Every Monday morning I quit.
Before I even crawled out of bed, sometimes even before I clawed all the way from dreams to the mental pile of stuff I was going to have to try to make a dent in, if it was Monday, I said, out loud so there could be no misunderstanding: “God, you’re going to have to find somebody else to be your prophet, because I’m done. You got a recovery group I can get into?”
Sometimes I’d imagine such a group—a place where I could sit in a circle with other people who were in way over their spiritual heads and say, “Hi. I’m Allison, and I’m a recovering prophet.”
Seriously. The women of Sacrament House could nobly go to Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and Prostitutes Anonymous (okay, I made that one up), and begin to see them¬selves healing. Ninety meetings in ninety days was a requirement for them.
But there was no Prophets Anonymous. There was no recov¬ery from being one—although at times I would have given up my Harley to escape it—and there was nothing anonymous about it. I knew. I’d tried that.
That particular Monday, however, I skipped quitting. I didn’t even give a nod to the stack of not-yet-done stuff teetering just beyond my reach, waiting for one more thing to topple it over. Because that late-August Monday, almost exactly one year since I’d caught twelve-year-old Desmond Sanborn trying to steal my house key, I was standing in front of a judge, about to adopt the boy.
It was enough to make the whole precarious pile disappear.
The Honorable Charles Walton Atwell the Third swept his eyes, decidedly reminiscent of a basset hound’s, over the crowd gathered in the gallery behind Desmond and me. Normally a transaction such as this would have taken place in his chambers, but there was nothing normal about our group. We had everything from a social worker, two attorneys, and a real estate broker to a row of recovering ladies of the evening and another of HOG members in sleeveless T-shirts, holding their motorcycle helmets respect¬fully under their arms. One elongated look at the motley cloud of witnesses overflowing his office, and Judge Atwell had ordered us all into the courtroom. Desmond gave that his signature stamp of approval by high-fiving said judge and saying, “Good choice, Mr. Your Honor, sir.”
Judge Atwell now dragged his ancient face down with his hand and went into a pause as lengthy as his chin. I remembered that about him. You could practically go out for a cappuccino during one of those conversational gaps. Beside me, Desmond shifted his negligible weight from one lanky leg to the other. I put a cautionary hand on his shoulder and prayed he wouldn’t blurt out, “Mr. Your Honor, sir, you takin’ a nap up in there?”
Finally His Honor nodded gravely at Chief, who stood look¬ing even taller than his six-foot-plus on the other side of Desmond. I suspected that judicial gaze was as much about Chief’s graying ponytail as it was about the solemnity of the occasion. He must have been satisfied with the fact that at least Chief was clad in Brooks Brothers all the way down to his black wing tips, because he said, “Mr. Ellington, you may proceed.”
“Who’s Mr. Ellington?” Desmond whispered to me. His version of sotto voce was like sandpaper on a two-by-four.
“Do you have a question, son?” the judge said.
“I was just askin’ who’s Mr. Ellington,” Desmond said.
“That would be your attorney.” Judge Atwell moved his head in slo-mo to regard Chief. “I assume you’ve introduced yourself to your client.”
I could see the spray of tiny lines at the corner of Chief’s eyes crinkling, but he nodded with the proper sobriety.
“Oh, you talkin’ ’bout Mr. Chief,” Desmond said. “No, he intro¬duced hisself to me a long time ago. We go way back.”
“I’m relieved to hear it.”
The judge indulged in another snail-caliber pause and then nodded once more at Chief. Behind us, I heard Jasmine’s nervous giggle, followed by Mercedes’s unmistakable shushing. Like most of the Sacrament House Sisters, they were both virtually allergic to all things judicial. Mercedes wasn’t going to take a chance on being escorted to a cell.
“Your Honor,” Chief said, using the courtroom voice that made people involuntarily improve their postures, “I introduce Allison Chamberlain to the court.”
His Honor and I nodded at each other. I was no stranger to the man or his courtroom.
“Ms. Chamberlain, would you state your name?” Chief said.
“Allison Eugenia Chamberlain,” I said, and then squeezed the lifeblood out of Desmond’s shoulder. Even though we’d rehearsed this so he wouldn’t go into convulsions of hysteria over my middle name, I couldn’t trust him not to at least snicker. He remained snicker-less.
“And do you verify that you have appeared today to adopt this child, Desmond Edwin Sanborn, born August 26, 1999?”
“I do,” I said.
“Do you know any cause that would legally prohibit this adoption?”
I knew none whatsoever, although everybody and their sister had tried to make one up. “No, I do not,” I said.
“The rights of Desmond Sanborn’s biological parents have been terminated?”
I couldn’t help cringing at that one. His mother herself had been terminated. As for his father, the monster had never had any rights as far as I was concerned.
“Yes,” I said.
But I still stopped breathing and sneaked a look at the judge. Chief had assured me this was all a formality, that there was no way anybody was going to protest the adoption at this point. Still, I’d been blindsided on this before.
Judge Atwell nodded as if his head was too heavy for his neck, and I allowed myself a breath. According to Chief, one more ques¬tion and I would be Desmond’s mother.
“Ms. Chamberlain,” Chief said. “Would you please tell the court why you want to adopt this child?”
I felt more than saw the sudden slant of Desmond’s huge brown eyes, made browner by his cinnamon-shaded, half-African face. During our rehearsals I had threatened to come out with, “Because who else is going to put up with him?” or “I’ve invested too much in groceries for the kid to kick him out now.” I never had told Desmond exactly what I was really going to say, and at that moment I still didn’t know myself. I’d rejected “Because his mother wanted this,” and “Because I want him to survive to adulthood.” Even though both were true, nei¬ther was adequate, and if I said, “Because I love this boy more than I have ever loved anyone in my life,” I would have, to use Desmond’s words, “gotten all emo.” I had assured him there would be no emo. As for telling him I had been nudged by God … Judge Atwell and I had been down that road before.
Evidently endless pauses were the sole privilege of His Honor. He squinted down at me from the bench and said, “Not having sec¬ond thoughts are you, Ms. Chamberlain?”
“No, sir,” I said. “I just can’t seem to find the words.”
“Now that is a surprise.”
I looked at Desmond, who despite his new, manly cut-close¬to-the-scalp haircut and the tiniest of hairs sprouting on his chin, seemed suddenly as vulnerable as a four-year-old. Then I did what I’d learned to do in situations of the utmost importance: I opened my mouth and let God come through.
“I want to adopt this young man because he’s been given to me to love,” I said. “And to love him is a privilege.”
Yeah. Couldn’t have said it better myself.
The little-boy Desmond popped away, and my adolescent Desmond slipped cleanly back into place and presented a fist for me to knock mine against. Somebody, probably one of the HOGs, whistled through his fingers. Judge Atwell banged his gavel, though not much louder than Mercedes’s “Y’all got to hush up now. We ’bout to get throwed out.”