Adrian died just after he turned 13 years old, running from the cops in a stolen rusted out beater that topped out at 30 miles an hour. Had he not run a red light, he'd have been captured, taken to detention, lived another day. As it was, he forged ahead, ran the light, hit a truck in the intersection, flipped the behemoth of a car, igniting it. He killed one woman in his carelessness; paralyzed another.
He was dead for three days before we figured it out. I knew he was missing, but he'd been missing before. It was not until reading the paper the morning of the third day that I recognized the description of the sweater I'd just purchased for him, the two dangling silver strings he wore in his left earlobe.
The police came to the office to show me a photo of his body. He was almost unrecognizable and yet there was that pale fuzz on his upper lip, the softness of his face, grotesquely battered and torn, not yet even approaching manhood. He still wore the earring and the green cable-knit sweater, now drenched with blood, jazzy vinyl V's across the front stiff and rust-colored. It was Adrian, this child I'd worked with for two years, the young man who repeatedly asked to live with me, knowing I was his parole officer and it was purely insane for him to believe he could outrun himself, his history, in my home.
Adrian got loose after returning to Tulsa in shame over a disastrous placement I'd made with an aunt and uncle. These people, generous and kind souls, were the parents of a severely disabled child of eight. No one else in Adrian's family would have him. The State of Oklahoma was out of ideas and there were too many nights I sat at the office calling shelter after shelter, one foster home after another, trying to find someplace for him to be, just one night.
Too many times, Adrian would smile and say "I'm going to the bathroom," then disappear down the stairwell, his way of giving me the gift of going home to my life, the home I love, the relationships with people who care for me, love me, stick by me. He loved me and thus Adrian, a child who grew up in squalor and filth and violence, who never had anyone stick by him, care for him, love him, allowed me to return to my brick cottage with the old trees, stained glass, oak floors, piled up feather beds with antique linens, the warmth and love and safety of my home. He returned "home" as well, often spending the nights on the cold vinyl couches in the ICU waiting room of a downtown hospital.
Too many of these nights and then the aunt and uncle, saviors of this unwanted, unloved, abused, now-delinquent child. A going-through-the-motions approval of the saviors' home, then approval yet again for them to move with their son and Adrian to New Mexico. I am not ashamed to admit that I felt relief in the placement and subsequent departure of this difficult young man. I was exhausted, angry with the ridiculously limited resources of my state, sad about his losses and grieving the severe and likely permanent emotional damage he had suffered. I was regretting that I allowed myself to love this boy. It was easier with him gone. I had other boys to care for, other children whose problems were not so entirely hopeless, so unrelenting.
Two months, three months, good progress reports and then a middle-of-the-night hysterical call at home from the aunt. Adrian must go: he had threatened their son, he had been forcing the boy to fellate him, threatening to kill the child if he told. Adrian, my 13 year old charge, now a sex offender by virtue of the age and handicap of his cousin. Adrian was humiliated by the return trip to Oklahoma. He refused to talk about what had happened in New Mexico, he was as angry as I'd ever seen him, and as sad.
A local shelter, having had a reprieve, gave him another shot. By virtue of his recent experiences, he had moved into the arena of Offender where compassion ceases to exist. Thirteen years old, now and forever after an Offender, a Perpetrator. Friday afternoon, I left him at this shelter 30 miles away with his promise that he would get through the weekend, no matter what. Sunday morning early, the call to come get him. He had smoked a cigarette in the bathroom of a movie theatre, an unpardonable transgression made more firmly so by my protests about the idiocy of depriving fragile, vulnerable delinquent kids of cigarettes. A two hour trip to gather him up and place him in yet another shelter where he lasted not even long enough for me to make it home. Sunday afternoon and he was gone and I would not see him alive again.
Adrian was the last child in a string of five that I buried in a period of 26 months. That abysmal record earned me the nickname "Death Row" among my sensitive and loving coworkers. Although I was one of four social workers in "South Central," home of the worst of the worst delinquents in the county, this sorry record was stunning and evidence of the profound problems of the children in my care. Evidence, too, of this state agency's habit of rewarding good work with absurd numbers of the most complex and difficult assignments. Slackers got 14 cases, I often had more than 30. Adrian's death was the impetus for my move from the back end of the kid business to the front, from juvenile parole to child welfare investigations.
Adrian's history was one of despicable abuse: drunken parents, sexually abusive father, a sister dead under suspicious circumstances, another sister permanently brain damaged from near drowning in a mop bucket full of water while mom and dad drank at the bar, yet another sister turned to prostitution at age 12. The intervention should have happened in infancy; thirteen was just too late for this child. Knowing his history I could not work up a rage over his abuse of his cousin, it just made me sad, agonizingly so.
People told me that God killed Adrian, as if that was a comfort. God killed him, they assured, to prevent his harming other children. God rescued countless others ~ future victims ~ by sweeping down and flipping Adrian's car. But if that's the case, what about those two women he hit? One dead, one paralyzed. What did God want to prevent them from doing? Were they sex offenders? Is it worth three lives to God to save others from the potential for sexual abuse? There's sure a lot of abuse happening in the world if that's the case. Does He need to rev up the executions, flip some more cars, paralyze some people? Has He lost the pace? If it was death administered by the hand of God to prevent suffering, was the eight-year-old not worth Adrian's life? Why didn't He run the bus to New Mexico into a ditch. Did God not care as much about the profoundly disabled eight-year-old?
Others said his death prevented his becoming a monster. It was his life, though, which made him a monster if indeed he was. His death just gave him relief from a world he did not understand, from the aching need within his heart and soul that drove his rage and despair and his violence. I don't excuse it, it's not mine to excuse. I think God needs to step up to the plate here and explain this one. Adrian was broken before I ever met him. His brokenness led him to harm others and that's untenable. It's been 12 years. I still think of this child and my heart hurts.