Perhaps one of the most unexpected aspects of my job is all the secrets. And I suppose that’s part of what I love about it. I get to find out the big reveal behind almost every mystery. Being a paramedic was a huge disappointment in that regard. You don’t get to find out jack-shit working 911. I remember picking up each patient and only having enough time to stick an IV in them, run a 12-lead EKG and ask a few questions. Then we passed them off to the ER staff like diseased little hot-potatoes and never had to think about them again. Except I did. I always wondered what happened. Did they make it out of the hospital? Did they die? Was my suspected diagnosis right? Did my actions in the ambulance help them at all? As an incurable storyteller, I wasn’t satisfied with the abrupt, unresolved conclusion. It was like a symphony that never played the final chord, or having the power go out right before the end of the movie. I would fill out “follow-up” cards at every hospital. The EMS liaison was supposed to call or email to update me on my patient’s condition. But I never heard from any of them.
Now, endings are all I do. I get to open every drawer and cupboard. I get to find the secret door, I get to unearth the buried treasure. I go through every lock-box and read every diary. Everyone’s secrets are laid bare for me to discover… unless they’ve deleted their browser history or encrypted their files- even then, I have methods. It’s deeply satisfying.
Except for when it isn’t. There are some secrets I don’t want to know.
Some secrets dig in and curl up in your mind and start chewing on the wiring like vermin. It’s just a little secret- just a tiny little fuzzy one that hardly eats anything at all… But given enough time, it will burn your house down.
My house is burning down.
In January 2021… the rodents started creeping out into the light… dragging the secrets with them
People commit suicide when they have secrets- secrets that they can’t keep anymore. Secrets that will cause trouble. And those secrets usually have something to do with sex.
Pedophiles commit suicide… in droves. It’s like a scene from an old Japanese movie in which a fallen army all commits seppuku- tearing their own bellies open with shame at their failure. But these guys aren’t warriors and it has nothing to do with honor. They’re cowards, and they opt to die much the way they lived: fancying themselves the wretched victims in an unfair, condemning world. I know thi because I read their suicide notes. They blame everyone except themselves for their twisted perversions.
It frustrates me on a good day. On a bad day, I want nothing more than to gut them myself. But more than that, I want them shown for who and what they were. More often than not, these assholes commit suicide because once they’re dead, it won’t matter. There won’t be police cars in front of their house with nosy neighbors asking what happened. There won’t be a mugshot posted online and no newspaper articles, detailing their crimes. If and when people DO find out about their actions, at least they won’t have to face any actual consequences. They won’t be judged by a disgusted, horrified jury. They’ll never have to hear the “victim’s impact statements” before they’re sentenced to years of retribution from a prison system that doesn’t even pretend to be civilized. They won’t have to face the brutal punishment meted out by other incarcerated criminals who, though they’re killers and thieves, won’t tolerate a pedophile. When I investigate the suicide of a child molester or a child pornographer, the cops and I always comment something to the tune of “Well… at least he’s dead…” and we do our best to pretend that it’s enough. But it isn’t. I want them to be seen. I want them to stand before society and watch as everyone learns what they are and what they did. I want them be-headed in the town-square. I want them placed in the stocks at a cross-roads. I want their bodies hanging from the tower wall. I want the spot-light shown on them before they squirm out of the heat. I want them to know WE KNOW what they did.
I know what you did.
But sometimes the secret you learn isn’t just about the child molester or child pornographer. Sometimes the secret is about the people you work with. it’s about the government you work FOR. The secret is about a system that you’re a part of. And the expectation is that you’ll keep that secret… because that’s best for everyone involved.
Except it isn’t. I’m not keeping their secret for them… not this time. This time it’s not enough to sigh, take-off the blood-smeared gloves, shrug with the investigating officers and say, “well… at least he’s dead…” This time my house is burning down. And I want everyone to see it.
The call came in as a suicide, which is nothing new or interesting. Another suicide, big deal. There have been dozens lately, more every month. Before the global pandemic even started, people were excusing themselves from the life-party long before their biological carriages turned back into pumpkins.
I dawdled out to the scene, pausing long enough to do my hair and stop for a Starbucks on the way. I was even feeling a bit relieved because my decedent had reportedly shot himself in his car- which was great news for me. Car suicides are easier because there’s generally less documentation. I don’t have to describe the geography and contents of an entire house.
Upon arrival, the local officers began filling in the lines for me. The dead guy was in his car in the driveway to his house. He lived there with his wife, two biological children and FOUR goddamned foster kids… the oldest three were actual siblings and one solo. This struck me as bizarre. The residence was a none-too-impressive, single-level tract house in a trashier neighborhood of my jurisdiction. Like any other residence in the area, an array of cars in various states of disrepair decorated the front lawn. The “front lawn” was really more a dirt patch with a few straggly sprouts of crab-grass reaching feebly for the sunlight between piles of sun-bleached toys. Nothing about this place indicated the inhabitants had a wealth of time or money to bestow upon a foster child, let alone four of them. Of the multiple cars that dotted the property, our dead guy was seated in the driver’s seat of the one closest to the front door. He was what I can only call an unimpressive specimen. Overweight and pasty, his arms were crowded with tattooed skeletons that gyrated with curvy naked women. Weapons, roses and the occasional calligraphy wove through the imagery. His head was tilted back with the mouth gaping wide open, a shaggy goatee on his face. His, long, greasy hair was slick with blood that oozed from a gunshot wound that had almost completely blown out the back of his cranium. A swamp of blood congealed around his shoulders and beneath him on the seat. The roof of the car, as well as the back-seat, were flecked with bone fragments and small, putty-like scraps of brain matter. A massive handle of whiskey sat in the center console at his right hand.
“So,” began the lead officer as I poked my head into the car and registered all this information, “Our guy here has a history of drinking in the past but he’s been sober for the last few years until 2 nights ago. He started hittin’ the sauce pretty heavy and no one knew why. He also started fighting with his wife and his oldest foster-daughter who just turned 18. Apparently, our guy went after the two of them, being a real dickhead and super mean. He passed out by the firepit and then woke up yesterday morning… and he started right back up again. Drinking this bottle of whiskey, yelling and screaming at everyone, especially the wife and foster daughter. About mid-afternoon, he fucked-off to a friend’s house to drink some more- all this AFTER he and his wife talked divorce- which is something that they’ve been considering for like… 5 years now… but they’ve never actually gone through with it.”
“Wait a minute,” I look up. “This dude has a history of alcohol abuse AND has been on the outs with his wife for the last 5 years… but someone still thinks it’s a good idea to give them foster kids?”
The officer snorted. “Oh, you haven’t even heard the half of it yet.”
“Really? Go on,” I tell him.
“So, while this guy is at his buddy’s house, he got so wasted he let this little nugget drop: He admits he’s been having a ‘sexual relationship’ with his foster daughter… the oldest one that he’s been chewing on the last few days. I guess the event that kicked off this whole shit show was the fact that this foster daughter is about to go into treatment for an eating disorder tomorrow morning. Our guy realized as soon as she was out of his control and in a residential facility getting a shit-ton of therapy… all of this was going to come out. She would likely spill the beans about the two of them having sex and his life would implode in fairly rapid order. So he started drinking and acting out like that.”
“Oh shit…” I gasped, glancing toward the house where I spied a small, frenetic woman with a tear-stained face listlessly pacing back and forth under the eye of a police chaplain. “That the wife?”
The cop glanced over. “Yeah, that’s her. She’s a piece of work.”
“Did she know any of this?”
“Not as far as we can tell, she still doesn’t. We haven’t told her yet.”
“Fuck me,” I muttered. “Okay… go on.”
“So anyway, dude told his friend he’s been having this ‘relationship’ with this kid… if you want to call it that. The friend basically tells him, ‘get the fuck out of my house, we’re not friends anymore.’ Then the friend calls Child Protective Services. Our guy left and goes who-knows-where until he came home this morning”
“Wow, good for that friend.”
“Right?” The cop nodded. “So CPS calls us this morning, and we’re setting up to come here and get this guy. We’re just about to head over to arrest him when we get a 911 call from this address. Apparently, this asshole came home and told his wife to come out to the car to talk. She gets out here and sees that he’s sitting in the car with the handle of whiskey and a gun in his lap. He tells her to get in the car but she refuses. He screams at her a few times to get in. She says ‘no’ and turns to run back into the house, but glances over her shoulder to see that now he’s actually pointing the gun at her. She calls 911- now we’ve got a SWAT situation. He’s in the front yard with a gun. Dispatch is telling her to lock the door so he can’t get in. She’s actually refusing to lock the front door but barricades herself in a back bathroom with all 6 fucking kids. We’re pulling into position when he gets back into the car and turns on some shitty metal-core music. We can see him in there, pounding his fists on the steering wheel and then bam. Single shot goes off. We get closer and find he’s put the barrel in his mouth, and adios motherfucker. Good riddance.”
“Je-SUS!” I gasp. “What a fucking story… ummmm… okay, so- Are the kids all still here? Even the oldest one, the victim?”
“Yeah they’re all inside. Like I said, wife doesn’t know anything about this shit with the foster kid. Not yet.”
When I talked to her, the wife was a perfect storm, flipping between frantic, bewildered and furious. She would sputter, pace, sob, curse. He was a narcissist, she said, capable of being incredibly sweet and endearing, but given to volatile moodiness and black-out rages. He hadn’t drank in years but for the last 3 days he’d been on an inexplicable, abusive bender. He had been particularly ruthless with both her and the oldest foster daughter. But clearly, the wife hadn’t made the connection yet… hadn’t figured out the end game… hadn’t yet realized that her husband had been both literally and figuratively fucking the child the county had entrusted to their care.
It was the strangest feeling, watching this woman puzzle over what the hell had kicked off her husband’s detonation. All the while, I knew more about her life than she did. I was pin-balling between wanting to give her a hug and wanting to scream: How could you NOT know your husband was abusing that kid? What the fuck are you doing taking these children into your shit-show life? How could you be so stupid? I said nothing. She needed to have her little spin-out. But also, I wasn’t sure whose job it was to clue her in to the facts. Was one of us supposed to let her in on the secret? Was I supposed to tell her? Where the hell was CPS? They were supposed to come and pick up the foster kid- our decedent’s victim. THEY knew what was happening, were they going to tell the wife? Was anyone going to?
The CPS caseworker pulled up just then and went inside the house. The wife numbly watched and then turned back to me with her arms crossed tightly across her chest and tears streaming down her face. “So,” she barked. “What happens now?” I took a deep breath and began telling her that I was going to take her husband’s body to the morgue when the caseworker and the girl emerged from the home. I later learned her name was Bre’. This poor, defeated foster-kid looked like a flower with a broken stem. She was tall and lanky, the kind of physique you’d see on a couture model. But she slouched forward, hunched against the cold weight of misery. Her honey-colored hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail that drifted stray tendrils into her face. Her enormous eyes were hollow and red. Easily a few inches taller than I, she shuffled forward as though she hated her height, like she wished for nothing more than to fold into herself until she disappeared. The wife/foster-mom saw her leaving with the caseworker and charged forward. She grabbed Bre’s face in her hands and sputtered out some proclamation about how Bre “couldn’t go anywhere” because the foster mom “needed her.”
To some extent, I knew that the foster mom was trying to tell Bre not to kill herself or anything. But, honestly, I thought the last thing Bre needed was to feel responsible for someone else’s welfare. It didn’t take a genius to see that Bre was withering with guilt. Knowing what I know about narcissistic abusers, I had no doubt the foster-dad had managed to convince Bre that she was to blame for the abuse she’d been suffering. And in tandem, I suspected Bre was blaming herself for his suicide as well. Her foster-mom didn’t have a husband anymore, her foster-siblings didn’t have a dad anymore, and I would put money on the notion that Bre believed it was all her fault.
She started to cry again as the foster-mom stumbled away and began pacing the front yard, cursing her deceased husband. Bre’s bent head bobbed with silent sobs as she closed her eyes and turned to get into the caseworker’s car. I was gripped with an urge to go say something to her. “Hey,” I imagined pulling her aside. “I know what happened here. I know what he was doing to you. I want you to know it wasn’t your fault.” I imagined pushing a business card into her hand and saying: “I want you to call me if you need help. This had nothing to do with you. You are not responsible for his actions.” The desire was like a rope tied around my chest, pulling me forward. But I resisted. I stayed rooted to my spot and watched her get into the car and drive away. “I’m not a counselor…” I told myself. “I’m not a social worker or a therapist. I don’t really have anything to offer her and I wouldn’t be allowed access to her if I did.”
The irony. On the one hand, a complete fucking sociopath had unfettered, open access to Bre. But I knew that if I approached her and tried to say anything, my ass would be dragged down on the proverbial mat. I would probably get professionally dinged because I didn’t “stay in my lane” and I would be reminded that doing the wrong thing for the right reason… is still doing the wrong thing. I’m the medical examiner. My role is to deal with the death- not to try to correct dead people’s mistakes.
Reminding myself of this, I went to the car where my decedent sat and began sifting through the scene. My suspicions were confirmed when I pulled the crumpled-up “suicide-note” from his pocket: a hastily scrawled testament to the dead guy’s selfishness. He admitted nothing, took no responsibility and offered no apologies. I don’t remember it verbatim, but it said something about– all he wanted was a little help and no one cared about him… or some such self-indulgent drivel. And I remember reading it and handing it to the officer beside me. I remember thinking about the wife/foster-mom’s devastated confusion, about Bre’s crumpled, tear-streaked face… about the wrecked lives he’d left in his wake. I glanced at the officer, who was shaking his head as he read the note.
“Hey,” I said to him. “At least he’s dead.”
The week went by in its unremarkable way. I thought about Bre a few times. I hoped she’d be ok. I mean, she was supposed to be in a care facility now, right? Someone was handling this debacle. Someone was being held responsible. How did something like this happen anyway? Who was vetting these foster parents? Who the hell thought it was a good idea to deposit vulnerable children in a home with that guy? God, I hoped someone was losing their job over it.
A niggling little gnat in my ear sent me to the internet. Maybe I could do some volunteer work or something. Maybe I could help some of these kids. Teach them poetry or trapeze or anything that might snap them out of their own, precarious existence for an afternoon. I attempted to google “Foster kids” and the first five items that Google spat out made my skin crawl:
“How much money do you get for housing a foster kid?” was one top suggestion from the web.
”Can you earn a living as a foster parent?” was another.
One site advertised that you could select your foster child by viewing their picture on an online catalog.
Across the board, the message was clear: These kids weren’t people, they were commodities. This family had acquired four cash cows and our shit-head decedent figured he could do what he wanted with at least one of them. Who was going to stop him? Who would believe her? Who would care? The foster care system had blithely shoveled four little souls into this child-molester’s house like coal into a steam engine. They were fuel. And as soon as all their value burned up, there would be nothing left but ash.
I was enraged by my own helplessness.
But it was being dealt with. That’s what I told myself. It wasn’t my job. This event must have set off alarms. This must have gotten someone’s attention.
I negotiated my way out of the anger and discomfort by the next week. My brain back-burnered Bre. “After all,” I rationalized, “horrific tragedy is my job description. If I went off the rails every time I witnessed human depravity, I wouldn’t have time to eat.” So, by the time Henry (my wizened old co-worker) and I were in the parking lot, smoking our cigarettes and drinking our coffee, I was level and ready to face another shift.
“So?” I asked him as he offered me a Winston Red and obligingly lit it for me. “How was your shift? What fresh hell am I facing today?”
“I had a couple of overdoses,” he shrugged. “If you could, would you go draw toxicology on one of them? He’s at Peaceful Paths.”
I nodded in response as Henry took a deep drag of his cigarette. “I had your girl,” he said.
“The girl from your suicide last week. The foster kid.”
His words swallowed me like a sudden black-out and I was surrounded by a thick, suffocating silence. Every cell in my body gasped at once.
“Uh… She’s dead?” -or some other disfluency squeezed out of my lungs. I couldn’t breathe.
Either Henry didn’t notice, or he thought it was better to get it over with.
“They found her hanging on the soccer goal at the high school.”
My chest tightened and my diaphragm spasmed “Oh… ok.”
Henry was watching me out of the corner of his eye. With a decades-long career in investigations, my reaction wasn’t escaping his notice. But he didn’t say anything more, or if he did, I didn’t hear it. I numbly drifted back into the office, bade him farewell and gathered myself together to drive out to Peaceful Paths funeral home so I could pull some blood and urine samples on Henry’s OD victim. My body felt frozen, but my mind was flailing in an ocean of static. I staggered through the front office of the Peaceful Paths funeral home on my way to their cooler, checking in with the staff to make sure they were expecting me. They greeted me and assured, yes, the overdose victim was on a table in the prep room and ready for me to start sticking him with needles. Then one of the funeral directors, Clark, spoke up.
“Your girl is in our cooler.”
“The foster kid from your suicide last week. CPS sent her to us.”
On the one hand, it’s no surprise everyone knew. Fucked up calls make the rounds. Doubtless, the investigation into Bre’s suicide had linked to the foster-father’s suicide and once that connection was made, people couldn’t stop talking about it. Still, I felt exposed. It seemed like the degree to which I would be affected was not only well known, it had also been a topic of much discussion. Why else would everyone keep calling her my girl.
I didn’t say anything at first. My eyes began to sting. “I… I can’t fucking believe that shit…” I hiccuped out… doing my best to put off my typical fuck-if-I-care attitude. The funeral home folks exchanged looks. They weren’t fooled. If anyone can tell when you’re trying not to cry, it’s funeral home employees.
Clark hesitated and spoke up again. “They’re… ummm… they want her cremated. But-“ he added hopefully, “-the caseworker is doing a good job. They picked out a really nice urn for her…”
I almost choked. I spun to face him and hissed with concentrated venom, “Did you seriously just say ‘the caseworker is doing a good job because they picked out a nice urn for the dead foster kid’? Did that sentiment really just come out of your mouth?”
I whirled away from the speechless funeral home employees. They’d seen me pop-off before, but my ire had never been directed at any of them. I felt a flash of regret for snapping, but didn’t have the energy to explain to them what seemed achingly obvious to me. If the fucking case-worked had done even an ADEQUATE job, Bre would still be ALIVE. How could they fail to recognize that?
I went to the prep room and must have drawn fluids from the OD case. I really don’t remember. I do remember being pulled into the cooler by an undeniable force. I couldn’t NOT go in. I had to. I owed her that much. Her case-worker wouldn’t see her, her family wouldn’t see her, the other foster kids and her foster mother wouldn’t see her. The bureaucratic, county government jerk-offs that ruled from their sanitized offices and condemned Bre to the custody of that monster… they would never see her. Everyone that had failed her would never have to look into her vacant, opaque eyes. But I had to. SOMEONE had to. Someone needed to bear witness. Someone needed to acknowledge the inhuman crime that had been perpetrated on her tiny, barely begun life. She deserved to be seen.
The cold, sour air from the cooler breathed over me in a chilly yawn as I opened the door. Shelves lined either side of the cooler. Inert, bodies covered in white sheets lay positioned on each one, the silent witnesses as I stepped inside and walked toward the prep-table that held Bre’s body. She was wrapped in one of our white, plastic body bags, which are really just glorified envelopes. Gingerly, I pulled the open the flaps, and there she was. Exactly as I remembered her: the same wide eyes, doll-like features and sandy-blonde hair, pulled back into a loose ponytail with wisps curling around her chin and neck. She was wearing the same dark hoodie, which initially obscured the deep, waxy groove looping sharply along the line of her jaw and pulling upward toward the back of her neck in a classic tear-drop shape. It dug into the soft skin of her throat like a plow-furrow. She had used her shoelaces, or maybe the string from her hoodie. Her eyelids hung low and sleepy, almost closed but not quite. Just the cloudy lower rim of her brown irises hinted at the unseeing nature of her stare.
I put my hand on her forehead. She was cold- the soft, pliable cold of clay or mud. The cold of inanimate objects- cold with nothing inside struggling to fight it. The cold of surrender.
It felt like a dull, barbed hook was being dragged through my chest. I choked and closed my eyes, that terrible cold seeping into my hand. “I’m so sorry…” I said. I don’t know if I spoke out loud or if it just radiated from the core of my heart where the hook was digging. “I’m so sorry I didn’t say anything to you. I’m sorry I didn’t try. I’m so sorry you were failed so completely by so many people…”
Nothing. Just the sound of my own breath with the indifferent dead watching, waiting. It didn’t matter to them. Nothing I could say or do now would make a lick of difference to the dead who were long past caring how sorry I was.
I don’t know how long I stood there.
When I opened my eyes, I saw a large flower arrangement positioned close by. Funeral homes will often put funeral flowers in the cooler along with the dead bodies to keep the petals from wilting before the service. There wouldn’t be any flowers for Bre. There wouldn’t be any memorial service, wake or reception with little sandwiches and bad wine. She was getting a direct cremation that very day. They were disposing of the evidence. FUCK IT. I thought. I reached over and pulled a huge purple rose from the arrangement, positioning it under Bre’s cold hand. She should have something nice. And that flower arrangement was an ostentatious cacophony of blossoms. No one would notice.
“I’ll see you later, kid.” I said to her as I covered her back up, switched off the light and closed the door behind me… leaving her to be cremated and deposited in the really nice urn her case worker did a good job of choosing.
It’s not the end, not even close. Over a year has passed and it still isn’t over.
Roughly 3 days later, my phone rang. It was my friend, Laura. She was crying so hard I could barely understand her.
“Grace, I need you to tell me what happened to my sister. Her name was Bre.”
At first, I didn’t understand what was happening. Laura and I had spent a lot of time together driving back and forth to a class in another part of the state. She had told me many details about her life. Her parents divorced when she was young. Her mother had kind of gone off the deep end. As I remembered it, Laura’s mother had remarried some Unabomber, conspiracy-theorist type. They had all been living “off the grid” in the undeveloped wilds of my county. Laura’s mom had wanted Laura to drop out of school at 12 years old in order to raise her younger half-siblings. But Laura had fucked right out of that situation to live with her dad who died a few years ago. Laura had indicated to me that she was alone in the world. Last I’d heard, Laura’s mom was in prison on drug charges and her step-father (and I use the term VERY loosely) was in the wind- wandering the streets, high on something-or-other and doing god-knows-what.
Then the reality hit me.
Laura and Bre had the same, wide eyes, full lips and porcelain skin. Laura’s complexion was a bit darker, as was her hair. But other than that, the two of them were carbon copies.
“Oh my god… oh my god… oh, Laura…” was all I could babble for the first minutes. It all made sense now. Of course, they had different last names… they had different fathers. And of course Laura was 10 years older, Bre had been born during a whole different era of their mother’s life. Their mother was in prison and Bre’s father was just gone. Of course Laura’s half-siblings, the one’s she had essentially raised until she was 15, were in foster care. Perhaps the most fucked -up death I had ever witnessed had been that of a good friend’s little sister.
“Just tell me what happened? I just want to know what happened.”
My throat hurt. I could feel the bureaucratic collar tightening. It’s deeply rooted and yet cleverly unspoken in the culture of civil service: Avoid liability! Protect THE COUNTY at all costs. From the moment you get hired, the gag order begins. You never say anything that could make THE COUNTY look bad. You never reveal anything that could be used against THE COUNTY. You suckle the hand that feeds you and you sacrifice everything to defend it. Because you don’t want THE COUNTY to turn on you. Don’t you want your retirement package? Don’t you like two-weeks paid vacation and bank holidays? Then keep your trap shut about the things you see here.
“What do you know so far?” I asked Laura.
And that’s where it all fell apart. She reeled off the heavily edited and powerfully spun story that CPS had given her about her sister’s suicide. They’d claimed Bre had been having a “sexual relationship” with the man in the house where she and her siblings had been placed. She had been “removed” after his suicide and was in the hospital on a mental health hold for a couple of days before being released to another foster home where she was being “watched” 24/7. But Bre had somehow escaped the supervising gaze of whoever had been tasked with protecting her. She ended up hanging on a soccer goal, found by complete strangers the next morning.
Laura sobbed out the story of how she had found out that Bre was in the hospital and how Laura had attempted to get CPS to release Bre into her care. Laura was her sister, after all. Laura had basically raised Bre from birth to the age of 5 when Laura finally had to preserve her own life and leave as their mother devolved into drug use and chaos.
CPS, however, had denied Laura’s request, self-indulgently claiming that Bre was better off with them. They were professionals, after all. This is what they DO. Laura hadn’t gotten a chance to see Briana before she was cremated. Neither did the two younger siblings whom CPS had decided to leave with the abuser’s widow. Now, no one was talking to Laura. She wanted to see her two younger half-siblings, but no one was returning her call. They just wanted it to go away. They wanted to forget it ever happened.
This is what they DO, indeed. I felt my pulse quickening and my breath leaving my chest in furious heaves. It was sickening. Clearly, whoever had been talking to Laura was engaged in the time-honored tradition of covering their own ass. Bre and her siblings had been placed with a malignant narcissist and his conveniently oblivious wife. Bre HAD ABSOLUTELY NOT been in a “sexual relationship” with that motherfucker. She had just turned 18… she was being MOLESTED by her foster father who didn’t let slip it was happening until AFTER she was 18. And WHO WAS SUPPOSED TO BE WATCHING HER? How do you forget what happened to that kid? How do you take your eyes off her?
This is what they DO.
It wasn’t hard to see the desperate hand-washing, the not-my-fault gestures of Child Protective Services. They knew they had fucked up. They knew they were on the hook for Bre’s death. Their only, pathetic hope was to bury their heads in the sand, leave phone calls unreturned and hope that time might win this war of attrition for them.
This is what they do.
I told her everything- every last detail. Everything I just told YOU, I told Laura. It all came tumbling out and I sobbed along with her. I told her I was sorry. I should have done something. But more than that, I told her this:
“Look,” I said. “You need to get a lawyer. Hopefully, someone will take this case pro bono and can get paid out of the settlement. But you need to sue the FUCK out of the county.”
Laura began to protest. But I was way ahead of her. “I know nothing is going to bring Bre back. I know that money won’t make this better. But you need to understand that money is the only language the county speaks. Unless you make them feel this financially, it won’t matter to them. And don’t let your mother get involved and take some cheap cash-out so she can throw it all away when she’s released from prison. Put it into a trust or something so when your younger siblings age out of the system, they have some kind of support to get started in life. They’re going to try to throw $30,000 at you. That’s their ‘fuck-it-and-settle’ price when they just want something to be done. DO NOT SETTLE.”
She hasn’t. As far as I know Laura got an attorney and nothing is settled yet. At least not for her.
It’s a bit different for me.
My disgust for the county government has taken root with ferocious vigor. I’m infected with contempt for any member of administration as they all sit, wedged into their cubicles, shitting out vapid memos and congratulating themselves for the latest, pointless “policy.” I’m so strangled with resentment I can barely walk into the Public Service Building. I’m the poster-child for disillusioned burn-out. I hate the fact that I work for the same grinding, indifferent machine that feeds children into the slow machinations of its own, fat apathy.
I was so distraught, I ended up calling a friend who’s a former sheriff’s deputy for THE COUNTY. He once told me the story of his own departure from faithful service. He left a few years ago when the futility of the work and frustration at his own helplessness finally overtook him in the form of panic attacks and rage.
“Chris…” I said to him. “Something happened, something bad. I’m not sure I can do this anymore.”
I didn’t have to elaborate.
“One day, the apple cart just tips over and we are left wondering what the fuck happened,” he said.
And he’s right, there are some mistakes that can’t be smoothed over. You can overcome some misgivings. You can whether certain storms. But there’s just no coming back from some catastrophes.
So here, I am… surrounded by apples…
Wondering what the fuck happened,
A purple rose in one hand, and a lit match in the other.
I know what you did.
And I hope this secret burns your fucking house down.
There are still more stories coming. If you like my weird little tales of death, don’t worry, there are lots left. That said, I truly believe that this might be the most important thing I’ve ever written. I enjoy penning amusing anecdotes about my job- but this is something different. Brianna’s story needs to be heard and every last word is true. I didn’t change her name because her name needs to be known. Her story needs to be known.
So please- tell it. Please share this story with anyone who will read it or listen. And please do something for the foster kids in your community. They are vulnerable and are being exploited like this everywhere. Please, for Bre.