Ruth and David’s visits are being decreased from once a week for two hours to once every other week for one hour. To cement another brick of bad news in their house, a paralegal is waiting to serve them papers for a hearing to dissolve parental rights.
David sits at the table where Payton and I sat earlier. He sees me and attempts a smile, which comes out twisted. “Ruth will be out in a minute. She’s just finishing up with Payton.” His eyes are weighed down with sorrow and he is uncharacteristically quiet.
“How’re you doing?”
“We’re in a bad place.” His voice is flat and his eyes are dull. His façade is down and he isn’t trying to sell me anything, including his sobriety. “They decreased the visits. We don’t even know if it’s too late to get her back.” David looks up at me, the stain of anguish on his face. “Do you think it’s too late?”
“I don’t know,” I tell him, unwilling to be the bearer of bad news.
“Ruth’s a wreck. I went through visits when I was in foster care. It was always harder when the good byes were drawn out. I told Ruth to give her a hug and leave, but she can’t do that.
David meets my eyes, compassion reflected in his sadness. “This must be hard for you guys, too. It’s probably turned your lives upside down.”
“It’s been an adjustment,” I admit.
Ruth and Payton come into the lobby. Payton holds the treasure box, now decorated with stickers and scribbling. David hugs Payton and leaves.
I embrace Ruth tightly, who is sobbing. “It’s just so hard,” Ruth garbles. Over her shoulder, I notice Payton heading towards the outside doors.
“Payton, come give me a hug!” Ruth’s tone is desperate. Payton hesitates but doesn’t turn around.
“Payton, say goodbye to your mom,” I order. Payton turns around and drags her feet, head down. Ruth squats on the floor and wraps her arms around Payton. In turn, Payton leans against Ruth like she’s leaning on a pole.
“We won’t see you for a couple of weeks,” Ruth sniffles. “Mommy loves you!” Payton pulls away and leaves without me.
“Wait, Payton!” I abandon Ruth in her puddle of tears and race outside. Catching up to her, I grab her hand. “We always hold hands in the parking lot. You know that’s a rule.”
“No!” Payten screams, wrenching her hand from mine. She moves to the other side of the sidewalk, holding her arms tightly around herself.