Chapter II: Time for Change
The family moved at the end of the school year. Gloria (Guardian/Inspector for the temperament trained) knew she had marketable skills. Having hired a number of bookkeepers in my career, I know how valuable they can be to an organization. Gloria found a job before she moved. She was frugal, God-fearing, simply dressed and, in a word, dutiful.
They moved to one of a dozen or so small, isolated towns that make up the “upper” and “lower” deserts in Southern California. I asked Gloria why she picked this particular location. “I asked a friend at work,” she said. “I told her I wanted to stay close enough so I could visit Orange County, but far enough away so there aren’t many people – or neighbors. She told me about this place.”
She found a home the first weekend she and her mother, Eleanor, went looking. Eleanor (Guardian/Provider), a retired schoolteacher, was devoted to her daughter and her only grandson. In her mid-sixties, she had some health problems. She was ambulatory, though she was using her walker more and more. Eleanor would help as much as she could around the house, but the bulk of the home chores were done by Gloria.
Homes are spread out in this small desert town. Gloria’s nearest neighbor was several hundred yards away. The county maintained gravel roads were lined with Yucca and other cacti. Most people kept to themselves. Gloria and her family lived about a ten-minute drive to the middle of town where there was one traffic light intersection, a few small businesses, and City Hall.
In Jerry’s old neighborhood, there were kids around. Though he was shunned by his peers, during the day there were children on bicycles, on skateboards, and playing catch on his block in Orange County. Not here. They were isolated. Their first summer before school started didn’t go well. They were hoping they would find relief, and support, once school started. They didn’t.
As director, it was my practice to meet new families that became part of our wraparound program. I called Gloria on a Friday, and we set up a meeting the following Monday, one of her days off. I told her I’d like to meet with her alone first, so I scheduled a visit about 90 minutes before the school van dropped Jerry off at home. She said that would be a good idea, and added, “. . . though I can’t promise you he won’t be here anyway, if I can’t get him to go to school in the morning.”
In the middle of the one acre parcel sat an older, well-maintained house. There was a chain link fence around the property. There were some large cacti on the perimeter, blocking the view. The rest of the property was natural desert land, except for a small garden area for Eleanor to grow some flowers and vegetables. In front of the garden, there was an open dirt area where Jerry sometimes played, alone, on his bicycle – and not much else. As I entered the home for the first time, I began to understand how desperate this family had become.
Directly in front of me, as I walked in the door, was the living room. There was a tattered loveseat on the opposite wall. That’s where Gloria went to sit down. To her right, with a small table and lamp in between, was a cushioned rocker where Eleanor was sitting and, next to her, a walker. There was a coffee table in front of them both. There was another small chair to the left of the love seat. That’s where I sat. It was Jerry’s chair. All the chairs faced the front door wall.
At the entryway, looking to my right, I saw a small television and TV stand, and three folded TV trays. On the adjacent wall there was a padlocked bedroom door (used for storage I found out later), and next to that an old desk with a computer. Directly to the left of the desk, and on the same wall as the loveseat, was the door to the kitchen.
To the left of the Eleanor’s walker was an open entryway to a step down, large dining room. In it was a beautiful, formal, dark mahogany, dining room set that included a long table, eight chairs, and two china cabinets. Everything was covered in heavy plastic. There were stacks of boxes on the furniture, and along the wall of the room. There was dust everywhere, as though no one ever went in there. No one did.
Still standing in the entryway, to my left and down a very short hallway, was the door to Jerry’s room. His room had a single bed. It was small, though adequate and clean, and minimally decorated. The window in his room was nailed shut. A little further down the hallway was the door to the master bedroom. Mother and daughter shared the master bedroom with two single beds. At the end of the hallway was the bathroom that Jerry used.
They managed to get Jerry to school the day I arrived. I introduced myself, and we began to talk. Within a few minutes, Eleanor started to cry. Here’s why.
Gloria made it nearly impossible for Jerry to go anywhere in the house without her or his grandmother knowing. There was a latch on the kitchen door, out of Jerry’s reach, that would be locked when Jerry was home. They kept snacks like cookies and potato chips and fruit in the living room. There was a lock on the master bedroom door as well, except at night. There were boxes filling up the entryway to the dining room, making it very difficult to enter without raising the attention of mother and grandmother.
So, Jerry had access to the living room, his bedroom, his bathroom – and that’s it. At night, the front door had a deadbolt to keep everyone out and, added as soon as they moved in, a second deadbolt, at the top of the door, to keep Jerry in. He had snuck out in the middle the night many times over the years.
Mother and grandmother kept the door to their bedroom open and unlocked at night so they could hear. Still, they put two chairs in front of the door to act as a barrier, “. . . in case Jerry got up in the middle of the night,” said Gloria, “demanding something.” The door to his bathroom was unlocked and accessible. There were no items or decorations on the counter, on the walls, or on the floor, except for toilet paper, toothpaste and a toothbrush.
In the next 90 minutes, they told me much more about their plight over the past several years. Jerry would become belligerent and “explosive,” according to both of them. He would throw items in the home, sometimes at his mother and grandmother. Appeasement was their one remaining child management “tool.” They would do nearly anything to avoid an outburst. All of them – Jerry, mother, grandmother – were captives, in their own home.
Gloria loved her son, and Eleanor loved her only grandson, dearly. Yet, reluctantly, they both acknowledged that maybe Jerry would be better off somewhere else “where they can take better care of him.”
“Can you help us?,” Eleanor asked, weeping, as if there was little hope anyone could.
“Yes,” I answered. “We can.”
Just about then, we heard the van driving up the gravel road to drop Jerry off at home. Mother and grandmother began to apologize for Jerry’s behavior, before he entered the house.
Good, I thought to myself. Time to meet “the horrible kid.”
Chapter III: Heeeere’s Jerry!!