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Click. Clack. Click. Clack. Her high heels sounded like the steel lock of a prison door being repeatedly locked and unlocked. She moved into the straight-backed aluminum chair across the table from my chair and laid her brown leather brief case down on the small tabletop. She was tall, young, and slender with her dark black hair pulled tightly into a high neat bun on the top of her head. Her expression matched the surroundings: dull and dreary.
I didn’t like this woman from the minute she stepped in this room. There was so much hairspray in her hair that it looked plastic. She alone must have been responsible for the hole in the ozone layer. I bet her hair was so stiff that if she took all the bobby pins out of her bun it would still stay on the top of her head. She was probably judging me, thinking I was a poor criminal unworthy of her services. This lady had the worst job in the world: a state appointed attorney.
“Hello,” she said flatly, “My name is Chelsea Long”
“Hey,” I said while peering past her to look at my reflection in the oversized mirror that looked exactly like the one from the interrogation room from Law and Order. I had no doubt that it was see-through on the other side and probably had some cops behind it watching our every move. My hair was in a messy low pony tail and I looked sloppy in my black yoga pants and baggy gray Detroit Tigers Sweatshirt that I’ve had ever since I moved to Detroit. Sitting here in a depressed interrogation room with nothing but a table, two chairs, a mirror, steel door, and lawyer, I really didn’t care how I looked. “I’m Ally Burns.”
“Let’s talk about what happened.”
“Look, I don’t need to tell you anything.”
“Actually, you do. I am your lawyer and if you want to –”
“Don’t even finish that sentence. I know what you’re going to say and I don’t want to hear it. I did some stuff and I won’t deny it. I’m guilty, I’m going to jail, and it’s over.”
“I see hundreds of cases like yours every day. If you want to give up then fine, I’m not going to fight you. When we go to court, plead guilty and go to jail. It won’t matter to me.”
“What about my daughter, Emily? What will happen to her?”
“Maybe you should have thought of that before you started dealing drugs.”
“Hey!!!” I ought to have strangled her for saying that, and if my right left hand wasn’t handcuffed to this chair that maybe I would have. “Everything I do is for my daughter. We needed money and I got it. Don’t you dare say that I wasn’t thinking of her.”
“Do you honestly expect me to believe that there was no other way for you to make money? Like say, gotten a job?”
“That’s not so easy when you’re a high school dropout.” God, this lady was getting on my last nerve.
“And whose fault was that?”
“My parents’.” Just saying the word made me shiver. I hadn’t thought about them in years. I used to try to do anything to make them proud, but it was never good enough. It was never what my perfect older sister would do. If I got an A on a test she would get an A+. If I made the swim team, she would make captain. If I earned fifty dollars, she would earn a hundred. I finally just stopped trying to impress them and started having fun. That’s when all of my problems began. They never understood me. I was grounded almost every week for drinking, smoking, skipping school, sneaking out after eleven o’clock curfew, or saying something that they considered disrespectful. The worst part about it was they wouldn’t just ground me like normal parents; they would sit me down and talk to me for hours about how bad everything I did was.
I remember the day I left home like it was yesterday. It was two weeks after my sixteenth birthday. I had just gotten home after dropping out of school. I was lucky that my parents weren’t home because if they were they would have been furious. I packed my silver Dodge Neon with all the money I owned and enough clothes to last me a month. My car keys had been taken away from me for some reason or other, but I knew exactly where my predictable parents had hid them. They were in my mother’s small wooden jewelry box, and I had no trouble retrieving them. Before I left, I decided to leave a nice note telling them I was leaving and they would never see me again. I didn’t tell then I was pregnant because they were a conservative Catholic family and I don’t know what that news would have done to them. I drove around for awhile and happened to be in Detroit when Emily was born so I decided to stay here.
“Well,” barked Chelsea, snapping me back from my memory. “We will just have to send Emily to her father’s.”
“I don’t know who her father is,” I said dryly.
“Where is Emily now?”
“School.” Isn’t that obvious? It’s about one, maybe two on a Thursday afternoon.
“I’ll send someone from social services to go pick her up and bring her to a foster home.”
“No!” I yelled jumping out of my chair. “You can’t do that to her. They won’t take care of her or love her; she won’t even have a family.”
“Well that seems to be your only option, unless you know someone who will take Emily in for you.”
“No. No. No. I won’t call them. I can’t do it. I’ll call anyone but them.”
“Excuse me?” Chelsea asked puzzled. Oh, that’s right she doesn’t know about my parents. Good. She doesn’t need to know about them.
“Foster care.” That word was death on my lips. I couldn’t let her go there. She would never get adopted and either way I didn’t want her to. I would get out of jail eventually, and it would be nice to see my daughter when that happens. I worked with a man who grew up in foster care, and he wasn’t the type of person I would want my daughter to be. I love Emily, and I want the best for her. I hate to admit it but my parents might not have been the worst people in the world and they would love and take care of Emily. “I do have someone who will take care of Emily.”
“I want my one phone call.” I demanded. After all these years, calling them would be worse than torture. I can’t even imagine what they will say.
Chelsea sat there confused for a moment; I guess people don’t usually ask for their one phone call when they are talking with their lawyer. “I said I want my one phone call now.”
“Umm, I suppose I could ask the guard outside if that would be alright,” she said hesitantly. Then she stood up, picked up her briefcase, and slowly walked out of the room. When she shut the door, the room became completely silent, and the only things talking were the questions in my mind. Was I really going to call my parents after all this time? What would I say? What would they say?
A moment later a large, muscular Russian man with a buzz cut and short beard came into the room to escort me to the phone. “Come,” he said, with a thick accent. I assumed he didn’t know much English. He unlocked the handcuffs that were holding me to the chair and I followed him out of the room. He led me to a pay phone attached to a peach wall in a narrow hallway. I didn’t hesitate for even a moment. I picked up the phone and dialed the number that had been drilled into my head since preschool.
All of a sudden, I knew exactly how this conversation would go; they would be mad at me for leaving and not telling them about Emily. They would be disappointed that I was in jail for dealing drugs. They would be sad about some of the choices I had made. But without a second thought, they would agree to take care of Emily for me. And then the strangest thing of all would happen…they would forgive me.
“Hello,” said a soft familiar voice on the other end of the phone.
I hesitated. “Hello mom.”