To What We Lost – T.L. Conrad
I was overcome with emotion in this story of of intense hardships and impossible choices. T.L. Conrad displays incredible strength through her experience and her wise decisions made through love are inspirational.
Innocence Lost, Courage Found
By: T.L. Conrad
Abigail looked up at the azure blue sky as Max loaded the last suitcase into the trunk. Max walked over to Abigail and wrapped his strong arms around her, pulling her close to him.
“It’ll be alright; we’ve got this.” He placed a soft kiss on her forehead. He knew long car rides were no longer an easy task for her. Abigail held tight to her husband, accepting all the strength he was imparting to her. Over her shoulder, he watched as Henry opened the door and walked towards them.
“Ready to go?”
Henry rolled his eyes as he walked past them and opened the car door. “Yeah, something like that.” He got in and slammed the door shut.
Abigail jumped, startled by the loud noise. “It’s going to be a long day. We better get going.”
Max waited while Abigail got in and closed the door for her. She sat sideways in her seat, keeping an eye on Henry, who was currently slouched and staring out the window and glanced at her son. Henry was slumped in the backseat, staring out the window. Max got behind the wheel, started the car, and began the long drive across the state.
Pop music played quietly on the radio, but it didn’t seem to do anything to ease the tension in the car. Abigail watched in the rearview mirror as Henry reached into his pocket.
“What?” Henry asked mockingly. “I’m just getting my earbuds.” He held them up as he caught his mother’s eyes in the mirror. In that brief second, Abigail remembered the first time she looked into her son’s eyes.
Henry was six years old the first time she met him. He was tiny, malnourished, and dirty. He stood in their driveway; a little red car clutched tightly in his fist. The foster parent he had been staying with handed Abigail a plastic grocery bag with everything he owned. Henry stood with his back to Abigail and Max, watching his foster mother’s car drive away. He didn’t move until it was out of sight.
Abigail had stood frozen behind him, taking in the heartbreaking scene. She knew that coming to them meant that someone else was abandoning him, leaving him to start over with strangers again.
When he finally turned to them, Abigail’s breath caught in her throat. Henry was breathtaking, blue eyes like the Caribbean. His blonde hair was overgrown, falling into his face. He had scratches, some old and some new, from the half-broken glasses balancing precariously on his nose. One second, she was smiling down at him, and the next, he was off, running. Max chased after him through the neighborhood. At first, he wouldn’t come near either of them. It took a few weeks until Henry warmed up to them, until they established a routine, until they started to feel like a family.
Where did that little boy go? She looked at Henry, now a 16-year-old young man. He put his earbuds in, rolled his eyes, and turned to look out the window.
Max reached out and took Abigail’s hand. She laced her fingers with his and gave him a sad smile.
Interstate 76 cut across the state of Pennsylvania. Max and Abigail had never traveled this road. They were in awe of the scenery around them. The further west they went, the larger the mountains grew. “There’s a rest stop in two miles.” Max pointed out. “How about we stop and grab a bite to eat?”
“Sounds like a plan to me,” Abigail answered.
Max looked in the rearview at Henry. “You hungry back there?”
Henry didn’t even bother to look at his father. Max looked at Abigail, who simply shrugged her shoulders.
A few minutes later, they were pulling off the interstate and into the parking lot. Max held Abigail’s hand as they walked. Henry stayed behind them, scuffing his feet along the pavement with each step. Once inside, there were a variety of food options to choose from.
“What do you want to eat?” Max asked Henry.
“I don’t care.”
“Alright, pizza it is.” Max ordered a tray of pizza and three drinks. The family sat at a table to eat their lunch. Abigail and Max attempted some light conversation. Henry refused to remove his earbuds, clearly not wanting to be a part of the conversation.
“I have to use the restroom before we leave,” Abigail told her husband.
“No problem. Henry and I’ll wait here.”
“I’ve got to go too.” Henry finally spoke.
Abigail and Henry shared a nervous look.
“Umm…okay…I’ll wait out here,” Max said nervously.
A few minutes later, Abigail came out of the restroom and saw Max standing alone. “He didn’t come out yet?”
“Max, there is a second exit on the other side of the restrooms.”
Abigail looked at Max, concern marred his face. Henry wasn’t a little boy anymore. He didn’t need his daddy to go in the restroom with him, but standing and waiting put the couple at a disadvantage; they didn’t have eyes on Henry. The minutes ticked by slowly as Abigail remembered another day when she had waited for Henry, but he never came.
It was a Thursday afternoon, one she would never forget. Henry went missing. He was ten years old at the time and attending special needs classes. Autumn was beginning to take hold; the air was crisp. Red, yellow, and orange leaves lined the sidewalks. Abigail had been sitting on the porch swing reading a book while waiting for the school van to drop Henry off. Her phone rang with an unfamiliar number. “Hello?”
“Mrs. Anderson, it’s Mr. Sal, Henry’s driver.” He was out of breath as he spoke. “I was driving. Henry jumped off the van.”
“He what?” Abigail’s heart began beating frantically in her chest. “Where is he?”
“I couldn’t go after him. I had other kids in the van. I called the police. They’re searching for him.” Her world screeched to a halt.
An hour later, a searcher grabbed Henry as he was about to run onto a busy highway. She rushed to the school. When she arrived, she saw Henry, wildly combative, being handcuffed and placed in the back of a police car and was on his was way to the emergency room for a psychiatric evaluation. Abigail didn’t remember the drive or the wait or Max arriving. She didn’t remember anything until a nurse placed a warm blanket around her shoulders. Later that evening, Henry was declared a danger to himself and admitted to a psychiatric facility.
Abigail placed her hand on Max’s arm. “You need to go in and─”
“Here he comes.” Max breathed a sigh of relief. He felt his wife’s legs begin to give out. He grabbed her and held her tight. “It’s okay. He’s right there. See?”
She nodded her head, unable to speak as Henry sauntered towards them.
“Ready to go, guys?” He smirked and kept walking.
Max’s hands balled into fists in response to his son’s bad attitude.
Abigail grabbed his hand. “Please, Max. Let’s just get back on the road.”
Max looked into his wife’s pleading eyes. She had already suffered enough. He wasn’t about to add to her trauma. Together they walked back to the car. Henry was leaning up against the door, waiting for them. They got in and got back on the road.
The last hundred miles of their journey seemed to drag on, even though Max was driving well over the posted speed limit. It was this part of the journey that had plagued her nightmares the past week. Nightmares were something she had gotten used to since that day in the kitchen with Henry.
It was six weeks ago yesterday. Henry had just arrived home from school and went straight to his room, slamming the door. I don’t have the energy for another fight. She thought silently. If he doesn’t get his homework done, oh well. After six years of living with Henry, Abigail was all too familiar with the eerie feeling that began to permeate the room. As she reached for her coffee cup, the hairs on her neck stood on edge. Pausing for a moment, she heard footsteps coming towards her on the tiled kitchen floor. She began to turn around but froze when she felt something cold and sharp pricking the back of her neck—the area between the vertebrae where the neck meets the spine.
“Don’t move, or I’ll put this knife through your neck,” Henry’s voice was devoid of emotion.
He’s going to kill me. She slowly removed her trembling hands from the coffee cup and placed them in her lap. She found herself unable to take a deep breath, her body beginning to shut down. Compose yourself, Abigail. It’s the only way you’re gonna make it out alive.
She recognized the tone of Henry’s voice. He was in an altered state that didn’t include reality. In this state, Henry had no conscience. She couldn’t plead with him. Her only hope was to try a distraction; food was her best option.
“Do you want me to fix you a snack, Henry?” She tried to keep the waver out of her voice. “I have Hot Pockets.”
He simply applied more pressure to the knife, penetrating her skin. A slow trickle of blood began to run down her back. She saw visions of the blade sliding between her vertebrae, severing her spinal cord. Henry sawing until she bled out, and her head was on the floor.
The clatter of the knife on the tile floor startled her. Henry ran back to his room. Abigail remained paralyzed with fear, her lungs threatening to suffocate her. Then Max’s strong arms were around her rocking her trembling body, “You’re safe, baby girl, you’re safe.”
When the police had questioned Henry, he said he had stolen the knife from the teacher’s lounge to kill her. The police led a handcuffed Henry to their car. He stopped walking. “Mom, I promise you, I’ll be back. I’ll get a gun, and I’ll kill you.” That threat, his lethal gaze, the dried blood on her back. That was the last time Henry was ever in their home.
Max finally steered the car off the interstate. The rest of the ride led them on roads through Amish farmlands. Scenes of families working together in their fields filled Abigail’s view. Tears pricked the backs of her eyes as she realized her dreams for their little family of three had fallen apart.
“We’re here,” Max spoke softly as the facility came into view.
Tree of Life Center for Recovery was ranked as the best long-term treatment facility in the state for troubled teenagers. Abigail felt conflicted when she saw the facility was as beautiful as the pictures. It still felt wrong, but she knew they had no other choice. She was miserable thinking about leaving him yet so ready to have him gone. Beyond the entrance gates, horses for the equine therapy program grazed with quiet eyes, tails swishing. On the other side of the road, a group of teens played basketball. Peace and happiness. It was nothing like she’d imagined.
“It looks pretty nice here.” Abigail tried her best to sound optimistic. “What do you think, Henry?”
“It’s fine.” Henry’s stare focused beyond the sights around him.
“I think you’re gonna like it here.”
“I doubt it.” Henry met her eyes, piercing her with his hateful stare. Abigail stopped talking and looked to Max, who simply shook his head. After the day Henry stabbed her, Max gave up all hope. His primary goal was to protect his wife.
Max parked in a visitor’s spot. He and Abigail looked at each other and took a deep breath. The rest of the day would not be easy. Once again, Max and Abigail walked hand in hand while Henry lagged behind, still not speaking to them.
They entered the admissions building and were greeted by Dr. Bell, the lead psychiatrist. He ushered the family into a meeting room to meet the doctors, nurses, and residential staff who would be Henry’s treatment team. It was overwhelming, causing the all too familiar feelings of a panic attack to begin. Abigail’s hands started to go numb; her lungs refused to give her the air she needed. Max noticed his wife’s distress immediately and grabbed her hand, holding tightly, silently offering the support she needed to get through today.
“Excuse me, please,” Abigail spoke quietly. “Is there a restroom?”
“Yes, in the hall, third door on the right,” Dr. Bell replied.
Abigail got up and left the room. As soon as she was in the hall, the tears she had been holding back began to fall, she sunk to the floor. A young woman with dark curly hair came over to sit beside her.
“You must be Abigail,” She said in a soft tone. “I was just about to come in. I’m Justine, Henry’s therapist.”
“I’m sorry. I just needed a break.” Abigail tried to catch her breath. “This is all so hard.”
“No need to apologize. There’s nothing easy about this situation.” Justine handed her a tissue. “We can take all the time you need before we go back into the room.
The two ladies sat on the floor of the hall, neither saying a word for a few minutes as Abigail allowed the emotions she had been holding in to pour out through her tears.
Justine reached for Abigail’s hand. “We’ll take good care of him.”
“I hope you’re able to do what I couldn’t. I hope you can break down his walls and reach the little boy trapped inside.”
“I’ll do everything I can to help him get well. You ready to go back in there?”
Abigail closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Together the women walked back into the room.
Abigail returned to her seat next to Max. He gave her a loving smile.
Justine walked over, taking the seat next to Henry. “Hi there, I’m Justine. I’ll be your therapist.”
“Good for you.” Henry rolled his eyes and turned his body away. Justine smiled, unphased by his bad attitude.
Dr. Bell took the break in the conversation to excuse Henry from the room, sending him with the residential staff to get settled in at the residence. Once they were alone, Dr. Bell began to ask questions about Henry’s early history. They discussed what they knew of his past as well as their experiences with him.
Dr. Bell’s face became serious. “Is there any history of sexual abuse?”
Abigail looked at Max; her eyes still puffy from crying. They both knew these questions were coming, but it didn’t make answering them any easier. Max held his wife’s delicate hand in his large, steady hand.
Abigail turned her head and looked at Dr. Bell. “Yes, Sir, there is.” She told him about the night they learned about the man who violated Henry’s small body. “Henry was very matter of fact when he talked that night.” Tears poured down her face as she spoke. “He told us about the man, a caretaker from his past, who forced him to do sexual acts with him. He didn’t cry or show any emotion. The next day we called his caseworker. She told us that he didn’t need a therapist because the abuse happened when he was so young. If we only knew.”
“You did the right thing.” The doctor assured the couple. “None of what’s happened is your fault. The information you were told was wrong. You weren’t given proper support from the beginning.” His voice held no judgment. “I assure you both we’ll do everything we can to help Henry close the wounds from his past and gain skills for a better future.” With that, the doctor stood and shook the couple’s hands, leaving them with Justine.
“Let’s head over to the residence. You can see where he’ll be living and say your goodbyes,” Justine said. She led the couple out of the building and over to the residential buildings. Henry was sitting on a bench with one of the staff as they walked up.
“Are you all settled in?” Justine asked in a cheery voice.
“Yeah, all settled in,” Henry replied mockingly.
“Time to say goodbye to your parents.”
“No thanks, they can just leave.” He snarled.
Max was visibly upset by Henry’s attitude. “Henry, knock it off and say goodbye to your mother.”
Abigail’s throat was aching with tears as she placed her hand on Max’s arm. “It’s okay.” His body relaxed with her touch.
“Goodbye, Henry.” Max’s words held a finality to them.
Abigail spoke softly. “I love you, Henry. Please get well.” Henry turned away, without a word, following Justine inside.
Abigail remained rooted where she stood, unable to walk away until the door closed with Henry inside, out of her sight. Max, outwardly calm and steady, took her hand in that strong yet gentle way and led her back to their car. Her heart broke a little more with each step. The tears she was holding back fell freely. She wanted to have hope, but her gut told her this would be one of the last times she would see her son.
That first day back, there was something different about the peace; maybe it was more permanent. Abigail had her usual cup of coffee at the oak dining room table while she stared out the glass doors at the spring leaves and bouncing daffodil heads. She missed him. She didn’t miss wondering when he would try to hurt her again or having to live in a home that felt more like a prison; cameras in every room and doors and cupboards locked. Their whole family dedicated the past nine years of their lives to help him, and now her family didn’t feel complete. Did I fail him? Was he already lost when he first arrived? So many thoughts were running through her mind.
She had avoided it for so long, but she finally gave in. She walked to the shelf in the living room. She reached up, took the scrapbook she had made for Henry off the top shelf, carried it carefully back to the dining table, and sat down. With shaking hands, she opened it.
One of the first pages held two pictures: each of them of a woman, each a mother. On the left was the only photo they had of Henry with his birth mother, the mother he called “visit mom;” on the right was Henry and Abigail’s picture. Abigail smiled, remembering that memory. They were making pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving.
“Here, Henry.” Abigail passed him a spoon. “You can lick the batter.”
Henry reached out and took the spoon. His eyes closed as his tongue lapped up the yummy pie filling. The pie mix smeared on his nose, causing Abigail to giggle
Henry looked up at her with his big blue eyes. “I love you, princess mom.”
It was at that moment she knew he should be her son. She glanced back at the picture of Henry and his birth mother. “I am so angry with you—visit mom.” This woman gave him life, then neglected and abandoned him. But Henry always loved her. He never entirely accepted he wouldn’t go back to her one day.
Abigail looked up when she heard the door close. Max had just walked in from work.
“What are you looking at there?”
“I took out Henry’s scrapbook. Come look.”
Max pulled up a chair next to his wife as they looked through the pages.
Abigail turned the page. They found themselves looking at the photos from Adoption Day. They stood next to the judge, while Henry sat in the judge’s seat. The picture revealed something that day she never saw or perhaps hadn’t allowed herself to see before─ Everyone was smiling, except Henry.
“Max, look.” She pointed to the photo. “Do you remember how upset he got when you told him I was going to be his new mom?”
“How could I forget?”
She recalled the day, shortly before they adopted him when Max told Henry Abigail would be his new mom. “I don’t want a new mother. I have a mother,” he shrieked and pummeled them both with his seven-year-old fists. From that day on, he had insisted he was going back to his real mom.
“Did he think he was going to court to go back to his birth mom?” Tears pricked Abigail’s eyes.
Henry had been to court many times in his young life while custody was being decided. When his birth mother seemed to be doing well, the judge, trying to keep his natural family intact, would allow him to return to her. She wondered if it was possible, despite the adoption preparation they attempted to do with him, he didn’t completely understand what was happening? Did Henry go to court that day with the hope he would be returned to his birth mother, only to realize he was going to remain with Max and Abigail forever?
For the first time, the pieces of the puzzle started to fit together. Neither Max nor Abigail said a word. Chills covered Abigail’s body as the realization that the very day they were celebrating their new family was the day Henry began to hate her. I guess maybe Adoption Day was the tipping point, she thought, rubbing her thumb over their smiling faces.
“I think it’s time to put this away.” Max closed the scrapbook and stood, and put it in its place back on the shelf. “Why don’t we go out for dinner tonight?”
Abigail smiled, pretending to put her thoughts away as quickly as he put the scrapbook away. “That sounds great.” She smiled at him.
As they drove to the restaurant, she was quiet. Memories of the weeks following the adoption played in her mind. She recalled how Henry became completely distant, especially from her. Henry started exhibiting behavior issues at home and at school. At the time, they felt it wasn’t anything they couldn’t handle, until that day, exactly one month after the adoption, when everything changed in an instant.
Abigail had been washing dinner dishes while Henry was drying them and putting them away. Max had gone outside with the garbage. The sound of Henry loudly clinking silverware into the drawer stopped. Abigail turned around to see what he was doing. She remembered hearing a blood-curdling scream and realized it was coming from her.
“Henry, oh my God, what did you do?” She was frantic.
Henry had taken a knife and cut his wrist open. She grabbed his arm, pressing the dishtowel as tightly as she could, trying to stop the bleeding.
“Max, help, I need help.”
Max heard her screaming and ran back into the house. He saw the knife on the floor and his wife holding a bloody cloth on his son’s arm. He called 911. The ambulance arrived minutes later.
“Can I please ride with him?” Abigail asked the paramedics through her tears.
“Of course, ma’am.”
She climbed in and buckled into a seat. She watched as they worked to control the bleeding. Max followed in the car.
In the emergency room, even though she was physically present, Abigail felt detached. She remembered feeling like she was in one of those out of body experiences, a wavering camera on the ceiling, watching this impossible scene. There was no way any of this was real. Four security guards were struggling to hold an eight-year-old child, a feral child who fought them, so they could administer a sedative. Eight years old. This wouldn’t be his last suicide attempt. But it was the first time he was committed to an in-patient psychiatric facility. That event was the start of a pattern of increasing violent behaviors and repeated hospitalizations.
Max brought Abigail to her favorite Mexican restaurant. She went through the motions of dinner, but her heart and mind weren’t there.
“Max,” Abigail set her fork down. “Do you think we missed signs of a problem with Henry?”
“Looking back, maybe, but we did the best we could.” He reached out and took his wife’s hand in his. “We cared for him and loved him. There was nothing we could have done differently.
Abigail nodded her head silently. She wanted to believe Max’s words, but she couldn’t. She felt like she had failed Henry.
Over the first six months at Tree of Life, Henry didn’t call and refused to accept calls from his parents. Abigail was going to therapy on her own. She had been diagnosed with PTSD and had frequent nightmares and panic attacks.
She was sitting on her living room sofa, trying to control her breaths when Max came in from work. He was startled to see his wife’s pale complexion and shaking hands.
He rushed to her side. “What’s wrong?”
“Justine called,” Abigail spoke. “We have to go visit Henry.”
“What?” Max raised his voice, startling Abigail. “I’m sorry I yelled. What do you mean we have to visit him?”
Abigail was numb as she spoke. “The insurance is requiring us to visit him this weekend, or they won’t approve further treatment.”
Abigail could no longer control her fear. She began to hyperventilate. Max held her tightly, rubbing her forehead gently, and whispered calmly in her ear until she fell asleep in his arms.
Early Saturday morning Max and Abigail once again got in the car and set out for Tree of Life. Abigail was so panicked she needed medication to get in the car. This time, Interstate 76 was familiar. As the mountains grew more prominent, so did the fear in the pit of Abigail’s stomach. When they arrived at the facility, the horses were there, and the basketball. Abigail was so terrified that she could see nothing but the hands she kept clenched on her lap. Max pulled into the same visitor’s spot that they were in six months ago.
“Take me home, Max,” Abigail’s whisper was desperate and begging.
Max turned and held her face in his hands, “You are my world, my everything. I won’t let anything happen to you. I’ll be right here next to you.”
Somehow, Abigail found the courage to step out of the car.
Justine met them in the visitation building, “Henry has had an incredibly positive day. He’s in a great mood,” she was practically beaming as she led them into a smaller visitation room. “He’s just finishing up creative therapy and will be escorted here any minute.” She seemed to hesitate, searching their faces for a positive reaction.
Max stood silent; Abigail was only relieved at having a few more minutes reprieve. Pushing on, she said, “What I’m hoping we’ll accomplish today is─” when they heard a commotion erupt in the hallway. Justine jumped up to check on the situation. “Stay here,” she said firmly. Abigail heard a lock click as she closed the door.
As they waited in the room, they could hear Henry laughing and yelling, “I was going to kill her. I was finally going to get to go back to my real mom!”
Minutes that felt like hours passed before Justine returned, her optimism dimmed. “In the pre-visitation pat-down, the staff found a knife tucked in Henry’s waistband,” she said. Listening, Abigail couldn’t understand why she was calm. Maybe it was the lock on the door. Maybe it was because she wouldn’t be forced to see Henry that day. Maybe because his actions affirmed their decision, no matter how hard it had been.
Max and Abigail explained their theory about Adoption Day and Henry’s disappointment.
Justine said, “I’ve explained this to him.” Then she looked at Abigail as if she would have the answer, “Why does he think killing you will let him get back to his birth mom?”
Abigail lifted her left shoulder in a “dunno” move and gave a grimacing smile to Max. He squeezed her hand.
They silently left the facility hand in hand, both knowing Henry would not be coming home.
August 23, 2017, nine months after the day they didn’t see Henry. Nine months after the day he stole yet another knife to kill Abigail. The couple was sitting in a meeting room with their attorney and Judge Smith. The judge was on a conference call with Dr. Bell.
Max held Abigail’s hand as she looked around the room. The posters caught her eye. They were filled with inspirational slogans meant for struggling parents. On the opposite wall, she saw the pictures of families who had celebrated their adoptions in this room; she knew their photo was somewhere in the mix. Heartache and happiness. She felt the weight of the two opposing emotions crushing her. Today, with the full support of Dr. Bell, they were petitioning to terminate their parental rights. Today, 16-year-old Henry would once again become a ward of the state.
The conversation between Dr. Bell and Judge Smith was difficult to hear. “Henry has attempted to run away from Tree of Life on multiple occasions, something that remains a concern. He displays violent behavior, attacking staff, and peers daily. To date, Henry has set two fires: one in his residence and one at the school, forcing the buildings to be evacuated.” Dr. Bell informed the judge.
“Has any progress been made on his therapeutic schedule,” Judge Smith asks, his kind and crinkled eyes a little sad around the edges.
“Henry has an intense therapy schedule, but he typically refuses to attend sessions. The few sessions we have been able to get him to, he was removed for disruptive behavior.”
Justine came on the line to read her notes. “Henry is completely obsessed with murdering his adoptive mother and holds the delusion that killing her will return him to his birth mother.” She paused. “He is still actively plotting ways to kill his adoptive mother.”
Max squeezed Abigail’s hand. Abigail was unable to meet his eyes.
“Then there is Henry’s history of sexual abuse,” Dr. Bell added. The judge had already read the full report and was familiar with the details. “He is exhibiting a significant increase in predatory sexual behaviors. For Henry’s safety and the safety of others, we’ve had to transfer him to the sexual predatory unit at Tree of life.” Dr. Bell’s voice was professional. He’d seen this kind of thing before. “That’s my full report.”
They could hear him tapping papers into a neat stack, finished with his evidence for the judge.
Thank God that is over. Abigail was overwhelmed by the conversation.
The judge took a long, deep breath, obviously weighing the gravity of the situation before he addressed the couple.
“You’ve been good parents. You’ve tried. But Henry’s diagnosis is serious. I’ve read his history. He has a poor prognosis. He needs to remain in a long-term placement.”
Max squeezed Abigail’s hand so hard it hurt. She wiggled her fingers, and he slackened his grip.
Judge Smith’s deep, gentle voice dropped and grew softer. He looked Abigail in the eye. “I’m concerned about his fixation on you. He is a danger to you.”
Abigail blinked away fresh tears. Someone else knows. This isn’t in my head.
The judge went on, “I know you are suffering, but I have to thank you so much for opening your hearts and your home to a little boy who needed a family. In the eyes of the court, you gave him not only your love but every opportunity for treatment. Treatment Henry refused to accept.”
A tiny sob escaped from Abigail’s throat. Her tears were flowing freely.
“Your petition to terminate parental rights is granted.”
Abigail’s emotions rolled through her. Relief. Heartbreak. Failure. That was the emotion. Failure. The worst failure of her life. She hadn’t been able to reach her son. He never accepted my love. I couldn’t save him from his trauma. I failed him. At that moment, the loss was so significant she didn’t think she would ever recover.
Max lifted his voice to Dr. Bell on speakerphone, “Thank you, sir.” He shook Judge Smith’s hand. Then he wrapped his arm around his wife’s shoulder and guided her out of the courtroom.
That afternoon, Max and Abigail sat in silence, neither able to express the intensity of their emotions. Abigail felt as though she were mourning a death, and in a sense, she was. The little boy she fell in love with was dead. Her thoughts returned to those first months when he would fix her with his Caribbean eyes and call her princess mom.
“I thought I could help that little boy,” She whispered. Maybe that little boy was only a figment of my imagination.
What she knew was that Henry, now, was the shell of a young man with no conscience, no feelings, and no future.
She looked at her husband, the man who displayed so much courage and strength, holding her and protecting her all these years, to see him silently crying, also mourning the loss of their son. She moved closer to him, and he wrapped her in his strong arms, holding her close. They stayed like that, together, wrapped in the security of each other, silently saying goodbye to the son they no longer had.
Abigail’s recovery from the trauma was not easy. Panic attacks threatened to suffocate her; nightmares haunted her. She believed she was broken. It was Max’s loving encouragement and support that sustained her until she was strong enough to stand on her own.
She sat on her porch swing, her coffee and journal in hand, Max’s words playing loudly in her head. “You are not broken. You were never broken.” His voice was full of love and admiration. “You have been through a battle and suffered wounds, but you did not break.”
She opened her journal and began to write about the most crucial part of her healing, accepting Henry wasn’t hers to fix.
“Adopting Henry was not a mistake. We had the opportunity to give him the love he never had but always deserved. Had we not adopted him, he would have remained in the foster care system, bouncing from house to house until he aged out. Max and I did our best. We gave him a home and the love his birthmother never gave him. We provided Henry with the services he needed to heal; he chose not to take them. I have made peace with Henry’s choice, knowing Tree of Life is a place where he is cared for and kept safe. Should he decide to accept help, it is there waiting for him.”
She closed her journal and took a sip of her cooling coffee. Given time and Max’s continuous love and support, her wounds have had a chance to heal, but she is left with scars. There are days when panic bubbles just below the surface, and nightmares plague her sleep. The battle may always lie beneath the surface, but she is strong and able to fight. She wears her scars with pride, knowing she stood before unimaginable fear, looked it in its face, and was unrelenting in her resolve. She lived through her own personal hell, not seeing a way out. Recovery has not been easy; it has taken courage─ something she didn’t know she possessed. She was forced to dig deep inside herself, accepting the remaining fear, but choosing not to let it rule her life.
She smiles as Max’s car pulls in the driveway; he is home after a day’s work. I am a survivor; I am strong. She stands and walks down the steps to greet her husband, her hero. She no longer allows the past to control her. She has chosen to live unafraid.
T.L. (Tara) Conrad lives in Pennsylvania. She’s mom to four adult children who make her insanely proud. She married her high school sweetheart and is living her happily ever after. Knowing her love of reading and writing, her husband encouraged the pursuit of her MFA. He is her biggest supporter in all of her writing pursuits. Tara writes about her experience with adoption and homeschooling. She is also planning to release a children’s book, co-written with her husband, in the near future.
Visit her website www.tlconradauthor.com and her Facebook page to keep up with her latest news and releases.