by Marion Smith
[p.16]Everything starts with Elizabeth. But not yet. Later.
Here’s the Beaver exit. Do I need to stop or go on to Cedar City? Cedar’s more than halfway there. Why don’t I feel anything? Panic? Terror? Remorse? Only memories. Like Grisabella in Cats. Once driving on a road like this at night, I killed a cat. I could feel the impact of its soft body throughout my own, but I kept on driving.
Elizabeth. It started with Elizabeth. Driving Elizabeth to piano lessons on that warm, intensely blue-sky day the end of March. It’s 1987.
I’ve picked her up from first grade and am driving the ten blocks to her piano teacher. I watch her grubby little fingers burrow in the sheepskin seat cover and wonder how often the teacher’s piano keys have to be washed. I don’t do these kinds of errands for Katherine often, but they’re in San Francisco on some business of Clint’s so I’m helping out. There’s a teenaged babysitter doing most of the work. I’m glad Katherine went with Clint; she rarely gets away, because it’s too hard to arrange baby tending. Last summer after she weaned Alisha, she and Rachel and I went to Vermont to see Tina in summer stock. We were so proud of Tina. Clint tended the children; he took care of Rachel’s kids sometimes too. My grandchildren’s ages meshed perfectly for cousin friendships. Katherine hasn’t been away a night since then.
[p.17]“How do you like piano?” I ask Elizabeth.
“It’s okay. She gives gum drops.” She plays with the radio knobs. “I get to start left hand next time. Maybe.”
“Daddy says I can play piano in the videos when I’m better.”
“Oh, I’d love to see that, Elizabeth. That’s almost as good as a recital,”
“You can’t! You don’t get to!” She slides across the seat and quickly screws the window down.
“Elizabeth, that’s too cold! I don’t have a sweater. Put it up please.”
No response. “Elizabeth’s head is out the window.
“What do you mean, I can’t see the videos? Elizabeth, put the window up now!”
Elizabeth pulls her head in but doesn’t close the window. She’s pushing the door lock up and down. She never ignores me like this.
I pullover to the curb, put the car in park. “Elizabeth,” I say crossly, “I want the window up right now!” I reach over her and roll it up myself. “We’re going to be late,” I warn her.
“I don’t care! I hate piano lessons!” She suddenly huddles against the door, crying.
I turn the key off. “Elizabeth, what’s wrong? Tell me, sweetheart.”
“You can’t tell Daddy about the videos!” she blurts out. She looks at me with panic across her eyes, mouth, and brows.
Why is my stomach twisting I wonder. “Elizabeth, I don’t understand. Daddy takes videos of you all the time. We saw them just a few nights ago, remember?”
“But not the baby videos.”
“What baby videos? I don’t know what you’re upset about. Tell me. No one will be mad.”
[p.18]A long pause. She looks out the window again. Without turning her head to me, she says in a voice I can barely hear, “Daddy will. He’ll be real mad.”
I pull her cl0se to me. “Why, sweetheart, why would Daddy be mad? Is it a secret or a surprise or something?”
‘‘I’m not supposed to tell.” She starts crying again.
“Well, if Daddy told you not to tell I guess he has his reasons. Shall we call him tonight and ask him?”
“No!” shrieks Elizabeth. “Please don’t tell him!”
This is too weird, I think. We’ll skip piano. “Why not, Elizabeth? Tell me what’s so scary?”
“Daddy says nobody can know about the baby videos and now I’ve told.” She slips into my arms. Her little body is shaking.
“But Elizabeth, I’ve already seen all your baby videos. They’re not secret.”
“Noooh.” She sounds exasperated. “The videos about the baby lessons and getting married.” She pulls away from me and climbs over the seat into the back.
I don’t want to solve this here. “All right, Elizabeth, let’s skip piano and go home.”
We turn around. There’s no sound from the back seat all the way to Elizabeth’s house.
While I’m calling the piano teacher, I hear Shawn and Elizabeth playing in the family room. Maybe I should ask Shawn about the videos. I tell him I need to see him in the bedroom.
Reluctantly, he comes; I sit beside him on Katherine’s lavender bedspread. He needs a haircut.
“Shawn, do you remember Daddy making a video about how you grow up and get married and have babies? Elizabeth was telling me about it.” My voice is soft and casual.
“She’ll get in trouble!” Shawn’s startled. “They’ll all be mad.”
“Who Shawn? Who’ll be mad?”
[p.19]Shawn is off my lap. He’s wriggling under the bed.
“Shawn, come out!”
“No. I don’t want to.”
I leave him and go talk to the babysitter about dinner. I try to call Katherine. I leave a message for her to call. Then I dial Dr. Monroe’s office. He specializes in child abuse. I met him at the Bradleys’ party a few months ago. The receptionist says 10:00 tomorrow morning, bring Shawn and Elizabeth both.
That’s how it started. That simply. Looking back, I realize Elizabeth wanted me to know. The next morning, sitting in the office waiting for Dr. Monroe, a tiny part of me knew how it would end. I watched as Shawn and Elizabeth did puzzles on the waiting room floor. Katherine said she would come straight from the airport and meet me there at noon. I couldn’t imagine what happened between her and Clint after I talked to her. That was midnight. They’d been to the San Francisco ballet. Giselle. That morning I’d have done anything to spare her walking into that office. For a second I even hoped she’d have a car accident.
A little boy was throwing pieces of a train track into the aquarium. I didn’t stop him. I didn’t care. Neither did his mother. I looked at her for a moment. She wore no makeup and her hair was stringy. She was looking at a magazine but didn’t turn the pages. She was biting her bottom lip over and over again.
I watched fish swimming in a tank that was too small. Little colored fish wanting to get out of the tank. The secretary called Elizabeth into the office. Elizabeth put her hand into the secretary’s and walked into another room without a glance back at me or Shawn.
A blinding light on the freeway is coming at me. I hate those lights! It’s hot. I’m dizzy. I should pull over. These dark hills [p.20]rounded against the night sky look like prehistoric creatures sleeping in the dark.
I’m not going to take this exit to Beaver. My foot’s acting on its own. Separate from the rest of me. Pushing the gas pedal down. I can’t stop the car. Seventy-five. I promised Duncan, but I can’t make my foot stop. Eighty. It feels good to grip the steering wheel this way. Clench it hard as I can. Every muscle in my body clenched. My foot down. Eighty-five. The energy filling this car will crack the windshield. Ninety. Ninety-seven.
I have to meet Duncan. I promised. My foot’s off. I’m braking in little thrusts.
Deep breaths. Long breaths back to sixty-five. I better not do that anymore. Crack a window. Breathe. Make yourself remember.
Elizabeth’s been gone a long time. Shawn’s getting cross. He says he’s hungry. Then Elizabeth comes running out with Dr. Monroe. She’s laughing. She says I should see the neat doll house in there. Dr. Monroe takes me aside and says he thinks there’s more to her story—much more. And he’s called a child protective service worker who’ll come and watch his interview with Elizabeth through the two-way mirror. They’ll try to video it if Elizabeth doesn’t mind. Why don’t I take the children to get something to eat and come back in half an hour? Everything should be ready then.
Everything should be ready. But Katherine isn’t here, I tell Dr. Monroe. He says he’s lucky to have caught an available worker and we better go ahead. Won’t Katherine be here by then, he asks. We should do this today, he says. Better for Elizabeth and us too.
We go to McDonald’s and get Happy Meals. There are little plastic race cars in the boxes. Elizabeth doesn’t want a race car, [p.21] but Shawn likes his. I try to call Duncan. He must’ve left for the airport. There’s nobody to reach.
Dr. Monroe asks me to come in with Elizabeth. He says Elizabeth wants me in there. I hand Shawn some crayons and tell him he can play with all the toys in the waiting room. I tell him I’ll only be a little while.
Elizabeth is seven. She sits on my lap and plays with my bracelet from Kenya. A snake twists around a woman embossed on the bronze. Like Eve.
Elizabeth shows me the pictures she made in Dr. Monroe’s office earlier. Little girls with pony tails, red pants and blue shirts, bright round suns, flowers, houses with curtains, and smoke curling from the chimneys. Dr. Monroe asks Elizabeth if it’s o.k. to videotape her talking with him. She protests, “No!” Then grabs her pictures and starts to tear them.
“How about if we turn on my tape recorder then, Elizabeth? You can turn it off anytime and you can play it back if you want to.” Elizabeth turns the tape recorder on and off. “All right.” She hands the recorder to Dr. Monroe and picks up a can of yellow Playdough. For a long time we silently watch her make snakes and balls and pancakes. Finally Dr. Monroe asks, “Elizabeth your grandma was wondering why you seemed so upset about the videos Daddy makes of you. Can you tell us a little bit more about them or why you were upset about them?”
“It’s just a game,” Elizabeth looks disgusted. She’s coloring again. “We play baby games for the videos.”
“Can you show us how you play?”
“It’s silly. We pretend to have babies. You lie down—like this—and pretend babies are coming out of your baby hole.” She sits up. “That’s how they really come. Daddy gives us lessons to show us how they come.”
“Who plays? Does Shawn pretend to have babies?”
[p.22]Elizabeth gives Dr. Monroe a withering look. “No, ’course not. Just the girls.”
“What girls?” Dr. Monroe asks.
“The girls at the parties!” She scribbles furiously. She won’t answer any more questions. Dr. Monroe sits quietly and lets her color. I don’t dare breathe, don’t move, don’t speak, don’t think, don’t pray.
Dr. Monroe asks again about the baby lessons. “Can you show me on the doll how Daddy gave you baby lessons?”·
“I want to color.”
He says that’s fine. Elizabeth draws a blue cat under a tree.
“Elizabeth, I know this is hard. How can I help you tell what Daddy taught you?”
Elizabeth looks up defiantly. “He did it to teach us. “ She draws a big sunflower with a face. “He squeezed our nipples to show where baby milk comes from. But we already knew that. From how Mommie nursed the baby.”
“Did he show you anything else about your nipples?”
“No. Well, sometimes we played a game.” She’s taking all the toys out of the toy chest.
“Yeah. We took turns playing we were babies sucking on nipples … I didn’t play that game.”
“What else did you learn about, Elizabeth?” Dr. Monroe asks in a light voice.
Silence. Elizabeth rubs her finger along the ridge of the green carpet.
“Would the dolls help you?”
Elizabeth picks up the little girl doll, one with yellow hair and a pink party dress. She pulls down the doll’s panties.
“Daddy showed us how babies start in our baby holes.” She [p.23]pulls the doll’s legs apart and puts a finger between them. “Like this.”
“Daddy used a finger to show you?”
“Maybe. I forget.” She points to the doll’s vagina. “He showed Shawn how to put his penis here so he’d know what to do when he gets married … But not with me!” Elizabeth adds hastily, “Girls can’t marry brothers.”
The therapist laughs a little. “That’s right. What a smart girl you are! With who then, Elizabeth, who did Shawn learn with?”
“Daddy gave the lessons to Autumn and Melinda too! And the Talbot kids. So did Brother Kearns.” She seems relieved. Then she picks up the little girl doll and shakes it. “Daddy called Autumn his little princess. He said he likes yellow hair.” She pulls the doll’s hair. “I hate Autumn’s hair! It’s ugly! She’s s’posed to be my friend! She always liked to be bare naked!”
Elizabeth drops the doll and runs to the toy chest. She winds up the jack-in-the-box and laughs loudly at it. “You’re dumb!” she tells it. “I want to go home.”
“Elizabeth,” Dr. Monroe says quietly. “Come sit on your Grandma’s lap a minute while I tell you a story.”
Elizabeth climbs on my lap. She won’t let me hug her. She’s tense, ready to spring away from me.
“Do you ever help Mommie crack the eggs when she’s cooking?” the therapist asks.
“Yes. I can do that real good.”
‘‘I’ll bet you can. Then you know how after the egg’s cracked open you can’t put it back the way it was. Instead you have to use the egg to make something—scrambled eggs, an omelette, cake. What do you like to make eggs into?”
“Pancakes!” Elizabeth smiles.
“I like eggs in pancakes too. Well, that’s kind of like what we’ve been doing. We’ve cracked the egg of whatever is inside [p.24]you, Elizabeth, that you need to tell and we can’t put it back. We need to make it into a true story that will help you feel better. It will help Daddy too. We can’t just leave this broken egg all messy on the counter. Can you help me make it into something? Do you understand?”
Elizabeth nods. “I guess. But I didn’t do the bad things. Just Shawn and Autumn did. And the other kids.” She’s out of my lap on the floor. I’m trying to stay perfectly still, to be invisible.
“What bad things, Elizabeth?” Dr. Monroe asks.
Elizabeth looks at the carpet. She pulls at the button on her sweater. We can hardly hear her whisper, “The licking games… Daddy said we had to learn. He said not to tell Mommie or she’d feel left out and not to tell anybody. Jason and Andrea played more than I did.”
She begins taking the clothes off the dolls. Then she hugs the little girl doll to her chest and starts to cry. She looks very tired. “I didn’t like the licking games,” she sobs.
“I know, Elizabeth,” Dr. Monroe says gently. “I see lots of little children whose daddies do things they shouldn’t to them. It makes the children feel bad. Bad and sad and sometimes scared. It’s not your fault what happened. Daddies shouldn’t make children do those things. Neither should Brother Kearns. It’s the daddies’ fault because little children have to do what the daddy wants. Daddy needs help to learn he can’t do those things. I know lots of daddies who’ve been helped because their children told what they were doing. Shawn and the other children need to talk about it too. Did Daddy take videos of the baby games?”
Elizabeth screams, “I hate videos!” She kicks the doll house over and runs around the room throwing toys everywhere. She’s throwing crayons wildly when Katherine opens the door. “Mommie!” She runs and wraps her arms and legs and body around Katherine, who holds her tightly, looking afraid.
[p.25]Next, Shawn told. Then Autumn and Melinda told. Other children in the neighborhood told. It took months and months for all the telling about Clint and Brother Kearns and his wife.
It was at least three months before the main facts were clear. The grandchildren saw three different therapists. Separately, without knowing what their siblings or cousins were saying, they told the same story with the same details. They told that when Daddy bathed them or put them to bed or babysat, he showed them how to explore each other’s bodies. They said he told them that all children learn these things, but they mustn’t talk about it because it’s private like going to the bathroom, and people think you’re bad if you talk about it. They’ll call you nasty and dirty, because they don’t understand Heavenly Father’s sacred plan. Mommie doesn’t understand either, and she’d feel bad and sad and angry if she knew. Daddy would be very angry if they told Mommie; he might even go away and find new children who learned these things better. Our bodies have to learn how to have babies by having things put up inside them—to help them stretch and learn. Little boys need to have things put up their bums so they can learn how little girls feel. The important thing is to learn and stretch our bodies and not cry because we do this to show we love each other. Daddy would teach Autumn and Melinda too, but their parents couldn’t know.
This was the gist of what Clint told his children. He mixed depravity with ideas from Sunday school and Primary. His “marriage lessons” could have been a pedophilia manual for Mormons: What Heavenly Father Wants Every Good Child to Do to Prepare for Parenthood.
The children told about the “parties” at Brother Kearns’s house. Brother Kearns was in the bishopric with Daddy.
They both sat on the stand every Sunday. At testimony meetings Brother Kearns gave long talks about how good the [p.26]Lord had been to him. He said he loved his children more than anything in the world. His wife was the daughter of a high-ranking leader in the church. She was at the parties too; she ran the video camera. She taught Melinda’s Junior Sunday School class. Melinda said she was always having special parties for their class.
The children talked about “touching games” with prizes, and videos of children they didn’t know with grown-ups they didn’t know. They told about Clint and Brother Kearns trying to “stick things up us.” Little Alisha said, “Their pee made me throw up.” They told us the names of children from the neighborhood who were there. Four of these children were seen by other therapists who reported the same stories and details.
I wouldn’t have known Sister Kearns if I’d met her in the grocery store. I knew hardly anyone in that neighborhood. But I did know that this woman was the daughter of an apostle in the church—everyone knew that I’d met her once in Katherine’s driveway. I was coming out of Katherine’s house and she was picking up Shawn and Elizabeth to take· them to the park. She had two little girls of her own just their ages and a new baby too. I walked over to her car.
“It’s so nice of you to take all these kids to the park. Can you manage all of them?”
“Oh, yes,” she laughed. “I love kids. The more the merrier. We’re going to get Autumn and Melinda too.”
I thought what a nice neighbor she was. Like I used to be when my kids were little. She was always volunteering to tend or drive children. She said her little girls had so much fun playing with Katherine’s and Rachel’s kids it wasn’t any trouble to tend them. “Easier, in fact.”
Our grandchildren told about what her husband did to his little girls and ours at the “parties” at their home, while she gave out Popsicles and cookies. About how she took videos of them, [p.27]and how they sometimes sang Junior Sunday School songs—she was a Junior Sunday School teacher. Some of the children at the “parties” were from the class she taught. .
During one therapy session, Autumn tried to hide behind the doll house. Autumn was six, Jared’s eldest child—the same age as Shawn, they were cousins and best friends. Autumn was crying that they’d kill Melinda because she told. “They’ll drive their car over Melinda and leave her in the road. They told us. They’ll kill all of us.” Shawn said, “He has a big gun. He showed us how they’d kill us. Like the mountain lion’s head on the wall.”
The details from each child matched up. Each child told the story separately to different therapists, but they told the same details. Elizabeth said, “He showed us the black poker he used on logs in the fireplace and he said he’d poke it inside us if we told.” Autumn said, “We were scared he’d hurt us with the fireplace poker.” Shawn said, “Little boys who don’t do what they’re told will get a hot poker in the bum.”
Alisha told about them putting ice cubes up her vagina. “They put me in the bathtub so the water wouldn’t run all over. Then they put the ice up me. If it was too big, they made it littler under the hot water. It freezed me.” Melinda and Autumn both talked about the “sucky thing you squeeze that they put up us. The thing Mommy uses when she cooks turkeys. It didn’t hurt. It just felt funny.” I don’t know why they thought it was funny.
All the children talked about the procedure of the “touching parties.” As soon as the children arrived at the house, it was “First one with their clothes off gets a candy bar.” Then “First we’ll show movies of the children who know how to do the touching games. See how good they are? Look at the cute little girl! Isn’t she smart? See, she never cries. These children know just what to do. I bet you can do as good as they do.” After the movies, the games and video filming began. Sometimes they’d dance and sing. Clint [p.28]would dance around with nothing on but the top of his temple undergarment. Autumn told us, “He couldn’t dance as good as Brother Kearns.” They played circle games where everyone would take turns “performing.” They played Pin The Tail On The Donkey, using little flags on sticks which they put up the children’s bums. They played I Have A Little Doggie And It Won’t Bite You, where “biting” was kissing private parts. The adults, including men they didn’t know, would “perform” on the children. “They’d tickle our private spots with the feather duster. They’d play chase and the one who got caught was first to have to do those yucky kisses. Then they’d make us all kneel on our hands and knees in a circle and pretend we were puppies. We were supposed to bark like puppies while they put things up our bums. They made movies of us doing bad things. We didn’t want to. They made us. Everyone clapped for the child who didn’t cry and who was best. Sometimes they’d give the best one extra treats.”
After the filming, everyone would get dressed and there’d be more treats. “They told us if we ever told anyone they’d show the videos to Mommy and Daddy and everybody, and everyone would say we were nasty and bad and they’d hate us,” Autumn said. “They said Heavenly Father wanted us to have the lessons, but he’d kill us if we told.” It seemed there was no end to these stories.
Parents in the neighborhood were hearing rumors of abuse allegations. They wouldn’t let their kids play with Jared’s or Katherine’s children, wouldn’t even let them carpool with them.
Jared and Katherine both said they were going to move from the neighborhood even if it meant losing money on their houses. Rachel began looking for private kindergarten for Autumn.
We reported everything the children told about the abuse to the police. Rachel and Catherine also submitted ‘pages of notes [p.29]they’d made of the children’s stories. All this in addition to what the therapists reported.
The police interviewed Elizabeth, Shawn, and Autumn, but already Katherine and Rachel had decided not to let them testify. The other parents of abused children said if our kids wouldn’t testify, they wouldn’t let their’s either. Two of those families moved out of the neighborhood—neighbors who knew what had been reported said this case was just as big and confusing as the one in Lehi.
The previous summer we’d read daily accounts of children’s testimonies of sex abuse in Lehi—a little Utah town named for a hero in the Book of Mormon. One little boy who’d testified against his father threw up in the courtroom. The dad had been found guilty by a jury of his peers, but the judge had sentenced him to weekend prison for six months; he’d also ordered the boy and father to have therapy sessions together, despite the therapist’s and mother’s warnings that it would damage the boy. The defense attorneys had been merciless with those children. And the citizens of Lehi had rallied around the perpetrators, rather than the children. Ultimately, the children were blamed for the entire mess, and Lehi was never the same. We didn’t want those things to happen to us.
Now, after all this time, Elizabeth’s words at that first meeting with Dr. Monroe remain etched in my brain. Because it all began with her. Dr. Monroe was right—there was more. More stories and more people. Later I found out that Clint had abused other children in other neighborhoods. As an adolescent, he’d molested children from his own neighborhood who are now adults.
It was Shawn who first told about their other grandmother, Clint’s mother. Sometimes she came to the parties at Brother Kearns’s and she always brought good chocolate cake she’d made. [p.30]Sometimes she brought some of their other cousins, the ones on Clint’s side whom they didn’t know well. Shawn and Elizabeth also told about going to sex parties at Grandma’s house with three “old ladies” and their cousins, “Daddy took us on Saturdays when he tended us so Mommy could clean,” Shawn said the ladies fondled them and “they had us suck their boobs like we were babies,” Shawn told his therapist, “Daddy puts his penis in Grandma so I can learn how to do it only I couldn’t see much. I was scared he’d squash her. It was icky, but Grandma liked it.”
What was going on in the children’s minds? Were they losing touch with reality? If so, how were they able to offer these sickening and haunting details? None of it ever seemed real. As the months crawled by, turning into years, we still ate, worked, and drove our cars—but nothing was real. We didn’t sleep much. But I dreamt. I remember dreaming about the dark funnel of a tornado coming at us, at the grandchildren and their parents and Duncan and me, and we couldn’t pull up the door to the stone cellar because the winds were too tremendous. Jared tried to raise it but couldn’t. Then Alisha’s little body was flung by the wind over and over against the cellar door like a ball on a yo-yo string, breaking.
Jared quit his job to stay home and help Rachel and his kids deal with what was happening. He told the details of our case to half a dozen highly placed church authorities as well as to law enforcement, but no action resulted. He’s still involved in local organizations and with the media, but he feels betrayed. He was a devoted Mormon, had served a foreign mission, and presided in his local ward. He and Rachel were only twenty-seven when this tornado blasted into their lives.
During those first months, Jared and Rachel did nothing but care for their children. One weekend in late spring, Rachel took the little girls to the cabin while Jared stayed home to get their yard in shape so they could list their house. When Rachel called [p.31]for their little black cocker spaniel “Toby” after lunch, he didn’t come. For two hours they called. Toby had never been gone more than a few minutes before. The girls were crying, Rachel was shaking with anxiety. Finally she put Melinda piggy-back on her shoulders, Autumn stumbling along behind, and they began to search the thick woods around the cabin.
Rachel, Melinda, and Autumn called and looked for Toby for three hours before giving up. As they scrambled over the hills, Rachel, an honors graduate in philosophy, carried on a silent monologue with God. “You have no right! No right to take our dog. We’ve had enough! We’ve kept your damn rules. Do whatever else you want to me, but bring back our children’s dog! Please bring him back. Damn you to hell, bring back our dog!” Rachel said later that her childish pleas must’ve intimidated, or maybe amused, God because when they all staggered back to the cabin porch, Toby lay there curled in a little black ball all worn-out from his explorings. I wondered then if Rachel’s diatribe was the stuff of real religion.
Katherine didn’t pray. She never slept, never ate, never cried. The children vented their confusion and rage and terror at her. They alternated between clinging to her and screaming at her. Alisha’s temper tantrums would last an hour, and Elizabeth would lock herself in her bedroom for whole afternoons. Shawn protested and cried that all the kids in kindergarten hated him.
I went to Katherine’s house one morning and found her alone for the first time in weeks. Alisha was playing outside; Elizabeth and Shawn were in school. Her sink overflowed with dirty dishes, the counters were plastered with unpaid bills, scribblings for her attorney of what the children were saying, and divorce papers. Stale cat food was spilled on the floor. She was standing by an ornately carved dark walnut clock Clint had brought home from his Swiss mission. Katherine stood trans-[p.32]fixed, pushing the hands of the clock around and around the face. She didn’t move when the kitchen door banged behind me. For five minutes I watched her manipulate the clock’s diurnal path. Finally I broke the silence.
“You might break it Katherine. Can I help you do the dishes?”
She slowly turned and looked at me like she didn’t know who I was, but answered, “It doesn’t matter. It was his. I haven’t thrown it out because Shawn likes the chime. The clock’s like a stand-in for Daddy to Shawn. They used to wind it together every night before bed.”
“What were you doing with the hands?” I asked softly.
She smiled a little. “Making the minutes go faster.” She closed the glass on the clock and we both dropped into kitchen chairs.
“You’ve got to get some sleep, Katherine. You can’t go on like this. You’ll have a car accident or get sick. Have you asked the doctor for something to help you sleep?”
I have some pills. But when I take one, I’m afraid I won’t hear the kids. Alisha spends most nights in my bed anyway. I guess I shouldn’t let her, but she’s too afraid to sleep unless I do.”
“Katherine, you haven’t been away from these kids one night for two months. You’ve got to get away a little so you can cope with them and set some limits. I’ll tend tonight, if you’ll go to a movie. They’d be fine with me.”
“It’s not them. It’s me. I’d have to wash my hair—I don’t have the energy for that. I finally went to a movie last week with Debra when Tina tended, but I had no idea what I was seeing. I couldn’t follow the story. I called home every ten minutes, and by the time the movie was over I was sweating so much I couldn’t sit still. I couldn’t go to dinner with Debra after. I can’t go out … it’s too hard to wash my hair…”
[p.33]“What would help? What can I do?”
“Love my kids. Have them with you. You’re not crazy like I am now, so that’s good for them.”
“I like taking them. But they’re terribly anxious when you’re not there.”
Katherine looked at me evenly. “We have to get through this,” she said. “Not hour by hour, but minute by minute. My therapist said when I make myself write the bills or make the hard phone calls, I should give myself a reward. But I can’t think of one. The only reward I want is a shot that could knock me out for a couple of weeks. So that when I wake up, the hands on the clock will have moved.”
I feared during those months that Katherine would have an accident, but she didn’t. She was never sick and got the children everywhere they needed to be. Through all her despair, they were fed and bathed and dressed, the girls’ hair always curled or ponytailed with matching ribbons. She said they needed to know they were cute. She managed all their therapy and doctor appointments, their extra lessons so they’d have a lot of structured time. She sold her house, her furniture, and her car, and built a new house across the city. She bought a new puppy for Elizabeth, a cat for Shawn, and guinea pigs for Alisha. She made it through her divorce.
It was exhausting and frightening to watch. Finally—about ten months later—she invited us to dinner for Alisha’s birthday. There were a clown cake and balloons all over. As we were leaving, she turned to me and announced, “Guess what? I washed my hair for the party.”
Moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day, Katherine and her children and Jared and his children learned to begin to heal.
Within two months Jared and Rachel had moved from the [p.34]neighborhood, too. Clint had been interviewed by the police but not charged. He was living in a crummy motel and going to therapy three times a week. He said he couldn’t remember anything but what he sometimes called “shadowy images,” scenes of himself with Shawn or his mother. Times with his mother when he was little.
It all began with seven-year-old Elizabeth on the way to piano lessons. Now the whole world has changed.
I can see the lights of Cedar City. I’ll gas, park in the shadows, walk around for a few minutes. Strange how intense every physical need is. Like I’ll die if I don’t move. My body feels nothing except basic physical needs. The movie in my head won’t stop rolling.