Saturday, January 13, 2007

Do you see them?

I went to the hospital on an icy, wintry day as a courtesy to Cherokee County. Everyone wanted the justice center to respond to the ugliest cases, high profile, deaths, hideous sexual abuse. No one wants those cases, they stay with you, can change you permanently. This was an easy one, just documentation of having seen the injuries, then a report to the referring county. Meet the state standard of seeing the child.

I took a detective from child crisis with me as backup to help document what we were told was a shaken baby. No parents in evidence, just one very pale, fragile four month old child lying on the bed hooked to machines which breathed for her, plumped her with fluids, drained urine.

A tracery of blue veins outlined her swollen head and coalesced into immense bruises on her cheek, under her chin, left ear, the top of her tiny skull. Her eyes were surrounded with the darkest blue and red, contusions and blood pooling, a shock against that translucent skin. A bulge at the top of her head where her soft spot should have been spoke of a swollen brain and bad news for this infant.

I can't forget her skin, it was like silk, no pores, perfect, and exceedingly pale. Where it was not silk, it was scuffed and torn and reddened, but all of it softening in color even as we stayed with her, evidence of her slipping away, a tiny heart slowing, giving up. A huge purple bruise covered her belly and her right side, her belly button oddly white in the middle of that darkness, like the moon in a black night sky.

Her right leg was wrapped, all that could be done for the fracture there given her other injuries. Her arms, shoulders, back, belly, between her tiny thighs, all battered with bruises evident and still coming to the surface eight hours after she was found. Yellowing bruises and brown petechiae told us this massive trauma was not her first experience with pain and suffering.

I can't get the sight of her toes out of my brain, maybe never will. I see them right now as I'm writing this. The tips were like pearls, tiny and round; they were exquisite little toes with perfect pink nails and they were bitten nearly through.

It took us a few minutes to figure it out, lifting them one after the other, looking at the tops, at the undersides, then suddenly the line of imprints from an adult's teeth made sense and like an optical illusion, once in view could not be missed again, it was all we could see, all I ever see when I look at a child's feet. Tooth marks in a dying baby's skin.

I wonder if she felt any pain at that point. She never made a sound, never gave any indication of feeling our hands as we documented her injuries, putting black pen to white paper to make a word picture of the black bruises on that porcelain skin, such a futile effort and so hard because how can you write a scream?

How can you write "contusion 1.9 cm x 3 cm left knee" when the only conceivable response to this travesty is a moan of horror, a scream of grief, a murderous bellow of rage? There are no words for this beyond cliches. It's what cliches were made for, to put into words the unspeakable because the mind can't construct fresh sentences faced with something like this.

Mom said that she had always been able to revive the baby upon finding her unconscious at home after getting off work. Always had until tonight. A little cold water bath brought her around every time. She couldn't understand why this happened, her boyfriend was a good man.

Mom left this tiny and fragile infant in the care of her new boyfriend as punishment for his laziness. She was resentful at being the only one working, and figured he could babysit to help out. Each of the previous five times she had revived this child, she had exacted his promise never to hurt her again. She told no one, fearful her baby would be taken away, confident of his promises, having to work, feeling she had no other options but still, wanting to punish him for his failure.

As young men will, he got bored and restless. They were desperately poor and thus had no cable, no video games, he wasn't one to read. No money to go out, no real friends to come by with some beer. No car, nothing there besides a little meth and a little pot and a baby.

He was bored, frustrated, resentful. He amused himself with the baby. He threw her over his head and sometimes didn't catch her. He slammed her into the wall out of frustration. He held her under water to feel her struggle and fight. He choked her. He shook her in his rage, he violated her tiny vagina, he bit her labia and broke her leg, kicked her in the belly and ruptured her bowel, bruised her liver. He tickled her toes then nearly bit them off. He was bored, he said, a little angry being left with a child, but mainly bored.

I can only think that mom revived this baby five times, tried and failed this last time, but how many nights was this child left with a sadistic man and tortured in this way but not to the point of unconsciousness. She had been having "funny bruises" for about a month, mom said. Bruises in odd places, like her back, her thighs. "Kids bruise easy, everyone in my family does." Kids bruise easily on shins and elbows because they walk and run and play, but infants don't bruise unless someone hurts them.

He's locked up now, got eight years for murdering this infant. Mom did no time except what will stay forever in her head, doing time, seeing herself as a victim of a system that has no understanding for her complicity in the death of a child. Doing time somewhere in her heart and soul for allowing the murder of her baby. He's doing eight years. Eight years for murder. Eight.

And I am doing time in a way, living a good life now, free of the need to deal with shit like this. But I can't get them out of my head or my heart. These tortured children remain with me though I no longer wake with a start, wondering if this one or that one survived the night, if I did the right thing in sending her home, if it was necessary to remove that group of five siblings, was there another choice, could I have done more? Could any of us have saved this baby before that last fatal night with that monster?

It's too much to think about and so I don't most days. It's big drama and it feels selfish to revisit those small battered bodies, the agony of it all, the hopelessness, revisiting my pain, my memories, the visions in my head when the babies are long since buried. My my my my my. It wasn't about me, but they are dead now for years and I have the memories and the memories won't leave me.

I work in my warehouse, sell my antiques, live on the superficial and pleasant level of helping well off people find nice things for their homes. There is no drama, no life or death questions, just home furnishings and friendly encounters with people who just have to have a new desk or chair or table.

And then it snows and the pure white of the snow reminds me of a battered infant on a winter day, of the other children maimed and tortured and killed by those who are supposed to love them, and I think there's a stain on this world evident if we just look closely enough.

Look at the sad, worn out eyes of the children in the grocery store, at that angry mother with the pinpoint pupils, the little boy with bruises on his neck, the girl with stringy hair and dead eyes making herself small to keep anyone from seeing. Look, please. They are everywhere. Tell me I'm not going mad and that you see them too.

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Blogger Vic's Still Standing said...

Not only beautifully written,so that it sang to my soul, but I also felt squeamish in reading this. We are all culpable if we see a child in need and turn the other way.

I do what I can in my small way. But it is never enough, is it? It is never enough for these tiny defenseless victims.

January 13, 2007 1:29 PM  
Anonymous Kamrin said...

I had to that once. Document the abuse. I worked for the children that had been removed, and yet, a new placement still wound with a child in the ER. First time foster parents. Sigh. It will never leave my head. It will never leave my heart. Thanks for helping me to know that others are out there now, and they still get the image. My partner works in a PICU and is the one that has to hook up the breathing machine, to wrap the leg, to turn the child for documentation, and often, to eventually turn the machines off and wrap the body. It gets a bit much at times, and all we can do is hug each other, and our kids. You are so right that if you see it, report it. Better to be wrong than sorry. Thank you for this post.

January 13, 2007 3:00 PM  
Blogger evilganome said...

I don't know what to say. I hear about things like this and then hear that the courts force children to go back to their biological parents because it "is better for the child", and all of the nonsense about single parents or same sex parents being bad for kids. Will anyone ever wake up? As I said I don't know what to say, I can only be sad and angry. That said, thank you for this piece, as ugly as the subject matter is, it is a truly beautiful piece of writing.

January 13, 2007 4:31 PM  
Blogger Ms. Place said...

An amazing piece. This is heartbreaking.

January 13, 2007 6:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm trying to make sure my four year old isn't scared of anything but what do I teach him about the monsters he might meet?

January 13, 2007 9:28 PM  
Blogger Erin said...

Oh God, Lynette, yes. I have never in my life experienced something so profoundly horrible as what you did, but you're absolutely right...tell-tale evidence of the nightmarish lives and the abuse and the impending death of some of these children are everywhere. I worked this summer at a local Wal-Mart and joked every day about the rural misery I encountered but the truth was I couldn't stop watching for a soul that needed saving, or someone who could maybe make it through another weekend if they just caught a smile from someone who looked like they understood. The same in my school, when we try to help them, but often too late and with too little determination.

I am so very sorry for all of you...the baby, the father and mother, the detective, and the hospital workers, and you for each having to face that destruction in your own ways. Your choice to keep her in your head isn't a matter of selfishness I don't think, but rather some sort of quiet vigilance to recognize the pain exists and must absolutely be stopped.
Thank you for such an evocative post. It was incredibly painful to read, but so well written and so very, very important to say.

January 14, 2007 10:11 AM  
Blogger Lotuslander said...

Lynette, that was a brave yet horrific post, and I've never experienced anything remotely like that, and it's hard to believe that such truly awful stuff happens in the world. I don't understand how America works exactly, I know stuff like that happens here, but I don't understand how you were the witness for the County department, or is it a volunteer position? Anyway, I hope you don't have nightmares. And I'm glad that kind people like you exist.

January 14, 2007 6:46 PM  
Anonymous lynette said...

hey honey, thanks for coming by. i worked for the state when i saw this baby; left there two years ago to run my own business.

the "courtesy" visit was to meet the state requirement of seeing the child within 24 hours of report. the other county folks couldn't get to the hospital and were tied up with interviewing the parents, other witnesses.

January 15, 2007 4:02 PM  
Anonymous Sara said...

I've been putting off commenting on this post because the initial gash from reading it was still too new, too raw to touch.

For at least this moment, in this place, that little girl has a voice--posthumous but audible. I see them too, Lynette. And I refuse to simply walk by them. I cannot save every child, but I can remember to keep my eyes open and ears alert for the signs that even one can benefit from my attention.


January 15, 2007 8:30 PM  
Blogger Charlie O. Edinburgh said...

I really have nothing to say, but I feel like I can't just read that post without leaving something... I want to light a candle, say a prayer... How about a march. Could I march somewhere? To think that I have the audacity to complain about the little things that piss me off or talk about how hungry I am.

I'm the father of four precious kids, and I am like Mr. Sensitive. They break my heart with their smiles and their innocence. I can't imagine violating their childhood like that. But I know the monsters in me, so I try somehow to imagine being in the perp's shoes as well. HE was someone's precious little child once too. Crazy.

Well. Thanks for the beautiful post. So sad, but a good reminder of the beauty of life and the responsibility we all have to those around us... how our choices really do impact the world for better or worse.

January 16, 2007 11:55 AM  
Blogger Red7Eric said...

"There are no words for this beyond cliches. It's what cliches were made for, to put into words the unspeakable because the mind can't construct fresh sentences faced with something like this."

Heartbreaking, but brilliant. Thanks for writing this ...

January 16, 2007 11:56 AM  
Blogger Ails said...

Thank you for sharing such a powerful post. Such a tragedy is all too common and I guess hearing about poor children like this almost every day does desensitise us as a society quite a bit. Reading your heartbreaking post does ram it home so poignantly - itis everywhere. Thank you again for writing this.

January 16, 2007 5:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I cry as I read this and thank God for the wonderful loving parents I have and for the two little ones that God has entrusted me with. I pray that I will never become a monster and more importantly pray for all those precious little ones who are in similar situations to the baby you spoke of.
Thankyou for this story as horrific as it is.

January 19, 2007 12:28 AM  
Anonymous Lynn said...

I think I do see children like this every once in a while--it's tough--how does one intervene--DOES one intervene?

January 19, 2007 10:37 AM  
Blogger Melting Mama said...

I don't even know what to say. I can't. Maybe I'll just hold her on my lap a little longer. ::sigh::

January 19, 2007 1:14 PM  
Anonymous Pittypat said...

That was a heart-rending incredible post. Like Charlie, I really have nothing to add, except that I hope you submit this for publication somewhere that it will reach an even wider audience. And I will light a candle in my heart and say a prayer for this baby and all the others still out there. It makes my heart hurt.

January 20, 2007 11:34 PM  

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