The coffee hit the spot. It was my third cup, and I savored it. Unfortunately, my doorbell rang again. I sighed in frustration made unhappy by another trick or treat attempt mainly by children of course. They'd been coming all day. I peeked through the window as I've also been doing all day. A woman with two children were out there a boy, and a girl. They were small maybe three or four years old wearing the cutest costumes. A princess for the girl, and a Superman for the boy.
I was moved, but it didn't compel me to open the door. I backed away from the windows, and quickly took my place behind my desk hiding behind it as if it was a shield. I got busy browsing the internet wishing it'd been any day but Halloween. I used to love Halloween. It was only last year that I dressed my baby girl Ariel as a pumpkin before taking her trick or treating. She looked so adorable even if she didn't understand Halloween much less trick or treating. Ariel was a special needs child who couldn't follow instructions like a normal child. She was on the spectrum the autism spectrum. I couldn't explain something as simple as trick or treating to her. Even so we still had fun. She loved the candy we collected from many stores. I marveled that it'd only been a year that we spent that time together. A thousand years ago. Now things were different. Painfully different.
Ariel no longer lived with me. She'd been removed from my care along with her teenage sister Aurelia. They'd been sent to live with their father Dwight Whitney who remained separated from me so the girls could have one of their parents with them.
"Take heart Noelle," he tried to assure me during our last conversation. "We'll all be together again soon. You keep doing what you're supposed to, and we'll be together. You'll see."
That was the problem. I couldn't see. I didn't know what I wanted anymore. I wasn't sure I wanted the girls now especially Ariel despite the fact that I missed them terribly. I wasn't sure I wanted to be with Dwight either. Living in the studio I'd been forced to find had provided the quiet sanctuary I always craved. A safe haven. The perfect place to hide.
I came to believe that the girls were better off staying away from me.
Children in general were better off staying away. This more than anything was the reason, I ignored the doorbell on Halloween.
I did not want children near me.
Chapter 1- The Arrest
For as long as I could remember I toyed with the idea of becoming a children's teacher. It'd been one of my childhood ambitions. For years I shared this ambition with my father who encouraged me every step of the way. I could still recall lining up my dolls in my imaginary classroom, where I used books for desks, and scraps of paper I graded in fun. I loved grading papers, and handing out compliments like one of my teachers used to do by handing out stars she stamped on small blank papers she cut neatly. Whoever earned ten compliments would get a prize which consisted of coloring books, crayons, or fairy tale books.
Ironically I never received ten compliments, but I dreamed of the day that I would be the one handing them out. It almost happened. I earned an online Bachelor's Degree on Teacher's concentration. All I need to do is earn my teaching credentials here in my city so I'd be able to teach here. Here meaning New York City. It hasn't happened, and now I don't want it.
By the summer of 2015 I was living with Dwight Whitney, and our girls Aurelia, and Ariel in the new house Dwight had bought us on Staten Island (more affordable than homes in Brooklyn) I was happy to move here from Brooklyn though I was saddened to leave my family especially my father who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. This alone made leaving bittersweet, but heartbreaking too. Add this to my depression that returned in full force, and my hell had only just begun.
Ariel had become quite the handful which had made a rough summer even rougher. I had come to loathe summer not only for the humidity New York summers often had, but for my depression which lingered during this time. Everything bothered me. Dwight and I argued constantly while Aurelia only sixteen was hanging out almost every night. I worried for Daddy, who I visited whenever I could. We were fortunate that he didn't get violent around us like other Alzheimers patients did around their family.
Daddy always smiled the moment he saw me or any of his children. He'd sit with me totally pleasant despite believing I was his sister instead of his daughter. Mom would be there ready with coffee, cookies, just grateful to have company, and I was grateful to have her there too.
I longed to spend more time with my father, but caring for Ariel took up so much of my time. With Dwight working late hours including Saturdays her care was left to me, and I often wondered what made me want to have another baby at forty years old. My younger sister Janice asked me that very question weeks before my life would take a drastic turn. I never could answer. I wanted at least one more child, I always knew that, but I couldn't explain why I waited so long to have it. And how could I know she'd be born with special needs?
Then came one warm Saturday the one that would initiate that drastic change. I'd gone to bed at 7:30 a.m which wasn't smart considering how early Ariel had gone to bed. But, I was a hopeless insomniac as I'd been for years. I was up writing on my laptop. I'd been working on a novel I hoped to get published, but I allowed myself to get distracted with the internet so I spent more time browsing social media sites, and reading articles on Wilkipedia than I spent writing. In fact I was reading about the death of Jimi Hendrix a section I read dozens of times before. Something about death fascinated me, and this was only one of many deaths I read about on Wilkipedia. It was easy for me to get sidetracked since I had a low attention span, but this was one of those days I needed to distract myself as well. I'd been fighting a deep depression which I'd been trying to snap out of to no avail. Unfortunately nothing was helping so I even resorted to drinking a few shots of vodka hoping to relax. I was logged in on social media, but that deepened my depression. I hated scrolling through my contacts information since, I always felt below them for the failure I often was.
I'd been feeling like this failure after the long week I had with Ariel. Her meltdowns had become out of control. She screamed for no reason, and she often flung whatever she could on the floor making terrible messes for me to clean up. It had been a long week of this, and I'd been at the end of my rope. Thankfully, Ariel had gone to bed early as she became exhausted from her own tantrums. It'd been hot too which probably irritated her as much as it did me. Rotten summer month. Living here in Staten Island isolated us in our own way. Dwight and I argued more. I felt lonely, and my depression deepened to the point I considered suicide. Again. The only thing that gave me any solace during that week was the two special online friendships I'd been able to maintain for the past couple of years.Travis Riley and Doris Mills. I still don't know what I would have done without them.
I was awakened by a loudclatter. I came to a loud voice yelling "Let's go! Get up!" In a confused disoriented moment I looked up, and saw what looked to be a police officer banging on my bedroom door with his club. I blinked my eyes a couple of times, but it wasn't a dream or my imagination. That really was a police officer standing by the door of my bedroom. What the hell? Slowly, I rose from my bed. The first thing I noticed was the untidy mess this officer must have observed in my room.
"Let's go," he said. He stood tall with dark hair, and looked to be Hispanic. I began to get out of bed until he suddenly ordered me to stand away from it. I did as he ordered more than self conscious of the white long shirt I wore on my overweight frame. "Stand back!" he barked quickly pulling the blanket briefly shaking it. He glanced at the many clothes unfolded on the foot of my bed.
"What happened?" I asked timidly not knowing how to feel. Had Ariel been hurt? Somehow, I knew this involved her, but I was too disoriented to feel any fear. I needed to regain my bearings. What time was it?
"Are you the mother of a baby girl?" he asked. I nodded unable to speak. Now some fear crept up.
"She was found wandering outside," he hissed obviously hostile with me. "Let's go," he repeated. I wanted to ask if she was okay, but I could only follow him outside my room. Suddenly, I realized that my house was filled with his fellow officers who were everywhere. What the hell was going on? Where did they find my daughter? It must have been blocks away or worse had she fallen from our upstairs window? The bedroom window was closed, and Aurelia's bedroom was closed though not for long. Two officers passed me, and the dark haired cop, and they quickly entered it. Aurelia's room was even more untidy than mine. Her room was an outright mess. Oh God.
"Am I in trouble?" I asked the dark haired cop who was seemingly guarding me as a bleached blond woman officer approached us from the stairs. The dark haired man quickly informed her that I was the mother, and he found me sleeping on my bed.
She fixed her angry eyes on me, as more officers walked up behind her. A sense of panic grew in me. "We found your baby girl wandering outside," the woman said to me showing even more hostility. "Has she ate anything today?" she practically snarled at me. "It's past twelve! Her diaper is soiled, but you're up here asleep. Shame on you!"
Other officers shook their heads in disgust. "Should we run her in?" a white fat one asked her. His hair was thinning, and he barely fit his uniform.
"Damn right we're running her in!" the woman replied. As far as I could see she was the only woman officer here. She led me back to my room, as my heart sank. They were going to arrest me. It hadn't sunk in. It couldn't. I couldn't bring myself to plead my case nor could I plead for them to spare me. This woman wouldn't anyway. That was clear.
I lowered my head as the two officers returned from Aurelia's room. They raved about how messy the room was. I could only stare at our blue carpet feeling myself shrinking more and more. Drowning in a black mass of helplessness. In a black sea of hopelessness.
"Do you have other children?" the woman asked. She looked uglier every passing minute. I nodded briefly mentioning that I had a sixteen year old daughter. Aurelia had been planning to go to Brooklyn to visit some of her old friends that morning. I honestly didn't know if she had gone or not. She had agreed to leave me twenty dollars so I could take Ariel out before she left for the day. I shook my head trying to clear it.
"Where is your teenage girl?"
"She should be in the basement," I muttered. It's where she sleeps for the summer." It was true enough. Aurelia loved to sleep in the basement during the hot summer months. It was much cooler than her upstairs bedroom from the way she described it.
"I'll go check the basement," another officer, volunteered already going downstairs while more radios blared in the silence. These radios were loud, and if I didn't hear them before then I must have been dead asleep. A dumb thought since I had been dead asleep.
"She should be?" That was all the bitch heard. I didn't get a chance to tell her what Aurelia's plans had been because she didn't want to hear. "We're definitely taking you in," she declared removing a pad from her pocket. "Have you ever been investigated by Child Services?" she asked. I shook my head somehow hoping that answer would help me, but she wasn't moved. "You will be now," she declared flatly. "Now go get dressed or I'll bring you out like that."
It was an obvious threat. I quickly picked up the pants I laid aside that very morning and slipped into them again. As I began to remove my long white shirt the woman ordered another cop to turn his back. He'd been standing by the door, as I slipped into my gray Snoopy t-shirt. A gray shirt with Snoopy lined in green drinking a root beer. I actually stared at this cop's back while putting it on. Should he have been standing there while I got dressed? Shouldn't he have left the moment I removed my white top? It didn't seem right to me that he should stay even with his back turned.
"Are you on medication?" the woman suddenly asked. It was the first real question she asked me about anything. It sure seemed like she, and every officer going through my home already had me tried and convicted. I lowered my head not answering determined to suddenly be defiant, but that didn't last long. I shook my head. If only I had been. I needed to be, but who cared if I was or not? Doris did. She worried about my depression which she described as severe. She believed I needed to be on medication. What would these officers know? Everyone was a criminal to them.
"You don't clean much around here do you?" the female officer spat not really asking. She was writing furiously on her pad. Someone was asking about the kitchen, and I knew I would be in more trouble. The kitchen was a mess too with Dwight's beer cans scattered on the counters. Dwight didn't drink all those beers in one shot, or even in one day for that matter. These were weeks of cans that accumulated because I always cashed them in. It'd been a while since I'd done so, but I should have at least bagged them. My depression had drained me leaving me with no motivation to do anything. Now it would cost me even more.
"I need to go to the bathroom," I spoke up for I did. Like most people I needed the bathroom as soon as I woke up. The dark haired cop led me ahead, and I repeated my question. He said I had to wait. The woman insisted it was time to go so I took that to mean no . Swarmed by police officers I was led down the stairs. Once there I marveled at the number of officers that were here. There had to be at least ten maybe more since a group stood outside as well. Why were so many officers needed just to arrest me? Talk about making a spectacle.
"Where are your shoes?" another chubby officer asked me. I gestured to my pair of blue clogs I kept by my computer table. I was allowed to slip into them before they led me outside.
"Can I bring my phone?" I foolishly asked knowing what the obvious answer would be. There was no way they would allow that. And they didn't. In fact my question disgusted some of them even more.
"She hasn't asked about her baby girl, but she asked about her phone? What a piece of work she is! Bring her out so we could book her ass!"
I suppose it did sound bad, and it did. I didn't mean it, but I was a different me that day especially when they led me outside where another officer was waiting for me with open handcuffs. Behind my back they were placed. Handcuffed! A nice warm breeze caressed my face, and I looked around dreading the nosy neighbors who were likely watching. Waiting for me to come out. On such a nice day too.
I lucked out somewhat. I didn't see any of my neighbors only a black family across the street. I didn't know them, but it was still embarrassing to be seen this way. And just because I didn't see anyone around didn't mean they didn't see me. I hardly knew my neighbors, but this sure wouldn't endear me to them. They would label me the negligent mom like these officers already did. I spotted Ariel in an ambulance looking so small in the car seat they placed her in. She wasn't even crying. She was laughing seemingly content. In my humiliation I resented that, even as I understood. She could have been as numb as I felt. I wish she'd given them the hard time she'd been giving me for weeks.
"You should be ashamed of yourself!" a small cop hissed as I stood in front of my house flanked by his fellow officers. I didn't respond. I stared at him which seemed to annoy him. His face flushed with anger. "You don't care do you? You just don't care!" Others agreed with him.
"There's a special place in hell for people like her," added another looking more than a bit smug. I swallowed a sigh, and let my mind go. I locked my house door that morning. I had walked Dwight to the door, and locked the door behind him. What could have happened? Ariel never left the house before. She never even tried. She wouldn't have been able to open that front glass door herself.
"Let's go," someone said, but they were trying to lock the house door which couldn't be done without the house keys. The short officer asked me how to lock the door, but before I could answer, Aurelia walked up to our house just in time to see her mother in handcuffs. Our eyes met, but I looked away. It was only then that I suddenly noticed the old man who'd been describing how he found Ariel walking outside, and how he'd hate to see his grandchild wander off that way. I vaguely recognized him; he was one of our neighbors. Dwight may have spoken to him from time to time. He called the police? Why would he do that? I was floored while police praised him. He was talking non stop with his dark sunglasses, and white frizz hair.
"You should be thanking this man!" the small cop chastised. Maybe, but I didn't. What would I be thanking him for? If he found my child then our door must have been open. Why couldn't he come inside where he would have found me asleep? Or had he only to find the beer cans so he jumped to conclusions? I didn't know, but I didn't thank him. I still don't care if that was wrong. He couldn't get off his soapbox long enough for me, so I never thanked the man.
I stared at Aurelia, who was asking one of the officers what happened. I couldn't hear what he said, but I was sure he was telling her how they found her sister outside while their mother slept. What did it matter? I sadly thought.
My life was over.
Chapter 2- A Part of their Job
Scary being locked up. For the first time in my life I was placed in a holding cell. Before being placed there, I rode in the back of a police car, the first time I rode in one of those much less handcuffed. My mind was a queer blank as we passed all the familiar streets I knew. People were enjoying the beautiful summer day, but I didn't bother staring at anyone to see how they looked or what they were doing. I had a last view of the Shoprite supermarket where I'd spend so much time in.
I loved spending my free time in supermarkets, and discount stores. There was something homely, and cozy about them to me, and it was all I did these days when I wasn't home with my baby girl which was most of the time actually. I didn't go nowhere anymore. I couldn't remember the last time I'd seen Manhattan. I didn't see my parents as much as I would have liked or my family. I didn't go dancing or to the movies. I just stayed home. Dwight worked long hours, but he was always talking about wanting to go somewhere. He' mention going to the movies, or going away for a weekend. He constantly said how much he needed this. Even so days passed and life didn't change for us.
I shifted on the metal bench I had to sit in. At least I was alone. I dreaded being locked up with real criminals who' see right through me. They'd know I'd never been locked up, and they'd eat me alive. Then again I was feeling sort of numb at that moment so starting something with me would not have been a smart move by anyone. When numbness took over, you stopped caring. Nothing mattered, and what can hurt you when nothing matters? Nothing. I was already beginning to feel this, even as feelings of inferiority threatened to take over as well. For that cop to say what he said. There was a special place in hell for me. What did he think this was? A cakewalk? I looked up from the floor. There wasn't much to see through these prison bars. Officers walking here, and there. A black man sitting in another cell. Then there was the dark haired cop who woke me up. He was processing my paperwork. No one needed to tell me that. I knew. He was preparing to fingerprint me, and perhaps take my mug shot. Not good. For some reason that sent my anxiety levels soaring to the point I could have screamed.
I watched as the dark haired officer opened another cell for the other prisoner. He looked calm as the dark haired officer took him to get fingerprinted. I shook my head getting more nervous. I'd never been fingerprinted before. Well a long time ago I'd been asked to be fingerprinted when I took a volunteer job working with children. I still remembered that clearly. But I'd never been fingerprinted as a criminal. A felon. A prisoner. Would this stay on my record? If it did there went my future. At least what was left of it. I was already in my forties with little to go with as it was. They may as well shoot me dead now. They didn't know I'd been dead inside for the last couple of months anyway. Maybe years. What more could they do to me?
"What's your phone number?" the dark haired officer suddenly asked. He was standing outside my cell with pen and paper in hand; waiting for my response. A simple response. He only wanted my phone number. That's all. Getting me ready for the fingerprinting,. My mugshots. I looked at him, as he stood expectantly. He had his pen ready to write the numbers as I recited them. Only I couldn't recite them. In fact I couldn't say a word. I clammed up shaking my head vigorously. Ready to scream. Ready to pounce something.
The officer said something else, but I no longer heard him. My nails found their way to my face, and they violently dug at my skin. Viciously, I scratched! Again and again!
"Hey!" the officer ordered. "Stop that!" I didn't stop. I bit into my arm. One at a time, and then I was scratching my face again. I was biting and scratching until the officer was suddenly in my cell pulling my arms behind me until I was practically on the floor. He handcuffed me, and gently sat me on the bench before he had the bars locked again. I wanted to cry only I couldn't seem to well up any tears. My face was on fire, and my arm stung. I was back to feeling that strange kind of numb.
My cell door was opened again, but this time a blond woman officer came in to talk to me. She wasn't the same awful one they sent to my house, this one was kinder. She asked me a few questions, but I couldn't answer them. I wasn't responding, and after a while they decided they better call an ambulance. They may have feared I was going into a catatonic state though I wasn't. I may have gone into some type of shock, but I wasn't catatonic. I didn't say this. I didn't know what was happening to me anyway.
I was left alone again only this time my hands were kept handcuffed behind me. Then the tears came. Not profusely, but they came. Sitting handcuffed on a metal bench was very uncomfortable. I couldn't move much, but standing was more uncomfortable. I must have resembled a freak or at least a weirdo I thought.
An ambulance crew of woman and man showed up, and they stood outside the bars. The woman spoke to me, while the man entered information on a laptop he was carrying. She asked if being confined was making me anxious. It was but that was only part of it. A small part of it. This woman was think with dark hair that curled everywhere. She appeared the successful working type that would make me feel worse as this process dragged on. I was a loser. A criminal. A horrible parent. All these things screamed at me. I was a nobody just someone taking up space, and would now be using up tax payer money. I was someone better off dead.
"Is it being inside here?" I suddenly heard the woman ask me. The walls, the bars...that can cause some people to break down." I don't answer or react. I just stared at the floor. What a surreal moment this was. The woman asked me a few more questions, but the only thing I shared with her was that I sometimes suffered from anxiety. I should have told her how depressed I'd been, but I didn't. She looked at her partner mulling what I said about having anxiety.
"Hmm. This is the thing dear you're not listed as having anxiety."
Since when should that matter? I was telling her I'd had it before, and one long look at my history would prove I've been diagnosed with hit. General Anxiety Disorder was one diagnosis one of my therapists gave me many years ago when I began to seek therapy. Even so I didn't mention it. I put up a wall unable to think, unable to say much. I was still waking up, still struggling to get my thoughts together. And I had yet to be charged with anything. Or had I been? No one was telling me anything I needed to know, and I was too tied up in knots to ask.
She asked if I wanted to go with her, but then pointed out that it would only drag out the process if I did.
"It's only going to make this go much longer won't it Officer?" she asked the dark haired man. He nodded confirming that it would. He then quietly asked her to get my phone number. I gave it to her. I hated myself for doing it, for I wanted to scream, and rebel in the worse way, but I wasn't sure how. As it was I still needed to use the bathroom, but I was sitting on a metal bench handcuffed. I should have peed in the police car, but I didn't want to wet myself not to mention I was going through that messy time of the month which would make it worse. Now, I wish that I didn't care about any of that , and that I peed in their car. Then again that could have turned them more vindictive.
"Just get this out the way hon okay? Or do you prefer to come with us?" From the way she said us, I suddenly felt safe going with them. I didn't want to sit in a cell. I didn't want to pose for mug shots or get fingerprinted. I mean what did I know? I wasn't given time to think it through, and I wasn't told I'd be handcuffed while in the hospital. So I agreed to go with them. For a brief moment I felt safe with them. I felt less lonely. More than anything I didn't know what to expect. I placed my trust in these people but it didn't take long for me to regret that decision.
A cop was sent to accompany me in the ambulance, but first I had to be fingerprinted and photographed. There was no escape from that since I was being charged. At least I had to assume this since no one had yet to tell me I was under arrest and why. I just was. What were they charging me with? And why wouldn't I ask? I was in knots, and after attempting to mutilate my face, I was practically a nervous wreck. The ambulance crew were talking to the officer sent with me, at least the woman was. Her laptop carrying partner was now driving the ambulance. I overheard her asking the officer questions on how they handled arrests, and investigations. Meanwhile, my stomach which barely could handle any motion sickness was taking a beating from the ambulance's shaky ride. The woman turned her attention to me.
"What happened dear?" she asked.
I told her. "My baby girl was found outside," I began. "While I was asleep." I bowed my head in shame.
"Oh my, " she said. "That's serious business." Gosh like I didn't know that already. I looked from her to the cop, and she asked me more questions about my family, and how could this happen. Sitting between her, and that officer, I began to feel like a fish out of water. I could hardly breathe. I still needed to use the bathroom, and continued to hold it. I always went as soon as I woke up, and I was still holding it. The woman asked the officer more questions, and I overheard him tell her how the arresting officer was the one left behind handling the paperwork while he was dispatched to watch me at the hospital. I was terribly saddened, and felt a strange kind of loneliness. This woman didn't know me, and wouldn't see me again any more than this officer. They were doing their jobs, jobs they got paid for. They could have been moving a package in the same manner for any importance they gave me. Even when the woman muttered that it was wrong to take me in, I didn't feel assured by her. "What you did wasn't a good thing, but if the baby wasn't hurt they could have drove you to the station, and talked to you instead of putting you through this. Of course, I have to pay for it.'"
I knew she was referring to her taxes. Oh well. I didn't ask for this. And what the hell did I know anyway? I didn't work. I spent years looking for work even temp work, but nothing ever materialized. That was one of the reasons my depression had deepened. I hated life, and all the politics, and bullshit that came with it at times. The only times I felt any peace was at home alone. Away from society and the people I had come to hate for never giving me a real chance.
But then I had to remember many incidents where I did get some chances. I blew them. If I was honest with myself, I'd have to admit that.
We arrived at the hospital much to my stomach's relief even if it was still queasy. I hadn't ate anything, and wasn't likely to any time soon. The police officer removed me, and quickly handcuffed my arms behind me again. The woman dismissed me, and wished me luck.
"I hope everything works out for you ," she said giving me a smile of sympathy. I nodded unable to thank her. It was humiliating standing here with these cuffs. I couldn't even look her in the eye. As the officer began to lead me to the hospital, I watched her get back to the ambulance which quickly drove away. That was it. After making me feel as if they would look after me, I was dropped off like luggage, and she wished me luck. Oh, I knew better. I knew she wasn't going to stay with me much less hold my hand. I just took solace in her friendly nature, and allowed myself to feel secure in her presence when she asked me if I wanted to go with them.
The officer led me to the emergency room still handcuffed, and I was mortified to be among so many people walking past us all free people unlike me in these cuffs. I felt their stares their gawking looks, their nosiness, but was it fair for me to think that? I stared at my share of handcuffed people over the years. How many of them were innocent people who only made a mistake like I'd done? How many innocent overall? I didn't know, but this wasn't a feeling I wished on anyone. I still can't describe what I felt as I was led past so many people.
I was led to the emergency room where I was placed on a stretcher bed, and handcuffed to its rail. I couldn't go anywhere.