Family Affairs

A professional Phoenix woman wanted to help one poor, "at risk" family. It was the type of private initiative that both political parties say will ease the harsh impacts of welfare reform. Her three-year experiment in personal responsibility rescued an 1

If her political efforts during her early days in Arizona were more hopscotch than clenched fist, Esther truly knew the language of protest. Today, as Esther describes her involvement with Richie, her policy-coated words ring of distant '60s rhetoric.

She has started a memoir that she continues to work upon. The pages are informed with a high moral tone that might have pleased her father, the progressive New York lawyer. She writes logically, as if emotions would betray her.

"We have a big problem with our children, especially our poor children . . . they are violent, ignorant, unemployable and dangerous, roaming through our cities in gangs, tagging our property and threatening our citizens with automatic rifles. If you listen to their music, you will hear that they are interested only in crime, drugs and sex . . . these kids will never be employable as adults. And yet, they will soon be denied welfare. How will they live? It's simple: They'll steal from us."

She has titled her memoir Each One, Reach One.
However accurate Esther may believe her theories are, they ignore the core truth about her involvement with Richie Blandon: Richie came into her life when she was vulnerable. Esther had just suffered two losses.

In 1992, her fourth husband left Esther for a man.
She faced this crisis calmly, addressing with candor the awkward questions of her friends. Still, it was a very public separation for a very public couple, and it took its toll.

More wrenching yet, both daughters left home.
As Esther's old nest broke apart, she instinctively gathered the twigs and strings of her next shelter. She started mentoring Richie's older sister in the first month of 1994. As she began the long initiation into the despair and drug addiction in the Blandon household, Esther, once again, fell in love, this time with Dr. Josh Goldstein.

Like Esther, Goldstein, now 62, did not exactly blend into the scenery.
At the Heart Ball, the Valley's glossiest fund raiser, Esther and Josh sat at a table with other doctors. Though they had dated for some time, the charity soiree was a defining moment in their courtship. As the doctors discussed the ramifications of managed care upon their various practices, Goldstein insisted that everyone should have access to medical care. It was a disgrace to their oath to try to deny care to indigents or immigrants in order to make more money. Slapped with Goldstein's white Hippocratic glove, the other doctors left the table. Esther looked over at Josh with fresh interest.

Esther found Josh to be very smart and funny, in a dry-as-a-martini sort of way. They both played tennis and ran and were obsessed with film. Their conversations deepened over time in the Valley's best restaurants. Neither had time to cook.

"He's also great in bed," said Esther matter-of-factly.
When Dr. Goldstein was diagnosed with prostate cancer, he did not want to face the operation and the recovery alone. He asked Esther to marry him. She agreed, and they tied the knot on his 60th birthday, April 1, 1994.

After the ceremony, Esther's ex-husband and his gay lover hosted a large reception for the newlyweds. Former wives and husbands on both sides attended the celebration.

Esther had pulled together the strands for a new phase of life. She believed she could nurture her new husband, save the Blandons and continue to hold her daughters close to her. And why not?

Esther had always clutched at her former husbands and lovers like a teenager who compulsively fingers all of the charms on her bracelet. She did not understand that this time her life had reached critical mass.

The story of a little boy confronted by devastating problems he did not create, and a woman who helped him in her own time of need, is hardly unique. It is only one small scene in the vast welfare drama unfolding across the American stage.

The tale is different in the particulars; but everyone caught up in foster care has his or her own story.

The Doctor
Doctor Josh Goldstein sneered through his recollection of early meetings with Richie's crack-addict mother, Barbara Blandon, during an interview last summer.

"I met her and disliked her at once," said Goldstein. "She is in arrested development. She is dumber, less mature, more demanding than the youngest of her children, and she is lazy. Richie understands his mother's behavior is a form of insanity. I doubt he knew there were other ways to live. His mother is hateful. I really detested her. Everything out of her mouth is either a lie or a complaint. I used to say to Esther, 'Don't you understand? She's selling everything for drugs.'"

Dr. Goldstein expressed these sentiments in the same conversation in which he lectured about the needs of the poor.

"If we don't help children on the street, if we let conservatives in Orange County say that children of illegal aliens cannot be educated, cannot be treated medically . . . well. I am not willing to take people off of welfare or food stamps after five years," said Goldstein. "Adults will survive. It's the children that will suffer."

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