Monday, July 7, 2014

Feature Author Dawn Kopman Whidden - A Child Is Torn Excerpt

A Child is Torn: Innocence Lost

By Dawn Kopeman Whidden

In my mind it was like picturing a scene from a Dickens novel; a ten-year-old child standing in the street with battered and torn rags for clothing, his mind and heart dirtied and shredded. In reality anyone looking at the child would just see a normal, energetic boy running the bases in a pickup baseball game; but all the while, a tortured being was fighting to come to the surface. Anyway, that is what I saw when I looked at Brad Madison, but I was paid to look deeper and find out why he had murdered his parents in cold blood.

I looked out the window of my office in the Armistace Mental Health Institution for Children. I was studying my newest patient. He had been committed one month ago by the courts because he was far too young to go to an adult prison. The judge also felt there was more to the story than was being told. In the end, young Brad was deposited here, under my care. Most of my associates believed these children were never going to be part of normal society—that our job was to keep the world safe by keeping these children locked away. I disagreed. I had hope. My mother must have known, because that’s what she named me the day I came screaming into this world—Hope.

I saw more than just delinquents and insanity when I looked at my patients. I saw inside. I saw the torture, the actions of monsters that made these children who they were. I saw the loss of innocence, and terror no child should ever feel. I saw the invisible labels stamped on their foreheads; schizophrenic, bipolar, body dysmorphic, obsessive compulsive, attention deficit.

I sipped a cup of hot coffee as I looked down at the field below. Judging by the gleeful cheers of the children below, you would think the scene was normal—until you noticed the attendants in white jumpsuits with night sticks and mace on their belts, and the barbed-wire fences surrounding the field. My thoughts were disrupted as chaos erupted below. I strained to see whom the guards were restraining. I was shocked to see it was Brad, screaming and fighting to get away from his captors. A nurse ran over to help restrain him, injecting him with a tranquilizer. As I watched his small body collapsed into their arms; I dropped my coffee, sending it splattering across the papers on my desk.

“Damn it,” I muttered. I knew I should stop and try to salvage them, but instead I quickly made my way down the two flights of stairs.

How had I missed what happened? Had I turned away the minute Brad attacked the other child?

“Get a medic,” I screamed as I looked at the boy lying unconscious on the ground. “Call 911. Get some help!” I pushed away an aide who was leaning down trying to attend to the boy. It was Jeffrey, a twelve-year-old who had been with us for two years. I felt for a pulse and was relieved when I got a strong one, but Jeffrey was still lying unconscious. I heard noises behind me; the rushing of the attendants and nurses and
teachers corralling the other children and bringing them back to their dorms.

“What happened?” Someone was carrying the now sedated Brad into the building. This is going to be a major setback, I thought, but then I remembered I’d gotten very little from this child in our sessions. His ice-blue eyes were a fortress for the secrets he was not yet willing to expose.

An attendant answered me. “Brad was batting, and when Jeffrey called the ball a strike, that’s exactly what he did. He just whipped around with the bat and struck Jeffrey in the head. "It was so fast, I couldn't stop it.”

I wiped the blood off the side of Jeffrey’s face, and pushed his hair back, looking for the wound. A large purple bruise was slowing forming on his temple. The boy was still breathing and his eyelids were beginning to flutter; he was regaining consciousness. The attendants around me were shaking their heads with bored, complacent looks on their faces. It was obvious that many of them thought Jeffrey had it coming.

Jeffrey had never been anyone’s favorite. Although he was only twelve years old, he was tall for his age and already had facial hair. An aide was assigned the task of grooming him—we couldn't trust him with a razor. Jeffrey had been diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder because of his sociopathic tendencies. He’d been admitted to our clinic after several failed attempts to find him a foster family. Jeffrey had failed to show anyone—staff or patients—any admirable traits. Usually we bonded with the children on some level, but even I had trouble connecting with him—and it bothered me. I think we were all shocked that Brad attacked Jeffrey and not the other way around.

I got up when I heard the sirens as they entered the premises. Two paramedics ran to where I was standing over Jeffrey, and reluctantly, I let them take over. I was pretty confident that Jeffrey had suffered a concussion and although we had some medical facilities on the premises we weren't equipped with the more sophisticated machinery like a CAT SCAN machine which would be needed in this case. Besides I knew I had a new priority; I needed to see Brad. I needed to see why this tiny skeleton of a child, no more than four feet eight inches tall, had felt the need to once again resort to violence.

“Hope, hang on there,” a voice called out from behind me. It was Judy, my supervisor. “They have Brad sedated in room twelve,” Judy informed me. The staff often referred to room twelve as the “safe room.” It had a bed with restraints, padded walls so the patients couldn't hurt themselves, and around-the-clock monitoring. Sometimes the confinement could last as long as a week; but generally with these children, it was
usually only a day or two.

“I have to report this to the authorities as an assault,” she said, looking at me with tired, gray eyes. Judy had been here for eighteen years; she expected days like these. She was usually good at hiding her fatigue, but we all had our bad days.

“I know,” I replied, sighing. It meant I was running out of time. Brad might have to go back to court and possibly be charged as an adult. It was rare for the authorities to come into the establishment to remove a child—but it had happened.

“Just give me more time to find out what happened,” I said to Judy as much as to myself. I heard the voices of police officers coming down the hallway, the sound of their rubber soles sticking to the freshly waxed floors. I recognized the taller one of the officers he had been to the facility on several other occasions; he was kind and his smile was large and bright.

“Dr. Rubin,” he said, “may I see Brad?” “Officer Keal, Brad is sedated and it will be quite a while before he can be questioned.” I remembered that it had been Officer Keal that was the first officer on the scene when Brad was discovered covered in blood, playing video game on the floor of his parents’ living room. Upstairs laid the bloodied and battered bodies of the little boy’s parents.