The small meeting room was not meant to be a comfortable place. A plain apartment white wall surrounded a rectangle-shaped table with sharp edges that once shimmered with a lacquered brown color. It now stood dull and stained holding a slim empty glass vase. The table was surrounded by overused hard back chairs devoid of comfort which were lacking in more than the décor. The chair I was in was becoming increasingly uncomfortable as voices continued to rise. Beads of sweat were scattered along the supervisor’s forehead. His thick, brown hands hit the table with a thump sending a ripple of movement across the table. The table swayed sending my pen into a free fall toward the floor. The supervisor’s forehead had become a glossy mess, but he continued to sit in an angry silence.
Thankful for the opportunity to mentally exit the meeting for a moment, I bent over searching for the lost pen. The floor smelled of stale coffee and other things my nose refused to identify. A small girl with fluffy blond curls was gripping her mother’s ankle picking pieces of white lint off of the Berber carpet with her free hand. With precision, she placed the lint in a small pile between her mother’s feet. The mother, a small framed woman with matching blond curls, was gently rubbing the girl’s head beneath the table, a tender, loving gesture.
The tiny girl’s eyes hesitantly met mine. They were a clear blue color, beautiful like her mother’s eyes. As I met those eyes, my smile was met with all of the sadness and fear that I had ever known a child to feel. I had to look away, the pit in my stomach continuing to expand. My hand searched desperately for the lost pen finally finding it at the edge of my coworker’s shoe. I gripped the pen tightly turning my knuckles a light shade of red. My breath felt stuck in my chest as I resumed my position in the chair and placed the pen carefully on the blank legal pad.
“I’m going out in the hall to take a breather.” It was the girl’s father I heard first as I tuned back into the conversation. Kira’s face was blood red which was a difficult state to achieve against her dark chocolate brown skin. As she replied to the father, spittle flew spanning the width of the table hitting the girl’s mom squarely in the face. The young mother seemed to shrink a size, scooting away from the table into the symbolic protection of her chair. One arm was still beneath the table comforting her daughter. Kira’s body was suddenly leaned over the table, her face so close that the young mother pressed her head hard against the chair back trying to avoid touching faces with Kira. The mother’s comforting hand suddenly rose above the table in a defensive gesture.
Kira’s voice boomed through the room, never lowering as she dictated the Child Protection Services’ Family Plan requirements for the woman’s children to be returned to the home. The supervisor shifted uncomfortably in his chair as he added in tiny details between Kira’s orders. I was on the verge of running to defend the woman from the onslaught which would not be good for office relations or for the contractor I worked for. Fortunately, before I sprang from my chair and placed myself in a position to serve as a barrier between the mother and Kira, the scene was interrupted by a coworker who had heard the yelling and thought that someone might need help.
The meeting ended abruptly and without any comfort or words of encouragement for the parents. The hearing following the removal of the couple’s two children had taken nearly two weeks when regulations dictated that a hearing be held within five days of the date children were removed. The parents somberly met in the hallway, gripping one sheet of white paper that listed all of the hoops they would need to jump through to prove they wanted their children back. The father held the mother against his chest as both stared down the long hallway watching a foster mother carry one of the sobbing children in her arms, holding the other child’s hand, nearly dragging her. The last words the parents had heard that day was the muffled voice of girl with the blond curls screaming, “I don’t wanna go.”