Payton is born May 22, 2007. Carole is with Ruth during labor and delivery. David is still in prison.
We run into each other before church a week later. Carole is standing next to a petite, dark-haired young woman holding an infant carrier. “Lynn is the one who gave us all the baby things,” Carole explains to her daughter, after we’re introduced.
Ruth doesn’t look at me. “Thanks,” she says flatly. Awkwardly, I wait for her to show me her daughter. “Can I see Payton?” I finally ask.
“Oh. Yeah.” She swings the infant carrier to face me, holding it limply. I crouch down to say hello. Payton is as bald as an old man in need of Rogaine. She lies buried beneath a blanket, snoozing peacefully.
Ruth, David and Payton move into their own apartment and a few months later, Carole calls. “Since you’re going to adopt through the foster care system, I thought you might be able to answer a question for me.”
“Sure,” I tell her.
“Ruth called and asked me to pick up Payton; said she wasn’t feeling well. When I got to there, Ruth was lying on the couch passed out. I went upstairs and found Payton in her crib. She was just lying there, staring at the ceiling!” She pauses as if waiting for me to say something, but I remain silent. “I’m worried Ruth isn’t responding when Payton cries.” Carole’s voice shakes as she asks, “If I call CPS, will they take Payton?”
When Eli was that age, he would often wake up and play quietly in his crib until either Andrew or I got him up. “Probably not,” I tell her gently. “Regardless of your concerns, CPS won’t do anything because there’s no proof of neglect or abuse.”
I don’t speak with Carole again until March 2008, a couple months before Payton’s first birthday.
“How are you?” I ask her in the Fellowship Hall, sipping a steaming cup of coffee that smells much better than it tastes.
“Ruth’s pregnant again,” Carole says, her mouth turning down.