I don't know how to tell you this story.
I don't know how to explain the haunted look in our surrogate son's eyes as he walked down the stairs in our two story house on the east side three years ago.
My eyes caught the look—the hunched shoulders, the darting eyes, the clenched fists.
"What's wrong?" I hadn't even gotten two steps in the door. Russ guided me further, his hand on my lower back.
"They handcuffed me, moms."
I blinked. "Who?"
This is where the story gets tricky. This is where our son paced up and down the stairs—in his under shirt, gym shorts and crew socks—telling us about the police who came to our door and handcuffed our son and pulled him outside.
"Why?" It was the only question I could come up with — "why?"
His hands ran over his face and found each other behind his head. I knew this look too. The one of lost words—of previous trauma—of discouragement.
"I don't know. There's some robberies in the area? I guess? And they saw me here—I don't know. They thought it was me. They thought it was me and wouldn't listen. They didn't believe me that this was my house."
He shook his head and looked at me. "It didn't even matter that I had a key, moms."
He sat down on the stairs and clenched and unclenched his fists.
"I don't know, man. I just don't know. It was messed up. I had to show them pictures. Of us. That's the only way they believed me."
Maybe you've had those moments where your sense of justice gets a little hazy. I used to teach To Kill a Mockingbird. I know the history. I saw the appreciative glances from students when I refused to use the n-word in our readings.
But this? This was new.
When I called the precinct the next day, they had no record of an incident at our address.
I could feel myself getting angry.
"What do you mean there's no record. Police officers came into my home and handcuffed my son and wouldn't let him back in until he proved he lived here!"
"Ma'am, I understand. Sometimes foster kids have a way with stories, you know?"
I laughed. "And so does this precinct. You can write this down: this is the second time an incident has occurred at this address and nothing has been filed."
I thought of the week we first moved in—when the pounding of our door startled us awake at 2am. Russ grabbed the gun in his nightstand and tucked it in his sweatpants. I made my way to the door of our room and watched.
"It's just the police," he whispered as he looked through the peephole.
They didn't flash a badge. They didn't let him know who they were. They just started asking questions.
"Do you know...."
"...she doesn't live here anymore."
The only way he knew they were legit was because he saw the flashing lights of their squad car in the distance. They had parked down the street rather than in front of our house. You know. Like in our driveway.
And so again, I was on the phone with someone trying to explain a way the very real situation of my son being handcuffed.
"Ma'am, now that I'm looking, we do have something mentioned here about a dog?"
I shook my head out of disbelief. Only then do I remember the squad car creeping by our house later that night when our dog, chasing a cat, raced out into the street and was hit by a speeding car. The tears are threatening now.
"You have it written down about our dog being hit by a car but not our son being handcuffed?"
"Ma'am, are you sure your son is telling the truth?"
"Am I..." I pulled the phone away from my ear and glanced at it as if it would change anything. Taking a deep breath I keep talking. "Am I sure he's telling the truth?! Why would he lie about this? Why would he make up a story about police handcuffing him? Why would he when he's scared shitless of doing something that will disappoint us?"
I close my eyes, images of our son on the stairs, hands shaking and eyes darting every which way in vigilance. The only other time I saw him this upset was when his best friend's father was gunned down in his front yard and all of his memories of his own father's death came rushing back to haunt him.
"I need to go. Please do better. This is not okay."
I hang up with the precinct, too frustrated and lit up from the inside to talk to them anymore. My words were staccato beats, and I'm not making any sense to them. I could hear their disbelief in the tone of voice.
That familiar weight started building in my chest and I collapsed on our bed, eyes looking out of the blinds on our window to a street wrought with drug abuse, neglect and the stigma of location.
How do you fight the imbalances of power?
How do you live when everything you were told is washed clean and found false?
How do you look your son in the eye and tell him everything will be okay when you don't even know if that's a lie?
Before he was our son, before he took up residence in our hearts and home and co-opted a spare bedroom for dance crew practice, I heard his story. It broke my heart even then, and I noticed a resilience in this man-boy that wouldn't take nothing off nobody.
He has anger. Everyone knows it. There were multiple times where he left our presence needing to blow off steam by walking or running or labbing — getting together with other dancers. In one of our first conversations at the house we watched youtube videos as he spoke with animation about krumping and how the creator of the dance-style did it out of recognition of anger.
"It's about getting our anger out, moms. Punchin' the air instead of punchin' faces, you know?"
I close my eyes and see the clenched fists by his sides that night he was handcuffed.