Joshua Roberts: For my friend, with love
Just tell the truth, I love you, everything will be fine, I said to the friend wrapped inside my arms.
We were on the courthouse’s second floor, sharing a quick hug, she seconds from testifying in the custody case, me awaiting outcome of the closed hearing in the hallway.
My final words — everything will be fine — were a lie. I didn’t know it then, but I’d deceived her.
She disappeared behind wooden doors into the courtroom, believing she’d keep her miracle, the orphaned infant boy who appeared like heaven’s reward.
I should have known better, that hope and good intentions only go so far. I should have warned her.
While waiting, I sent text messages to friends and colleagues hoping for good news.
Love for this woman, our friend, was universal, the support circle a beautiful display of humanity and compassion.
She’s testifying now. Let you know when I know.
She’s on the stand. Fingers crossed.
Hope for the best.
I obliged her request and offered prayer.
Take care of her, Lord.
Please let this work out.
She deserves that little boy.
He deserves her.
None of it mattered.
They were efficient in their task, the shortsighted judge and inept attorneys, servants of a legal system mired in detritus.
They tore our friend down in 26 minutes, ripping away what she held sacred.
She ran from the courtroom, tears down her face, searching for escape.
Motherhood had become her past just then, a dream captured and lost, a prayer delivered and denied once more.
I didn’t go after her at first. I didn’t know what to say, do, how to make things better. My feet felt shackled to the floor, like I was locked in neutral.
Finally, I snapped awake, moved, reached out, grabbed her.
Held her close.
She spoke through cries.
She recounted her testimony, the failures of an unprepared and overmatched state’s attorney, the deceptive statements and arguments by the other side, the judge who bought into the charade.
They’d take the foster boy from her in a few days, give him to someone unworthy to raise him.
I flashed white-hot, disbelief and anger burning nuclear in my blood.
I concealed this.
Care for her now. She’s what matters.
She’d been plunged in the eye of an emotional hurricane and needed help, the little I could give.
I got her home a few minutes later.
I hadn’t said much.
She spoke. Her question doesn’t haunt me as much as the absence of an answer.
Why would God put him in my life only to take him away?
There is no emotion so deflating, no feeling so soul robbing, as being helpless while someone you care about is hurting. There is nothing that hollows a stomach, nothing that eviscerates hope like this feeling.
I couldn’t answer her question then nor can I today.
I don’t know what or why he thinks like he does, why he does or doesn’t act. I don’t know whether he exists at all.
Putting rationale to matters of faith, I’ve learned, is a fool’s exercise. No one has answers, no one knows where this life is going.
What I’m left with is the rubble, the aftermath.
It boils down to this:
Society and its’ bloated, bureaucratic and bumbling systems, its laws manipulated to bury truth instead of seek it, failed my friend, a person as honest, loving and moral as there is.
And, they failed the innocent boy who had just one thing going for him in life.
I’ve worked in journalism for 11 years.
I’ve spent countless hours in courthouses and courtrooms.
I’ve listened, maybe hundreds of times, to awful tales of awful men doing awful things. I’ve let these experiences shape my belief that humanity’s capacity for beauty is outweighed only by its infinite ability for ugliness.
I’ve heard of how men abused children, committed rape, dealt drugs, used drugs, stole, lied, orchestrated mayhem, shattered lives.
I’ve sat near a man who dismembered his wife.
I’ve locked eyes with a serial killer.
None of those clung to me like this.
The details won’t fade over time, will never be a distant day of a past long faded. The clarity of how I remember it now, like it happened at breakfast, will be how it lives on.
I’m angry for this, and it’s deep, embedded like a tick that needs surgery to remove.
That surgery is this column, for whatever it’s worth.
I hope it’s viewed first and foremost as a letter and outpouring of support for my friend.
Next, an attack on the system that allowed injustice to happen to her, an attack on our society’s failed systems in general, and lastly, maybe, just maybe, the bit of therapy needed to make sense of it.
I have doubts this will ever be, however.
Like my friend, I fear I’ll be stuck with the wreckage for a long time to come, my confusion and hurt not nearly as great as hers, but real all the same.
The events of that day, the sad attempts at proper resolution and justice, have consumed me lately.
They’ve pushed me to question what many others, people I understand now as much more intelligent than I, have for a while:
What good are society’s systems when they’re the metrics used to produce outcomes so blatantly wrong?
What good are laws that restrict truth?
What does it say about us when we allow ourselves to be governed this way, when we lack the wisdom or courage to change?
Today, I realize what happened to my friend didn’t create these thoughts. They’ve been brewing, but I’ve been too blind to recognize them.
No, the hearing and the people involved were merely catalysts. They held the brush that put the finishing touches on this cracked, warped picture.
I’m no revolutionary, no anarchist, but I no longer believe our systems — democracy, capitalism, religion, education, health care, law enforcement, the courts, any of them — are worth preservation, or deserve a chance at redemption.
They’re broken beyond repair, and the joke’s on us, because the game is rigged top to bottom, and we let it happen.
It took a court-sponsored theft of an orphan to see it, but see I can, my eyes open to a truth hidden the whole time in plain sight.
I’m proud beyond measure of my friend.
The government asked her to take in the unwanted boy. She did so much more than that.
He was sick. She made him well.
He was unloved. My friend gave him every ounce she had.
He didn’t have a name. She gave him one. It means appointed.
She gave him her time, money, life and the biggest gift of all, her heart.
If you know this woman, it makes sense, her actions, maternal nature, the sorrow and sadness over losing the boy.
She’s someone worth knowing, trusting and fighting for. That the court, attorneys, and their cherished system didn’t understand this is another example that justice is truly blind.
She and I spoke the other day.
She’s doing better.
Hard days followed the hearing, followed the day her boy was taken away. More will come.
As sure as her heart loves, it bleeds, too.
But she’s started to smile and laugh again, and it’s a welcome sight.
Her smile is wide and bright and smoothes the rough edges of anyone within its radius.
I’ve always said the trait I admire most about a person is his or her ability to raise up the people around them. My friend does this better than anyone.
When we talked, she said she dreams about the absent boy.
She dreams the judge made a different decision.
She dreams he’s still home, still with her.
She dreams someday circumstances will reunite them.
I wish I shared her hope.
Love, we agreed, is dangerous.
It doesn’t come or go easy. It makes you earn it, and as swiftly as it arrives, it’s gone just as fast.
The mystery of life, my friend says, is that it can all change in the blink of an eye. Those words are certainly more poetic than anything I’ve written today.
But that’s her, part of the glow surrounding her.
I had my own dream recently about the boy.
It was years later, as he was entering adulthood. He had indeed found his way back, but there was no happy reunion, no Hollywood ending.
He found my friend, the judge, the attorneys, me, all of us who built and relied upon systems with sand for foundation.
He wanted to understand, wanted to know who was accountable.
He said his life had been hard, that he had struggled in many ways.
He asked us why he was pushed to a crossroads so early in life. He asked why he was ordered one way when it should have been the other.
He asked why we did what we did when we should have known better.
No one could answer him.
We just sat there silently, looking at him, as unable to help then as that day at the courthouse, unable as the day he was born.