Saturday, February 16, 2008

kayla

Kayla is blind and paralyzed on one side. She is lying in her bed in pediatric ICU, slowly turning her head to the left, where she grimaces, shivers and then repeats. Over and over she does this, a pained writhing, the sole outward manifestation of her swelling brain and spinal cord trauma.

Head injury. Blunt force trauma. These dreadful things would seem mysterious ~ what happened to this little girl? ~ were she not also covered with bruises, bite marks, pinches, red scrapes and abrasions. The injuries are technicolor shades of yellow, green, blue, purple. They span days and days, but the worst, the most recent, are near black.

Enormous brown eyes, wide open eyes, she looks and sees nothing. She cannot respond to my voice. I tell her she is safe, that no one can hurt her and I will keep her safe from those who did this. But who, who did this? I desperately need her to tell me who did this. She cannot talk and it's too early to tell what's permanent, if she will recover at all. Six years old, a Native American child from near where I grew up. She is very thin, so pale, her long black hair missing in patches where it was ripped out from the roots.

The detective beckons me from the hall. We huddle with the doctor, with the uniformed cops who were first to the hospital after the ambulance brought her in. Who did this? Which one of them, stepmother? father? Who could do this to her, this systematic destruction of a tiny little girl's body, of her mind?

We have no answers, any of us, and so they leave and I return to my task. My job is to keep her safe, to determine if she goes home again, what happens to her if she does not. That Kayla can't talk is driving me mad. I don't know who to protect her from. Who did this to her? Who could have hurt this little girl so terribly?

I talk to stepmom who denies ever seeing anything amiss, no bruises, nothing. She was gone from Saturday evening to Sunday noon, at work. It was 2:00 a.m. Monday morning when the ambulance was called because Kayla was struggling to breathe. Stepmom says that Kayla was sleepy and stayed in her room all of Sunday evening. Didn't eat. Never came out. No, she did not think that odd. No, she did not think to check on her. No, she did not see any injuries. No. No. No. I hate her.

I talk to dad who denies ever seeing anything amiss, no bruises, nothing. He was home from Saturday evening to Sunday noon, caring for Kayla and her half siblings. Dad says that Kayla was sleepy and stayed in her room all of Sunday evening. Didn't eat. Never came out. No, he did not think that odd. No, he did not think to check on her. No, he did not see any injuries. No. No. No. I hate him too.

Both clamor to see Kayla. They are concerned, so very concerned. One at a time, I tell them, and I take stepmom to the room. I tell Kayla who is here to see her and there is no response. Stepmom's voice sounds wrong to me. Her comforting words seem stiff and they don't ring true. She leaves quickly and I follow her out, asking her how she could not see these injuries. She tells me Kayla falls a lot. I despise her.

I take Dad to the room. I tell Kayla he is here and he says Kayla, baby? Her agitation is immediate and extreme. He says how are you, baby? and she thrashes like a wild thing, pulling the IV from her arm, moaning. Sudden tears unlike any I've ever seen, she is soaked, instantly soaked, and still she can't talk and she's moaning with her mouth in an agonized grimace and the phrase rictus of fear comes from nowhere and runs through my mind and the moaning, the tortured moaning, is a godforsaken, dreadful sound.

She needs to get away, away from that voice, but half her body won't work and she can't see, she doesn't know where to go, she is trapped in her blindness and her terror and this is happening in moments, between his Kayla, baby? and how are you? In an instant I am moving toward him but it feels like slow motion and I can see in his eyes a sheen of pleasure and I know that he is a monster and I am at last across the room shoving him out the door, get out get out get out of here get the fuck out, go now, get out.

Kayla has spoken in the only way she can. It is hours before she stabilizes. Every footstep in the hallway spikes her heart rate. I whisper over and over you are safe, he cannot come back, I will not let him, you are safe, safe, safe, really, believe me this time even though I have let you down, I am so, so sorry.

Grandmother is here and when Kayla is better, I let her in the room. Grandmother is crying, but trying to be brave. She whispers to Kayla of grandpa and the chickens on the farm and Kayla's dog, the one Dad would not allow her to keep when he took her from grandmother's home. Kayla's heart rate drops even more and it steadies. Her writhing is less intense, though it continues at the same appallingly rhythmic pace, a wretched harbinger of a brain ruined by clotting and pressure and brute force.

I walk grandmother out and she tells me that Kayla was not abused. I am stunned and enraged, my head hot with an explosion of disbelief and a high voltage urge to slap her senseless, how could she? We argue and I know I am on the line, too close to losing control as I did with dad, but I get it, finally, of course, I know this stuff but everything I know has vanished in the face of my horror that I let the monster into Kayla's room.

Grandmother feels responsible for letting Kayla live with her dad and this gives me hope, so we agree to meet at my office next day because this one may be workable if that is why she denies. If she is guilt stricken and hating herself for her failure and so cannot admit the truth, there is hope. If she denies to protect the adults, Kayla has no one.

It is late and this endless day is at a close because I can't stand anymore of it and everyone is gone but the nurses and Kayla, who lies wide-eyed in her bed, writhing, turning, listening to the soft plop of the IV fluids and the mechanical beat of her six year old heart on the monitor next to her bed.

On the dot next morning, grandmother arrives and I bring her coffee and we discuss what happened to Kayla. Grandmother thinks she must have fallen. She's been on the phone all night with dad's local kin and there are vague reports circulating among family members that Kayla fell off a bike, or the curb, maybe the porch, oops, yeah, she was climbing on the dresser and fell, another kid hit her and it's bullshit and I know and they know and now this grandmother, the good grandmother, is saying the same thing.

I have pictures. I have doctor's reports, exam results, tests. I have seen every inch of this tiny little girl's body and the harm that has been done her, the hideous violence of slapping and pinching and pounding and kicking and the inconceivable atrocity of bite marks on her inner thighs and her labia and her buttocks and breasts and this woman tells me she must have fallen. I feel the electric hum of rage in my muscles and my head is hot with it again and I can't detach from this one, can't do it.

I slide a picture of torn flesh across the table and I ask is that from falling? Another picture of deep bruises, falling? Another, and another, and then I'm around the table and next to her, fanning every photo of this child's living hell in front of her, the brutality of it evident in every shot and then the last image of Kayla, the blank stare of this baby girl now blind and paralyzed, did she fall? Did she fall?? Is that FROM FALLING????

I've made her cry. I've hurt another human being while trying to protect a little girl. She is weeping, doubled over with her head in her hands, saying no, no, no, she did not fall, I know it and it is my fault I should have kept her, I should have kept her, why did I let him take her.

Now we are sisters, this grandmother and I, because I am not over, will not get over, having taken the architect of this nightmare into the room where Kayla lay blind and paralyzed, infinitely vulnerable, safe for the first time in months.
And this grandmother will never get over having let him take Kayla away from her. We are sisters in guilt.

We are bit players in the wretched script of Kayla's life of torment, but our shared guilt is the foundation of our commitment that she will never return to him. Never. And in that we succeed and I am able at last to say to this violated child, now you are safe. Now you are safe.

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29 Comments:

Blogger Java said...

Ooooohhhhh. I hurt for all those hurting in this episode. I am angry at the monster and those who allowed him to continue. It is good the grandmother has allowed herself to admit the truth.

I have considered working as a social worker. On an intellectual level I know that it would be hard. This gives evidence of the difficulty. I don't think I'm strong enough. I'll do something else. But I thank God that you are there to do it, you and those like you who heed the call to save, protect, and try to make the world a better place for babies like Kayla.

February 17, 2008 1:35 PM  
Blogger Red Seven said...

Holy hell, Lynette -- what a story. And what a storyteller. Cognitively, I know how much evil can exist in the world, but it's really hard to wrap my head around it sometimes. I don't know that I'd be strong enough to do that job ...

February 17, 2008 2:34 PM  
Blogger Maine Gay said...

Wow, amazing writing, and a heart-wrenching story. There is little in the world worse than a child that can't escape from imminent harm. Thank you for sharing this.

February 17, 2008 2:53 PM  
Blogger birdoparadise said...

Lynette, I thank God that you and people like you are there for the Kaylas of the world. We each have a role in helping lift up humanity; you see the ugliness and cruelty that keeps us down. Bless you for being the steadfast wall between Kayla and any more pain. That sweet girl is in my prayers.

Birdie

February 17, 2008 5:17 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

It hurts me so much that there are children in the world in so much need of protection. I wish I could take them all in, give them safe harbor. I hope, when my own kids are older, to be a foster parent so I can give kids like Kayla a place to rest and be safe. Bless you for being so brave, caring, and passionate about what you do.

February 17, 2008 11:57 PM  
Anonymous Tater said...

Such beautiful, honest writing, about a most brutal and inhumane crime. I, too, have trouble wraping my head around it, and know in my heart, that I could never have been successful in your past occupation. I would have snapped and murdered the motherfucker. That people can torture the most innocent among us, and excuse it away with a shrug, denial, and a lame excuse, is just sickening. I am so glad you were able to advocate for Kayla, and the countless other children you helped during your tenure. You have my utmost respect as a human being, and my love. It is rare to encounter a person with a heart and intellect the size of Texas, with the follow through and drive to use their life for a higher purpose. Thank you for being so damn strong.

February 18, 2008 6:04 AM  
Blogger BigAssBelle said...

java ~ you should go and do it, be a social worker. most investigator positions aren't as intense as the one i had for the last six years before i quit. sometimes you can actually do a little bit of good.

Red ~ i find it hard to wrap my head around it still. being away now for over two years makes it kind of fade away. for some reason, though, i haven't been able to get kayla out of my mind lately. they come back, these battered babies and the dead ones.

maine gay ~ the thing that bothered me most about this thing was that she was trapped first with him, and then at the hospital, in that room, in that bed, among strangers. that bugs me more than anything, that sense of hopelessness she must have had when the pain went on and on and on.

birdie ~ i thank god that there are many good people still working in that field. there are many wretched souls, too, who don't belong there. i'm done, have been done for over two years now. but kayla is safe and that is a fantastic thing.

elizabeth ~ foster parents are desperately needed in every child welfare system i'm aware of. if you can do that, my hat's off to you. that is a magnificent gift to kids like kayla.

tater, you kid yourself. you would be perfect doing that work and you would not snap and do murder, though you'd want to. one day you'd snap and go away, probably, because your heart's too big and there's only so much ache a heart can hold. thank you sweetie.

February 18, 2008 8:41 AM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Beautiful and terrifying- vivid and delicately detailed and haunting. Damn, Girl. You rock.

February 18, 2008 9:42 AM  
Blogger sageweb said...

Oh, it makes me sick, I could never do that job. Like Tater I would have had to murder the abuser..no trial for child abusers. I respect you for working a job someone like me would have no patience for.

February 18, 2008 11:22 AM  
Blogger Dusty said...

I can't see what I am typing because of the mass of tears. Forgive any typos please.

I couldn't do your job. I would be haunted, I would be violent myself towards the adults that profess to love a child they would beat this way. I would be a basketcase within hours.

I have no idea how you do it without being haunted daily..without seeing Kayla when you lay in bed in the dark trying to fall asleep.

Its amazing that you have not become a hard person with all you have seen in this regard. Like the cop that no longer trusts anyone aftr decades of dealing with criminals.

May this man find his karma in prison as someone elses bitch, mayhe populate the lowest rung in hell for all eternity.

If there is a god, he will make sure Kayla finds some peace. But after reading this I can nolonger believe in God, he would not let a six year old child suffer this way.

February 18, 2008 1:23 PM  
Anonymous Al said...

While your writing is first rate, and from working in many similar settings I can attest to your all too accurate portrayal of the ICU environment, it was the way you quietly acknowledged the nuances which are often overlooked or unseen, that really got me.

Things like:

Recognizing the patriarchal elements in the grandmothers duality over disclosure, then relating to her specifically as a woman.

How you hinted at the trait of many Native women to invoke silence as a form of protection from oppression.

The constant barrage of negative stimuli that wears one down and often manifests inaccurately as apathy or hardness when it is anything but.

A fantastic piece on so many levels, I'm glad I found your site. Thanks for this entry.

February 18, 2008 9:07 PM  
Blogger Willym said...

I am in tears and I am enraged. How can anyone do that to another human being - particularly a defenseless child? How the hell can a monster like that get away with it?

Again you have touched so many of us with your honesty.

February 19, 2008 2:53 AM  
Blogger Allan said...

Looking forward to the next uplifting chapter

February 20, 2008 2:46 PM  
Blogger joe said...

Oh dear, dear Lynette. I am so happy to read your words even when they are so tragic. You may blush or brush it off when I say this but I really believe you are the equivalent of at least ten if not one hundred of us mere mortals for being able to do that kind of work for even one month -- one week -- let along how many years you actually did it. I truly believe people like you are angels, and yes, I know you were "just doing your job"... but it's work that is more important and meaningful than most things any of us will ever do in a lifetime. Thank you. In the name of everyone suffering in the world who needs help like that thank you. You are amazing -- also for sharing this with us and calling us to witness.

February 20, 2008 7:05 PM  
Blogger Doralong said...

Lynette-

As it seems to have eaten my probably too long prior response. I'll leave it at this- I have no words that can express my sorrow for that poor child. And surely no words that express my deep respect for you, and my heart felt sorrow for what you had to go through for that poor baby. Because in a system full of bullshit and people that just don't care I know full well you were that shining exception that did make the net work- when you didn't arrive too late.

While I somehow expect there was no happy ending here- the child at least finally had an advocate. I pray it wasn't too late- but somehow I know it was.

Hope your Daddy is faring well.

February 22, 2008 5:56 PM  
Blogger BigAssBelle said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

February 22, 2008 9:45 PM  
Blogger BigAssBelle said...

jeff, sage, thank you for honoring kayla by reading this. it was to honor her that i began thinking about writing this; i only recently found out her father got out of prison in the last year. i want the memory of the hell she lived through to not be forgotten. his serving time doesn't take that away.

dusty, i told you this directly and so i'm going to share it here: kayla is alive and she has recovered. it took a long time, a lot of rehab. she has no conscious memory of the injuries. she regained her sight and her mobility and she is still a smart, sweet little girl, now young woman of 13 or 14. it is a miraculous thing that she could do so well, given the severity of her injuries. she lives with her grandmother in the town where i grew up.

al, thank you for coming by. i had to reread this given your insights. i have been too close to this to look at it with a sociologist's eyes.

willym, hugs to you, sweetie. and i don't know how people can do that to a child. i will never understand it. to any helpless creature. inexplicable. and you could say he did not exactly get away with it. he served about six years in jail. enough? not in my view, but in this state, the average for raping or murdering a child only runs somewhere between 5-10 years. you can get more time for burglary. shows you where our priorities really are in this allegedly child-centered nation.

allan, here's your uplifting: kayla lived through it and she thrives.

joe, i was thinking about kayla because i heard her dad got out. and i had listened to NPR, a woman who wrote about how she and her neighbors stood by and did nothing while a child was severely injured in her neighborhood. from that point forward, she took up being a busybody and she pays attention and takes action.

more than a dozen people were aware that something was seriously wrong in kayla's life. she always wore dark tights and long sleeves, even in summer (because of the bruises). she was distracted, pale, withdrawn, and those were just things observed by her teachers. her family members saw her all the time and did nothing. nothing. i am convinced everyone needs to be an angel for every helpless creature on this earth: child, incapacitated adult, elderly folks, animals. we can't just mind our own business when other living beings are in need. thank you for your kind words.

DL ~ i hope you read this whole response, which contains the good news that kayla is alive and well and safe, truly safe. it is a miraculous thing and while it makes me very happy that she survived this ordeal, i think of the many others who did not. we must all look and pay attention and act if it is warranted.

February 22, 2008 9:47 PM  
Blogger Dusty said...

I am glad you shared it with everyone Belle ;) Thank you sweet woman.

February 23, 2008 1:35 PM  
Blogger Rosie said...

Thank you for sharing this painful story. I am so glad that Kayla survived this horror and you were able to save her. Your words paint the story so vividly, it is as though I was there myself.

February 26, 2008 7:50 AM  
Anonymous Mark H said...

We've been out of town and disconnected for a couple weeks, but not surprised to come home and read that you once again, are doing heroic things. They ARE heroic to someone with my limited strength in dealing with these matters. My own next door neighbor has been locked in a horribly abusive marriage for 10 years, and finally broke out 6 weeks ago....the psychotic abuse continues while they negotiate child custody. I can't even hardly stand THAT situation, let alone the horribly evil cowardice produced by criminal minds in this world by people like Kayla's father. Thank you for reminding me how kind life has been to me......... You are Loved too by encouraging us to become something more than we are. Thanks, Lynette.

February 27, 2008 1:35 PM  
Blogger Yogi Wannabe said...

Oh my hell. I can't stop weeping for this child. Thank God she has someone like you to help protect her.

February 29, 2008 11:01 PM  
Blogger The Localmalcontent said...

I am so moved by your compassion and your sense of outrage. It is because of you in no small part that this child lives today.

Thank you. So much.

Perhaps a bit offtopic, but your spellbinding writing style, as well as serious note of the subject, kept me on the edge of my chair reading.
But again, ma'am, thank you for your caring spirit to this little girl. Pleased to hear through your comments also, that she's doing much better now.

March 02, 2008 3:34 PM  
Blogger more cowbell said...

I can't add anything else to the commentary. WHat a difference you've made in this child's life. God. Thank you for including the updates in the comments ... I was afraid to ask.

March 02, 2008 3:57 PM  
Blogger T.R. said...

I've just nominated you for Oklahoma Woman Blogger of the Year at the Oklahoma Women Blog Network. Voting starts soon. Hopefully you readers will go vote!

http://oklahomawomen.blogspot.com/

March 02, 2008 11:52 PM  
Blogger David said...

No words.

March 04, 2008 11:55 AM  
Blogger soopermouse said...

oh God
I wish there was someone like you there for me when I was in that place.

I am sorry, could you please put a warning "might be triggering" sticker on top of your posts? I love your blog, but this has sent me whirling into a place where I didn't want to go back to ever.

I wasn't hurt as bad physically, but wasn't that far away.

The stories need to be told though. Thank you for doing it

March 16, 2008 4:02 AM  
Anonymous Sally Parrott Ashbrook said...

Wow. Just ... wow.

March 20, 2008 10:54 AM  
Blogger Kevin Roddy said...

Belle--

I was in tears reading this as well.

Your writing is PHENOMENAL, girl!

So glad to hear Kayla is doing well.

If more of what social workers do gets out broadly and often....

maybe we could raise awareness to the point of decreasing this kind of pain.

You go, girl = wow.

*Kevin nods his head in deep appreciation of Belle's work.*

March 30, 2008 1:50 PM  
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March 16, 2009 2:22 AM  

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