Between two Federal buildings there’s a tunnel built in the 1930s. It enables employees to travel from one building to the other without having to cross a multi-lane thoroughfare. One day while dashing to a meeting, I noticed one of my fellow employees standing midway through the tunnel, a small pile of debris at his feet. With his fingers he was slowly peeling paint from the walls where it had bubbled and split open as water leaked down from the surface streets. I was struck at how odd, slightly chilling and a little freakish this image of the government worker literally peeling paint off of the walls was. I left a short time later after realizing that that agency embraced the paint peelers and all flavor of the unnatural and the bizarre.
Shortly after exiting the hearing on Wednesday, that strange image came back into my head. The courtroom was cold and quiet, the testimony was muted and not particularly resolute. The questions croaked out of an attorney who seemed ill-prepared to argue. The hesitation, the misinformation, the inability to recount events with much certainty—it all seemed like peeling paint. The trial had not even made its way to the other side of the table before the master abruptly ended the proceeding and gave all parties direction. The case was essentially over and the children would be returned—and returned soon. The judge instructed that the time involved in the case did not matter—three years in the lives of three children all under the age of five, did not matter. Peeling paint.
The commitment to this course—to the reunification of family seems to be more powerful than anything we could have ever imagined. The dangers unresolved in the situation seem to be of little consequence. The lack of motivation to be reunited with the children though described in testimony, was of little importance to the court. For the first time the judge seemed to assert a position that was contrary to that of social services. For the first time the wishes of the agency were rejected. Had the master already made her decision prior to the hearing or was the case doomed from the outset by the withering witness and stumbling direct questioning?
I felt my skin shudder as the trial went on. It was painful to watch. I looked at Darrow who was shaking his head at every wrong answer, at every weak articulation. I could see that his legs were shuddering also. Though justified, I feared that he might not be able to contain his anger and frustration as we sat helpless in the back, watching the case slowly die in front of us. Everyone else remained calm in the air of the courtroom. There were shrugged shoulders, and sheepish looks, and no one recognized the man in the corner peeling paint from the walls. They were all too used to that place, the foster care system where we embrace the paint peelers amongst us.
Once again, we are looking at imminent reunification. There are no words to describe how I feel right now.