t.”
“Can’t trick you on that one. But how am I supposed to employ you if I can’t verify your identity.”
“Oh, we’ll figure something out.”
“Look, Catherine. I’m flattered with the offer but I really am retired.”
“Can’t I appeal to your sense of duty, your code of ethics, whatever religion that was that you mentioned?”
“You can but it won’t work.”
“You don’t believe in helping others?
Okay, that did it. My Achilles soul. That was one of my rules for the trip. Help people until they don’t need you anymore. Ironically, also the job of a social worker – to get fired by the client- that you did such a good job they don’t need you anymore.
I took a deep breath. “Okay.”
“You’ll do it?”
“Yeah, I will, but just until my bike is fixed.”
“Wow, that’s great. Let me tell you about this family I’ve got.” She paused while Polly filled our coffee cups back up.
“Thanks,” I said.
“Anytime.” She said with a wink.
“Unbelievable.” Catherine opined as she shook her head. “Anyway, it’s all confidential until I hire you.” She reached into her handbag and foraged around. She pulled out a dollar and put it on the table. “Here’s an advance.”
“A dollar. That’s the best you can do.”
“You know the government only says it cares about kids. They don’t put any money where their mouth is.” She pointed at the dollar bill. “Don’t spend it all in one place.”
I picked it up and folded it and stuck it in my pocket. “I’ll try not to.”
“Okay. Here’s the situation. Mom checks on the baby in the morning and notices that one of her legs is swollen. Babies don’t usually have swollen legs. She takes the child to the hospital and the doctor does an x-ray which reveals multiple fractures in various stages of healing throughout the child’s body. We’re called and go to speak with the parents.”
“How did they act?”
“Double – shock. Shocked about the child’s injuries and shocked that we were called and asking them questions about their daughter.”
“Yeah, they weren’t hostile or anything, in fact, surprisingly, they showed an understanding of why we had to be there.”
“I imagine that didn’t last long.”
She nodded. “Especially when the doctor came out with his diagnosis that the injuries were non-accidental. He’s ready to swear it was abuse. The new caseworker wants to file a petition to get custody. I met with the parents and, well, I’ve got a gut feeling that they’re telling the truth. I got them to agree that they wouldn’t try to remove the child from the hospital so that gives us more time.”
“What’s this gut feeling about?”
“I don’t know.”
“Were they concerned?”
“Absolutely. And they sought help immediately.”
“Was the child in good shape otherwise?”
“You mean other than the history of multiple fractures?”
“It’s hard to tell.”
“How did they describe the child?”
“In positive ways. They did say that she cried a good deal.”
“Now we know why.”
“But that they loved her. They were able to tell me in detail how they tried to soothe her when she cried. The dad said that she liked gentle rocking and that sometimes he’d put her in her car seat and sit her on the top of the clothes dryer and turn it on. Sometimes the motion would put her back to sleep.”
“Parents remind you of anyone?
“You might have some positive feelings about someone like them and be projecting them onto them. Countertransference.”
“I know what countertransference is, and no I’m not.”
“Middle or upper class?”
“Nope, poor as Job’s turkey.”
I smiled. “Haven’t heard that in a while. We’re other medical causes ruled out?”
“The doctor checked for osteogenesis imperfecta by running a collagen analysis and it was negative.”
“So no brittle bone.”
“That’s right. They also did a skin fibroblast study on the parents and it didn’t show any collagen abnormalities.”
I felt a sense of dread deep in my body. Here we go again. “Okay, I’ll go with you to see them.”
“Do you need anything from your motel?”
“Your motel. Do you need to go back there for anything?”
“It’s Larry’s Layaway.”
“Larry’s Layawhile.” She corrected me. “You already told me, remember?”
“Oh yeah. I forget things easily. A little short-term memory loss.”
“That’s not such a bad thing.”
“Combine it with having low expectations and I’m one happy biker.”
She laughed. “And Monk.”
“What’s your last name anyway?”
“I thought that was your first name.”
“You thought wrong.”
“So what’s your first name?”
She eyed me suspiciously. “So your parents named you Monk?”
“What can I say? They were very devout.”
“Sure. Whatever. Finish your coffee and let’s go.”
On the way to the hospital she again took some calls. I held on tight to the handle.
“Yes, Mrs. Johnson. You’ve got a child at school with bruises. Does he say how he got the bruises? He won’t huh? How old is he? 15. What kind of bruises are they? Right. Where are they located? Okay, so nothing on the face or head. What size bruises are we talking about? That’s pretty large. How many are there? What color are they? Okay, I know they’re bruise-colored but what I mean is are they purple, brown, yellow? Okay. Is he afraid to go home? No, well let him go home then. Tell him that if he’s afraid he’s going to get hurt to go to a friend’s house. Give him my number. I’ll send someone as soon as I can. Thanks for calling me.”
She looked at me and shook her head. “I’m going to have to relieve that worker at the hospital and send them out on this.”
He phone rang again. “Yeah, Joanie what do you need? The car seats are in my car. If you meet me at the hospital we can swap them over. We’re all out of diapers and formula? Pick some up at Walgreens and get a receipt and we’ll pay you back. No, really we will. I know you haven’t been paid for the last one yet but it’s on the way.”
She leaned toward me and whispered: “It’s not really.”
“Okay, I’ll meet you there.”
I shook my head. It all sounded familiar. Let’s see one of those high paid bankers deal with issues like these. They wouldn’t last a day.
“You know in Ireland it’s against the law to talk on the phone while you drive.”
She stared at me. “What a random thing to say. Where’d that come from?”
“I used to live in Ireland.”
“In the monastery, Monk?” She laughed.
“No, just lived there.”
Ten minutes later we were at the hospital parking lot and a woman was waving us down.
“Hey, Joanie!” Catherine shouted. She parked the car, introduced me and we began swapping the car seats into Joanie’s car.
“Catherine, I don’t have any money to buy baby things.”
“Here’s a twenty. I want a receipt and change.” She yelled as Joanie drove away.
I saw her switch gears, from harried to helpful, as we entered the room where the parents were sitting. “Mr. and Mrs. Faulkner, I want to introduce you to Reverend Chuck. He has a background in social work and wants to help but I need your informed consent.”
“For me to share your personal information with him.”
“How can he help?” Mr. Faulkner said glaring at me. Maybe I should have taken my Harley vest off.
“Well if it’s accidental he might be able to support that.”
“And if he thinks we did it like the doctor does?”
“He could testify against you.”
They looked at each other, earnestly searching each other’s face and both nodded. He grabbed his wife’s hand. “We don’t have anything to hide.”
“Well, I have to get you to sign this release. She balanced her briefcase on her knee, took out a pen and stuck it in her mouth and grabbed a piece of paper from inside. She closed her briefcase, walked around to the side of them and pointed at the paper. “Let me write his name in here.” She scribbled something. “This says you agree that I can share information with him. And he too is bound by the rules of confidentiality I discussed with you earlier. Is that okay?”
They glanced at each other again, nodded in unison and signed.
I went through the usual questions with them about their background, their views of the child, worries, and fears. They lived in a double-wide trailer in a decent area of town. Mom and dad both worked full time but different shifts so they could take care of the infant; good childcare plan until you need a witness for the times you’re alone with the child. What parent could ever provide that? I couldn’t find anything implausible or suspicious about their story, and believe me, I tried.
“They seem like pretty good parents to me,” I said to Catherine when we met outside the hospital room.
“That’s what I thought.” She said earnestly. “They’re cooperative and concerned and understand why we need to do what we do. They seem to want to find out what’s causing the child’s injuries as much as we do.”
“Yep, they’re not getting their knickers in a twist, which is a good sign. It’s the parents that get indignant and protest the most that usually did it.”
“Knickers in a twist?”
“Still, this is going to be challenging.”
“Well in most legal cases somebody’s got to prove we did something to injure someone else. In the case of child abuse, the parents have to prove that they didn’t. Hard to prove a negative.”
“They’re guilty unless we can prove them innocent.”
I nodded. “Last time I checked there were over 50 medical conditions that could mimic child abuse. It’s not easy or cheap to check for all of them either. And it can take time. What does the child do during this time? They either stay in the hospital or go into foster care, neither of which is good for them or the family. They’re not going to stay in the hospital for long without a good medical reason and because it costs too much. So they’ll end up in foster care which if the parents are innocent is horrible for them and for the child.”
“You’re preaching to the converted Monk.” Then she smiled. “Hey, get it?”
“You’re a monk preaching! Ha ha!”
We were nearing my motel when we passed a bar called Dan’s Roadside Inn. “Can we stop there? I need a drink.”
She eyed me suspiciously. “Do you usually have a drink before 5 pm?”
“Nope can’t remember the last time I did but it’s been a while since I’ve had a day like this.”
We sat at the bar. Next to me was a thin, grizzled man wearing a Harley shirt. It said: I Tamed the Dragon, referring to an especially curvy road up in North Carolina. I smiled and nodded at the man and he nodded back. I ordered a Yuengling and the bartender brought it.
“So what do you think?” Catherine asked.
“I agree with your gut feeling. I don’t think they did it. But we do have bruises that are unaccounted for. They do have a young, occasional babysitter that watches the child for them sometimes. We need to rule her out.” I took a sip of the beer. It was ice cold and beautiful.
Catherine put her elbows on the table, rested her head in her palms and stared sideways at me. “I’m going to head there later after I run over to the school to check on this boy they called me about. James was going to do it but just got an emergency referral on a sexual abuse case. So it’s just me.”
“Nevermind. An Irish saying.”
She smiled and shook her head. “You keep surprising me, Monk Chuck! Anyway, I’ll pick you up back at the motel around 2:30. Okay?”
“I’ll be there.” I watched as she walked out of the place. She looked cute.
“Hey, Monk?” The man next to me said.
I took a deep breath and turned toward him. “Yep.”
I watched as he looked around to see if anyone was listening. I looked around too. Besides the bartender, we were the only two in the place. He leaned in closer to me.
“I’m having a problem with the Mrs. and I need some advice.”
“I’m not very good with advice. Hate giving it and hate taking it.”
“Are you married, father?”
He stared, taking the full measure of me. I’m not sure he liked what he saw but that didn’t stop him.
“Man, I’m, sorry.”
“I’m not. Best years of my life. You’ve got to appreciate what you had, not dwell on what you’ve lost.”
“I’m not sure I agree with that father.” He pointed a finger at me. “No disrespect meant.”
“Sorry, but it’s different for me, father. My wife and I have been married for 23 years and she just started acting strange.”
“Just now, after 23 years? Consider yourself lucky.”
“Sorry, go on.”
“She started going through the menopause and got real cold toward me. Wouldn’t let me touch her. They should call it the men o stop, if you get my meaning. It’s hard to sleep with someone that you can’t touch after 23 years of touching them. It’s like sleeping and waking up next to a dead sea otter.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. “Sorry.”
“Then she started imagining all these things about me, like, like, well I can’t say it. It would be disrespectful.” He looked down and shook his head.
“It’s okay man.” I put my hand on his shoulder.
“Honestly reverend I have never done the things she accused me of in all the 23 years we were married and I never would.” He started to weep and I pulled him closer to me and his shoulder touched mine. “I don’t know what to do.”
“Sounds like she has a delusional disorder of some kind. Will she go see a psychiatrist?”
He shook his head. “I tried to get her to go. The kids did too. She won’t. I just love her but she treats me like a stranger.” He really started crying now. Old tears, from that reservoir of sadness that lies on the hill above hope. It would have to be emptied before he could hope again. But memories of their former love were flooding the reservoir so that the tears almost seemed endless.
“I’m so sorry man. So sorry.” I put my arm around him and he leaned into me again. I wasn’t going to tell him it would be all right because without her getting treatment it probably wouldn’t be. “You know there’s this thing called, anosognosia. It’s not denial, it’s more that, mentally, the person is unable to recognize that there’s anything wrong with them.”
He leaned up and gently slapped my chest with his hand. “That’s it! It’s not really her fault, but it is.” He went sullen and looked around him like he had misplaced something. “But still she’s the only one who can do anything about it.” He looked away and mouthed a few words silently, then spoke. “I still love her.”
I nodded and felt some tears welling up in me. “You always will. Bless you, man. Bless you. I’ll pray for you.” I believe in the priesthood of all believers and the raw sanctity of any and all of the blessings we give and receive from others.
“Thanks, father.” His eyes were wet and his nose snotty. I grabbed a couple of drink napkins and gave them to him.
We spent the next hour talking. I had one more beer. I couldn’t do much more for him other than say how sorry I was, that I knew he hurt and to keep blessing him, over and over again, hoping the prayers would help build for him some kind of rickety bridge to a safe haven.