While living in my last apartment, I got to know an amazing variety of people, most poor, and several with stories that oftentimes seemed unbelievable. One of these woman was Cecilia, a bright lady with a distorted view of her role in the world.
She had twin daughters, Chantal and Sabra, who had just turned 18, but were both emotionally much younger. Chantal was the cherished child; as a result of her mother’s difficult pregnancy she had mild cerebral palsy, and every accomplishment was heralded by Cecilia as a miracle. When I say every accomplishment, I mean each one, no matter how mundane, routine, or handily achieved.
I believe in helping those with disabilities deal with their disabilities.
That is the fair and decent thing to do, to give everyone a chance to live a decent life and fulfill their dreams. But it ends there. Children with cerebral palsy are not angels. They are children. Yes, they have special needs that must be cared for, emotionally and practically. Beyond that, they have the same mix of good and bad every child has, and need to be treated with love and discipline.
Chantal had been taught that because of her cerebral palsy, she was the angel child, entitled to whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted it. In the months after I met her, I began to get calls at all hours asking me to take her to the store and buy her treats, DVDs, games or anything else she desired at that moment. It never daunted her to ask me to spend my limited funds — and limited time — on this child I barely knew. When I refused her, she very nearly got violent in telling me off.
Sabra, healthy, smart and beautiful, was, in Cecilia’s mind, the demon child. Never mind that the girl was obedient and disciplined, she not only could do nothing right, but as she grew older her mother began to accuse her “evil” daughter of beating both her and Chantal. Cecelia showed up at my door one day and pointed to her cheek, saying, “See what Sabra did this time?!”
I could see nothing amiss. Cecelia asked me to come over and help her care for Chantal, whom she claimed had been beaten with a wooden spoon and thrown repeatedly to the floor by Sabra. I had my doubts. I’d caught this woman in a number of lies before, and I’d figured out the family dynamics. Still, I was concerned about Chantal. Even if Sabra had done nothing, I was beginning to wonder what her mother was capable of doing simply to get a little attention.
Chantal was stationed in front of the television, watching cartoons and eating cookies. She greeted me with surprise, and when I asked how she was doing, said, “okay, I guess, but my favorite DVD is broken and no one will buy me a new one.”
I knew that story.
“Where’s Sabra?” I asked, ignoring her attempts to manipulate me.
“I dunno.” Just at that moment, a sleepy Sabra emerged from the girl’s bedroom.
In the meantime,
Cecelia was calling 911, once again claiming one daughter had beaten the other and smacked her around as well. Since Cecelia was a good six inches and 100 pounds bigger than either girl, it was hard to believe she couldn’t have overpowered Sabra. But that was only a small part of my doubt.
The ambulance and police showed up a few minutes later. “Hi, Cecelia,” the first officer through the door said. “What’s going on today?” He sounded weary and as skeptical about the situation as I was, and asked some very pointed questions clearly meant to poke holes in the woman’s story.
It turns out Cecelia made this accusation, or one similar, on almost a weekly basis. At her insistence, Chantal was always taken to the hospital, and would return home within two hours. Charges were never pressed against Sabra.
Until a month later. I never did find out whether or not she actually struck Cecelia (at some point I figured the girl would break), but Sabra ended up in jail for two days before appearing in court, where the judge dropped the charges and advised her to move out of her mother’s home. She did just that, and within a few weeks, Cecelia and Chantal left their apartment in the middle of the night.
Two years later,
I ran into Sabra while shopping at Walgreen’s. She gave me a big hug, and when I asked how she was doing, told me in great detail about the good things in her life. Her boyfriend, her apartment, her job…it all seemed good. I knew she had a lot to overcome, but she seemed genuinely happy. Relaxed.
“Do you ever see your mom?” I asked.
The smile faded a bit. “Never,” she said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever see her again.” She paused. “They removed Chantal from her home. I want to see her, but she thinks I was the one who took her away from our mom.”
I decided not to ask if she had anything to do with it. “I think that’s the best thing for her,” I said. “And I don’t think you should see your mom either, at least not right now. Maybe someday.”
I hope the day comes when Sabra can see her mother again without falling back into the emotional abyss she had to be living in. This woman raised both daughters in such a manner the courts took action, but she is still their mother.
Help or hindrance, they will always need their mother. Just not the one they got while they were growing up.
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