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Letting Go

We would have two hours on the road, and it already felt like an eternity

By F Cade SwansonPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 months ago 6 min read
Runner-Up in Love Unraveled Challenge
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Letting Go
Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Just look for the blue Dodge Durango with the Guam sticker, she said.

It’s a Wednesday in June. The following day marks the three year anniversary of meeting our eldest son Michael at a playground in Tacoma. Today, though, Nathan and I are driving to Ellensburg from Seattle to meet Jacob. And I’m not doing well.

We had barely talked with his aunt, other than to make arrangements to pick him up, and to hear how caring for him and her own four kids was just no longer possible. How she was sorry. How there was no one else. How it had to be now. How she couldn't wait any longer and her husband's family was away. How much pressure she felt from them to raise Jacob, and how she just couldn't do it anymore. She’d meet us halfway-- maybe in Ellensburg? There’s a McDonalds there, she said. We’ll meet in the parking lot. And so we asked Aunt Susan to watch Michael, hopped in the truck and headed east. We would have only two hours on the road, and it already felt like an eternity.

We had only seen one picture of Jacob, which his aunt texted a few days before. We didn't know much; he was 18 months old; he was Chamorro; he needed a home. He’d been through three sets of relatives and the state couldn't find anyone out east to care for him, so they expanded their search to western Washington and found us. They connected us to his aunt, who was anxious for him to go. So we drove east on I-90, arriving early to a town where we had never been. There would be no social workers. No court appointed special advocates. Just Jacob, his aunt, her cousin, and us.

We were nervous. And eager. And anxious. And the weather was hot.

We weren't naive like we were with our first child, or broken like we became with our second child. Not this time. This time we were awake. Painfully awake. Fully conscious and fully aware of everything we didn't know.

We drive in silence, and I start imagining all of the things waiting for us. Who will this child be? What will he need? Will we be able to do this again? I’m making lists in my head of the friends and counselors and connections we might need. Let go, I tell myself. It'll be okay. You've done this before. You know what to do. I sit up tall in the passenger seat of our black truck, grab at the handle on the dash board but not too hard, and try to relax.

We see a Starbucks. Something familiar. Drive thru? No, we have time to go in. Brown wooden chairs greet us. Green straws. The smell of espresso grounds me, re-situates me back in my body. I order an iced Americano, and feel the cool bitter taste against the back of my teeth. Nathan orders a green tea, because we were in shape back then, and green tea was on the diet. He’s wearing a grey polo and I’m in wearing green plaid. What do you wear to meet your child for the first time? With Michael it was a red tractor shirt because we were told he liked farms. With Marie it was baby blue and orange. For Jacob I wanted to look approachable. For his aunt I wanted to look parental.

The coffee is helping me calm down. Nathan is giddy. We post on Facebook. One quick coffee before we get Jacob- 15 minutes and counting! and the likes begin to appear. We get back in the truck and head to McDonald’s. We know we won't be able to turn back once that Durango arrives, and the responsibility of parenthood that awaits us makes it feel like our truck is moving even faster but at the same time the road feels sticky. Like hot asphalt before it cures- you wanna go faster so you won't get stuck, but moving fast doesn't keep you from sinking in deep. And even after you get through it, remnants stick to you to remind you where you've been.

Nathan and I were at one of our lowest points just before getting the call about Jacob, 18 months into a state-ordered separation of Michael, our son, and Marie, with whom he shares a mom. Marie lived with us from birth to 9 months, at which point the state identified and introduced her to her birth dad James. Nine months later, on Christmas eve, they moved her in with James and his girlfriend, and separated her from Michael, who we had adopted. Brothers and sisters have a right to grow up together, and parents have a right to raise their kids. When those two things don’t align, it gets difficult.

The next 18 months were spent building relationships with her dad's family, and keeping Marie and Michael connected with weekend visits. The state is clear that kids do best with their birth parents, and foster parents don’t have a say in where kids land. At first, James' girlfriend took great care of her, and though there was a lot of adjusting, we all seemed to be doing alright. Weekend visits were filled with laughter. We hosted Marie’s second birthday at our house. Shortly after that party, James gained full parental rights. The state closed the case.

And then things fell apart.

James fell into a very dark place. His girlfriend left. For the next year, I wasn't sure who or what would be waiting for me when I would drive down in the black truck to pick up Marie on Saturday mornings. Her smile had faded. She became distant, withdrawn. The car rides, once full of laughter, grew silent. She stopped growing. Her dad became increasingly irritated, and his mom, Marie's grandmother, increasingly confrontational. Marie and her dad moved several times, lived out of his truck for a bit. They stayed with friends. We offered for him to let her stay with us until he could get his life back on track, but he wasn't ready for that. We brought him mattresses for them to sleep on.

Michael could see the changes in his sister, but wasn't old enough to understand why she left, or why we weren't bringing her home. And the State, who had delivered her to her birth father, was not interested in checking in and seeing how Marie was doing, since the case was closed. So we kept her room ready for her to sleep in every weekend, and promised to have a warm meal and a hot bath for her every Saturday. We offered Michael assurances that we would do everything we could to keep her safe. And to keep him safe. We told him no one was going to come and get him, as they had five times before he arrived in our home. And I would lay with him until he went to sleep, because that was the only way he felt safe. But after he went to sleep, Nathan and I would cry and argue as we slowly fell apart. And over time, all of our love was spent on Michael and Marie, and there was none left for each other.

We pull into a spot in the front of the McDonalds parking lot and wait. Nathan lets me choose the music because he knows that calms me down. I recognize I’m still holding on to the handle on the dash, even though we’re stopped. It’s hot in the car as I scan for a blue Durango. I’m thinking about Marie, who was 18 months old when she left. Jacob is 18 months old now. Marie just turned three—Michael helped me and Nathan make her a green cake for her birthday last weekend. I’m wearing a green plaid shirt. Approachable. I see the Durango pull in. The Guam sticker is glittering on the back window. I take a deep breath, let go of the handle, and go to meet our third child.

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About the Creator

F Cade Swanson

Queer dad from Virginia now living and writing in the Pacific Northwest. Dad poems, sad poems, stories about life. Read more at fcadeswanson.com

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Outstanding

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    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

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  • Christy Munsonabout a month ago

    F Cade, I'm sorry I missed reading this piece earlier. I love the ways you've moved through time and emotions to slowly reveal layers. You give me, and other readers, compelling and intimate access to a tumultuous set of circumstances, and I cannot turn away. I cannot imagine being in that place. Two years since this piece was first published, I hope you've found your world a richer place (emotionally) than it might have felt when you first let go of that handle. Congratulations on earning Runner Up placement in the Challenge!

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