A self-sustaining social cycle.
Who’s that little boy? The boy in the waiting room. He wasn’t there when I left for lunch. I whisper to Susan: “Susan. Susan. Who’s that little boy in the waiting room?” She has to finish a support petition, she says. Right, work. Back to work. I get distracted too easily. Don’t forget why you’re here. Debby Dowell, Child Support Specialist Extraordinaire. Moms to save and dead-beat Dads to screw. Wait a minute, who’s that little boy?
I wonder if Donna’s watching. I turn and peer through her office window. She’s interviewing someone, it looks like. A new coworker? Anyway, coast is clear. I peek over my computer and through the big piece of glass that protects our office from the waiting room. It’s bullet-proof, supposedly. Cranky dead-beat Dad-proof.
The boy sits there, looking at the floor and swinging his feet a little. Why so sad? If there is one thing that no one should ever have to see, it’s sad little boys. I poke out from behind the computer and wave my hands. He looks up. I wiggle my earlobes and stick out my tongue and he smiles a tiny bit.
Donna’s door opens; back to work. A thirtysomething lady walks by my desk along with the faint scent of alcohol. She goes out into the waiting room and takes the little boy’s hand and leaves.
I whisper to Susan: “Susan. Who was that lady?”
Susan keeps typing and says, “She was here for a workfare interview.”
“What’s workfare?” She’s getting annoyed – I can tell.
“Workfare is a substitute for welfare. Instead of just getting money, the recipient actually has to work for it. Makes a lot more sense, doesn’t it.”
“Did you smell the alcohol?” I ask her.
“She kind of smelt like alcohol, and she had that sad little boy with her.” Susan glares at me. “Do you know if she drove to get here? Someone should tell her that’s not ok...I think I might go talk to her” Susan picks up the phone. “What are you doing?”
“I’m calling the cops.”
. . . . .
When the police tested Dorothy O’Connor, thirty-five, her blood-alcohol content was .01 over the legal limit for operation of a vehicle. She pleaded guilty in court. Dorothy was charged with a DWI and Reckless Endangerment of a Minor.
. . . . .
Four months later:
Why the hell’s my name anyone’s business?
“I’m Debbie.” She holds out her hand. Fuckin lady. She’s been watching me all day. I’m here to file or whatever, not to be spied on.
“Tom,” I say.
“How old are you, Tom?”
“Aren’t you kind of young to be working here?”
“I don’t know.”
“Are you enjoying your first day?”
“Yeah. I’m going to go eat lunch.”
What the fuck is this lady’s problem? “I don’t know. Over there probably.”
“What’d you bring?”
“How do you plan to eat lunch then?”
“I don’t know.”
She frowns and walks away. Finally. I sit down at an empty desk, put my head in my arms, and close my eyes. Then I hear a chair clank to floor to my right.
“You seem tired. I brought you half my sandwich.”
She brought me a sandwich? I pick my head up and take it. “Thanks.”
“You look very familiar for some reason. Where do you go to school?”
Is this an interview or something? “I used to go to Springwood, but now I go to Old River.”
“Why’d you switch schools?”
Why the fuck is it so important to you, lady?
. . . . .
Tom lives with a different mom now. His little brother does too. So do his two little sisters, Melanie and Jasmine. None of them live with the same mom as his new mom though. He sees them sometimes and misses his friends from Springwood. About half a year ago his house burned down so his real mom and her boyfriend and he and his brother and his sisters had to move. The apartment they moved to was too small for everyone, so his mom and her boyfriend yelled about it a lot.
Debbie asked why he doesn’t live with his real mom anymore. Tom said that his real mom got arrested because she was drunk, so he and his brother and his sisters have to live with different moms now. He gets worried about his little brother and his sisters a lot because he used to take care of them a lot. He misses his old mom, even though she was a bitch sometimes. Still though, he liked her better than this new mom. She never lets him go to the skate park in Springwood, so he never really sees his friends anymore. He wants to be a Pro Skater some day, kind of like Rodney Mullen, but he doesn’t get to practice anymore because his new mom took away his skate board after he cursed her out. Also, now he has to work here for the summer because his new mom said that the county said so. It’s so he can save money for college or something like that. He thinks he might run away to find his real mom or rescue his little brother and his sisters, but he says not to tell anyone because he doesn’t have a plan yet.
. . . . .
On Tom’s second week, Debbie collected money from her reluctant coworkers to buy Tom a new skateboard. When she gave it to Tom, he said he had to go to the bathroom.
On Tom’s third week, the police followed up on a complaint and found Tom’s little brother locked in his foster parents’ closet. The foster parents were arrested and new foster parents were found for Tom’s little brother.
On Tom’s fourth week, Donna saw a gun in Tom’s backpack and called the police. Tom had overheard a tense conversation between Debbie and Susan, and then had planned to use his foster father’s police pistol to shoot Susan. The police arrived and Tom was later taken to a youth detention center.
. . . . .
Susan was born in 1952 and grew up – for the most part – with just her father, as an only child. Her mother had been sent away to an in-patient rehabilitation center and then never came back.
In 1983, Susan married a younger man who was physically and emotionally abusive. They had two children together – two sons, John and Michael – and then had a divorce, in which Susan gained sole custody.
In 1986, at 12:34am, Susan drove her car along a back road after drinking at a bar named Eddie’s. She crashed into a rock wall, but neither she nor Michael was hurt. The car was only minimally damaged, so Susan drove home.
In 2008, on March 24th, a woman named Dorothy O’Connor read stories to her children, tucked her children into bed, had a fight with her boyfriend, drank a bottle of liquor, and then fell asleep without brushing her teeth. The next morning, she got up and went to a workfare interview.
In 2008, on March 25th, Susan called the police and claimed to have smelled alcohol on Dorothy O’Connor’s breath. The police arrived at the county workfare agency and tested Dorothy O’Connor with a breathalyzer. The breathalyzer showed a reading of .09 from the alcohol Dorothy had consumed the night previous. Dorothy O’Connor was arrested and her children were taken away to foster homes.