Chapter 4 (Part A)
Greg jotted down a few notes on the yellow notepad sitting on his desk then leaned back in his chair. “That sounds pretty traumatic for being such a young person.” He stroked the stubble on his chin then added, “Actually, that was a pretty big event no matter what your age.”
I looked into his eyes and nodded. You get it. I don’t know how, but you do. Fascination at this rarity captivated my interest.
“I know you’ve already told me this,” Greg prefaced his next thought, “but please refresh my memory. How old were you when Colleen and her daughter barged into your home?”
I straightened in my seat and drew in a deep breath, exhaling slowly—as if doing so would rid my past of all toxicity. “Thirteen,” I replied. “I was thirteen years old.”
Greg shook his head, confounded by Colleen’s irrational behavior toward me. “Merely a child,” he pitied my situation, “not even old enough to understand what you were being accused of.”
“I suppose not,” I admitted, “but I would’ve told you otherwise, at the time. Mom and Dad often talked in front of me, so I thought I knew what was going on; but, looking back now? Yeah. I was clueless.” Sarcasm shielded my vulnerability.
Crooking his neck, Greg stared at me as if doing so would help him see deep into my psyche. “I bet you had to grow up pretty fast,” he deduced. “Situations like this tend to do that to a child.”
I chuckled, mocking the obvious. “I had to look up many words—like masturbation, child molester, and pedophile—if that’s what you mean; but, even then, the words had to be explained to me. My innocence was a detriment to understanding the bigger picture. That’s for sure.” I averted my eyes, suddenly self conscious. Picking at an imaginary piece of lint on my denim pant leg, I brushed it off with the back of my hand.
“Call me sheltered,” I continued, “but, before Colleen accused me of abusing her daughter, I had never heard of those words. They weren’t even remotely part of my vocabulary. However, after the incident in the kitchen, I noticed they appeared in the evening news all the time. It’s like no one respected the intimate nature of these words. Reporters used them like everyday language—actually, they still do. It’s rather disheartening.” Sadness tugged at the corners of my eyes.
“Innocence can be a blessing,” Greg agreed, “but lack of knowledge can also leave a person feeling very lonely and confused. It’s kind of a double-edged sword.”
I kept my gaze downcast, embarrassed by my naïveté. “Yeah. When I finally realized what I was actually being accused of, I was mortified. I couldn’t eat or sleep for days. Just the thought made me sick to my stomach. I couldn’t fathom how someone who had been so close to our family could believe such horrible things about me.” Humiliation crept up my neck, heating my cheeks and ears. “What made matters worse, Donald and Colleen had no respect for the truth or who they were hurting. They just didn’t care!”
Greg studied me closely, being considerate of my pain. “And that has shaped how you believe others see you, hasn’t it—why you’ve never felt quite good enough?”
My eyes widened, and I became acutely aware of my transparency. “How did you…?” I wrestled with raw emotion.
“Easy. It’s in your countenance. Your posture. Your detailed memory of something that happened more than twenty years ago. This is obviously still affecting you.”
“Of course, it is.” I loathed the facts. “All it took was just one day—one false accusation—and the next five years of my life were turned upside down, along with any chance of me having a normal life.” Deep-seated anger welled up from somewhere deep inside me. “Everything—and I do mean everything—about my life was monitored to protect me from the craziness that was Colleen. I couldn’t go anywhere at school without having personal bodyguards follow me from one place to the next—kind of like an entourage of note takers documenting my every move.”
Greg ran his finger along his bottom lip. “That must’ve been hard as a teenager—never being alone.”
“It was, but we could never be ‘too safe,’” I fingered air quotes. “No one could predict what Colleen would twist or contort while concocting her so-called evidence against me for court, so I had to account for everything.”
“I can imagine that would be discouraging.” Greg’s well-rehearsed line almost sounded sincere.
I shrugged, long resigned to what had been my fate. “My mom, dad, and the school staff feared for my physical safety because Alicia’s parents had threatened to harm me more than once. It was a pretty serious situation—and uncharted territory for my parents and the school—so, for a while, the school principal walked me to my car every afternoon. No one knew where Colleen or Donald would show up next, so it kind of made me a walking target.”
“And how did that make you feel?” Greg’s professional tone spurred an eye roll from me.
“I might as well have been living in a bubble,” I answered. “It became nearly impossible to exist. My life was constantly on display—you know, like living in a glass house.”
Greg nodded. “I get that. So, what happened next?”
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Mom allowed the car to idle in our driveway for a moment after pulling up to the house. “I know I don’t have to say this,” she started, “but you deserve to hear the words.” She extended her hand across the console and took my hand in hers.
“Daddy and I have always been so proud of both you girls—your high standards, how you live for Jesus. It shows in everything you do. You’re the real deal, and that’s what makes us so proud of you. It’s also a big reason why we know you’re not a part of the foolishness Colleen has inflicted on our family. We know you didn’t do it.” Tears slid down her cheeks, turning her nose a rosy shade of red.
Clasping my hand tighter, she continued. “You know Daddy has never been good with words; but, I speak for both of us when I say, we will always have your back. You never have to question that—ever.” Emotion choked her words, causing her to pause. “I don’t know what’s gonna happen next, but I do know you’re not gonna have to face it alone. We’re right here with you, and we know God is bigger than anything that can be thrown at us. One way or another, we’ll get through this.” I nodded, struggling to hold back my own tears.
Turning off the car’s engine, Mom reached for the garage door opener in the glove compartment and lifted the remote from the box. Pointing it at the door, she pressed the button. Nothing happened. Shaking it slightly and squeezing the button harder, she aimed it at the door again. Still nothing. “I wonder if the electricity in the house is off,” she mused. Digging through her purse, she located a spare key for the front door and held up her find. “Good thing I have this.” A smile graced her lips.
“Good thing,” I returned her smile.
Making our way up the manicured walkway to the front door, we both spotted the small, rectangular business card taped above the door handle about the same time. Mom freed the adhesive and scanned both sides.
“Who’s it from?” I asked, expecting to hear the name of a lawn service or pizza joint.
“HRS, a government agency,” Mom answered, a peculiar tone in her voice. She inspected the card closely, scrutinizing the details. “Looks like Colleen made good on her threat to get the authorities involved,” she deciphered. “They want to speak with us.” I bristled at her words, a knot forming in the pit of my stomach.
“Doctors are required by law to report cases of abuse when they hear of them or see evidence of physical harm,” Mom shared. “If they suspect something is wrong and don’t tell authorities, ultimately, they could have their licenses revoked.” She stuck the house key into the hole, unlocked the door, then pushed it open. I followed her down the hall and into the kitchen, wanting to hear more. “I’m assuming Colleen mentioned your name at Alicia’s doctor’s appointment the other day,” she continued speculating. “That’s probably how they got your information and knew who to report. The agency will investigate the allegations now and find out whether or not they’re true—at least that’s what I’m assuming is going on here.” Mom laid the business card on the kitchen counter, and I placed my book bag on the nearby recliner in the family room.
“I’m going to take my purse to the other room,” Mom decided. “No need for messiness.” She pointed at my book bag—hint, hint—then started walking toward her bedroom. I smiled and carried the items to my room.
Returning to the kitchen, I found Mom studying the business card again, almost like expecting a mystery to unravel in front of her. “Now what?” I asked, interrupting her focus.
The telephone rang loudly, demanding our attention. “I guess I answer the phone,” Mom chuckled. “Hello?” Her tired voice welcomed the caller on the other end. “Yeah, it’s been a rough few hours,” she answered. “Everything’s kind of surreal.” Stretching the phone cord several feet into her bedroom, she kicked off her tan loafers and nudged them neatly against her bedroom wall. Climbing atop her queen-size bed, she positioned herself Indian style in the center of the bed and invested herself in the conversation.
“Who is it?” I whispered from the doorway.
“Pastor Quinn,” Mom carefully mouthed the words. Covering the phone with her hand, she whispered, “We can talk more once I get off this call, but it may be a few minutes.”
I nodded then leaned my forehead against the doorjamb. After a few moments, I waved to get Mom’s attention, keeping my voice low. “Mind if I stay in here with you?”
Mom patted the bed to the right of her and continued to talk. I kicked off my high-tops and sprawled across the bed on my stomach, resting my head on Mom’s knee. Mom methodically stroked my hair while answering question after question from Pastor Quinn. Somewhere between “this is the most bizarre situation we’ve ever found ourselves in” and “we’re looking for a competent attorney,” I dozed out of consciousness.