“Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?”
~The Joker, Batman
It’s been a minute since I’ve last been here.
Some of you might be thinking….huh, I hadn’t noticed.
But to those of you who did,….I BLAME OHIO CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES AND THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS (And yes, I blame them all in shouty capitals), for my lack of output.
Thanksgiving weekend, 2017, I got a call from my brother Allan in Ohio.
“I just found out that Lele has missed over twenty days of school. I’m so fucking pissed. We have to do something.”
Lele is our niece. She is the daughter of another brother, Tyler, who has a long history of substance abuse, gang affiliation and other criminal activities.
Lele’s mom, Dee, has had her own struggles and a complicated backstory. She gave birth to Lele when she was sixteen and a month later, her own mother was evicted from their home and Dee was abandoned with a newborn and nowhere to go.
I imagine that being a teen parent is hard. Hell, being a grown-up parent is hard. But for Dee and Tyler, it was about a million times more difficult. Not just because they were rootless with a newborn baby, but because within weeks of her birth, Lele was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis.
CF is a hereditary, incurable, life-threatening disease that affects the lungs and digestive system. The disease requires strict adherence to a treatment plan that includes a lifetime of fistfuls of medications, multiple daily breathing treatments and chest PT.
After the eviction, Tyler, Dee and Lele lived briefly with my mother, which is the literal equivalent, of living in hell.
From there, they stayed with my brother Allan for a few months before finally settling into an apartment of their own when Lele was about six months old.
They had been in the apartment for less than a month, when Tyler was arrested for violating a restraining order our mother had against him….a restraining order she helped him violate, by picking him up at his apartment, so that he could come to her house and do drugs and get drunk in her garage with our youngest brother. Because….family bonding time is important, obviously.
Tyler got caught, because he and my mother got into a booze/drug fueled fight and the police were called. Naturally, the two of them fled the scene.
But my mother is a narc. After first lying to the police, who weren’t buying it….and I assume under a threat to her own freedom….she sold Tyler down the river and he was arrested.
In the midst of all this, Lele developed a rare, CF related infection and had to be hospitalized. It was serious and scary.
So of course, my mother took the opportunity to make matters worse, by calling Child Protective services for about the eleventy-billionth time, and reporting Dee for a host of fabricated neglect claims.
The eventual outcome was that Dee was required to move out of her apartment and in with her aunt, where Lele would also be required to go and live after she was released from the hospital.
Lele and Dee lived with her aunt for the next three years and Lele thrived there. Then, in early winter, 2015, Dee decided she was ready to move into her own place. She didn’t make it a year before my mother drove her to a literal nervous breakdown.
She inundated Dee with abusive and vile text messages and phone calls and threats….there were hundreds of them, (and that’s no exaggeration) a day, to the point that Dee’s body and mind began to break down under the siege.
Recognizing that she was losing her grip, Dee left Lele with her aunt and checked herself into the hospital.
When my mother figured this out, she took Tyler, Lele’s dad….who was fresh out jail and rehab….to court where he filed for emergency custody of his daughter and got it.
At the time, Tyler had an apartment in a neighborhood where the odds of being the victim of a drive-by shooting, were greater than the odds of not.
During her stays on the corner of Crack and Bone Thugs in Harmony, Lele witnessed multiple fist fights between her dad and his various on-again, off-again roommates.
One of her regular babysitters, was a registered sex-offender.
She witnessed one of her dad’s girlfriends slit her own throat in front of her.
And she got struck in the chest by a firework, lit by one of her dad’s best buddies, which caused third degree burns across her chest.
After a few months of a sick kid cramping his style, Tyler packed up his vaping supplies, bottles of Old English, dime bags and roach clips and moved back in with our mother.
Then, things went from bad, to worse. If you can believe that’s even possible.
Tyler set up a pharmaceuticals business in the garage where he cooked up K2 in the dirty pots and pans he pilfered from our mother’s kitchen. While Lele was a witness and also a victim, of my mother’s rage.
She saw my mother banging down doors, screaming obscenities (including at her), hitting people (including her) and breaking things.
She took baths and brushed her teeth in a bathroom where a sick cat often vomited in the sink and no one bothered to clean it up. NOT IT!
And she played around the dog shit and piss that littered the carpeting throughout the house.
She ate her meals at a table where the leftovers from previous meals were left to grow fur for weeks.
Her medications and the various components for her nebulizer, that are supposed to be kept sterilized, were strewn about the kitchen that was riddled with old food and garbage and filth.
When tensions between my mother and Tyler came to a head, my mother evicted him. But Tyler still had custody of his daughter. So, he and Dee made the decision to again leave Lele with Dee’s aunt.
This time, it was my mother who filed for emergency custody of Lele and she got it, despite being denied at least two other times.
At the first emergency custody hearing, my mother lied about everything from Lele’s background to her medical history.
Of course, Magistrate Massengill (it’s fitting, trust me) who heard the case wouldn’t have necessarily known she was lying. Neither Dee nor Tyler were present. None of us knew about the hearing, so no one was there to refute anything she said.
But Massengill did know that when Tyler obtained custody of Lele a year or so prior….following Dee’s nervous breakdown….that it was agreed upon between Tyler and Dee, that my mother would be less of a presence in Lele’s life.
This should have been a red flag. But my mother was granted emergency custody anyway….without anyone even bothering to verify that the story she was telling was the truth.
From there, my mother drove to the aunts house to claim her stolen prize; taking Lele from a home my mother knew was clean and safe, back to her hovel that often served as a flop house for a revolving door of drug addicts and derelicts.
A home where the police had been called literally HUNDREDS of times. For things like….my mother chopping up her lawn furniture with an ax in the midst of a domestic dispute with my step-dad.
After a few additional hearings, during which my mother continued to lie….she was granted permanent custody.
And throughout the entire process, there were no checks and balances in place, that I have been able to identify, designed to ensure that Lele was going to a home where she would be safe.
There were no requirements that my mother call witnesses, or provide documents that supported the story she was telling.
There were no third party social workers assigned to investigate her claims. No one did a home visit. No one talked to other family members. No one bothered to talk to Lele.
No one bothered to check police records, or consult with Child Protective services to see if there were any on-going, or past investigations related to Lele’s care.
OR, more importantly, whether my mother had any history of child abuse allegations….which she does.
Nope. My mother just waltzed in there, spewed a bunch of bull-shit and walked out of there with a kid and an order for child support payments. Cha-Ching!
And that’s how easy it is to “legally” steal a kid in the state of Ohio.
Had anyone bothered to do any amount of background checking, or even just a quick Google search, they would have found, that among MANY other things, my mother is a big, fat liar.
A woman who, just a few months prior, had been banned by a municipal court judge, from ever owning a dog again.
That’s right folks! She isn’t allowed to own a dog. EVER. But a kid with a terminal illness? Eh, no problem.
Allan and I talked regularly about calling the Ohio Department of Child Endangerment Services, I mean Protective Services (honest mistake) for Lele, but we knew, thanks to our own wretched childhoods, that they wouldn’t actually do anything….because they don’t like to get involved until it’s time to exhume the body.
Seriously, it’s always the same story. “There just wasn’t enough evidence.”
Or, “Our case loads were too full.”
We send people to death row based purely on circumstantial evidence, but when it comes to child abuse it’s like, “Yeah, it’s true the mom said those two broken legs and that black eye and those cigarette burns happened when little Destiny fell off the bike she didn’t have, but what could we do?
So, when Allan called to tell me that Lele had missed more than twenty days of school, barely three months into the school year, I thought, “tale as old as time.”
And then, I reminded him that if we called the authorities and told them what we knew, that our mother would find out who called….and then, not only would she never allow us to see Lele again, but she would have us permanently silenced by someone willing to accept a WIC voucher as payment.
But, I guess we were feeling a bit ballsy at the end of the chat, because we decided Allan should at least try and speak to the principal at Lele’s school.
He knew her well enough, because he and his partner often did school pick-up and drop-off. They were also the stand-ins at father-daughter events at Lele’s school, because Tyler usually had warrants and so wasn’t allowed on school property.
Of course, the principal couldn’t tell him anything, but she did listen. And then she shared the information with the school’s social worker, who made a call to Child Protective Services.
When the social worker showed up to my mother’s house, she wasn’t home. She’d checked herself into the hospital….which is where she likes to go when the authorities are closing in.
And while she was away trying to swindle some good prescription drugs out of the hospital staff, she left Lele in the care of Tyler….who had recently moved back in and was busy making dabs in the garage….and her husband, my step-dad; a non-compliant and blind diabetic, who, after serving twenty-years of time with my mother, has lost the will to live.
The social worker left her card with whoever answered the door, truly, it could have been anyone….and Allan and I were ultimately able to get the information and give her a call.
Fast forward to today….my brother and I are now the proud parents of a daughter.
Which means that someone out there from my adolescence, probably one of my elementary school teachers, just won a bet on how my life would turn out.
But it didn’t happen overnight. It took a year and a half and nearly $200k to pry my niece from the clutches of Satan’s chief lieutenant. And no, I did not just happen to have that money lying around for a rainy day custody dispute.
When we started the process, I had no idea what we were truly in for. I figured that if you tell the truth and you do all the right things, you have nothing to worry about. But that’s a load of crap.
Once my mother knew we were behind the coup to free our niece, she did the following:
- Got my brother Allan fired from his job.
- Accused him of sexually molesting Lele….and then going so far as to subject her (at six years old) to an internal forensic examination. And just in case in you are wondering, my niece was clear, repeatedly, that no such abuse had ever occurred. Even the medical professionals and a detective who interviewed my niece extensively, were like, “yeah, this didn’t happen.” And my mother was like, “peek in there anyway.”
- Got Allan kicked off the Board of Directors for the local chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, where he had volunteered his time since Lele was an infant and helped to raise tens of thousands of dollars for CF research.
- Made multiple phone calls, often as an anonymous tipster, to accuse Allan of molesting and endagering, not just Lele, but our other two nieces as well….one of whom was a newborn at the time.
- Accused him of verbally assaulting her and threatening her in the parking lot at Lele’s school during a court ordered visitation exchange. Good thing there are security camera’s covering that parking lot.
- Accused me of attempting to bride witnesses, including Lele’s dad, by offering money and housing if they would agree to lie on my behalf.
- Lied at every single hearing and throughout her deposition, all under oath.
And you know what the consequences were for all the harassment and lying and deflecting and squandering of resources? Nothing. At least not for the liar.
But for us, it cost THOUSANDS in additional legal fees in order to protect and defend ourselves.
My brother had to obtain a protection order against our mother, which didn’t matter, because she repeatedly violated it.
I guess the way it works, is that unless the violator is clutching your still beating heart in their hands, while making snow angels in your blood, the protection order is really just a piece of paper that means nothing.
Early on in the case, Child Protective Services bailed out, leaving us to duke this out in the Court of Common Pleas on our own. Thanks for nothing, assholes!
And as the case progressed, and the legal fees mounted, and my mother continued to create barriers toward progress and lie without consequence, I came to understand why no one ever stepped up for me when I was a kid. Ah…I’m healed.
We had six days of trial scheduled. Our attorneys spent hours preparing.
We subpoenaed something like 30 witnesses, all of whom had to be served and then organized and scheduled to appear on specific days and times.
We had over 500 copies of police reports and body cam video’s.
We had more than 10,000 pages of medical records.
We had transcripts from prior hearings, the deposition transcripts and hundreds of text messages and photographs.
We had copies of jail/prison communications between Tyler and my mother (because yeah, he was incarcerated shortly after the case got underway) and all the audio of their phone calls….including a call in which my mother could be heard both screaming, and then hitting Lele while she cried in the background.
We showed up on the first day ready to present our case.
My mother’s free lawyer, Melanoma McChiclet-Teeth, an ambulance chaser with no family law experience she suckered into representing her pro-bono, showed up with a yellow legal pad and a bag of shit, aka, his client.
We never got a trial though. Instead, we arrived to find out, as is apparently typical, that the court was double booked and we were in second place.
While we waited, we were encouraged to try and figure it out on our own. As if we hadn’t already been trying to do that. For a year and a half. With no resolution.
But, we did ultimately settle under pressure from the court. My mother caved and we agreed to a resolution we were happy with, but not until the end of court on the second day.
We never got the opportunity to present any of our evidence. Our mother never had to answer for the things that she did.
And we never got to bring to light all the ways in which the system failed Lele. It took my mother only three trips to court and virtually no real evidence, to obtain custody of her. But it took a year and a half and nearly everything we had, to free her. That is shameful.
At one point, I commented to someone that I was disappointed in Child Protective Services and their lack of action. She said, “What Lele has been through is bad. There’s no doubt about it. But it’s not as bad as a lot of the other cases we have to deal with.”
And that makes me so sad.
But I am glad that Lele won’t be one of those kids who falls between the cracks in the system because she just wasn’t being abused enough.
Now that it’s mostly over, I’ve got to deal with some pretty heavy feelings of resentment and anger, because what’s been taken from my family and me, can’t ever be repaid.
I’m angry for all the once in a lifetime moments I missed out on in my own son’s life, while traveling back and forth for court while my mother found shady new ways to drag it all out.
I’m angry about the ways the court system and law enforcement allowed my mother to abuse us throughout this process.
I’m angry about the occasional snide comments made by Magistrate Massengill about the size of my house….OBJECTION! Relevance, your honorable asshole?
And, I’m angry about the significantly disproportionate way in which fees were allocated among the parties (I paid the bulk of everything), which was based on nothing other than a household income number. A number that did not take into account cost of living differences, or a detailed accounting of household expenses.
My husband and I are frugal savers. The only debt we carry is mortgage related.
And the “big house” the magistrate was so found of commenting on, is a fixer upper that was built in 1731 and purchased for about half the market value for homes in our community, due to the extensive renovations it required and still does.
My mother on the other hand likes to accumulate massive amounts of credit card and other debt and then file for bankruptcy.
She refuses to work a job that doesn’t pay under the table, or isn’t tip based….and not because she lacks the education or ability, but because it’s the only way she can make sure she qualifies for as much government assistance as possible.
So it was a particularly bitter pill to swallow when the court allowed her to steal from me too….especially given that I did nothing to cause any of what was happening to be necessary.
No good deed goes unpunished.
As for Lele, despite everything she’s been through, she remains an incredilby upbeat and positive and sweet and compassionate kid.
She’s insightful and smart and funny and silly and FULL of energy and life. And she isn’t afraid to give her love her away, despite all the many ways her love has been rejected by those who should have cherished it most.
She’s got a small army of people now who are committed to helping her heal, adjust and grow and thrive and she will. Because….“though she but little, she is fierce.”