A couple of days ago, it was my son’s eighth birthday. We had a great day, and I made my focus for that day, as well as the days around it, to give Josh the best possible birthday I could. And it went well. He wanted a Kylo Ren mask, one that cost quite a bit, but uses batteries to change his voice. I gave him that and a Darth Vader costume, and the combination is pretty cool.
His sister, Aishah, and his mother, Megan, also came over for the day. But this will be the last time we see his sister for a while – I don’t know how long. They are leaving for Cape Town on Tuesday and may never return. She doesn’t understand of course, and every time she speaks to me on the phone, she exclaims “We going to jump on trampoline”. (She’ll be three in May.) I’ve been taking the two of them to an indoor trampoline park just about every week, and it’s all she wants to do. We are still also very close, and in fact the last couple of times she was with us for the day (without Megan), every time she thought I might be taking her home, she’d cry, “Don’t want to go to mommy”. Now I won’t see her anymore and I’m very sad. I don’t think Megan realizes just how close her daughter and I still are. After all, I brought her up for most of the first two years of her life, and it was only a year ago that mother and daughter moved out. Aishah still calls my place home. Also, I couldn’t get recovery right until the day they moved in on 4th September 2013. That was the last day I used meth, and I knew it that very day.
So while Josh’s birthday was a good day for him, it was a day of mixed emotions for me. This was his first birthday spent living with me for many years… The last one was when he turned one year old.
I can’t help thinking back to the day he was born. It was a long day… We were still living in Cape Town. I’d lost my car and took a train from Muizenberg to Cape Town, then walked to the office in Long Street. As I walked, at about 8:40AM I got the call that Megan’s water had broken…
I rushed to catch another train back. Then I had to wait, because our friend David, who was also a meth addict, had driven her to the hospital. Eventually I got there too. It was False Bay hospital in Fish Hoek. But things were not going well. Megan was not dilated enough to give birth. And she also couldn’t manage to breathe “properly”. The person handling it was worried, saying that the baby was in distress, was not getting enough oxygen and that they were not equipped to cope with the complications.
Megan was out of her mind at the time, and kept saying, “I feel like I need to popo”. I don’t know if the lady helping her could see it, but I could see what the problem was… She was too high on meth. One of the many little-known side effects of meth is that sometimes, you lose the ability to finely control muscles… it could be any muscles, but in her case, she was unable to push, was not dilating properly, and was too panicked to breathe correctly. I felt embarrassed and worried about our son. (But mostly I felt worried. Lack of oxygen could lead to brain damage or death.) Megan was only eighteen. I was 36, and it was my money that purchased the drugs she’d used.
Eventually they called an ambulance and we were taken to Groote Schuur hospital. Megan gave birth to Josh there, at about 7:23PM. It wasn’t necessarily that they did anything differently there (apart from being more patient), but more relevant was that enough time had passed, leaving Megan exhausted, but no longer high. Josh was born naturally, but with a fractured clavicle. (Collar bone)
I can’t remember clearly, but think they were both kept there overnight. Then I returned the following day, thanks again to David. But there were complications getting Megan and Josh checked out. It took hours, all the while I had to listen to David talking rubbish as he ogled over teenage girls. He was also very high. So it took several hours. The nursing staff couldn’t find the doctor to sign the release documents, and wouldn’t let them out without those documents because of Josh’s injury. Eventually it was evening again and I had to wait until visiting hour, then took it upon myself to take the documents, and search the hospital for the doctor on duty. (She was one floor down in the nursery dealing with an unrelated emergency.) Long story short: I managed to get the document signed, as well as a referral letter to sort out Josh’s injury at Red Cross Children’s Hospital. But David had run out of patience waiting, and had abandoned us at the hospital. Eventually we did get home thanks to a lift from someone in Megan’s family, but the whole experience was stressful, and all our fault for being addicts in the first place.
After that, things went well at first. Josh was bottle-fed because we couldn’t stop using meth, and were concerned about breastfeeding him. But after a few months, I became the primary parent, the one who bonded closely with him. Since he was bottle fed, I could do so. Megan looked after him in the day, and she bathed him, but eventually it became my job to feed him at night and get him to sleep. Eventually she and I drifted apart, and she wasn’t even around many nights.
Things got worse. Eventually we lost the house, and ended up living with a drug dealer, with whom she was sleeping – but I didn’t know that at first. But she didn’t know she was doing him any harm. She thought she was still a good mother. She stopped looking after Josh during the week and placed him in crèche, even though she wasn’t working. I remember one day I got home from work when Josh was just over a year old, and he was still at crèche. Megan and the other guy had not collected him even though it was after 6PM, while they scored some drugs and lost all track of time. They used to lose track of time and disappear for two to four hours. Later she reprimanded me for fetching him from crèche, as if I did something wrong… as if it was OK for her and the scumbag to fetch him, but not me.
This hurt, because she didn’t understand that anything was wrong. I was in denial at first, trying to make things work although they could not, but things only got worse. By the time Josh was about 16 months old, despite doing all I could, I had no choice but to admit that Josh was unsafe with us, and had to be removed. And so he was. It was not a formal arrangement, but he was safe with some family of mine in Johannesburg, who were kind enough to take him in. The process involved someone from child welfare, even though the area was not under their control (as the area we lived in fell under another local government department) – so this required my involvement. I met the people, then drove with them to collect Josh, who had just undergone an operation for an inguinal hernia and was recuperating with Megan’s mother at some family of hers in Grassy Park. (He was there because Megan suspected I was up to something, which I was, as it involved many phone calls with my relative and child welfare.) Then they took him to the airport, and he was flown to Johannesburg with my relative. The child welfare people were helping though, and it was not a formal arrangement.
On some level, Megan still blames me for doing that. For removing him. For taking him away, even though all I did was cooperate with others for him to be taken away from us. Yes, I was a meth addict too, and was not blameless for the situation we were in, but in her mind, all the bad things were my fault. (But I should emphasize that this was not without warning. As the situation worsened, I’d been warning her every day for six months that I’d have Josh removed, even before my relative called me with his idea. I just didn’t know how it would happen, and for most of those six months I was in denial, hoping that the situation would improve. But it didn’t.)
She isn’t like that anymore. She is a good mother to her daughter, or at least she is trying. But every year, I reflect on those things. And for this first time this year, Josh is now with me, and though I have done well, if we had both been committed to him six and a half years ago, we could have come right without all the pain that followed that time. (I had a plan back then. I saved up for a deposit and rent elsewhere, so that we could get away from where we were. But that plan to get out of that horrible situation failed after Megan’s friend Fabrice scumbag stole my money. Then a month later he was in jail for shoplifting, and she stole my money to pay his bail.) We could have worked on our relationship and our son’s future together, and things could be very different now. I’m also sad about Aishah leaving, because I love her like my own daughter. But I’m too sad to express much more than that (about her) right now.
This reflecting back every year used to be even worse. And our first failed attempt at recovery needn’t have been a failure. That’s the worst of it. At the end of 2010, we had relapsed, but only for one week and then managed to clean up. This was before our son was in a formal foster care arrangement. The people who had been helping us did something out of spite. After a one-sided argument one day (where I wasn’t arguing), the following was said to me: “Get the fuck out of my house and take your son with you.” Then child welfare was called. The social worker, named Sandra, interviewed Megan while I was at work. Her assessment stated that Megan was unable to make any decisions on her own and she assumed that Megan was using drugs. But she wasn’t! That was the basis for him formally being removed, an assessment that erroneously assumed that we were using drugs. I should have fought it, should have insisted on drug tests, but I didn’t. Of course that had positive drug test results from our week-long relapse that had happened a few weeks before, and maybe negative test results wouldn’t have mattered to them, but I should have tried. Either way, the circumstances around our son being removed were unethical… At the very least, it was unfair, manipulative and deceitful on the part of people who supposedly cared for our son.
We returned to active meth use only after that. That is a huge regret for me. If I’d fought it, I could have been clean from December 2010. But I didn’t. At the time, I gave up. And so it looked like the unfair accusations made against us at the time were true. Further, for a couple of years I had to deal with a social worker I could not trust, since her very first report was biased against us, and all subsequent reports were based on her initial assessment, which was wrong.
After that, even though Megan was just as committed to Josh as I was, since she was no longer living with me for a while, her honesty counted against her. One occasion she was visiting, and Sandra happened to visit us. When pressed for her feelings, Megan stated that she felt like she didn’t have a son, and felt like giving up on him. That may sound harsh, but that is honestly how she felt. I felt almost as bad, but didn’t say it. The truth is, when your child is removed, so is your very reason for going on. And he was removed officially when we were clean and sober. When you don’t see your child every day, you forget. You lose all those special little moments with them, and you forget what it is to be a parent. That’s all that she was trying to express, albeit poorly phrased, and for that, another assessment was written that stated Megan was no good for our son; that she was a bad influence on me, and that it would be better if she were not in his life. I seriously can’t stand Sandra… To this day I cannot stand her. In my personal meetings with Sandra, she told me that I was angry with Megan because of the past. I wasn’t angry – I was hurt. But when somebody tells you how you feel, and refuses to listen to your own words, what can you do? It wasn’t until the case moved from Child Welfare to Social Development that we were treated fairly.
All that really changed when I cleaned up for good was that a child was once again in my care, although it was Josh’s half-sister. And from the day she was there, I no longer used drugs. Even 19 months or so later when Megan and Aishah left, I still didn’t go back to drugs. Nothing will ever take me back. So it is, in my mind, a fact that if Josh had not been removed at the end of 2010, we would have been fine. It didn’t work out that way, but it’s a bitter pill to swallow. Every now and then, someone feels the need to remind me how much I was helped, but nobody ever talks about this. Nobody ever talks about the fact that Josh was in foster care for far too long, and should never have been in formal foster care to begin with.
All the same, my relationship with those people is good now. I have to acknowledge that they didn’t know I was clean… didn’t know I was capable of staying clean… and I had broken their trust back then. So maybe I got what was coming to me? I’m not sure. At the end of the day it’s difficult to be grateful to people who helped my son by taking him away even though I was clean at the time. He was taken away to spite me, not to help him, or so it seemed at the time. But I don’t normally bring this up, because it will not do any good. All of us are on good terms now. Perhaps the malice towards me back then was simply because I was misunderstood and had not earned back their trust. Maybe they genuinely wanted what was best for Josh, and didn’t realize that they were making a mistake. But that doesn’t take the pain away, and doesn’t bring back the years that I lost with my son.
The bottom line is, I should be happy now. And I am. My son is back with me, and I am raising him as best I can. He is happy to be back. But I’m also sad at the same time. Real life isn’t simple, as it is in fiction. There is no black and white, only shades of grey. Nobody has pure and good intentions, and what might seem clear to people looking on from the outside is often far from being clear at all. There were so many things that went wrong on the way here, and some of them, some of the worst of them, were not my doing. I paid not only for my mistakes, but also for some things for which I was not guilty, and I’m still dealing with the psychological consequences thereof. I’m struggling to deal with these strange mixed emotions, with being happy and sad all at once.
I should live in the present. My relationship with all the people involved is good now. Let bygones be bygones. Although it didn’t seem so at the time, they really were most probably trying to do what was best for Josh. And yet I don’t always believe that last bit… My mind has the habit of going back, of reliving past pain. It’s a good thing in a way, because I won’t make those mistakes again, but reliving pain is not pleasant. Life is difficult enough without having to relive every painful event over and over again.