As a Family Support Worker, my job that day was to transport my new 11-year-old client to and from Child Guidance. My caseworker informed me before I picked young Jessie up that he came from dysfunction junction. His father and his older brothers were bikers who had been asked to leave their small country town when the “boys” had demolished headstones in the town’s cemetery. My caseworker also informed me that she had received death threats on her and her unborn baby from the clan, and her last words to me were, “Watch yourself. Jessie may prove to be a handful.”
I sat there in the waiting room calmly reading a magazine, when suddenly, an extremely colorful barrage of words exploded from inside the session room. Next a chair slammed against the wall, the door burst open, and Jessie spewing forth vile words, went sailing through the waiting room filled with startled parents. He then ran down the hallway and dove into the opening door of an arriving elevator.
As I calmly placed my magazine down, I heard one parent whisper, “Well, that is his dad.” And though I felt like saying, “No way in hell!” I didn’t, and simply proceeded down the hallway and into the next elevator. By the time I reached ground floor, Jessie was already two blocks ahead of me. He led me on what turned out to be a six-block chase down to the Rampark Parking Garage.
By the time I reached the 6th floor of the garage, Jessie had climbed onto a ledge and was seated facing forward, dangerously close to falling sixth stories to the sidewalk below. He held himself by only the tips of his fingers, his arms extended behind him, his head aimed in the direction of his proposed flight down as he said, “Come closer and I’ll jump!”
I stayed where I was.
Jessie focused on the Social Services building two blocks away and said, “Do you know what those assholes did to me? My dad–my brothers–my whole family–we’re bikers, and those assholes placed me in the foster home of a damned cop! Do you know what that’s like? Who am I supposed to be loyal to? I just wanna die!”
I had been here before, twice with former foster kids who held loaded guns to their heads, and once when a kid at detention held me off for half an hour with a razor blade to his wrist. But in this case, I didn’t quite know what to say to angry young Jessie, who appeared determined to take the hard way down from there.
So I said, “Guess you ain’t a biker then, right?”
“What?” Jessie snapped, glancing back at me, rage in his eyes. “The hell if I ain’t! What do you know about me? What do you know about any of this?”
‘Oh, kid,’ I wanted to say, ‘because I grew up wanting to be a biker all of my younger days! I wore an American Flag on my cut-off in defiance of Moses of the Screaming Eagles by the time I was 14! I dreamed of becoming a biker up until the day I got a reality check and my hell-raising ways got me locked up at the detention home! Oh hell, yes, I knew all about bikers, kid, long before you were ever born!’
But I didn’t. Instead I said, “Well, one thing Bikers are that you’re not, and that is: Bikers are tough.”
“What the hell you mean?” Jessie snarled back at me, looking like he couldn’t decide if now wanted to take flight or to fight, to show me just how tough he really was. It was working.
“If you were really that tough,” I told him, “you wouldn’t even think that suicide was an option. No, instead you would tough it out and survive. If you were really that tough, you wouldn’t let them win this one over on you.”
He followed my gaze to the Social Services building, then refocused on the street far, far below. My memory fails me on what else we discussed in those next desperate fifteen minutes, but the gist of it is: “Show them how tough you really are. Climb down off that ledge, and tough it out, Jessie.”
In the end, he did allow me to gently pull him off of the ledge, and as we walked away sixth stories below those god-awful heights, Jessie said, “Guess I was tougher than I thought.”
And my response to that was, “Maybe we all are.”
Two weeks later, Jessie ended up becoming my foster son, and for the next two years, my life would never be the same.