Riptide
by Marion Smith

Chapter 8

[p.59]The image of the blood and ‘his shattered head intrudes. Even though I block it. I mustn’t think of it yet, not until I meet Jeanne and Duncan.

How ironic. He blamed the lawsuit on Duncan and me when that’s one thing we had nothing to do with. He doesn’t know Jeanne. Nobody tells her what to do.

It’s hard to understand why Clint wasn’t criminally prosecuted, unless you know the legal system. When no parents would let their children testify, there was no criminal case. We thought that testifying would only traumatize the children further. Maybe we were wrong; maybe testifying would have helped them resolve some of the trauma. But they were so little. Who could say how the experience might affect them? Either they’d be disbelieved or they’d be putting their dad or uncle in jail.

“What about the medical evidence?” we asked the prosecutors. “What about the five therapists who interviewed the children separately? What about other children in the neighborhood who’ve implicated Clint?” The county attorney’s office said it was too hard to prosecute without the children. We wondered if they were concerned about other ramifications. About the apostle’s daughter. They have plenty of child abuse cases to pursue without one that might challenge the public image of a church leader. The [p.60]prosecutor told us that only one in ten child sexual abuse cases is ever prosecuted.

When Clint discovered there would be no legal action, he recanted everything he’d confessed in his therapy and to his children during those first weeks after Elizabeth’s disclosure. Back then he’d told Shawn and Elizabeth over the phone that he knew he’d done awful things to them, that he was working hard to get better. He was so relieved not to face criminal charges that he contested nothing in Katherine’s divorce, including his loss of parental visitation. After he remarried two years later, he sued Katherine to regain child visitation. In the courtroom battle for parental rights, Clint’s new wife heard eight hours of testimony from Dr. Monroe and four other therapists, plus evidence from the therapy records and psychological evaluations. Two little girls of her own … how could she let this pedophile adopt them after everything she heard that day?

It was the first time I’d seen Clint’s wife. We sat on opposite sides of the courtroom; I watched her to avoid looking at Clint. She wore a high-necked grey and yellow flowered print dress. White opaque panty hose. Heels. Shoulder length brown hair. Little make-up, but she was not unattractive.

“Could you please catalogue the abuse by their father which the children described to you?” our attorney asked their therapist.

“Cunnilingus, object rape, enforced fellatio, digital penetration of anus and vagina, sodomy, fondling of breasts and genitals, the making and showing of pornographic films, intercourse and other sexual acts with adults including his mother, which he forced the children to witness …”

“Could you tell us from your case notes the exact words of one of the children describing the abuse?”

“Yes. On May 11, in speaking of an incident at their paternal grandmother’s house when their mother was out of town, Eliza-[p.61]beth said, and I quote, ‘Daddy would do things to us, but especially to Grandma. He put his big thing up in her. She said we were lucky to have a daddy who would teach us. I tried not to look at them. Alisha was crying. They made us tickle each other. Grandma always gave us ice cream.’”

The testimony droned on and on. Four separate child psychologists verified Katherine’s and Jared’s children’s allegations.

Sometimes I looked at the new wife. She didn’t take her eyes off the witnesses. What must she be thinking? I passed her during a recess of the court. “My duty is with my husband,” she hissed at me. “I’ll never believe those lies you’ve planted.”

Our attorney insisted that Clint’s records from his therapy be read into the court record. Clint’s case summary stated he’d failed the lie detector test when he denied molesting his children. His psychological evaluations revealed the profile of a pedophile. Under sodium amythol, he’d said, “I know I’ve done things to my kids. I know my mother molested me. I have shadowy images of me with other adults at parties where we’re playing sex games with children.”

“How do the children feel about seeing their father?” our attorney finally asked Dr. Monroe.

“In the first months I saw them, they were all very upset about the impending divorce. They were angry at their mother over it. They described both loving and hating their father whom they called ‘good Daddy’and ‘bad Daddy.’ They wanted him to take medicine that would make him better. They felt abandoned by him. They also were afraid of him but felt they must protect him. Elizabeth said, ‘Mommy’s worse than all the bad people if she divorces Daddy.’”

“And now? Do they want to see him now?”

“Now none of them wants to see him until he can take responsibility for the abuse. Then they’d like to confront him and [p.62]have him apologize, at least the two oldest ones would. They don’t call him ‘Daddy’ anymore. He’s ‘Clint’ or ‘the bad man.’”

“In your opinion, would visitation with their father be beneficial or harmful to any of these children?”

“It would not be in the best interests of any of the children to have any contact with their father as long as he continues to deny their experiences,” Dr. Monroe concluded.

The court denied Clint any visitation rights.

Clint and his new wife walked out of the courtroom. Her shoulders were straight and rigid and she held Clint’s hand. I’d called her when I learned she had children and was going to marry Clint. I’d tried to talk to her about protecting her little girls. Now she despises me as her enemy, as are Katherine and Jared, Duncan, Jeanne and Jasmine.

As we drove home, I thought about the morning at our house after Elizabeth and Shawn first told about their father abusing them. Katherine wanted the children to see Clint so they wouldn’t feel so guilty and abandoned, but she didn’t want him to come to her house. She was afraid it would be too hard to make him leave, so she asked if they could come to our home. None of us thought then this would be the last time they’d see him.

It had snowed the night before, a late March snow, and Shawn brought a big snowball in to lick while he talked to Daddy. It made a puddle on the floor and on his shirt. They sat on the floor in our family room. Elizabeth climbed onto Clint’s lap; he held her tightly while they talked. Clint told his children he had a sickness that had made him do bad things to them. He said he was proud of them for telling. He said he couldn’t remember what he’d done, but he knew they were telling the truth and he’d work with doctors who’d help him remember. He said he was going to a big hospital to get better but he’d be back home soon. I think everyone believed him. Then I heard him say, “You kids know [p.63]I’ve made mistakes, but you must never forget we’re an eternal family. Everybody does bad things. That’s why Jesus died for us. We’ll still be together in heaven and I’ll always be your Daddy.”

I shivered in the hall. I hated his slow, shaking voice and words, but I wept for him. He told the children he’d always love them. I suppose he thought he meant those words and that in his own way he did. But he never again expressed any apology to his children. We didn’t know then that after all the time and money invested in his therapy, he’d recant and deny all responsibility when he learned that no trial was facing him. All the following years, he never paid a cent of child support.

The children cried and hugged him, told him to get better fast. Alisha asked if he’d take her sleigh riding the next week. Katherine said nothing. She sat dry-eyed holding Alisha, eyes darting from face to face like a lost child who doesn’t know where she is. She sat silently while her husband and children said goodbye to each other forever.

Then Alisha began to scream. She wouldn’t stop. Clint left while the rest of us tried to quiet her. She was still screaming when Katherine and her children left half an hour later. Shawn threw his coat in the snow and told his mother she couldn’t make him wear it. Elizabeth climbed into a corner of the back seat of the car arid sucked her thumb for the first time since she was two. The sunlight on the new snow hurt our eyes as Duncan and I waved at Katherine’s car backing down our driveway.

Even after everything the grandchildren had suffered and only begun to describe, I still would have tried to help Clint if he hadn’t recanted. If he’d cared enough about the children to put himself on the line, I would’ve tried to help him. But his whole life was centered on self-deception and self-protection. He did not, could not, or would not accept responsibility. I would’ve helped him, because, horrendous as it is, he’s still my grandchil-[p.64]dren’s father, and they have to deal with that. Some day they’ll have to give up pretending they were immaculately conceived, as they do now. I heard Shawn tell a friend the other day; “I only have relatives on my mom’s side.” Even in the most bitter custody suit, there are still two parents, but Shawn and Elizabeth and Alisha try in their minds to have only one.

When Elizabeth was born, I gave her her first bath after she came home from the hospital. But somehow at first I couldn’t hold her and rock her. I couldn’t give myself away to yet another child. I had too many of my own.

I used to look at Clint holding Elizabeth. He couldn’t put her down, couldn’t seem to get enough of her. “Don’t love her so much,” I wanted to say. “A child will annihilate you if you love her that much.” I could hardly bear to watch.

Finally, of course, I did hold Elizabeth, smelled her baby smell, felt her softness, her wrapped wholeness and perfection. Now I know I’ll never stop holding that child.

How is it possible I didn’t know who Clint was and the chaos of his mind? Surely it’s not possible. Surely some part of me knew and was too terrified to convey the information to my consciousness. None of us dealt with Clint. It took Elizabeth.

Elizabeth the baby did not annihilate Clint. It took Elizabeth the seven-year-old. Elizabeth, the one capable of hating her father at times, Elizabeth who listened to the terror in her body and allowed herself to know, to speak. Only seven years old yet she spoke. Then Shawn and Melinda and Autumn broke silence too … and even little Alisha. Now Autumn says she never wants to forget the abuse. She says it’s part of who she is. At thirteen, she knows this.

Five years after the grandchildren’s revelation, Jasmine and Jeanne filed their civil suit against Clint. The statute of limitations precluded criminal charges, but they at least were hoping for a [p.65]day in court. They offered to drop all charges if he’d acknowledge what he’d done to them, his children, and nieces, and get therapy. Nothing. No response. He never appeared at a hearing, never dealt with their attorney despite the fact that he was a member of the State Bar. Just before the final legal determination, he called Duncan. I’m glad I didn’t answer the phone. “What do they want?” he asked. “They know I don’t have any money.” No denial, no acknowledgement, nothing. Simply, “What do they want?”

It was beyond his comprehension that all they wanted was some admission of the truth. Jasmine called him from our house. We listened while she said, “Get into therapy with someone good who’ll send us progress reports and we’ll drop all the charges.” She sounded totally in control, but after she hung up she ran to throw up and didn’t sleep for many nights. She still can’t fall asleep until early morning.

Clint never responded to the lawsuit. Jeanne and Jasmine got their $5 million judgment and they collected $300 a month between them, less the monthly legal fee to garnish his wages. That means if he lives another 1,400 years they’ll get their judgment. Still, they’re glad they did it. They spoke their truth. They defied him.

They told the church authorities, too. Jasmine, Jeanne, and Jeanne’s husband went to Clint’s new stake president and bishop and told them there had to be a way of warning families where Clint lives. Three other women Clint had abused as children had independently gone to these same church leaders asking for church discipline. What better reason exists to excommunicate someone than to warn members that he might sexually abuse their children? The bishop and stake president told Jeanne and Jasmine they believed them and would look into it. They said they’d consult their legal department. They asked what symptoms to look for in his step-children. When Jeanne and Jasmine ex-[p.66]plained that his new wife didn’t seem concerned about protecting her children, the bishop responded, “She’s a very devout wife.” Devout? What kind of twisted language was this? They told Jasmine, Jeanne, and Chris they’d get back to them, but never did. Not a word. It was an exercise in futility. Jasmine and Jeanne were glad they’d told the church leaders, but it made them even more disillusioned. They think the church only cares about protecting its image.

Chris wrote a letter to the stake president—about how he couldn’t believe the church would put legal advice ahead of the lives of children. He quoted the New Testament where Jesus condemns those who harm little children saying, “it were better that a millstone were hanged around his neck and that he were drowned in the depths of the sea.” Chris had been on a mission for the church and holds the priesthood, so; from their point of view, he had a right to speak out. I remember his words to the stake president (they were exquisite): “I can’t begin to tell you how crushed I felt, to look you, a fellow priesthood holder in the eye and tell you that a diagnosed pedophile who’d returned from a mission and married in the temple had raped and sodomized my wife and so many others when they were small, innocent children—only to have you tell me that you’d check with your legal department and get back to me, which you never bothered to do.” He said something at the end about being grateful he wasn’t a stake president and that he’d pray for him along with the children Clint had damaged:

Again no answer. Nothing ever happened to stop Clint, not in the criminal courts nor in the church. He’d go on abusing children forever. Even in civil court he evaded responsibility. We often wondered if the reason he went untouched was because of his connection to the apostle’s daughter.

What were we supposed to do? What was our responsibility? [p.67]Duncan and I asked ourselves that question a thousand times. Recycled it over and over. Jared spoke publicly of the case whenever he could, but he had to protect his children too. We all had to balance the children’s right to privacy against exposing Clint.

Stop! This goes nowhere. You’ve acted. You’ve taken care of it. You’ve done the undoable. Think about anything else. Anything but the red in that car. Think about how brave Jasmine and Jeanne were to sue Clint and risk their names appearing in the papers. About the other women who went to the church authorities about Clint. About Elizabeth and Autumn and Shawn and Melinda and Alisha daring to tell their stories.

Think how little all the children were. Melinda and Alisha were three! Shawn and Autumn were six. Jasmine was turning six when Katherine was dating Clint. Jeanne was only eight.

Jasmine at six. Jumping on the trampoline, her scraggly hair she wouldn’t let me brush; how she loved that cat of Tina’s! Jasmine’s sixth birthday …

I’m stirring the cake mix. There’ll be six candles for Jasmine’s cake. She’s on her knees and elbows on the kitchen floor writing wiggly black letters on white construction paper with a black magic marker.

“We’ve learned nip, nap, pin, pan. Make a forwards E, not a backwards 3.”

“Jasmine, Billy will be unhappy if you don’t invite him.”

“Why can’t we feed them noodles instead of ice cream?”

“If Teresa comes, you have to help her feel comfortable about not being able to play musical chairs. Just act like it doesn’t matter.”

The phone rings. It’ll be a child or a mother.

“Try saying ‘This is she’ when they ask for you.”

She’s making more numbers and letters.

[p.68]“Look, sweetheart, it’s easy. Think 9 is a balloon on a stick. P lives on the top floor and b’s live on the ground floor.”

“David’s giving me a Big Mouth Singers. I have one already. Why do bees grind the floor?”

The batter is going into the oven. She’s gone into the playroom and come running back.

“The mommy hamster’s chewing up the daddy! Come stop her!”

I separate the hamsters. I’m making frosting for the flowers .

“Do you think you can share some of the pink roses?”

“I wish David was giving me a rubber gorilla.”

“You can wear your Easter dress with the bandanna, but don’t scuff your shoes before they get here.”

“If the tooth fairy’s Daddy, then who’s the Easter Bunny?”

She’s singing now while she draws: “Mother, I love you, Mother I do/ Father in Heaven has sent me to you/ Mother I love you, I love you, I do.”

“Can we play button, button, who’s got the belly button? I bet the biggest piece of cake has the most nickels in it.”

“Jasmine, don’t run with the scissors!”

The phone rings again; she answers.

“This is me. Daddy ground up the gold fish in the disposal. It wasn’t on purpose. He was doing new water. What are you going to bring me, do you know?”

Six candles. Pink ones. Six candles for my love. She’s chanting now.

“I have a little doggie and he’ll bite Laurie Ann and chew up her white ruffles and spit them in little pieces in the garbage can under the rotten grapefruit.”

“When you’re getting the presents, can you remember that poem we talked about, ‘Politeness is to do and say the kindest thing in the kindest way’?”

[p.69]“Mommie, will you tie my bandanna super tight? The packages are best of all before you undo them.”

How can she be so beautiful? I don’t want seven candles to come.

“Mommie, you’re getting stripes. There. Above your eyes.”

Is that how it was?

There’s no one to ask.

Katherine had been dating Clint for five months before I put six candles on Jasmine’s cake.