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Recently, our family has become involved in a situation we had never expected to find ourselves in.  We have busy lives and are experiencing a lot of the angst that comes with having two teenagers.  Though recently, we’ve had more drama, thanks to Isabel asserting some independence with turning eighteen, while I struggle to simultaneously hold on and let go.

Isabel has a group of friends that she’s made since switching high schools before her sophomore year.  These are good kids who stay out of trouble, and are the type that make parents proud.

One friend, Kathryn*, is the first person that Isabel became friends with at her new school.  Kathryn is seventeen and has a younger sister, Melissa*.  On Halloween this last year, their dad was out of town.  Kathryn and her sister had gone to school, and their mm got ready for work.  While she was in the closet, picking out her clothes, she suffered a fatal heart attack.  She was forty years old.  The girls came home from school and tried to revive her, but she’d been dead for several hours.

At the time, I was so sorry for the girls.  I couldn’t imagine losing my mother at such a vulnerable age. 

Isabel went to the funeral, and she and her friends tried to stay very close to the girls, helping them get through the holidays.

Fast forward several months, to Isabel’s eighteenth birthday.  We had gone out for her birthday dinner, and she kept getting text messages from Kathryn’s phone.  Her father had taken her phone away and Kathryn had gone to an early movie with another of their friends.  Text after text came in from the dad, asking any of Kathryn’s friends to please ask her to come home.

As we ate dinner, Isabel related just how sad things had become for Kathryn and her sister.  Their father doesn’t work, due to a medical condition.  He is home all day, yet doesn’t do anything around the house.  Since her mother died, Kathryn has had to take over the cooking, cleaning, shopping and transportation for her father and her sister, all while going to school and preparing for graduation.

This particular evening, he had been upset because she had chosen to go out to an early movie rather than stay home and cook his dinner.  Kathryn had pleaded with him to make himself a sandwich or something easy.  This only seemed to antagonize him.

We urged Isabel to stay out of it and to ignore the texts.  Dave and I didn’t want her involved with this man.

If only we had known how bad things could get.

The next morning, Ben had a football game.  We were just getting ready to leave when Isabel came charging into my room, saying, “Kathryn is hurt.  I need to go get her!” 

Kathryn had texted another friend from her sister’s phone, but that friend didn’t have a car.  She called Izzy to see if she could come pick her up.

I immediately started questioning Isabel.  Kathryn and her dad had gotten into an argument, and it had apparently turned physical.

Rather than let Isabel go into this alone, I decided that I would drive over with her.  At the very least, a rational adult could call 911 if needed.

As I gathered my keys and put on my shoes, Kathryn called Isabel.  She was locked in her room and had smuggled her sister’s cell phone in with her.  She was hysterical.

We sped over to the house.  When we got there, everything outside was quiet.  As Isabel opened the car door, Kathryn came out the front door.  She was half-dressed, and carrying her shoes.  She had gotten downstairs and out the door without anyone seeing her.  Her sister was still in the house, along with two of her friends.  Kathryn said that they’d heard everything, but had stayed in Melissa’s room.

We drove out of the neighborhood and I stopped in a grocery store parking lot.  I wanted to look her over before deciding what to do next.  By this time, she had calmed down.  I asked her what had happened, and as she talked, I could see ugly handprints and deep scratches on her upper arms.  She also said that while she was on the floor of her room, her father had kicked her repeatedly.

There wasn’t anything that needed immediate medical treatment, so we drove directly to the nearest police station, picking up their friend, Kelsey, along the way.

We eventually met with an officer, who took us into an interview room.  Upon hearing her name and address, the officer looked up, startled.  He had responded to the 911 call when Kathryn’s mother had died.

During the interview, he asked what we had intended with the report.  I spoke up and said that something needed to be on record.  He looked at Kathryn and said, “Even if you didn’t want to press charges, these marks on you mean that I have to.  That is clearly assault.  Do you understand?  I’m going to be reading him his rights and he’s going to be arrested.”  With that, Kathryn began to cry quietly, but nodded her head.

The officer asked several more questions and then turned to me.  “Can you assume responsibility for Kathryn and her sister?”

What would you say in that situation?

“Of course.”

With that, they had a female officer photograph the marks on Kathryn and told us to go ahead and get something to eat.  They would call me as soon as the father had been removed from the home and we could go to get Melissa.  CPS would be calling me shortly, as well.

While the girls ate lunch, I had to get hold of Dave.  Suddenly, we had two more kids to care for.

Dave was at Ben’s football game, and when I told him what had happened, he simply said, “We’ll do whatever we need to do.  They’re welcome for as long as they need a place to stay.” 

We had finished lunch when the police officer called.  He said that I needed to go right over and pick up Melissa.  He said that the girls should pack some of their personal items, as he didn’t know how long, or if they would be going back to the house at all.  In all this time, we had tried unsuccessfully to reach the only relative the girls have on their mom’s side, a great-aunt who lives in Las Vegas.  When we got to the house, Melissa was talking to her aunt.

Gloria* has never married and never had kids.   She has been supplementing the family’s income for years.  Everything they had, including the house that they lived in and all of their furniture, was paid for by Gloria.

I got on the phone with Gloria and introduced myself.  She was understandably upset, but not the least surprised.  She spoke somewhat cryptically about events from the past, let me know she was booking a flight down for first thing the next morning and thanked me profusely.

As I waited downstairs for the girls to get packed, I looked around at the home that the girls would be leaving behind.  Pictures of their mother were everywhere; but, the house was a mess.  Every bit of counterspace in the kitchen was filled with dirty dishes, fast food bags, and unpacked grocery bags.  The whole house looked as if a tornado had blown through.

We got the girls back to our house and a CPS officer called.  She had to run a background check on both David and I, and would have to come out to our home to do a welfare check.  She had another call to make, involving an infant, so she wasn’t sure how long she’d be.

Hours went by before we heard from her again.  In the meantime, Dave and I went outside, to talk.  At that point, we had no idea how long we were going to have the girls.  Their dad certainly wasn’t going to get them back right away, and Gloria had already indicated that she didn’t want to take the girls away from their friends.  Kathryn is only a couple of months from graduating and turns eighteen this month.

Our challenges stemmed from our very small house and our two friendly, extremely furry dogs.  Both girls were already sneezing.  Dave tossed around a couple of ideas, including finishing out the garage.  A friend had offered bunk beds.

After dinner, the gal from CPS finally showed up at about 8:30.  She interviewed Dave and I briefly, and then asked to speak to the girls alone.  Our bedroom is about ten feet from our dinner table, so we could hear every word, whether we wanted to or not.  As we listened, my heart broke and I couldn’t stop crying.

The things that these girls had been subjected to…as far as I’m concerned, no punishment is harsh enough for their father.  The abuse had been going on for years, and their mother had been subjected to it as well.

Finally, Dave and I were called back out and given paperwork to sign.  We were the “safety plan” for the girls.  The father could have no unsupervised contact with the girls and only if they were interested.  They weren’t.

I took the girls to Wal-Mart that night, and we got airbeds, sheets, pillows and the essentials that they had forgotten to pack in their bewilderment.

We finally got everyone settled down by midnight.

The next morning, Gloria arrived and we immediately got down to the business of trying to sort out the lives of two teenage girls.

Kelsey had talked to her mother and they offered to let the girls stay at their house long term…at least until Kathryn is eighteen and they can petition for custody of Melissa.  Julie* is a single mom, and she has extra bedrooms.  Their house is within walking distance of the high school and she could take the girls’ two rabbits.

Over the next several days, with Gloria and Julie’s help, CPS approved the move, keeping Dave and I on as emergency contacts for the girls.  By the time Gloria went home again, she and I had become fast friends.  She approved of our parenting style and was highly incensed that I wouldn’t take any money from her.

During all of this, my online friends heard parts of the story.  At different times, they marvelled at the actions of me and of my family.  I can only say that it would take a very hard person to turn their back on two kids in such a desperate situation.

I have to say…the support and kind words that have poured in have been so helpful.  Even better, two people who I know only online asked for my address and permission to send something to the girls.

On Friday, I came home to find to large boxes from @Streetlights94.  @Radio_Nowhere & his lovely wife have also packages on the way.

Izzy and I delivered the first two boxes today.  The girls were delighted to find two beautiful blankets, bath and body products, jewelry, make-up, two photo albums, disposable cameras, chocolate and homemade cookies.  They were thrilled, and I was so touched.

To know that my friends would reach out, based solely upon my word, makes me feel incredibly blessed.  It’s one thing to do step up.  To see others rally in a time of crisis is a truly wonderful thing.

At this point, there are still a lot of unknowns for the girls.  Their father still has to get through the court system.  He may not see the girls at all without CPS or a police officer present.  Gloria has stopped paying his rent.  He posted on Facebook that he may go back to Puerto Rico, where his mother is.  Graduation looms for Kathryn, and Melissa needs to learn to drive.

All I know is that my family has expanded to include two more teenagers, two girls in desperate need of love and guidance.  It has put things in perspective for Isabel and I.  We both make a point to be more gentle with each other, knowing how fortunate we are to have each other.

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