I got the phone call at about 3:00 PM. I'd taken the day off work in order to help my girlfriend get her company registered with the government, G.S.T., P.S.T. etc. We were just grabbing a coffee at the Starbucks when I heard Nokia's version of Black Sabbath's Iron Man coming from my back pocket.
"Mr. Bailey?" The female voice on the other end of the phone asked.
"Yes, can I help you?" I always felt uneasy answering calls that were 'unknown number's, they were never good.
My name is Nancy, I'm calling from the Ministry of Children & Family Services. Nothing's wrong, but I needed to let you know that I just spent the last hour with your daughter at her school, then a 1/2 hour with her teacher and vice-principal, and now I need to come and see you."
Whenever someone starts a conversation with 'nothing's wrong', you know that there's a problem. "Uh, ok. Can you tell me what this is about?"
No, not over the phone, but if I can meet you at your house in an hour, we can go over it then. Everything's ok though. I just want to close this file, but I need to see you first."
Uh, sure. I'll meet you there." I hung up the phone and told my girlfriend what was going on (at least what I knew of it). I looked at my watch, if I called right away, I could just get her teacher on the phone before she left for the day.
Hey Lynn, it's Steve. Is Meagan alright?"
"Yeah, everything's fine. But you need to get in touch with...."
"Yeah, she just called me. What's going on?"
"Don't worry, everything's fine. Just talk to Nancy."
"Ok, I'm going to see her in an hour."
"K'ay, talk to her, everything is fine. Ok?"
Everything is fine, nothing's wrong, everything's ok... That's what everyone keeps saying. But when the Ministry is knocking at your door, something sure as Hell isn't fine. My girlfriend and I made our way back to the house to await the meeting with Nancy. So many thoughts flowing through my head on the bus ride home. What did I do? What didn't I do? Who did/didn't I do it to?
The Ministry had been involved before, but not for the last 2 years since my daughter was apprehended from her mother's house and placed with me (it's amazing what free-basing a 1/4 oz of coke and breastfeeding a baby will do). And now that court was over, I hadn't heard a word from them since I won full custody. As far as I knew, the case was closed.
People are always a little surprised when I tell them that I won custody over my ex. To make things easier for them, I tell them that I was just the lesser of two evils. A dad doesn't win in court because he's a good parent, he wins because the mom's a terrible parent. Simple truth, but a truth none the less.
When Nancy showed up, it wasn't hard for her to tell that I was nervous. She smiled at me and it made me feel a little more at ease. Dealing with the Ministry when you don't know what's wrong is pretty nerve-racking.
She got right to the point. "How do you discipline your daughter?" She asked.
"Well, when she's getting a little out of hand, I'll give her a time-out for five minutes or so to let her have a chance to calm down." I replied. "But to be honest, I can't remember the last time I had to. Why?"
"Have you ever hit her?" She scribbled madly in her notebook as I spoke.
"Well, someone called in a report, obviously you know that I can't tell you who.."
"It's ok, I'm sure I already know who." This wasn't the first time her mother tried to get me in trouble for something I didn't do. Last time the foster mother and her started accusing me of sexual abuse, this time it was physical assault. Kind of funny considering that I'm one of those peace-nick, pacifistic, vegetarian hippie types, who couldn't even harm a mosquito if I wanted to.
"Well, the report was kind of odd, I'm going to quote to you exactly what Meagan said to someone. 'If I told someone that my dad hits me, would he still love me?' Does that make any sense to you?"
I looked at my girlfriend and she shrugged her shoulders, looking really confused about the whole thing. This whole thing was kind of new to her. We'd only been dating for a few months, though we'd known each other for a long time. I'd been telling her for a while what Meagan's mom was like, but this was her first chance to view for herself what I went through most of the time.
"Uh, no. It doesn't at all. So, she didn't say to someone that I hit her, only that if she said it, would I still love her?"
"That makes no sense to me." I said.
"Well, after talking to her for a while, and her teacher, it doesn't make much sense to me either. Her teacher spoke very highly of you. Like I said, I have no protection concerns whatsoever. I'm going to be closing the file."
"Well, I appreciate you coming by. I'm going to go pick her up from daycare right now. I'll have a talk with her and see if I can get to the bottom of it all."
"Do that, but tread carefully. If there's something she knows that she's keeping from you, she may not want to tell you if you just come right out with it."
"I understand. Thanks for coming by."
She left and I went to pick my daughter up. The quote kept playing over and over in my head. What could it mean? Then suddenly it dawned on me. 'If I told someone...' Did that mean that someone was trying to get her to say it? And if she did say it to someone, would I hate her for lying about it?
I picked her up from school and cautiously tried talking about it. She was apprehensive about talking about it, but finally said that she had asked the question to her mom when she was over for a weekend visit, but that it was just out of curiosity. A funny thing to just be curious about, but she wouldn't take it further. I dropped the subject.
I talked to her mom that night, and although she did admit to Victoria telling her about it, she denies calling the Ministry. "I did tell my lawyer, maybe he called." She said.
"Yeah, ok. I'll talk to you soon." Eggshells, always walking on eggshells. Here we are, 2 years after court ended. I won. Sole custody, sole guardianship, the full meal deal, and still I tread lightly with this woman. God knows why (but she ain't telling me!).
I knew that she was bullshitting, the Ministry worker told me that she hadn't talked to her, so how would she have found out about it in order to call her lawyer if she didn't get someone to make the call for her in the first place?
I don't know if I'll ever really find out what happened. All I know is that something happened the last time she went to see her mother for the weekend. Her mom will do whatever she can to sabotage my relationship with my daughter and try and regain the custody that she never really wanted in the first place. 'I don't want to play with this toy right now, but you can't play with it 'cause it's mine and I may want it later'. I'll just put it on this shelf way over here'.
It will never end. But at least I know that tonight, when I crawl into bed after a long day at work, my daughter will be 10 feet away, in her room, sleeping safe and sound. And in the end, that's all that really matters.