Mandy was a young Social Worker fresh out of college. She was known as a go-getter and had fast tracked her way to a good job with the county. She was excited to be helping people, which she had been saying was her career goal since she was six.
As one of her first cases, Mandy was given Sam a six year old boy with severe difficulties at school. Sam would attack kids without provocation, and refuse to do his school work. He had once even scratched and kicked a teacher.
Mandy did her best to diagnose Sam–Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder with rule out of Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Then she set to work.
Sam was difficult to talk to because he would not answer questions. Sometimes he came to session soiled with urine and feces . Mandy would have to take him to the school nurse who would huff loudly and clean Sam up as best she could.
“You know this is a sign of abuse,” the nurse said one day in an angry tone.
Mandy tried to ask questions of Sam in order to assess for abuse. As usual, Sam would not cooperate.
So Mandy went to her supervisor to ask him what she should do. He suggested a home visit, if the family would allow it. “You’ll learn a lot from meeting his parents,” he sighed. “Things you don’t necessarily want to know.”
It took several tries, but Mandy eventually spoke with Sam’s grandmother. She seemed pleasant enough: “Sure, come on over! And bring some Dr. Pepper.” Mandy wasn’t sure if this was a request of a demand.
Mandy dutifully bought a six pack of Dr. Pepper and headed south of the city. Houses turned to apartments. Apartments turned to vacant lots and abandoned buildings. Sam’s “house” turned out to be a dilapidated trailer, the kind people hauled around on the back of a pickup truck when they went on long vacations. Mandy wasn’t sure she was in the right place, but the number on the lot matched the address she had written down. She opened the gate and walked up to the trailer and knocked on the door.
A short but large woman popped open the door and gave her a gap toothed grin. “You must be the Social Worker!” she said. She spied the Dr. Pepper and clutched it eagerly in her hands. “Fantastic!” she smiled. “Come on in!”
Mandy stepped up into the trailer. It was filthy and tattered. There was only one seat which the grandmother offered to Mandy. A couple of potatoes where boiling on the stove in the kitchen which was just a few feet away.
“Who the hell is that?” a voice called from the back of the trailer and out step an elderly man with a white beard.
“Shut up and go back to sleep!” the grandmother called. He waved his hand in annoyance and did just that. “My husband,” she frowned. And Mandy didn’t even have to ask a question before Sam’s grandmother, whose name was Laurie, spilled out her story.
“I have mental illness myself you know. They call it manic and I take about five different medications (She shoved the bottles at Mandy). My husband, the asshole, has cancer and will probably die any day. He doesn’t get treated because he has no insurance and he’s too damn lazy to get some. We don’t get along too well me and my old man, but he’s all I got so I don’t have the heart to kick him out. (She itched herself and this was when Mandy noticed she had no bra. Laurie in turn noticed her noticing and laughed.) I haven’t owned a bra in over ten years, if that’s what you’re looking at. They’re too fucking expensive! Four of us live off of my social security, 800 dollars a month, and it’s not dang near enough. We’re having boiled potatoes for dinner cuz we can’t afford meat. I don’t know when the last time I had a steak was. And I see the look in your eye. You’re not the first Social Worker to come dancing in here you know. You’re number five and they all do the same thing and ask the same questions. My daughter may be a retard, but she does the best she can. We all love that boy more than anything and would do anything for him. If you take him away from us, you take him away from his home. And you take away everything we have. There might as well be no reason for any of us to live… (She stopped because she was crying too hard to speak)”.
Mandy suddenly felt like an intruder. Everything she’d known about family in her young life had been torn asunder. “If you take him away from us, you take him away from his home. And you take away everything we have.” It was like something she would imagine her mother might say about her when she was six years old.
“I’m not going to take Sam away,” she said quietly and excused herself.
The next day, she called in sick. Her boss was angry because she had only been working there for four weeks. So she quit.
Her mother was shocked but elated when Mandy decided to go to medical school. She was still very young and if she kept on track she would be a doctor before she was thirty. Mandy wasn’t even sure she wanted to be a doctor. She thought she wanted to help people, but wasn’t even sure about that any more. She just wanted to get lost in school and books for as long as she could.
The real world was just too frightening.