Sighing, I reached for the phone and dialed a number I had committed to memory and waited while it rang. I started out the window at the November sky and mentally prepared the voice mail message I was going to leave, but I sat up straight when a low, husky voice answered.
“Uh, hello,” I stammered. “Mrs. Maxwell?”
“Of course it is,” she said lightly. “You called me, didn’t you, Jordan?” She laughed, and I could hear papers shuffling as she spoke.
“I didn’t think you’d answer on a Saturday,” I muttered, my mind whirling. I wasn’t really interested in talking with my caseworker; I just needed to feel like I was doing something for my mom. Leaving Mrs. Maxwell messages was about all I could do, and I did it frequently.
“I’m in the office tying up some loose ends,” she said breezily. “What can I do for you? Everything okay over there?”
“Yeah,” I admitted, poking at some dried-up icing with my fingernail. “It’s okay.”
She was silent, and I could hear computer keys clicking away. No doubt she was updating my case file, and I frowned.
“So what’s up?”
I sighed and slumped in my chair. “How’s my mom?” I knew she would say “fine” and that she hadn’t heard anything new, but I considered even those simple words an update and would take it happily.
“Well,” she said, hesitating a moment before continuing. “I did get a message from the local mental health agency late yesterday afternoon. They asked me to call their office on Monday, and I was going to call you once I had spoken to them.”
My heart hammered against my ribs, and I gripped the phone in my sweaty hand. “What? What does that mean?” My breathing sped up, and I could feel my throat tighten. “Mrs. Maxwell, does that mean my mother is hurt or something? What are they doing with her?”
“Jordan, she’s fine,” Mrs. Maxwell rushed to assure me. “All it means is that one of their case managers went in to see her in the jail. The agency is contracted with the county to provide assistance to anyone with mental health concerns, and that’s a good thing. I promise.”
The air left my lungs in a whoosh, and I slumped in my chair. Even though I didn’t like the fact that someone was seeing my mother because of ‘mental health concerns,’ at least there were people seeing her and trying to help her since I couldn’t
Mrs. Maxwell cleared her throat, and I sat up again. “There is another thing too, Jordan,” she said slowly. “Her case is being transferred to another attorney.”
I mulled this over. Her attorney, Constance Strickland, was a jerk. Okay, maybe not a jerk but more of an overworked public defender who didn’t have time to look at my mother’s case very deeply and who tossed my questions aside when I asked them. She was nice though, and I wasn’t sure if it was a good or bad thing that Mom’s case was changing hands.
“It’s a great thing for your mom,” Mrs. Maxwell said, answering my question without my having to ask it. “This attorney specializes
in mental health cases, so her caseload is considerably smaller than the mainstream public defenders. She’s been handling these types of cases for over fifteen years, so this really is good for everyone, Jordan.”
I allowed myself a tiny smile. If my mom had this woman working for her, maybe there was a chance she could get out of jail. If she had an attorney who could spend time on her case and who knew her way around the law like the back of her hand, maybe she could be out my Christmas and we could be a family again! I hugged myself in excitement, and my smile grew.
“That’s great!” I laughed. “Sounds terrific! What happens next?”
Mrs. Maxwell sighed. “I have to talk to the mental health worker and see what they have to tell me, then I’ll call your mom’s new attorney and see if there’s a new court date on the docket. I’m sure there is, but I haven’t been advised of it yet. Really it will depend on if the psychiatrists have been able to go out and do an evaluation or not.”
The smile dropped from my face. “Evaluation? What do you mean?”
Mrs. Maxwell tsked into the phone. “Jordan, I’m sorry, I thought you understood the process.” She sighed heavily. “When a question is raised about someone’s mental status, the criminal case basically stops. The Judge orders the individual to get evaluated by two court-appointed professionals in an effort to assess their, well, competence to go to trial. If they aren’t competent to proceed, then other things have to happen.”
My head started pounding and I rubbed my temples. This didn’t make sense, and I was starting to get angry. “Look, Mrs. Maxwell,” I snapped. “My mother is the most competent person there is! She always took care of me, she dressed well, she worked, and she most certainly was able to live her life competently.” I spat out the last word, my face burning with shame for my mother.
I could hear Mrs. Maxwell suck in her breath. “No, Jordan, that isn’t what this means.” She sounded tense, but I didn’t care. I didn’t like the fact that people thought my mother didn’t have active brain cells in her head, and I refused to let people talk badly about her.
“Listen,” she said, “all this means is that they have to do an evaluation to be sure your mother can proceed to trial. There are guidelines to understanding the criminal court system, and if she’s confused or unable to testify on her behalf because she doesn’t understand something, they can’t go forward with the criminal case. That’s all, Jordan. No one is saying your mother isn’t able to function normally; it’s just a phrase within the system and a set of criteria used to be sure that your mom could rationally participate in a court process.”
I sat back, fuming. “So, what? They think she’s crazy and can’t understand how a trial works? Come on. Everyone who has ever watched TV has seen a court case, and I’m sure even the hicks on those stupid reality TV shows know what goes on in courtroom!”
Mrs. Maxwell’s sigh was impressive even over the phone. I could hear sympathy laced with impatience, and that made me even madder. I didn’t need her sympathy, and I certainly didn’t appreciate her being irritated by my questions. I hadn’t asked to be assigned to her, and I wasn’t going to let the fact that I was just a kid keep her from explaining things to me that I had a right to know.
“Do you want me to swing by so we can talk, Jordan? I can come over after I’m done here and you can ask me anything you want. I’ll do my best to answer your questions, and what I don’t know I’ll try to find out.”
I forgave her a bit, but I was still frustrated. I considered her offer, but then I thought about Aunt Caroline and immediately dismissed the thought of having her come to the house. “No, thanks,” I grumbled. “Aunt Caroline isn’t feeling well, so maybe it isn’t such a good idea.” The only thing worse then having strangers think my mother was crazy would be having Aunt Caroline think it too, and I was pretty sure that she would if Mrs. Maxwell have her the same speech she had given me about my mother’s competency.
“Okay then,” Mrs. Maxwell said. “I’ll give you a call Monday after I talk to the caseworker. After 3 o’clock, right?”
“Yes. I get out of school at 2:15, and it takes about forty-five minutes to get home.”
“Alright. Have a good weekend, Jordan, and try not to worry until there’s something to worry about.”
I hung up the phone and closed my eyes. “Sure thing,” I whispered. “I mean, what could I possibly have to worry about?”