Life with a mentally ill mother was bad, but group homes and foster care were loveless and deadening.
Now a lawyer advocating for children’s rights, Bridge begins his memoir in Alabama, where he was participating in a lawsuit against the Eufaula Adolescent Center. An encounter with one of the center’s brutalized, hopeless charges prompts memories of his own experiences of neglect and abuse. His mother tried her best, she later pathetically told him. An attractive, intelligent woman, she made a bad marriage, couldn’t hold even the most menial jobs, dabbled in crime and after she lost her son was in and out of various institutions, penal and psychiatric. The author still visits her at the Metropolitan State Hospital—not so frequently as he should, he confesses. Although he retains a deep affection for the eponymous Hope (her middle name), his childhood with her was miserable. He witnessed her rape. He was knocked around when he wouldn’t change the television channel for a man temporarily living with them. Mom took him along on a botched burglary gig. Los Angeles County eventually removed the boy to the not-very-nurturing foster care of the Leonards, who did little to encourage him, much to dispirit him. Nevertheless, Bridge emerged from this messy maze with a social conscience, a Fulbright Scholarship and degrees from Wesleyan University and Harvard Law School. The author doesn’t fully explain how he transformed himself into a scholar, let alone a student popular enough to win a major school election. He mentions a few teachers who helped, a few books he read (Salinger’s were favorites), but we get no real notion of what enabled his intellectual growth. In the closing pages, Bridge returns to Eufaula, making the grim point that protection for children in foster or state care has not improved since his own unhappy youth.
A bleak history recounted with justifiably burning indignation, dampened by limp, soggy prose.