Riptide
by Marion Smith

Chapter 13

[p.108]Baker to Barstow. Seventy-nine miles. Duncan’s driving. We have to talk or we’ll explode.

“How would you judge me if you were on the jury?” I begin.

“Guilty. No question. Premeditated murder. If there’s any strong evidence, which I don’t think there will be. Then if I were the judge, I’d sentence you to ten years, suspended, and give you a medal and a parade.”

“You are my judge, don’t you think?”

“How about if I’m your defense attorney instead? If I were judge, I’d have to consider the social chaos when you take the law in your own hands. First we’d name off the victims. Start with the three women Clint abused as a teenager in his old neighborhood who all went to Clint’s current bishop and stake president and told them their stories.”

I take up the theme. “And the other four women who’ve called Katherine to tell her what Clint did to them when they were young—one of them also told her story to me personally.”

“Who else do we know for sure from when he was a teenager?” Duncan asks. Doesn’t he have this list engraved on his brain like I do?

“Two other girls molested by Clint when the women from his old neighborhood were present, plus his own little sister.”

“The sister with the cleft palate. He threatened one girl that [p.109]he’d make her talk like that too if she ever told. He bragged he’d made his sister talk that way.”

“Yeah, that one.” I can barely hear my own voice.

“We don’t know what may have happened on his mission.”

“No, but only six months after he came home he met Katherine. He started with Jasmine and Jeanne right after that. Before the marriage.”

“Then after he and Katherine came back to Salt Lake from law school, he abused Katherine’s three kids and Jared’s two. Have you been counting?” Duncan’s being efficient. I’ve counted this list in my head a hundred times.

“Seventeen. Then there are the other children who named him in Katherine’s neighborhood. How many, three or four?”

“Three I think. But there were three others who didn’t talk but were named by all the children to the therapists. Including the apostle’s little grandchildren.” I can feel the quiver in Duncan’s voice.

“And there are his nieces and nephews who were with Shawn and Elizabeth at his mother’s house. The relatives on his side. Five, I think,” I go on with this litany.

“Katherine said she’d pay for their therapy, but their parents wouldn’t take them to even one interview. His mother would’ve killed them if they’d talked.”

“After his divorce and remarriage, we know nothing for sure.”

“No, only his firing for sexual harassment of a teenager.” Duncan sighs. We’re through.

“So, after a history like this, he’s leaving his new kids and step-daughters alone?!”

“Of course. How many victims do we have now, not counting anyone who hasn’t talked yet or been confirmed by more than one child?”

[p.110]“I don’t know if I get twenty-nine or thirty.” I’ve been counting on my fingers.

“Well, he’s right up there with the worst of them. And we only know a fraction of his victims. How many did that article say the average pedophile admits to having abused once he’s caught?”

“Something over a hundred; in one study 300. An appalling number.”

“As your defense attorney, I’d have to see who could testify.”

“Only the ones who’d be willing, I’d think. Parents aren’t going to want their kids to do it.”

“That’s still at least eight witnesses even without our grandchildren.”

“If there’s no legal glitch about which testimonies would be permitted.”

“Clint’s done just as much damage as any priests or Boy Scout leaders in the news. Although, when the Boy Scout executive in Utah was caught, his list was about 400.” I don’t want to go on. Duncan does.

“That’s just the direct victims. Think of the indirect ones,” he says.

I pick up where he leaves off. “All the spouses, boyfriends, parents, and children of everyone he’s ever molested. We don’t even know them except the one whose husband was trying to get Clint disbarred. Then we have others in our family who were affected indirectly—Jared and Rachel and their baby; Katherine, Katherine’s fiancé; Tina and her husband and children; Chris and the kids he and Jeanne may yet have, Jasmine’s future husband and kids. You and me. It’s incalculable. No one could believe it.”

“No,” Duncan agrees. “They couldn’t. They don’t. Seems like a lot of suspects for a murder. It might’ve been better for some of those victims if he’d killed them. All the pain they’ve suffered; no one gets that either. That’s what I’d say if I were your [p.111]defense attorney. Think of Katherine’s fiancé. He’d be a prime suspect. Clint should’ve been afraid of him.”

“Clint never would’ve thought of me. Funny. I still think they’ll think of other people before me.” This conversation’s making my head worse. I think of a pebble thrown in a pool and the concentric circles it makes. A cliché, but I always see it when I think of Clint.

Duncan interrupts the image. “If it comes to that, we’ll introduce the hospital records and all the therapy records. The sodium amythol and lie detector tests. There’s not much question we could prove his pedophilia.”

“And we could use Jeanne’s and Jasmine’s legal judgment against him. Can’t we stop this?”

“Try to sleep a little,” Duncan says.

I lean my head back and close my eyes. My eyelids have the white flash of oncoming headlights imprinted on them. Good advice: “Try to sleep a little.” I’m so scared when we talk this way. My body feels like a solid block of ice.

If the judge, or an attorney, or anybody else ever asks me, what will I say?

I’ll say I’m seeing a birthday party. They’re playing musical chairs. Tina takes a chair out when the music stops and announces the winner. Jeanne knows to cut corners, crouching without touching, her knees skimming every chair edge. Green and white plaid. Red and blue dress on Jasmine. Hair swinging. Two pony tails tied with red yarn wet from swimming. Little faces bursting with the game, longing to be the best, to win. Closer to victory, only three children around two chairs. Giggles. Tina’s, “Get ready. We’re going to have a winner.”

A giant male foot in a brown polished shoe appears above them while the music continues brash and unconcerned. The shoe smashes the two remaining players and the single lonely [p.112]chair. Like a miniature doll house collapsing, they all splinter. The foot grinds the chair and the children flat and smashes them while Tina goes on trying to announce who’s won and I bring in the hot dogs and the red Jell-O and the potato chips for the birthday dinner.

That was Jeanne’s birthday party. Her ninth. One year after Clint began to abuse her.

Jeanne.

I walked off the plane ramp in the Heathrow airport with her a year ago, trying to pace my steps to hers, to anticipate her wishes, to forestall her panic. Suddenly, what I knew of her memories was real for me. She was again this little child, adorable beyond belief. Everyone loved her, even those she can’t remember. She was the only gift I ever begged for; I pled with Duncan for another baby. After her birth, he said she turned out to be more for him than me. She defied some law that says joy is ambivalent, for she was pure delight to anyone who knew her. Happiness almost beyond acknowledgement.

There had to be times I was angry with her. But I can’t remember them. The boy in tenth grade? No. Anxious maybe, but not angry. The night she called us drunk and we had to go get her? The problems her last year of high school? Of course there was worry in all of these, but anger? The year she distanced herself from Jasmine? I understood; how could I be angry? I worried about her when she went away to camp as a six-year-old, to Yosemite at fourteen, to New York as an intern in high school, and to Mexico as an exchange student. Never once did I think I had cause to worry about what was really happening to her body, or her soul.

Her life, as we thought of it, was Ivory soap—99 percent pure joy and 1 percent sadness. How many parents get that kind of [p.113]ratio with any child? We did, we thought. She was our bonus, our pay-off for finally learning how to parent.

Remember her then?

She always sees the bird or fish or beaver no one else can. At six, she’s staring at El Greco’s Death of Count Orgaz in Toledo, and won’t leave it. She cries when I mention Jasmine’s need of her. At five, Tina calls her every night on a phone two rooms away pretending to be Santa and she repeats the same wish list every night for two months. At eight, she pantomimes rock and roll and eats raw opihi with her dad. She hangs Spanish armor over the yellow doll cradle for her doll to see. She performs magic shows, spilling Kool-Aid and bubbles. She climbs on the forbidden roof with Jasmine, and is Kelly’s only friend when everyone deserts her in eighth grade. She endures piano practice until I finally let her quit. She’s a vampire lying in a coffin at a Halloween party where Duncan tells the little girls’ fortunes. She paints with Laurie, sews with Betsy, and scolds Anne and Bethany for being so snotty in junior high.

Jeanne. Jeanne. Jeanne.

Do every single thing I’ve ever known you to do.

Or pull away, retreat, feel fury—what ever you need to—but don’t, don’t let this abuse be true. Make the blood and terror and shame and hurt and gasping and nightmares and anger and panic attacks and loathing not be true because you’re mine-my gift without price—my gift I’ll die or kill for. Dear God, if you are there anywhere, in any universe, not Jeanne.

Because if it is Jeanne, then the cry of every innocent falls upon a mother somewhere and there can never be any meaning again. We search and reach and cry and pray and curse, looking into our own souls and can’t find who is responsible.

I implore, beg, command, but there is only silent, stifling nothingness for an answer.

[p.114]No song, no touch, no remembrance of my swollen belly, no green, no caring for a dead bird or a dying planet, if it’s Jeanne.

Not Jeanne, you hear me? Not Jeanne.

No laughter to mock myself, no thorns or crosses, no mangled minds or limbs-only nothing, nothing, nothing if it’s Jeanne.

No Matisse figures dancing in a ring. No Tina’s baby in the rocking chair asleep and damp on my neck, no memory of Mother and me hiking the glacier at Lake Louise, no first kiss, or red roses, no Mozart’s Requiem, or Virginia Woolf, no night on Coco Palms beach with Duncan, no winning my eighth grade speech contest, no tugging at my breast from a tiny hand, no quantum theory or expanding universe, no ocean, no forest, no mountain, no desert.

If it’s Jeanne.

But it is. It is. It is.

It’s my Jeanne.

Please, let it be me, not her. For the love of Christ, let it be me.

Don’t let it be Jeanne.

Because I will kill if it is Jeanne.