"O Lord, my God, in thee do I put my trust: save me from all them that persecute me, and deliver me..." Psalm 7:1
March 31st, 2005
“Dress the children and pack their clothing. I'm taking them.”
It was silent in the bedroom for what seemed like forever. My heart pounded in my chest as the meaning of those horrible words began to sink into my conscience.
Taking us where?
I searched the woman's face for a sign that she was joking. She has to be, I thought, bewildered. But when she glanced at me, all I saw in her cold, dark eyes was a fierce resolve. A horrifying, unshakeable doggedness. Fear settled into my stomach with an unmistakable thud when I saw the official-looking paper clenched in her fist like a weapon.
My grip on my mother's leg tightened. I expected her to say something to rebuttal the horrific claim this strange woman was making on us: to say that she had no right and she had to leave immediately. But it was as if she had become a frozen ice sculpture; she made no sound for the longest moment of my life.
Thump, thump. My attention was drawn to the noises coming from the front of our house: the sounds of people moving around, stomping through the rooms, and speaking in a foreign language. I hesitantly leaned to the side, trying to see past the overweight figure of the social worker in front of me. I gasped.
There were officers. Everywhere. Some wore the camouflage garb of soldiers and carried huge guns strapped around their waists; some were social workers. They filled our small living room and flooded the dining area. I watched with growing horror as police, with faces set in stony impassiveness, approached my bedroom door. Their hands were on their holsters; their tread was heavy and determined. One by one, my siblings began to cry, filling the room with the sounds of their hysterical wails.
My mother finally spoke, but her voice sounded far away. “Who gave you authority to take my children, Vilmarie?”
Vilmarie answered in Spanish, her tone curt and perfunctory. My mother interrupted.
“I don’t speak Spanish. You know that."
“I have permission from the court here in Fajardo,” the social worker said in English, her accent strong and cold. She brandished the papers in her hand triumphantly.
I stared up at her, trembling in fear. What does it mean? Is she really going to take us away?
“What's your reason for taking our children, Vilmarie?” Bernadette, my father’s third wife, spoke up from the other bed. She didn’t sound as alarmed as my mother had. Did that mean that there was a chance everything would turn out okay?
The social worker answered in Spanish again. “Ustedes-”
“Vilmarie, we don’t understand Spanish. Would you speak in English? Please.”
“What is your social security number?” She demanded, her tone brusque.
I couldn't understand why she addressed us as if we were condemned criminals lacking the common right of understanding proceedings. Or the way she barged into our house without permission, acting as if she had every right in the world to be there. Who did she think she was? She was a social worker: did that make her judge, jury, and prosecutor rolled into one?
“I can’t remember it,” my mother said tightly. My sisters clung to her arms, sobbing. They were so scared: I could see it in their wide, terrified eyes and hear it in their panicked crying. I wished I could take the fear away and tell them that everything would be okay. But I didn’t know if that would be true.