Chapter 1

My daycare provider’s apartment always smelled like a combination of applesauce and baby powder, and my daycare provider, Donna, smelled the same. She had hair highlighted red and a goldfish face with eyes set wide. When I knocked on her door, she shouted her familiar, “Come in. It’s not locked.”

I let go of Caitlin’s hand and gave her a tight hug before releasing her to join the other kids at the toy chest. Donna sat on the edge of a kitchen chair, feeding a toddler some banana goop out of a jar. Two boys played with dinky cars on the pale taupe carpet.

I reminded Donna, “I’m working till four again today, so I should be back to pick Caitlin up around 4:30.”

Donna looked up and smiled, revealing small white kernels of teeth. “We’ll be here.”

“Bye, Caity-Cat. Have a good day,” I called to Caitlin.

Caitlin looked up from her puzzle. “Bye, Mommy.”

I blew her a kiss and then signalled for her to take her thumb out of her mouth. Although she never did it as a baby, she’d recently started sucking her thumb.

Once outside our apartment complex, I zipped up my coat to protect myself from the biting wind. Usually, I didn’t mind the walk to work but days like this reminded me that winter was on its way. Twenty minutes later, I was glad to step into the warmth of the dental clinic.

From the cloakroom, I called to my co-worker, Connie, “There sure is a nip in the air.”

Connie’s brow wrinkled. “Yeah, it’s a change from last week. That’s what I hate about September. The weather changes from one day to the next. By the way, your mom says hello.”

I smiled and nodded. Mom and Connie talked on the phone almost daily since I started at the clinic. I think Mom must feel more in tune with my life when she can talk about me with Connie.

Today, Connie had pulled her unruly brown hair into a braid. She wore a tight jean dress with one gold bangle wrapped around her left bicep.

I took off my jacket and walked through the waiting room. That’s when I saw the petite, blonde woman sitting with her back straight, and both hands in her lap, twisting the handle of her purse.

She looked up and smiled. “Hi. I’m a little early.”

I continued past her and sat at my reception desk. I looked to the appointment book to see her name was Sarah Dowe and she was indeed twenty minutes early.

“Can I get you a cup of coffee while you wait?” I said and handed her a clipboard with the standard dental forms to fill out.

Taking the paperwork she answered, “No, thank you. I just brushed my teeth.” She smiled brilliantly. “I’m a little nervous. No offence to Doctor Mott, but I don’t like dentists.”

As if on cue, Dr. William Mott entered the room. His tall frame filled the doorway. He had full lips, high cheekbones and slightly sunken sea-gray eyes. Carrying a motorbike helmet and leather jacket, he wouldn’t be mistaken for a dentist.

“Bill, your ears must be burning,” Connie said.

Bill’s face creased in a smile. “Hmm. Three women talking about me? Please don’t stop.”

I could feel the heat rising up my neck.

Connie wagged her finger at Sarah and me. “These two were saying how they don’t like dentists.”

Bill’s smile faded, “Oh.” His eyes found mine. He looked like a pierced puppy. Sarah sat up straighter. “Oh my, no. I like dentists. You come highly recommended. It’s just that I don’t like dentist appointments. I mean, I don’t like dental work.”

She seemed flustered so I tried to rescue her. “Dr. Mott, Sarah is a new patient and will need a preliminary exam.”

His smile returned so that both dimples showed. “Well then, let’s get her set up with some x-rays.”

The hygienist, Gail, walked with purpose down the hall. In her late fifties, she wore her slate-gray hair in a tight bun. I turned to Sarah and said, “Gail will take you to the room.”

“Thanks.” Sarah stood, handed me her paperwork, and followed Gail down the hall.

Bill winked as he passed my desk and again I felt my face flood with color. I was relieved to have a solidly booked afternoon to keep me busy and focussed on work. I picked up the receiver and dialled.

“Hello, it’s Heather Williams from Lakeside Dental Clinic. I’m just calling to get some insurance information for one of our patients. Paula Wagner.” I waited for their response. “Yes, she did give me some primary insurance numbers.” I read the numbers to the woman on the other end of the phone. “But you’re not showing anything? Okay. This must be really new. I’ll have to call her to get the right information. Thank you.” The numbers are probably from her dog license. I smiled.

I continued with my work but my thoughts returned to Bill and my regular daydream. I imagine us walking barefoot along the beach, with the sun streaking the sky brilliant blues, oranges and pinks. He’s wearing a white shirt that flutters in the warm wind. A lone seagull calls in the distance. The waves crash onto the beach erasing our footprints as we walk. He takes my hand and turns me to face him…

“Hi again,” Sarah said, her words jolting me from my thoughts.

“How’d it go?” I turned my chair to face her.

“No cavities. I need to book another appointment for a proper cleaning though.”

Looking up at Sarah, something about her smile twigged my memory. “Did you used to go to St. Anne’s High School?”

Sarah leaned over the counter. “Yeah I did.”

“Was your last name Kinsey?”

She raised an eyebrow in amusement. “Yes! Dowe is my married name.”

“I’m Heather. Heather Williams.”

“Oh, my goodness! Heather! I didn’t recognize you with the dark hair. You used to have blonde hair and braces. How are you?”

“Good, good. I’m working here now.” I smiled sheepishly. “Well, obviously.”

I’d known Sarah since we were “minor niners” in high school together. On the first day, she told me that although her teeth were perfectly straight, she wished she had braces like me. I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to have to wear the ugly metal contraptions and immediately felt a warm bond with this new friend. She was shorter than me, with bright blue eyes and fair skin. Pretty and petite while I was athletic and tanned we looked like an experimentation in opposites. Later that same year, I dyed my hair blonde to look more like her.

The phone rang and I excused myself to answer it. After I hung up the receiver I asked, “Listen, do you have time to visit for a tea after work? I’ll be off at four and just live a short walk from here.”

“I’d love to. I have some errands to run and then I’ll return.”

“See you then.”

With two emergency appointments, the afternoon passed by quickly. By four o’clock I felt rushed to get my paperwork done. Sarah returned at ten past four. I held one finger in the air and called to her, “I’ll only be a few more moments.”

On our way home the earlier bright skies had clouded over and the chill was still in the air. I was happy for a drive in Sarah’s mini-van.

“I’ll have to wear an extra sweater to work tomorrow,” I said.

“Do you always walk to work?” Sarah asked as we drove past the commercial area. Next to the garden store was a patch of field, Bath and Body Works, the Bargain Dollar discount store, Holland Video, the pizza joint, and the computer store.

“Yeah, that’s why I moved close to work. You remember I used to be on the running team? I don’t run anymore, but I do love walking and hiking.”

“There are some lovely trails around Holland. But I admit I don’t get out as much as I probably should.” She laughed, a nice lilting sound.

We both giggled as we drove past the Lighthouse Christian Assembly Church outdoor billboard. It read:

Don’t let worries kill you.
Let the church help.

I asked, “So what have you done since high school?”

“Oh, I went to Hope College, got married, had a baby. The usual. You?”

“About the same.” I didn’t feel like getting into the fact that my marriage ended only last year. We caught each other up quickly on parents, siblings, and our jobs.

“Here we are.” I pointed to my apartment. Sarah parked on the street in front.

When I opened the doors to the building, I was surprised to find Donna waiting in the hallway.

“Heather, we need to talk,” Donna said.

Her amber eyes, normally bright and animated, were clouded and wrinkles creased her brow.

What is she, the time police? I thought as I looked at my watch. “How’s right now?” I offered, a lump rising in my throat.

“It’s good. I have a sitter.” She exhaled.

“I should go,” Sarah said, twisting the ring on her left hand.

“No, please stay.” I grabbed hold of Sarah’s arm. As we ascended the stairs, Donna’s ominous announcement made my heart race with a surge of adrenaline. Had Caitlin hit another child? Kicked that little curly-haired boy? I hoped she hadn’t bitten anyone. But if it were any of these things, wouldn’t Donna have just told me? Why the secrecy?

I could never have imagined what Donna would tell me that day. The very thought made me want to retch.


Later that night, in my living room, my mother paced the floor. Her short hair, which looked more salt than pepper, swayed with her nodding head. “How could this happen?” Tears streamed down her face.

My father, a heavy-set man with graying curly hair, sat quietly, arms folded across his chest. Through clenched teeth he muttered, “If I ever see the man again, I’ll kill him.”

Still in a daze, I reached for the phone and dialed the number scribbled on the notepaper.

“Children’s Aid Society answering service,” a voice on the other end snapped.

“H…Hello,” I stuttered, my lips stiff with the strain. “I got this number from a friend. Is this the correct number for reporting child abuse?” My mother let out a loud moan. I shot her a look to remind her that Caitlin was sleeping.

“This is the Children’s Aid Society answering service. Name?”

Did she want my name or my daughter’s?

“Name?” she repeated, louder this time.

“Heather Williams.”

My mother leaned over to my dad and remarked, “At least she kept her own name.”

“Address? Phone number?”

I gave them to her.

“Marital status?”

My voice caught in my throat. “Um, well, I’m separated.”

As if on the phone with me, Mom added, “She never should’ve married the man.”

“Married,” the voice on the phone countered, clicking away at the form.

“No, no. I’m not married. We’re separated.”

“So you’re divorced, then.” Her tone was flat, final.


“Then you’re married.”

“No, I’m not. I’m separated. I no longer live with this man. I’m not married,” I said, sharper than intended.

“You’re either married or divorced. Which is it?” she retorted.

“Neither!” Who am I dealing with here? The blood rising to my face thumped in my temples. She has all the compassion of a boy stabbing a worm with a dull hook. I could see my parents exchanging looks of confusion.

“Fine. I’ll check off married. An advocate will call you tomorrow.”

I hung up the phone with a small whoosh of relief and shared with my parents the full conversation.

“This whole thing is such a nightmare!” my mother cried.

After many tears and hugs, my parents returned to their own home. Before leaving, they asked permission to tell my sister, Janice, and although I wanted to tell her myself, I agreed. I didn’t have the energy to go through it again. I assumed they would tell their pastor and the prayer people at their church, too.

Closing the door behind them, I sank down to the floor as tears poured down my cheeks. My cat, Blue-Casey, sensed my distress and hopped into my lap, circling twice before finding the right spot. I stroked his silver-blue furry back absentmindedly and began sobbing.


I awoke the next morning to the phone ringing. It took me a moment to realize I had fallen asleep on the living room couch. Blue-Casey lay curled at my feet.

“Hello?” I answered hoarsely.

“Is this Heather Williams?”

“Yes,” I admitted in a small voice.

“My name is Megan Schwartz, an intake worker from the Children’s Aid Society.”

“Yes.” I sat up, still groggy.

“Can you please tell me why you called our service?”

With some measure of reserve I said, “My daughter. My daughter told the daycare provider that she was touched in her private parts. She’s been sexually assaulted.”

“Has she been to the hospital?”

I bit my lip. “No, I only found out yesterday and was told I had to call you. Do I need to take her to the hospital?”

“Yes. I can give you the number of a clinic where your daughter can be seen.”

“Can’t I just use our family doctor?”

“Yes, fine. I also need to meet with you. I have an opening on Thursday, September 5 at 9:00.”

“I can be there,” I said.

She hung up. I put my head between my knees. I felt as if a rush of wind had just burst into my apartment and taken my breath away. Was I having an out-of-body experience? Or a nervous breakdown? Everything seemed surreal. How could Rod have done such a thing? Questions thrashed around in my head like cod caught in a fishing net.

I reached for the phone and dialed Dr. Carmen’s office. I explained my reason for needing an appointment and the receptionist booked me for 3:30 the next day.

My bottom lip quivered. Now, what to do? What day was it anyway? I looked at the clock, then at the calendar.

I could hear my daughter stirring in the room down the hall. Tears welled in my eyes. How can I take care of this precious little girl when I can’t even focus? I went to the bathroom to splash cold water on my face.

Looking in the mirror, I didn’t recognize the person staring back at me. I turned away.

“Mommy?” Caitlin called from her bedroom.

“Yes, Caity-Cat. I’ll be right there.”

My instincts kicked in and I moved into autopilot-mother.

Chapter 2

“The doctor will see you now.” A willowy blonde receptionist who was all legs and teeth led us to a room big enough to fit only three people at most. A ceiling tile hung loose. I flashed her a half-smile. No return smile. Humph, so she’s got nice legs and perfect hair but I’ve got a much better tan. Oh! Where is my head?

I tried to suppress my anxiety by making this a fun trip to our friendly doctor’s office. “See, Caity-Cat, this is what a doctor uses to measure how tall you are and how much you weigh. Let’s try it.” I mustered enthusiasm and a smile and stood Caitlin on the scale.

“Wow, you weigh thirty-five pounds! What a growing girl. Now let’s get you up on the table and test your reflexes.” I was about to tap Caitlin’s knee when Dr. Carmen knocked and opened the door. He wasn’t much taller than I, but carried his stocky frame well.

“Well, hello,” Dr. Carmen said in his sandpaper voice. “What brings two such lovely ladies to visit me this fine day?”

My throat constricted. “We’re just here for Caitlin’s regular check up,” I said. I knew that his question was redundant. Of course, the willowy receptionist told him why we needed the appointment.

“Well, let’s begin.” With a broad smile, he opened the top drawer of the desk and pulled out a purple penlight. From the shelf he took down two thin wooden sticks – he gave one to Caitlin.

“Now open your mouth and say ahhhh.”

After looking into Caitlin’s mouth, the doctor let Caitlin look into his. Fascinated, she grinned when she saw silver on a few of his teeth.

Dr. Carmen smiled crookedly. “Let’s look in your ears.”

Leaning in closer, he called, “Hello, anybody in there?” and with a quieter voice he echoed, “Hello, anybody in there?”

Caitlin giggled. Dr. Carmen smiled and scanned the light across each of her eyes. “Looks good,” he pronounced, replacing the purple pen light on the desk.

“Okay, let’s have you lie down on the bench so I can check your belly.”

Caitlin lay on the table. I slumped in the chair, not wanting to talk. Not able to talk. My heart beat double time. Dr. Carmen placed one hand on her tummy and tapped it with his finger.

“Did you eat cereal for breakfast today? I think I can feel a little Cheerio.”

Caitlin’s eyes opened wide. “I had Cheerios! Mommy didn’t eat nothing, but I did, I had Cheerios!”

Dr. Carmen continued his examination, feeling around her neck and pressing on her stomach.

“Any aches or pains?” he asked.


“I’m going to have a look at your private parts now, Caitlin. I promise it won’t hurt, okay.”

I crossed my legs. Caitlin tensed and looked over to me. I fought back the bile that rose in my throat, and reached out to hold her hand. “It’s okay, Honey. Dr. Carmen won’t hurt you.”

“Has anyone touched you in your private parts before, Caitlin?” Dr. Carmen asked as Caitlin removed her undergarments.

“Yes, Daddy did,” she said and frowned. “It hurt.”

Dr. Carmen took a piece of paper out of the desk drawer and scribbled on it. He cleared his throat. “When was that?”

“When I visit him,” Caitlin stated matter-of-factly. I massaged a sudden throbbing in my left temple.

Dr. Carmen continued to scribble. “Do your private parts hurt now?”

“No.” Caitlin pulled a strand of hair into her mouth.

Dr. Carmen showed Caitlin a stick with cotton on one end, and joked how it could be used as a Q-tip for a giant’s ear. Caitlin looked up blankly. He then proceeded to swab her vagina.

“Okay, Sweetie, we’re all done with your checkup.” I helped Caitlin get redressed.

Dr. Carmen reached in his coat pocket and pulled out a yellow sucker. “You’ve been a great patient.” He handed her the sucker and ushered her out of the room to the waiting receptionist as he explained that he needed to talk to me in private.

Once back in the room, he closed the door behind him. The tears streamed freely down my cheeks.

Dr. Carmen drew his chair close and leaned his arms on his knees. He pinched the bridge of his nose and waited until I composed myself.

His voice became a confidential whisper. “Heather, this was just a preliminary examination. There seems to be irritation and redness around her vagina, but I am not an expert in this area. I would like to refer you to the SCAN program – The Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect Program at the Hospital for Sick Children for further testing.”

I nodded.

“I’ll get my receptionist to book an appointment.”

I took a deep breath and nodded again. Dr. Carmen stood and laid his hand heavily on my shoulder, like a paw. “Take your time.” He reached up and pulled a sample pack of sleeping pills from the shelf. “These may help.” He handed the pills to me and left the office.

I looked around the room. Why, Lord? Why am I here? Why is this happening? Anger overtook my feelings of horror and I stood, ready to fight. Give me five minutes alone in this room with Rod… I punched the air at an imaginary Rod with such force that it sent me into a whirl knocking a model of the male reproductive organs off the shelf. The irony hit me right away.

Once in the reception area, I took Caitlin’s hand in mine and tucked the appointment card in my pocket. What will tomorrow bring?

Chapter 3

Still groggy from the sleeping pills, I managed to tie my hair back and splash water on my face before I ushered Caitlin downstairs to Donna’s apartment.

Once in my Jeep, I looked at the address Ms. Schwartz, the C.A.S. intake worker, had given me over the phone on Tuesday. I tried to keep my mind focused on the road. I finally found the Children’s Aid Society office in a large white building settled behind the low rental housing at the right side of a dead-end street. I managed to fit into one of the last parking spots.

I checked my teeth in the rearview mirror, gathered my purse and notes, and walked up to the front doors. I took a deep breath and stepped inside. To my left sat a receptionist with a phone piece in her ear and a microphone close to her mouth.

“Children’s Aid Society. How can I direct your call? One moment, please.” She looked up and raised her eyebrows as if to ask who I was and why I was there.

“Heather Williams. Here to see Megan Schwartz.” She nodded and cocked her head toward the row of seats. I assumed she wanted me to sit.

The plastic scalloped-shaped seats were positioned too close to each other, so I chose the one on the end. A man with a heavy briefcase waved to the receptionist as he left the building. Two women, deeply engaged in hushed conversation, passed by and descended a flight of stairs. I heard a baby cry behind a closed door. This was not a cheery place. I tried to breathe in slowly through my nose and release the air through my mouth.

I looked at the row of pamphlets lined on the wall: Garden of Missing Children Society, Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, Mental Health Association, Open Hearts Ministry, Victim Crisis Assistance. Many of the agencies featured were foreign to me. I’d never had to deal with this kind of ugliness before. I’d never known anyone who suffered from abuse; at least no one who had told me.

A woman in a green tweed pantsuit approached. She walked with her hands close by her side and marched without swinging her arms. She looked like a tackle box.

“Heather?” She extended her hand. “I’m Megan Schwartz. I’m the Intake Worker. Come with me.” Her hand felt clammy. I fought the urge to wrench mine away.

She led me down a series of hallways to a cubicle no bigger than the interior of my Jeep. She closed the door and I glanced at the open ceiling. Little good this’ll do. I’m sure everyone will hear our whole conversation.

Megan sat at the little desk with a computer, pulled out the keyboard and started to type.

I took a seat directly across from her.

“Williams. W-i-l-l-i-a-m-s?” she asked.

I noticed her overbite as she worked to pronounce the W. “Yes.”

“Birth date?” Megan asked.

“August 21, 1975.”

“Husband’s name and birth date?”

“Ex-husband.” I clenched my teeth. “Rod. Rod Kramer. K-r-a-m-e-r. November 3, 1965.”

I wanted to twist my chair to the other side of the desk to see the screen.

“Daughter’s name and birth date?”

“Caitlin Elizabeth Williams-Kramer. Caitlin with a ‘C’. Born October 12, 2004.”

“Please tell me what happened. Leave nothing out.”

I winced slightly. I told her of Donna’s news, the doctor’s appointment, and the arrangement to go to the children’s hospital.

“Okay, Ms. Williams, I’ve recorded all the information. Thank you.” She forced an unconvincing smile. One of those smiles that look like you’re trying desperately to avoid flatulence.

That’s it? What now?

With a tight feeling in my chest and my breath shallow, I asked, “What should I do now?”

She stood, signaling that our meeting had ended. “I suggest you get yourself a lawyer.”

At my stunned look she continued, “There are five good children’s lawyers in the Holland area. This list should help.” She pulled open a drawer, searched for a sheet of paper, and handed it to me.

“And my daughter?” A sick feeling roiled in the pit of my stomach.

“There are a number of services that may be of help to her, depending on her age.”

You forgot her age already? I bit my lip. She pulled out another sheet from her magic drawer.

“Th-thanks,” I sputtered.

Megan looked at her watch and gave me an exasperated look. Obviously our time was over.

When I left the building, my shoulders drooped. I had never felt so alone. This woman, someone who deals with incest and child abuse all the time, offered no comfort. I was just a case number. She had no compassion, no sympathy. How could she be so emotionless? Why did she have to be such a sea-hag?

I walked to my Jeep, my eyes blurred. The sky was dark and swollen with gray clouds. One lone seagull called in the distance. From Lake Macatawa, I could smell the aroma of fish on the wind. In the quietness of my own vehicle, I slumped over the steering wheel and released the tears held back all morning. God, I don’t have the strength for this. I feel so alone.


Once I had Caitlin down for the night, I couldn’t get Rod out of my mind. Even as I started to write in my journal, I couldn’t escape the thoughts wheeling around in my head like big white gulls. I poured a mug of milk and warmed it in the microwave. Sitting in the rocking chair, Blue-Casey in my lap, I traced patterns in his coat and then smoothed them away as I let my mind wander. How could I miss the signs? They were all there. One night over drinks, Rod told me that he had his first sexual encounter with a friend’s thirty-five-year old mother when he was only fourteen. Then, as a teenager, an older counsellor at a boys’ summer camp had molested him. His desire for porn, both the magazines and on the Internet, was insatiable.

Yet in my defense, nothing in my own background or experience had prepared me for this horror.

I rocked back and forth in rhythm to the living room clock. Blue-Casey climbed on my chest, placing one paw on each side of my neck, giving me his patent hug. I stroked his soft fur.

I remembered one night when I had returned from a three-day conference. I passed Rod in the hall on my way upstairs to tuck in Caitlin and he asked how my conference went.

“Good, thanks.” I noticed he had his work shirt on. “Going to work tonight?”

“Yeah, they need me. A freezer broke down and we have to move the meat,” he said over his shoulder while tying up his work boots.

After he closed the front door I let my shoulders relax. I had the house to myself to unpack my things and spend time with my little one. I felt so much better when he wasn’t around. After bathing Caitlin and helping her with her pajamas, I tucked her in the small bed with the pink frilly blanket and her gold and green teddy bear. I read her a couple of pages from her favorite nursery rhyme book and leaned in to kiss her on her cheek. She sulked. Puzzled, I asked, “Why the frown, Caity-Cat?”

Caitlin’s strawberry hair was in deep contrast to her blonde eyelashes and eyebrows. Her freckles, dotted across her nose, highlighted her green eyes. But the bags under Caitlin’s eyes looked black against her ashen face. She whispered, “Daddy hurt me.”

I didn’t know whether it was her tone of voice or the searching look on her face, but her words sliced into my heart. I forced them away. Even though Rod and I had marital differences, I would not, could not, believe that he would hurt his only child. My disbelief and denial ran deep. I could not explore further what she had meant by those three words. I hung on to the fact that we’d be out of the house soon. I replied, “Mommy’s here now.” I kissed her on her forehead, and left it at that.

I’m haunted by the memory. She had told me her secret years ago and I didn’t help her. The guilt crushed my shoulders. Despair flooded through me. Disappointment weighted my limbs. The weight was too much. My daughter had reached out to me and I let her down. She had tried to tell me and I ignored her. I had made her face two more years of horror because I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t face it. My chin fell to my chest. I didn’t want to believe it. My daughter needed me and I wasn’t there for her. I gasped for air and struggled to get it into my lungs. My head throbbed.

I dropped Blue-Casey to the floor and walked to the bathroom. The carpet blurred beneath my wet eyes. I struggled to catch my breath through the sobs coming from my own mouth.

Opening the cabinet, I found only a few bottles of medicine. I needed to escape into a sea of oblivion. I needed peace. Would it be enough to do the job? Why didn’t I have anything stronger than allergy medication? Then I remembered the sample pack of sleeping pills. There were only six left, but maybe if I combined them all. Oh, I just wanted to sleep. I wanted to sleep forever. I wanted to forget. I wanted out.

I gathered all the medicine containers from the cabinet and took them to my bedroom. Lining them up on my dresser, I picked up the picture of Caitlin in her baby crib. “I’m sorry, Caity-Cat. I’m so sorry. Mommy couldn’t help you. Mommy can’t help you. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” The tears flowed and my nose dripped. I reached across my bed for a tissue and collapsed. So tired. Closing my eyes, I gave in and fell into darkness.

Chapter 4

“Mommy? Mommy?”

I awoke, my face deep in the pillow. Turning over, I opened my eyes to see the cool morning light filtering in through my bedroom blinds. I was alive? I looked over to my dresser. Of course I was alive. I didn’t even take the lids off the containers. What happened? Why did I collapse?

“Mommy, I’m hungry.”

“I’ll be right there, Caity-Cat,” I said in a breathless whisper.

Shaking off the puzzlement, I pulled myself out of bed to make breakfast for my daughter.

I couldn’t shake the despair and desperation that hung over me like a black cloud. Guilt and shame threatened to swallow me. My breathing came in shallow gulps. I had to sit down on the bed for fear I would fall. My body tingled. The room spun around me. My heart raced.

Janice. I need to phone my sister.

My fingers fumbled over the numbers.

“Hello?” she answered.

“I can’t do this,” I stammered. “Janice, I can’t breathe.” I stopped. “I feel like I can’t keep my head above water.”

Janice knew why I couldn’t breathe. My whole family knew.

“Oh, Heather, Sissy,” her voice sounded strained. “I know this is hard for you. Talk to me.”

Tears coursed down my cheeks and I gasped for air. With her encouragement, I let it all out. Between sobs, I shared with her all that had happened up to this point. When I had finished spilling my story, I laid my head down on the bed, exhausted.

“Heather, I don’t know what to say,” her voiced sounded filled with emotion. “Let’s pray.”

Too tired to respond, I just nodded and listened.

“Dear Lord, I pray Your calming Spirit descend on my sister. Jesus, fill her with a peace that transcends all understanding. Give her strength to carry on, knowing that she is not alone. Father God, take her hand and walk with her.”

I felt my heartbeat slowing and with a large sigh, my breathing began to return to normal.

Janice continued, “Lord, as the Great Shepherd, You promised to take care of each of Your sheep. I pray that You fill Heather with a peace and a calm to get through each day, knowing that You love her more even than she loves Caitlin. In Jesus’ name, I pray.”

Her prayer soothed me but I questioned her last words. God loves me more than I love my daughter? How could anyone’s love be more than mine for Caitlin?

“Sissy?” My sister’s voice interrupted my thoughts.

“Thanks, Janice. I needed that. I thought I was going crazy.”

“I’m here for you – anytime. Know that you and Caitlin are in our prayers.”

I inhaled deeply. “I don’t know what I would do without you.”

“You know you can pray too, right?”

“Yeah, sure, of course. But you guys have a direct line to God. You’re ministers.”

Janice laughed. She had a deep, throaty laugh. “We don’t have any more clout than you. God hears everyone’s prayers – not just those of us in ministry.”

“Yeah, I guess. It’s just that you guys go to church and you read the Bible and stuff.”

Again a laugh from Janice. “Sissy, for goodness sake, God loves you and He hears your prayers, whether from a pew or in your own living room.”

“Thanks Janice. You always make me feel better. I’d better go now. Love you.”

“Love you too, Sissy. I’ll talk with you soon.”

After hanging up, I looked up, “Hey there…um…Big Guy, Big Kahuna, uh…khem…God, do you hear me? Are you really there like Janice says?”

The words were still hanging in the air when the door buzzer rang. Caitlin continued to watch her Saturday morning cartoons in the living room. I tripped over Blue-Casey as he ran for cover to hide under the couch as I made my way over to the door.

I pressed the release and opened the door. My mom didn’t even get past the shoes before she threw her arms around me, causing me to tumble backwards over my army boots. “Go put on some tea,” she directed and went over to give kisses to Caitlin.

She joined me back in the kitchen and sat down at the table. “How are you, Dear?” she squeezed my hand with heartfelt emotion.

“I’m doing okay. I just got off the phone with Janice.” I explained to her what had been happening up to this point.

“Honey, I’m worried about you. Look at you. You have such beautiful black hair, why wear it up? And you’ve lost so much weight in this past week.”

Normally I would be thrilled to be losing weight. But it wasn’t like I was trying. I just couldn’t eat. My stomach remained tied in knots.

“Mom, I’m okay – really.”

She exhaled an anxious breath and shook her head. “Well, I just think that you need to get out more. You need to do something to take your mind off this business. Why don’t you come with me to play cards?”

“No, thanks.” I couldn’t imagine sitting around the table with a bunch of old ladies chatting about their latest adventures in sewing. I repeated, “No, thanks.”

“Well, why don’t you call up some girlfriends? Have a night out? I’ll baby-sit Caitlin.” Mom seemed desperate.

“Thanks Mom, really. But I’m just not into going out.”

She gnawed thoughtfully on her bottom lip. “What about this?” she pointed to something in the newspaper on the table.

It read: All Women Welcome. Women’s Coffee Break. Free Seminar. Guest Speaker on Gardening. Free daycare.

“See it’s at the church up the street. Why don’t you go there just to get out of the apartment?” The look of concern on my mother’s face made me shift in my chair.

I rubbed my temples in thought. “Fine, fine. When is it?”

“Wednesday at nine. They even provide snacks,” she said rather smugly, obviously feeling as if she won.

Chapter 5

Monday afternoon and I’m in the crush of traffic in downtown. Why me, Lord?

I could see the hospital in the distance, but where did they expect me to park? I turned in at the Green “P” sign and took the ticket from the machine, drove into the parking garage, and followed the yellow arrows up to the third level. Finally, I found an empty parking spot.

I unloaded my purse, backpack full of toys and activities, stroller for Caitlin and briefcase with notes up to this point. I still had thirty minutes to find the doctor’s office. So far, so good. But why take my purse when I had my hands full? Stashing it under the driver seat, I loaded Caitlin in the stroller for the long walk to the hospital, hooked the bag to the handlebars, and strapped the backpack on my back. Ready. Slamming the Jeep door, a darkness overshadowed my heart. Oh no, I just locked my keys in the car with my purse! My legs buckled under me. Stranded in a parking garage, in a strange city, by myself, headed for an appointment I didn’t want to go to. My heart began to beat rapidly in my chest. I couldn’t catch my breath. Couldn’t get air into my lungs.

“Mommy, you okay?” Caitlin sounded worried as if it was her job to console me, rather than the other way around.

Normally, I liked visiting downtown. I loved to shop and watch ball games – but this was no leisure trip. Any excitement had turned to anxiety.

I glanced up and through watery eyes saw the look of concern on my daughter’s young face. A cold splash of water wouldn’t have wakened me quicker from my self-pity.

I gathered my strength and took a deep breath, “Yes, Caity-Cat. Mommy just needed a little rest. I’m ready now. Let’s go.” I had to stay strong for Caitlin.

Once outside of the parking garage the sun blinded me. I lowered the flap on the stroller to protect Caitlin’s eyes. I had left my sunglasses in my purse. Why didn’t I bring my purse? I couldn’t remember why I had made such a stupid decision.

The hospital looked nothing like what I expected. It looked more like a mall than a place for sick and dying children. We walked through the front doors and entered the main atrium. To the left swirled a fountain, dancing with a variety of waterspouts. In the centre of the room, a modern glass elevator brought its passengers to different levels. Beautiful flowing plants hung from the ceiling.

Caitlin watched the fountain splash in rhythm to unheard music. Coming closer, I could see the coins in the pond. I’d like to add my own wish. Rod dead. No, too morose. How about a vicious venereal disease? I fished in my pocket for a coin and threw it in the water.

How many wishes had come true? What were their wishes? “I wish that my son would recover from leukemia.” “I wish that my daughter would receive a new heart.” This was no ordinary hospital. A sense of shame waved over me at my own ignorance to the suffering of other parents. Yet although I stood here too, I couldn’t feel like I belonged here. We were just visiting. This wasn’t real. We don’t belong here.

I pulled the appointment card from my pocket; it read Dr. Sharpe SCAN – 4D. Fourth floor, okay.

“We’ll take the glass elevator.”

Caitlin clapped her excitement. The ride up left my stomach on the main floor. Like riding in a hot air balloon, I watched the world below grow smaller as we lifted.

Floor four. Now where? I pushed the stroller to my left, but saw only a string of closed doors. I continued looking for the letter D, or Doctor Sharpe’s name. I walked the full perimeter returning to the elevator. Caitlin squirmed in her seat. “Mommy, I want to walk.”

“No, Caity-Cat, let’s find the doctor’s office first.” I wiped away the sweat along my hairline.

Caitlin slumped in her seat and sulked. Down the elevator again. I looked around. Caitlin pointed upward. Over one large gateway I saw the initial D. Perhaps I should be there? I walked towards the gate, stripping my coat off on the way.

I looked at the wall map in the main foyer, but couldn’t make sense of it. There were no “you are here” arrows like they have on mall maps. I eyed a lineup of people at the end of the hall, waiting for a different elevator. An orange band of string blocked the stairwell. I could hear construction noises coming from further down the hall. Caitlin and I joined the handful of people in line for the elevator. No one spoke, no chitchat, no laughter. Everyone looked straight ahead. The elevator came and we loaded on. I could feel a bead of sweat roll down the centre of my back.

Fourth floor. We got off. Now this looked more like a hospital. Sterile, white walls. No photos, no music. No people. Where is everyone?

Approaching what looked like a reception desk, I rang the little bell. A four-foot-ten woman came out from behind a door, wiping her face with a paper napkin. Obviously I had disturbed her lunch.

“Hi. I’m here to see Dr. Sharpe.”

“He’s on lunch.” She picked at her teeth with the nail of her baby finger.

“Yes, our appointment is for one o’clock.”

“I’ll let him know you’re here. Just wait over there.” She pointed to a small room.

Inside the room were two white chairs and a white coffee table. The window looked out onto a brick wall. The room smelled like chlorine bleach. I wonder where they keep the straight jackets.

My lower lip trembled. Keep it together. Don’t lose it now, Heather. Dear God, if You’re there, I need help. My inner cry, mixed with panic, left my throat dry.

Just then, the door opened and a nurse with a roundish face and nut-brown hair stepped in.

“Hello, I’m Nurse Barb,” she said with authority. “You must be Ms. Williams and this darling must be Caitlin.” She bent down to look into her eyes.

Caitlin smiled, “Hey, you have green eyes, just like me.”

“And how old are you?”

“I’m four and a half.”

“Well then, Miss Caitlin, four-and-a-half, nice to meet you.” She held out her hand.

Caitlin looked at it and finally took it in her own. I liked the way she put Caitlin at ease.

“Well, let’s take you down to meet the doctor, okay?” She led us to another small room at the end of the corridor. On the way, she held Caitlin’s hand, and explained to me the process of examination.

“We will be examining both the vagina and anus. We will be looking for any cuts or scratches. Also, we will be taking photographs of the area. For the first part of the exam, we ask that you not be in the room,” she said quietly.

At my frightened look, she reassured me that this was standard procedure and that there would be two other nurses in the room. She stopped in front of the door and told me that I could rejoin them for the photographs later. Caitlin gave a weak wave and moved toward the nurse who held out puppets for her to play with. I gave her the thumbs-up sign.

I turned and walked down the hall. The lunch-lady receptionist sat upright at her post. Seeing her, I suddenly remembered my keys and asked if she could help me out. She rolled her eyes, but conceded and called a locksmith.

The clock on the wall ticked each second with excruciating slowness. Finally, the examination door opened again. Puppet-nurse waved at me to come in. Caitlin sat on the table giggling with the doctor. She looked over to me.

“Hi, Mommy. They’re going to take pictures now.”

Pinpricks of ice needled my flesh. My daughter’s attitude stunned me. Caitlin took this all in stride, as if we did this on a weekly basis. Obviously the staff here dealt with these situations all the time and knew how to make kids feel at ease. Me, I held my tongue, afraid that if I uttered any word, it’d come out in a wail. I held her hand for support – for my own support as much as for hers.

“Okay Caitlin, please flip over on your hands and knees.” The camera moved mechanically in place. Click, click.

I grimaced. I couldn’t bear to see my little girl in this position. Click, click. Why did they allow me in for this? Why did they think this was okay for me to see? Click, click. The knots in my stomach tightened.

Many photos later they finally told us that Caitlin could get dressed. Puppet-nurse took Caitlin into another room full of play toys.

The doctor invited me to his office. He looked up over the tops of his rectangular, frameless glasses. His teeth were white and square. He smelled good – like a freshly sliced pear.

“Ms. Williams, your daughter showed no bruises or evidence of physical force.”

He waited for me to respond. “Good,” was all I could think of to say.

“Yes, but not surprising. The use of physical force is rarely necessary to engage a child in sexual activity because children are trusting and dependent.”

I frowned in puzzlement.

The doctor continued, “We won’t have the results right away, but at this point I can say that there was no penetration.”

My mouth dropped into fly-catching position. Joy, fear, relief, confusion all at the same time. “What does this mean?”

“He didn’t use his penis to penetrate, however, it does not exclude using other things like his fingers.”

“That’s good, right?” My eyes filled and I had to look up to contain the pooling water.

His voice grew strained. “Yes, of course. Your daughter did not have sexual intercourse. However, without penetration it will be next to impossible to criminally charge him.”

“Oh.” The air rushed out of my lungs.

“Have you been to the police yet?”

I tried to suppress the trill of emotion in my voice. “No, should I?”

“Yes, of course.”

“I’ll book an appointment.”

With this, the doctor stood up and shook my hand. I needed a hug, not a handshake. Deflated, I left to find Caitlin. “Come on, Caitlin. We have to meet the tow truck guy.” I gave her a hug. Oh Lord, I don’t want to let go. I never want to let go.

Chapter 6

The following day when Caitlin and I went to see Sergeant Wallace at the police station, the first thing he did was pull a tape recorder out of his desk. A large man with white hair and capped teeth, he was dressed in a short-sleeved shirt with blue slacks. “We videotape and audiotape all meetings,” he told me. He glanced over at Caitlin who was playing with the toys provided for visiting children in front of what was obviously a two-way mirror. A female police officer, in her mid-40’s with too much eye shadow, introduced herself as Constable Shirley and sat quietly in the corner.

I gulped, feeling as if somehow I was guilty; someone who needed to defend herself.

Sergeant Wallace pulled out a pad of lined paper and a pen. He leaned over the recorder and said, “Sergeant Wallace speaking with Heather Williams. It is Tuesday, September 10.” He sat back up and turned to me. “Okay, go ahead. Tell me what happened. Start from the top.”

My mouth went dry. How do I start? I wondered. “Well, um a few days ago a neighbor friend told me,” I paused. “She told me that Caitlin, my daughter, well she told me that Caitlin…” I couldn’t finish.

I twisted in my chair, uncomfortable and aware of the red blinking light of the video camera in the corner and the scratch of Sergeant Wallace’s pen as he scribbled his notes.

I leaned in and asked, “Should my daughter be hearing this?” I had sheltered her from all talk of the abuse since she disclosed it.

Constable Shirley stood and offered to take Caitlin to another room. I nodded and said, “Caitlin, please take your toys and go with the constable.” Caitlin gathered up her things and obediently went with the smiling officer.

Sergeant Wallace continued, “You were saying?”

“Yes. Well, Donna told me that when she was babysitting the kids one day she...”

He interrupted, “Who’s Donna?”

“My daycare provider. The woman Caitlin disclosed to. Well anyways, one day Donna was babysitting and two boys started to fight.”

“Your boys?”

“No, I have only my daughter. Donna babysits for people in our apartment building.” I continued, “Donna separated them and said, ‘No fighting. No one should hurt anyone else.’ At this point, my daughter said, ‘My daddy hurts me.’” I stopped.

My throat constricted and my tongue expanded within my mouth.

“Would you like some water?”

I nodded and watched Sergeant Wallace walk out of the room. Returning moments later, he handed me a Styrofoam cup filled with ice cold water. I took a long swallow.

“Go on, please.”

“Well, Donna, my babysitter, she took Caitlin aside and corrected her. ‘Your daddy doesn’t hurt you’. But Caitlin said, ‘Yes he does’.”

My eyes started to sting and my nose tickled, but I continued, “Then Donna gave Caitlin a doll and asked her to show how he hurt her – using the doll. Caitlin poked her finger between the legs of the doll and said, ‘Like this.’”

At this, a cry escaped my lips. I covered my face with my hands. “He touched her in her privates. He violated my baby.” My moans became sobs.

Sergeant Wallace turned off the tape recorder and leaned forward. He said nothing but his deep hazel eyes softened. Then almost in a whisper he explained that he would have to talk with Caitlin without me in the room. He offered a tissue.

“Of course,” I managed.

I wiped my eyes, fanned my face, and took a deep breath. Caitlin must not see me like this. I stood, pressed my shoulders back and pulled myself together.

Caitlin returned with a quick, “Hi, Mommy,” obviously content to be led from room to room. I shuffled back to the outside room to wait once again.

The agony of the wait was palpable. The cringing pains in my stomach folded me over in my chair, and twice I had to swallow hard to push down rising bile.

The clock ticked the minutes away. Caitlin sat behind that closed door for a full fifteen minutes. How was she holding up in there? Were they drilling her with questions? Were they making her cry? Were they accusing her of lying? I felt helpless to protect my baby. Oh God, help her. I can’t be in there with her. God do You hear me?

The door swung open and Caitlin walked over to me. “Hi, Mommy.”

I looked up and dropped my hands away from my face. She’s all right. She’s happy.

Sergeant Wallace shifted from one foot to the other. He glanced at his watch, then tapped my shoulder as he turned his back to Caitlin, “We have enough evidence to pull Rod in for an interview and polygraph test. But not enough for a criminal conviction at this point. We’ll need to interview Donna, of course, but mainly we’ll have to rely on the tests from the hospital.”

My heart fell. “So now what?”

“Get yourself a good lawyer.”


Once we were back at the apartment, I pulled out the list of lawyer phone numbers Megan Schwartz, the C.A.S. intake worker, had given me. I picked a name, Eunice Turner, and booked an appointment for later that day. On my way to the lawyer’s office, I dropped Caitlin off at my mother’s. It would be good for her to spend time with her grandparents after such a meeting.

When I got to Ms. Turner’s office, she was sitting at a small round table waiting for me. She dressed in all black, with midnight black hair and ivory skin. I noted a single dark mustache hair over her upper lip.

“You come highly recommended,” I said, sitting in the chair she indicated. My voice was strong, but the inflection at the end of the sentence made it sound like a question.

The office had no windows. It smelled like geraniums. I began to feel claustrophobic. The walls were lined with plaques, awards, and a few pictures of the founders of the firm. Looking down at my russet slacks and plain white v-neck and fleece vest, I wondered if I had underdressed for this meeting.

Ms. Turner, preoccupied with the contents of her briefcase, asked, “Yes, well, how do you think I can help you?”

Anger raced up my throat. I explained my situation as calmly as I could. But how do I coolly state that my daughter disclosed that her father abused her but there’s not enough physical evidence to criminally charge him? I feebly said, “I need to protect her.”

“Yes, well,” Ms. Turner didn’t even look me in the eye. “I have a very busy case load. And my rate is $250.00 per hour. You would have to provide a retainer of a thousand dollars before I could open a file.”

I should have thanked her right then and left. But I was desperate. And she was a woman – somehow I thought she might better understand my pain.

I said, “Is cash okay?”

“Fine, fine. My next available appointment is a week from Thursday. The nineteenth at 10:00 a.m. I’ll see you then.”

I felt as if the bottom had dropped out of my stomach. “Thank you, Ms. Turner.” I stood and left the lawyer’s office.

Chapter 7

Wednesday morning, I readied Caitlin for her first day of senior kindergarten and waved when she smiled from the front seat of the bus. She liked school and I was relieved to learn that Caitlin would have Miss Simmons again; the same teacher she’d loved and trusted last year. I tucked a note into Caitlin’s bag to set up a meeting with Miss Simmons.

I fought the urge to turn into the apartment, pull the blind, and crawl back into bed. I wanted to sleep the day away. But I knew that if I didn’t go to this women’s group-thingy as I’d promised Mom, she’d nag me about it. At least if I went now, it would keep her quiet for a few weeks.

I buttoned my jacket and walked up the street toward the church where the meeting was being held. I turned into the gravel parking lot as I peered skyward in search of clouds, but found only a brilliant wash of blue. The Lighthouse Christian Assembly Church was tastefully garnished with small trees and shrubs. The front sign caught my eye. It read:

Seven days without prayer makes one weak.

I walked towards the door, which swung open as if by magic.

“Good morning. Welcome to Women’s Coffee Break.”

A woman, built like a fire hydrant, held the door open for me. I managed a hello. The woman patted my arm. “Just hang your coat there, Dearie,” she said, indicating a coat rack to my right. “Then go straight through the doors to the meeting room.”

I did as I was told. When I entered the meeting room, I saw six tables with groups of women sitting around each. The place was abuzz with conversation and laughter. At the far end, a piano stood with an overhead projector screen beside it and a table loaded with treats. I could smell coffee and started over to fill a cup. A tall, slender woman with even teeth and strong features approached.

“Welcome,” she said. She extended her hand and clasped her left hand over mine. “I’m Rebecca, the coordinator of Women’s Coffee Break. We’re so glad you could join us. Come, come meet some friends.”

She led me from table to table, introducing me to each woman. Some women had accents, some had white hair, and some had little babies sitting on their laps. I guessed there must have been over fifty women gathered, ranging in age from early twenties to retirees. What a mix.

Rebecca led me to an empty seat at the table near the window. I was a little overwhelmed by the chatty group at the table. But I hadn’t sat there long before Rebecca announced that we were to stand and sing.

Sing? I thought I’d come to hear a presentation.

I hadn’t sung since I attended church with my parents. A woman, knee-deep in her seventies, sat down on the bench in front of the piano. Rebecca put an overhead on the projector and the words to the first song filled the wall.

Jesus, Savior, pilot me, Over life’s tempestuous sea;
Unknown waves before me roll, Hiding rocks and treach’rous shoal;
Chart and compass came from Thee – Jesus, Savior, pilot me!

After a brief solo by the pianist, everyone started singing together. I contented myself with listening. After the first song, the leader posted another. A wave of grief washed over me.

Give to the winds Thy fears;
Hope and be undismayed;
God hears Thy sighs and counts Thy tears,
God shall lift up Thy head.

As I struggled to compose myself the group changed to a more upbeat song. I recognized this one from my childhood church days.

Go, tell it on the mountain, Over the hills and everywhere;
Go, tell it on the mountain, That Jesus Christ is born!

All the songs were about God. What have I got myself into? After the group had sung the last song, we were asked to bow our heads in prayer. Rebecca opened with a prayer of thanks for the glorious day and the women gathered. Then she prayed a special blessing over the speaker. We were invited to sit down.

The horticulturist, a butterball of a man, talked about rootings and cuttings, and made me laugh with his jokes. During question period, I boldly asked him about a window box and he gave me some great ideas for a container garden for the upcoming winter season. After his presentation, a woman closed in prayer.

I looked up at the clock; 11:30. Wow, the time had gone fast. We were invited back next week for a speaker discussing nutrition. I nodded my approval and interest.

Rebecca placed a hand on my shoulder. “We do hope you’ll come back again next week, Dearie.”

“I’d like to, but I can’t promise.”

Once outside, I found the brilliance of the day matched my mood. Was I actually happy? The sensation left me unnerved. I had been so mired in gloom and fear these past days that feeling good felt foreign. I was looking forward to hearing how Caitlin’s first day back to school had turned out.

Chapter 8

I read the name on the paper that Megan Schwartz, the C.A.S. intake worker, had given me; “Play and art therapist – Bradley Booth.” I dialed his number. A warm voice came on the line, “Hello, you’ve reached the Booth home. No one is available to take your call so please leave a message at the tone. If you are calling for Bradley, I’m sorry but I’m not taking on new clients. Have a good day.”

Caught off guard by his message I drew a blank and quickly hung up. Not taking new clients? But he has to. My daughter is too young to go to a clinical psychologist. I want her to get help from someone who can play with her. I want her to like being with a man and not transfer her fears to all males. I don’t want to frighten her anymore by taking her to some hospital where a cold person in a white jacket will psychoanalyze her.

I clutched my throat in distress. I picked up the phone again. Dear God, I need this.

The answering machine picked up again after four rings. “Hello, Mr. Booth? My name is Heather Williams. My daughter has recently disclosed that she has been sexually abused. I realize you’re not taking on new clients, but please make an exception.” I gave him my phone number, let out a breath and put the receiver down.

Just then, the phone rang. Really, could my prayer be answered that quickly?


“Hello, is this Heather Williams?”


“Hi, Heather. My name is Kathy Stammus. I’m the Social Worker from Children’s Aid Society assigned to your case.”

“I thought Megan Schwartz was.”

“No, no. Megan was the Intake Worker. I’m the Case Worker.”

“Oh, thank goodness.” I let that slip out too quickly. “Will we be meeting?” I asked before she could absorb my first comment.

“Yes. When is a good time for you?”

Wow, everyone else just told me when to meet. This woman is asking me. “I’m open tomorrow morning. Is this okay with you?” I asked.

“Let’s see…Friday. How’s ten?”

“That’s wonderful. Do I need to bring anything?”

“Just yourself. See you then.”

I let the air out of my lungs, whew. A small smile crept over my face and I gave a little spin in the room on my way to my daytimer. Blue-Casey took this as an invitation to play and ran sideways to get his favorite toy from under the couch. He brought the little stuffed monkey and dropped it at my feet. I threw it across the room and turned back to the telephone. Feeling strong, I dialed the play and art therapist again. Mr. Booth picked up after only one ring.

“Hello, Mr. Booth? It’s Heather Williams calling.”

“Yes, hello. Please call me Bradley.”

“Bradley. Hi, sorry to be bothering you but I need to see you. I mean my daughter does.” I caught my breath and continued, “Caitlin recently told a neighbor that her father sexually abused her. I don’t know where else to turn.” I had to stop and compose myself.

Bradley coughed. “As you know, I’m not taking on new patients.”

“Oh, Mr. Booth. I am utterly desperate. My daughter is only in kindergarten.” I choked back my tears.

“It was you who had left the message earlier, yes?” He paused. “In light of your daughter’s age, I’m willing to make an exception in this case.”

I let out my breath. “Oh, thank you.”

I could hear pages flipping. “I can meet with her this coming Monday at four. Is this okay?”

I leaned back in my seat, “We’ll be there. Monday, September 16 at four. Thank you.”

I held the receiver at arm’s length and studied it for a long moment before hanging up. There seemed to be a glimmer of hope in my dismal world.

Caitlin was still in bed so I filled up my coffee and decided to take this time to turn on the computer and do some research on abuse. I googled the words “sexual abuse” but 24,800,000 websites came up. I tried again with “child sexual abuse” and landed 8,390,000. I tried one last time and typed in “child sexual abuse + incest” and received 594 websites on this topic. A quick scan made my stomach sore.

I was shocked to see the number of resources and books written on the topic called the “secret trauma”. I learned that sexual abuse of children was far more prevalent than most people realize. At least 25% of the adult population of this country has been molested as children. 25% of girls were molested before the age of sixteen. At least twenty-seven million females were current or future adult survivors of child sexual abuse. That means that out of all those women sitting at the Women’s Coffee Break, twelve of them will have been abused.

I had no idea.

I gasped to read the next part. Incest was the most common form of child abuse.

I continued reading until I heard a small “ping” announcing I had email. I closed out the research page and opened up my emails. It felt like ages since I “talked” to friends on the Internet. I deleted all the junk mail and chain letters and responded to a few messages from close friends.

The last message I opened was from Janice. “Hi Sissy. I’ve been praying for you but I also wanted to “pray by email”, so you can read some of what I’ll be praying.

May Jesus fill you with unbelievable strength, and may justice not be thwarted.

I pray that truth will be evident,
and healing would be the testimony of your child.

I pray that bitterness would not settle in,
but rather that energy would be directed in a positive way.

I pray that out of your own heartache, heart healing would occur,
and you would come into a season of peace and rest

May Jesus protect the path you are to walk,
and may He direct your steps and those of your child,
so that beauty and joy will be the result of your suffering
and may this happen soon,
yes even immediately.

Dear Jesus, I call out to You with tears and anguish of heart
that You would rescue my sister and her child.

Please deliver them, and grant that justice would not be thwarted,
and even in Your display of justice, show mercy.

Let mercy be the testimony of Caitlin and Heather;
may they feel your love and mercy flowing through them –
make Yourself known, O God, I pray.


Janice continued in her message, “How can I express my love for you, Heather? Even as I write, I write through tears – I don’t have the words. I hope the spirit with which I’ve prayed will minister to you and Caitlin. Love Janice.”

I decided to print this email.

Taking a gulp of coffee, I leaned my chair back far enough to look out the window. Blue-Casey was splayed out on the windowsill. Over him, I could see the sparkle of the morning sun on the water. It looked like a lake of a million diamonds. I finished the last drops of coffee, turned off my computer and went to check on Caitlin.

Chapter 9

As I entered the building, I heard a familiar greeting. “Children’s Aid Society. How may I direct your call? One moment, please.” Ah yes, the automated receptionist. She raised her eyebrows as she looked up from her desk.

“Heather Williams to see Kathy Stammus.” She nodded and cocked her head toward the row of chairs. I took a seat and pulled out a few pamphlets: Children and Self-Esteem, Separation and Divorce, Healing the Damage of Abuse. I opened the first pamphlet, but didn’t get past the front page when a young woman approached.

“Ms. Williams?”

“Yes. You must be Kathy.” I stood. “Call me Heather.”

Kathy smiled. “Hi, Heather,” she gave my hand a firm shake. She then extended her hand in the direction of a corner office. “Please come with me. You’ll find this building somewhat confusing with all the hallways. We’ll meet in there.” I followed her in and shut the door behind me.

“Please, have a seat.” She gestured to the round table in the centre of the room.

Kathy wore a plaid skirt with a cream colored blouse and sensible shoes. Her brown eyes contrasted nicely with her blonde, curling hair, brushed back behind her ears. She placed the file she was carrying on the table in front of us and took the seat right beside me.

“I understand that you’ve seen a doctor and been to the hospital?” She patted the thick file.

“Yes. But it wasn’t for me. It was for my daughter.” I wasn’t sure how much she already knew.

“Yes, Caitlin, right?”

I was impressed. I updated her on what had happened since I’d come in to see the intake worker.
“It seems like you have things well under control.”

Yes, it may seem that way but I haven’t a clue what I’m doing. “Truthfully, I’m just following orders.” I gave her a weak smile.

“I know this isn’t easy, Heather. But you’re doing the right thing. Unfortunately, a parent is the abuser in 40% of child sexual abuse cases. You’ve done the right thing in believing your daughter. In most circumstances, children don’t lie about abuse. But many mothers can’t advocate on behalf of their children half as well as you have.”

I could only nod in agreement. If I spoke, my voice might crack and give away the fake impression that I had it all together.

“As you know,” Kathy said, “we’re here to ensure that the best interest of the child is served. Since the incident has been reported we’ve been conducting our own investigation into the allegations. Although there is no physical evidence, we here at the Society plan to order supervision for a period of one year. At the end of that time, the situation will be reviewed.”

“So Rod will still have visits with Caitlin?”

“Yes, but we are recommending that they’ll not be overnight visits and they’ll be supervised.”

“By whom?”

“We understand that Rod’s half-sister, Deana, lives in the area. She’s willing to supervise.”

“Deana?” My stomach did a leap. My ex-sister-in-law and I never had seen eye to eye.

“Do you have a problem with her?” Kathy asked earnestly.

I couldn’t think of whom else would be available. Rod’s parents still lived in Germany. My parents couldn’t stand to even say Rod’s name, let alone spend an entire day with him. Janice lived too far away. All Rod’s co-workers were too young to handle such a responsibility. “Does it have to be someone we know?”

“Ideally, we feel it would be in Caitlin’s best interest if it were a family member conducting the supervision. Do you have a lawyer yet?”

“Yes. Ms. Turner.”

“I’ll fax our copy of the Plan of Care to your lawyer to take to Family Court.”

I was surprised. “We still need to go to court?”

“Yes, your lawyer can explain it to you in detail, but generally each party puts forward a Plan of Care and Settlement Offer. The judge then makes a decision based on the Society’s Plan of Care, as well as that of the mother’s and the father’s offers.”

I wished that I had brought someone with me to take notes. “Is there anything else?”

“Yes, I will need to visit your home.”

The hair on my neck rose. “What for?”

“It’s just standard procedure. Again, we want to ensure that the child is cared for.”

“Of course. I suppose I’ll have to dust now.” My feeble attempt at a joke made Kathy smile.

“Please don’t on my account.” She leaned in and added, “You should see the dust bunnies under my couch. If I don’t get rid of them soon, they’ll take over my living room.”

I laughed, appreciative of Kathy’s down-to-earth humor. We booked Tuesday, September 17 for a visit and she led me back through the maze to the front doors.

I started to feel better about this white building. These people were on my side. They had my daughter’s best interests in mind.

I looked at my watch and realized that I had to hurry home and get ready for work. All these extra appointments really had me running.


I arrived at the dental clinic a little out of breath, threw my coat on the rack, and rushed behind the reception desk to answer the phone, “Good afternoon. Lakeside Dental Clinic. Heather speaking.” I cancelled Ms. Peter’s appointment and rescheduled her into next week.

Connie caught me off guard, “Does Rod know that you know?” As my co-worker, she liked to keep on top of everyone’s life at the clinic. A frantic feeling spread through me like a cup of cold water on an empty stomach.

“What?” I stalled for time.

Connie lowered her chin and looked over her reading glasses. She raised her eyebrows and tilted her head, clearly not willing to repeat the question. “I was talking to your mother and she told me everything.”

“Seriously! I can’t believe Mom told you that.” Pretending to be busy inputting client information into the computer I gave in, “He seemed unusually nervous the last weekend when he brought Caitlin home from their regular visit. He wouldn’t meet my eyes. I didn’t think much of his behavior at the time. Now I wonder.”

I didn’t like to talk with Connie about my personal life, but she had a way of asking questions I couldn’t avoid. I wished that a patient had turned on the television in the waiting area. Where was that remote?

“Is Caitlin supposed to see him this weekend?” She didn’t wait for a response but continued, “You could just say, ‘No, you cannot take my precious daughter, you monster. No, I will not let you even come close to hurting her again.’” Connie didn’t even try to hide her hatred towards my ex.

I thought about what she said. “But could I do this? What if he demanded to see her? No charges have been laid. He still has visitation rights with her.”

“So! If I were you I wouldn’t let him. Why don’t you take her away? You could go to your sister’s place. He can’t order you to let him visit Caitlin, can he?”

Sometimes I just hated Connie’s questions. “I guess I could run to Janice. I’m sure she’d let us stay there.” She’s always had an open door.

“But then if he tracked you down, he could take Caitlin and have you thrown in jail for kidnapping.”

“Thanks, Connie,” I said, my words dripping with sarcasm. But what if she was right? What if he got full custody? What if I couldn’t see my daughter anymore? The room spun. Get a hold of yourself, Heather.

Chapter 10

Relief flooded through me as Dr. Mott stepped into the reception office. A ray of sunshine on a cloudy day. His shoulders were wide. His stomach flat. His arms lean and muscled. Dr. Mott’s eyes sparkled when he said my name, “Good afternoon, Heather.”

“Hello, Bill. Did you have a nice lunch?” I smiled up at my boss. His caramel colored hair fell in his eyes, and he brushed it away absentmindedly. My heart thumped in response.

He gave me a lazy look up and down. “Great. I tried out that new restaurant downtown; you know the one, Samson’s Bistro. I’d recommend it.” He broke into a slow smile. “What’s on the books for this afternoon?”

I looked at the appointment book and told him what to expect.

Always happy for Dr. Mott’s interruption, I felt especially indebted today. When he left, Connie clicked busily at her computer. Thinking of our conversation, I felt acid drip in my stomach. I had just started my shift and already I wanted to go home.

“Bet you’d like Bill to take you to Samson’s Bistro,” Connie whispered.

“Connie!” My face flushed. How did she do it?

Looking up, I saw Mr. Hill enter. “Hi John. Dr. Mott is ready for you. Quick appointment in and out. You’ll be able to get back to work right away.”

“Thanks, Heather.” Mr. Hill continued down the hall to where Gail was waiting.

A young woman returned from the same location and approached Connie’s desk. “Jacquie, your insurance only covers up to $200.00 Owing is $191.96.”

“Gee, you’re more painful than he is,” Jacquie said, throwing her thumb over her shoulder.

“Yeah, I hear that a lot. In there, you’re fine, but once you come out to me, that’s another story.”

Jacquie giggled as she signed her credit card slip.

“Alright, we should see you back in a week? One week would be next Friday, September 20. How’s 1:30 again?”

“That’s fine,” Jacquie said taking her receipt. “See you next week.” She turned to me and said, “Bye, Heather.”

The phone rang. I gave a little wave and picked up the phone. “Good afternoon, Lakeside Dental Clinic. Heather speaking.”

“Heather, it’s Donna. You know I hate to bother you at work, but I think that Caitlin may have chicken pox.”

“Chicken pox?” I said it loud enough for Connie to look up from her desk.

“Yes, her cheeks are flushed and she has dark circles under her eyes. Her temperature registered 100 degrees. I saw a few red bumps on her stomach and more under her armpits and on her back. I can handle her for the rest of this afternoon, but you’re going to need to pick up some medication for this weekend.”

“Yes, of course. Thanks, Donna. I’ll be home at four-thirty.”

Connie looked happy. “What?” I asked trying to hold back my agitation.

“Chicken pox. There’s your answer.”

Connie exasperated me at times. “What are you talking about?”

“Chicken pox! Don’t you get it? She can’t go anywhere. You can cancel this weekend visit because she has chicken pox. You don’t have to run and hide. You have an excuse.” Then turning to her computer, she added, “Someone is looking out for you.”


That evening, after I put Caitlin to bed, I sat cradling the phone in my hands. Could I make the call? My stomach curdled. I knew that he would be out at the pub, but what if he answers his mobile? I must be one for the few remaining people under forty who still doesn’t have a cell phone. I felt like a fish in a seagull’s mouth. I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders and dialed his number. It rang once.

“Hello?” a woman’s sultry voice answered.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I was calling for Rod.”

“He’s busy right now. Can I take a message?”

My mouth suddenly felt stuffed with cotton. “Umm, yes. Can you tell him that Caitlin has the chicken pox and won’t be available for a weekend visit.”

“Oh? Okay, I’ll let him know.”

“Thanks, goodbye.” Whew. I threw the phone on the floor and stared at it. How could I face him ever again? Does he know that I know? Have the police been to see him?

Chapter 11

I looked forward to Monday at 4:00 with great expectation. I had no idea what was in store for Caitlin, but I sensed that it would be good. Caitlin seemed fine after a weekend of warm baths, medicine, and lots of sleep. Although she still had chicken pox, there was no way that I would cancel this meeting.

Traveling up Bradley’s long driveway was like entering a different world. Leaves danced in the breeze. Bossy chickadees flitted from branch to branch. The battle cry of a blue jay scattered a flock of chatty sparrows and the squirrels played tag throughout the treetops. A small orchard of stately dwarf apple trees created a shelter from the busyness of the city. A whimsical violet board-and-batten garage accented the charming A-frame home.

I parked the Jeep and held Caitlin’s hand as we approached the front door. An old dog lazed on the walkway, thumping his tail on the hand-laid stone. Caitlin bent down to pet the dog as he offered his belly for a rub. Taking hold of the heavy doorknocker, I lifted it from its hinge and knocked against the rustic red wooden door. The door opened and Bradley greeted us with a friendly bellow. “Hello!”

Bradley towered over us. His graying light brown hair tumbled in unruly locks over his forehead. His shorts showed hairy calves and he sported a white golf shirt. This man is a doctor? I thought, calmed by his unclinical-like appearance.

“Good afternoon. Come in, come in. You must be Heather and Caitlin. I’m Bradley.” He waved us past him.

Once inside, my eyes adjusted to the light. Posters of different colors and sizes, obviously painted by children, decorated the walls in front of me. A shelf held an antique dollhouse and a variety of porcelain dolls. An arched doorway led to a smaller room. Bradley invited us in.

“Caitlin, you can play in here while I talk with your mom. After we’ve talked, you and I can play. You can decide whether you want your mom to stay or not. Okay?” He smiled wide enough to see the gap between his two front teeth.

Caitlin’s eyes widened as she took in the scene in front of her. Floor to ceiling shelves held a variety of small toys and objects – plastic animals, yellow trucks, leafy plants, porcelain angels, stuffed dolls. Plastic, glass, rubber and papier-mâché. Almost every imaginable toy. A bulky sandbox took up the centre of the room. Caitlin went straight for the plastic animals. She pulled a large elephant and one baby elephant off the shelf and plunked them in the sandbox.

“That’s it, Caitlin. You can play with anything in this room.”

Caitlin looked to me as if to ask, “Can this be true?” Pleased for her, I confirmed with a smile and nod.

Bradley stepped back into the hallway and I followed. He stopped and turned to face me.

“I will be working with Caitlin mainly in this room, although we may go upstairs to the studio to do painting or play with the puppets. The premise behind play and art therapy is that a child can better express how they are feeling by acting it out with their toys. Play helps them to make sense of their world. Many children don’t have a strong enough grasp of language to express themselves the way they need, and many times they aren’t even aware of how they truly feel. Play helps them to express complex emotions. Is there anything you’d like to tell me?”

Yes, yes. I’d like to tell you that I’m living in hell these days; my personal hell. I’d like to tell you that I’m lost in all this – confused and upset. I’d like to stay here myself and play all day and never go home.

Instead, I turned my back to Caitlin as I told him about what had happened in the last two weeks.

Bradley’s jovial smile faded. He nodded as if he’d heard the story too many times before. “Children are resilient. She’ll get through this. You’ll both get through this.”

“Well, Caitlin,” he re-entered the room, “would you like your mom to stay or to leave and come back later?”

“I want mommy to stay.” Caitlin didn’t even look up from her world of animals.

“Okay, Heather, you're welcome to stay in this room or spend time in the library."

"I'll be right next door in the library Caity-Cat."

I sat on a low stool and tried to listen in on Caitlin and Bradley's "play" in the next room. I realized the hour had flown by when another car pulled up and Bradley announced that his next appointment had arrived. He pulled out his pocket daytimer and asked if we could come back again at the same time in two weeks.

Caitlin looked up with pleading eyes. “Of course, that would be fine,” I said.

Caitlin smiled and said to Bradley, “See you again soon!”

Bradley answered, “I’m looking forward to it.”

Chapter 12

I glanced at the clock as the intercom buzzer sounded. Kathy Stammus was right on time.


“Yes!” came back her cheery reply.

“Caitlin’s still sleeping, so knock softly.”


I buzzed the downstairs door to let her in. Moments later, she quietly knocked. Kathy’s hair was wrapped in a thick coil on the back of her head. Her gaze was direct and friendly.

“Come in, Kathy. Did you have any trouble finding us?” I gestured her in towards the sofa.

“No, I’ve lived in Holland all my life and do quite a few home visits. I know the area well.”

“Oh,” I glanced around anxiously. The magazines were stacked neatly on the coffee table and the coaster was waiting. “Can I offer you a coffee or tea?”

“Yeah, tea would be great, thanks.” Sitting at the couch Kathy looked around the small apartment.

I put the kettle on to boil, searched the cupboard for some breakfast cookies, and put them on a tray with the milk and sugar bowls. Blue-Casey trailed me around the kitchen. “Sorry, I let Caitlin sleep in when it’s not a school day.”

Kathy reached into her briefcase and pulled out a file folder. She pushed aside the magazines and opened it. “I need to take some notes,” she apologized. Once the water boiled, I returned from the kitchen with the tea and plate of cookies.

“So, Caitlin’s in school half-time?”

“Yes, she’s in senior kindergarten and goes to school on Mondays, Wednesdays and alternate Fridays.”

Kathy continued. “You have joint custody with Rod – you having primary residency, right?”

“Yes, she visits with him every other weekend.”

“How long have you and Caitlin lived here?” Kathy asked before taking a sip of her tea.

“We moved in after Rod and I separated.” I said, sitting down in the rocking chair. “I wanted to be somewhere close enough to walk to work and also keep Caitlin at the same school. We like it a lot. The other people in the apartment are really sweet. Lots of older couples.”

She nodded encouragement as she wrote. “Where does Rod live now?”

“He doesn’t really have a permanent address. As far as I know he stays at friends’ places or his sister’s home.”

“Can I ask why you and Rod broke up?”

“We had a difference of opinion,” I said. “I thought we should be together forever and he thought nine years was long enough.”

Kathy scratched notes quickly between bites of her cookie. Just then, Caitlin appeared at the end of the hall, clutching her teddy bear. Her hair was unruly, her face sleepy; she looked like a baby mole. She yawned.

“Mommy?” she asked. Caitlin shuffled over to me, keeping her eyes on the floor.

“Hi, Caity-Cat.” I responded lightly to reassure her and lifted her into my lap. “Caitlin, this is Kathy Stammus. She’s going to visit with us this morning.”

Caitlin eyed Kathy carefully then turned slowly back to me. “She’s a little shy and quiet when she first wakes,” I added.

Kathy lowered her chin and gave me an all-knowing look. “Well, you sure have a nice bear there. What’s his name, Caitlin?” Caitlin just touched her curls and looked down at the floor. Kathy tried a different tack. “Mind if I look around? Caitlin would you show me your bedroom?” Caitlin shrugged and I interpreted for her, “Sure, go ahead.”

While Caitlin took Kathy for a quick look around her bedroom, I set out a bowl of Cheerios for her.

Kathy returned to her seat on the couch, only to find Blue-Casey sprawled on top of her notes. “And who do we have here?”

I shooed Blue-Casey off the papers and apologized, “So sorry. This is Blue-Casey. He loves to lie on papers.”

“Blue-Casey? What an interesting name. Where did it come from?”

“Well, simply because he’s a Russian Blue cat that looks blue; Caitlin wanted to call him Blue. But
I wanted to call him Casey. So we compromised and combined his name. It suits him, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, he seems to be a character. It almost looks as if he’s smiling.” Kathy wrote a few more notes and then asked me, “Do you have any questions for me?”

“How long do you have?” I said with a weak smile. “This is all so foreign to me, I really don’t know where to start.”

“Were you able to get counseling for Caitlin and yourself?”

“Yes! I was thrilled when I got an appointment with Bradley Booth on Monday.”

“That’s wonderful.” Kathy’s smile was warm and genuine. “He’s a great therapist. I’ve heard nothing but good things about him. He’s helped a number of our kids. What about for yourself?”

I felt my face flush. I’m a parent first, then a person. “No, I haven’t really had time,” I faltered. “But I do journal.”

“Writing about your experience is good. But you may also want to consider counselling.” Kathy reached into her briefcase and pulled out a business card. “This is the number for the Holland Counseling Service. They specialize in these sorts of cases.”

“Thanks. I’ll think about it.” I took the card.

Kathy finished her tea and put her cup down on the empty cookie plate. “Well, I won’t take any more of your time. I’m sure you and Caitlin have plans today.”

“That’s it? I thought you were coming over to interrogate me,” I said with a laugh.

“No, just a formality really. I need to ensure that you have a safe and stable home for your child. Your apartment obviously has adequate living and sleeping space. I’ve seen Caitlin’s room and she has personal privacy and possession of her own property.” She reached over and tapped Caitlin’s bear on the head.

With a smile, Kathy continued, “We look to ensure that the child receives sufficient and adequate clothing for her size.” Caitlin pulled at the sleeve on her pajamas. “Caitlin looks healthy and I can see that you provide her with nutritious meals.” She waved her arm toward the kitchen where a bowl of fruit sat on the counter. “I’ve seen that you’re able to carry out the essential parenting duties.”

Impressed I said, “You got all that in just one short visit?”

“Trust me, I’ve been doing this for a long time. Sadly, I can tell right away when it’s not being done. Throughout any investigation, our agency's primary focus and responsibility is the safety and well being of the child. It’s obvious to me that Caitlin is well taken care of here.” She started towards the door. “Have you met with your lawyer yet?”

“I’ve booked an appointment to meet with her on Thursday.”

“Good. I’ll be filing my report with the courts. I’ll see you again at the Settlement Conference.” Kathy reached out her hand to shake mine. “Nice to meet with you again.” She came back and knelt down near my still-sleepy daughter. “Bye, Caitlin. It was nice to meet you, too.”

Caitlin looked up from her bowl and gave a small wave. “Bye.”

After Kathy left, I turned to Caitlin, “Well, now that we’re both up, what do you say we go out today and pick some stuff to create a nice flower box?”

Caitlin smiled. “Okay.”

I looked at my young daughter. It’d be nice to spend the morning together outdoors collecting ornamental grass, dried flower heads, and red-barked dogwood. I’d like to just hang out, doing something light and breezy.

Tears glistened in my eyes. “I love you, Caity-Cat.”

Caitlin bounded up and with a big, smacky kiss on the side of my head she said, “Love you too, Mommy.”

Chapter 13

Had a week flown by already? Here it was Wednesday morning again, not unlike last week, with the sun shining. I waved to Caitlin when she got on the bus and then started my walk a block west from Main Street up the cracked sidewalk to the red brick church at the end of the road. I chuckled at the posting on the sign. It read:

Sign broken
Message inside

I wasn’t caught off guard this time when the door swung open on my approach. A new woman cheerfully greeted me at the door.

“Good morning,” I responded, hanging my coat on the rack. Once through the double doors, I moved straight towards the coffee. The sweets looked tempting.

“Hi, Heather!”

I turned to face the voice and immediately recognized my old friend, Sarah. “Hi. What are you doing here?”

“I come every week, except I missed it last week. I love it. My daughter, Tessa, plays downstairs while I get to enjoy time with adults.” Her eyes crinkled with a genuine smile. “Want to sit down?” she gestured to two empty seats. We chatted about the cooler weather and the speaker from last week. She had a melodic laugh that she offered freely. Sarah then placed her left elbow on the table and leaned her chin on her hand. “So, how are things?”

“It’s been a tough time.” I said, fighting the sting at the back of my eyes.

Sarah squeezed my hand as we stood to sing and whispered, “I’m here for you if you need.”

I nodded my thanks. One of the songs sounded the same as last week although I didn’t feel confident enough to share in the singing. Then Rebecca, the leader, opened in prayer and welcomed the speaker. The speaker was a petite feather of a woman. I listened with interest as she talked about nutrition, carbohydrates, protein, and fats. I even took notes. After her talk, Rebecca reminded the group that they would be starting a Bible study next week and invited the women to sign up for a specific study.

Oh, well. I would have liked to come again to listen to another speaker.

“Have you signed up for a study?” Sarah’s question stole me away from my thoughts.

“Oh, no. I’ve never done a Bible study before. I don’t know much about the Bible.”

Sarah smiled. “That’s why we have Bible studies. So we can learn. I came last year and loved it. You don’t even have to own a Bible – they supply them.”

She must have read my mind. “I’ll think about it.”

“Would you like to come over to my place for a cup of tea?” Sarah asked.

“I’d love to but I have a meeting with Caitlin’s teacher before I have to get to work.”

Sarah smiled. “Maybe next time.”

I rose to go. Rebecca saw me leaving so I gave a little wave to her. She came right over. Taking my arm in hers, she pulled me toward the table displaying the variety of studies to choose from.

“Have you picked a study yet?” She scanned the sign up sheets for my name.

“Well, no.” About to tell her that I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to do a study, she wrote my name on a sheet.

“Heather, Dearie, what’s your last name?”

“Williams, but...”

“And your phone number?”

I gave it to her but then protested that I hadn’t decided yet to come.

“Well, Dearie, these studies fill up fast, you know. I’d love for you to join us. Here.” She gave me the study book to read. I glanced at it, and the words popped out at me.

Forgiveness. Do you feel angry and bitter? Is there someone in your life who has hurt you? In this four-week study you will learn the healing power of forgiveness.

My mouth dropped open. How did she know?

“I’ll think about it,” I said. I liked these women; they all seemed so genuine. And I liked the singing. And I liked the prayers. But a Bible study? I might look stupid. I only remembered a bit from the gospels that I’d learned at school and although I went to church at Christmas and Easter with my parents, I’d never “studied” the Bible before.

Walking home, the sun warmed me. Maybe I’ll just check it out. It doesn’t cost anything. I’ll just go next week and if I don’t like it, I can quit then. Yeah, I’ll give it a try.


I arrived at the school just in time for my meeting with Caitlin’s teacher. Clumps of colorful wildflowers overflowed in the front gardens. A sharp blast of warm air met me as I opened the heavy front door.

I put my purse on the floor and sat in the only other “adult” chair in the classroom. The industrial carpet reeked of disinfectant. “Thanks for agreeing to meet with me on such short notice, Rose.”

Rose was as wide as a loveseat and she smelled of Tommy Girl. Her hair was a pretty shade of vanilla with russet highlights. Her smile revealed straight, tiny teeth. “Oh, no problem. The year has just started, and I’m not too crazy busy yet.”

“I wanted to talk with you about Caitlin. And changes from last year.” I looked at my shoes. “I’m not sure how to say this without seeming blunt.”

“Heather, if you have something to say please just say it.”

My heart beat in my ears so hard I could hear it. “Well, you know Caitlin. You taught her last year. You remember that Rod and I are separated?” I struggled for words. “Well, I found out that Caitlin’s been abused.”

“Oh.” The air seemed to be knocked out of Rose. “I’m so sorry to hear this.” She placed her hand on my shoulder. “How is Caitlin?”

“She’s doing okay. My family’s been very supportive and she’s going to see a play/art therapist.”

“And you? This must be so awful for you.”

I looked away, then took a deep breath before continuing. “I wanted to tell you in case Caitlin says anything in class. Also, I’m not sure whether she will be missing school because of it.”

“Hmm. It makes sense. I’d noticed a difference in Caitlin’s behavior from when she started school to the end of last year. She started out vibrant but then became more and more reserved over the year. She even started to suck her thumb.”

“Yeah, I know. We’re working on that.”

“They say that hindsight is 20/20, but now I see all the signs were there. How did I miss it? She became more aggressive with the boys in the class and lost interest in a lot of the stuff. How could I miss it?” She put her face in her hands.

“It’s not your fault. It’s nobody’s fault. I lived with her and I didn’t even know.”

“Did they catch the abuser?” Rose looked hopeful.

“Well, that’s the other thing.” I pressed one loose fist against the bridge of my nose. “It was Rod.”

Rose gasped. “Oh, my goodness.” She shook her head. “He seems like such a nice guy. I guess you just never know.” Her eyes glossed over and she looked away. “You just never know.”

When she turned back, her eyes brimmed with tears. Her gaze lingered on my face, but I could tell she wasn’t seeing me. She was tangled in memories. “For me, it started at age five. My own grandfather.” Her hands shook. “My mother did nothing. She knew but she did nothing.”

Heat crept into my face. “Oh, Rose, I’m so sorry. I had no idea.”

“No, of course not. How could you?” She stood and walked to the window. “It wasn’t until I moved away that I could even talk about it.” She turned to face me. “Can you believe that I finally confronted him on his death bed?” A small smile grew on her face. “It was only then that he admitted to what he did and asked my forgiveness.”

I whispered, “Did you forgive him?”

“Oh, yes. You know, forgiveness isn’t about helping the abuser. It really helped me.” She walked over to the shelf of books and started to rearrange them. “I finally was able to let it go and get on with my life. It’s been a long road but I’ve learned to cope.” Rose let out a long sigh. “But I still struggle with trusting others.”

“And your mother?”

She picked up an overstuffed pillow to hug to her belly. “We have a strained relationship at best. I find that I have to keep working at forgiving her. The pain is always there like a pebble in my shoe.” Rose took my hand in hers and her expression lifted. “If I had a supportive and caring mother like you, I’m sure I wouldn’t have missed out on all those years of my life. Caitlin is very lucky.”

I let out a nervous flutter of embarrassed laughter. “Thanks.” I didn’t feel like Caitlin was very lucky.

“If you like, I’ll ask the principal to put a note in Caitlin’s file. But we’d need a court order if you want us to not allow him to see her.”

“I’m working on that right now. I just wanted to tell you. Just in case. You know, keep your eyes and ears open.”

“Yes, of course.” Rose gave me a hug. “I’m so sorry, Heather. I’m here for you if you need to talk.”

I let out a shivering sigh of relief. “I appreciate it. Thanks.”

Chapter 14

I arrived right on time for my meeting with Ms. Turner. I hoped to talk with her about this Settlement Conference and what we would be putting in a Plan of Care. The receptionist, a fine boned woman with half-moon spectacles, asked me to take a seat and wait. My hands twisted in rhythm with the twisting sensation in my stomach. My foot tapped my briefcase in time with the clock ticking.

The woman beside me let out a small sigh every once in a while. She was here before I arrived and appeared to have been here for a long time. I watched the clock and grew more impatient with each passing minute. Finally, the secretary called me into the inner offices.

Ms. Turner sat at one end of a boardroom table with papers scattered all around. She looked up when I entered and abruptly asked me to take a seat in a high-backed leather chair. She smelled just slightly of coconut.

“Ms. Williams. It appears that both the C.A.S and the Police Department have been conducting an investigation into this case. I have talked with representatives from both places.” Without looking up, she continued, “Obviously, we do not want to bring the case to trial because it’s very difficult to get a conviction in child sexual abuse cases with only one victim. Especially since the daycare provider didn’t follow proper protocol.”

“Proper protocol?”

“Yes, the law requires that she report the abuse to the Children’s Aid Society. Instead, she reported it to you and you brought it to the attention of the C.A.S. This complicates things.”

“How so?” I let out a long, slow breath.

“Rod can use this in his defense.” Ms. Turner’s molars grated back and forth. “Your daughter is too young to stand on trial. It’s best to present a Plan of Care at a Settlement Conference and let the judge decide.”

I nodded in agreement.

Ms. Turner went on. “I talked with a Sergeant Wallace from the police and he reported the results of your husband’s lie detector test.”

“My ex-husband,” I corrected.

“He failed. Twice.”

“That’s good, right? We can use that in court, right?” A ray of hope filtered into my world.

“Well, yes and no. We can’t use the results of a lie detector test as evidence. However, we can allude to the fact that he failed it.”

My ray of hope spiraled downward into my shoes. “I don’t understand.”

Ms. Turner explained that a judge would not accept the outcome of a polygraph as solid evidence. However, it could strengthen a case if it were mentioned in the court papers. She went on to say that, although she personally believed the tests to be solid, the courts had always disputed this fact and so it’s never been allowed as evidence.

I asked her why they went through the trouble to do the test and why Rod would accept it.

Ms. Turner speculated that Rod’s lawyer recommended he take the test. If he refused, this would automatically make him suspect. But if he took the test and failed, his lawyer could dismiss it as non-admissible evidence. If by chance he passed, then his lawyer would filter it into their court papers one way or the other. His lawyer was probably curious, too, whether Rod would actually pass the test.

My brow knit in confusion. The legal system seemed backwards. If someone took a lie detector test, was asked if he had sexually abused his daughter, and then failed it two times, wouldn’t this be enough to charge him? I tugged on a hangnail. And even if a man did not use his penis to violate a young girl, could he not be charged criminally? The system I’d been counting on, one of honesty and integrity, began to shed its skin. For the first time the rosy glasses that I had worn to view my world were looking smudged.

Ms. Turner sat forward, knees together, one high-heeled foot tucked behind the other. She explained that the C.A.S. deemed Caitlin in need of protection, and they would be recommending a family member supervise Caitlin.

Rod’s Plan of Care included a narrative that not only denied the abuse but also included a theory that I had coached Caitlin. Ms. Turner read from Rod’s document, “The father’s theory of the case is that the mother taught her daughter to make these allegations, and has, in essence, brainwashed this into her.”

My stomach lurched. What? What kind of monster does he think I am? What kind of mother would teach her child to say such horrific things?

Ms. Turner continued, “Rod seems to think that the statements made by Caitlin were made because she was being taught to say and believe such things.”

My throat felt tight. Still reeling from this lie, I found it hard to concentrate on what Ms. Turner was saying.

I remembered conversations with Rod in the past where I told him that I would not tolerate lies. He seemed to think that “little white lies” were okay, and especially okay for a young girl. He found it fun to use Caitlin in his schemes to beat the system and coached her to lie if they ever were caught. I specifically remember the day they returned from the grocery store excited that he had got away with putting thirteen oranges in a bag while paying for only twelve. And another time when he replaced old laces in his boots with new ones right in the store. It made me sick to think that he now accused me of doing what he had always done.

“Ms. Williams?” Ms. Turner’s voice was razor sharp. “Do you agree?”

“I’m sorry?” I felt a little like a tongue-tied trout.

Ms. Turner curled her lips in a saccharine smile and repeated what she had just said. She reviewed the Plan of Care that we would present. Because it was a Child Protection Issue, I would be agreeing with the C.A.S. to provide supervised access visits. However, I would be requesting a third party provide the supervision instead of a family member. I signed the forms.

“The court date has been set for Friday, September 27. You need to be present at the Family Court House. Please arrive by nine.”

Relieved to have this meeting over with, I packed my papers into my briefcase and nodded goodbye to the receptionist.

Once outside, the cool air stung my cheeks. The bright sun shone in stark contrast to the dark office I had just left. I felt as if I were walking in a dream – more of a nightmare.

In my Jeep, I heaved my briefcase onto the passenger seat. My composed professionalism puddled onto the floor of the Jeep as I collapsed in a pool of tears.

Eventually, I pulled myself together and drove home. Once back at the apartment, I brewed a cup of tea tinged with honey and lemon, wrapped the couch throw around my shoulders and pulled the rocking chair up to the window. Blue-Casey saw this as an invitation to curl up on my lap and sleep. Clouds blocked out the sun and hung low. Some black, some gray, but they all spoke the same thing – misery. I felt miserable.

In the solitude I thought about justice. All I wanted was justice – was that so much to ask? When a little girl says she’s been hurt, is it too much to run to her side and help her? If the world was right and I had my way, the police would have been at Rod’s door the night I made the first phone call to the C.A.S. The police would escort him to jail, where he would wait until his trial. Then at his trial, the judge would accept the little girl’s words as truth. He would send Rod to prison for at least ten years. There, the other inmates would show him the horror and humiliation that he inflicted on his own daughter. They would remind him of his crime every day. He would be tortured physically and emotionally. Oh, if only the world was right. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

But instead, I sat looking out my apartment window at the dreary world as it truly was. I calculated what my next step would be to defend my daughter.

In my misery, I let my thoughts wander. It would have been so much easier to ignore it all. What if I just said to Donna, “Thanks for bringing this to my attention,” and poured her another tea? Oh, I could have ignored it and continued on with life as if I had never even been told. I could just go back to the way life was before all this. Life would have been so much easier.

But then that would have been the second time that Caitlin called out for help. Surely if she were ignored again, she would have died inside.

And reality was here. I could fantasize and wish this all didn’t happen, but that wouldn’t make it go away. I stroked Blue-Casey’s fur with the back of my fingers.

I continued to let my mind wander. What would life be like if I never had a girl? If I had a boy maybe this wouldn’t have happened. Maybe Rod and I would never have even separated. We could still have been together in our big home living the life I deserved to live.

The guilt of wishing Caitlin was a boy smacked hard across my face. New, hot tears rolled down my cheeks. If only I were stronger. If only I were a better mother. Outside the full clouds mirrored my tears and spit bonbon-sized drops of rain against the window.

When the phone rang, I felt as if I had to look up just to hear the ring. I threw a blind hand toward the ringing phone.

I spoke into the receiver in a scratchy voice, “Hello?”

“Hi Sissy, it’s me.”

“Hi Janice.” I had little energy for anything more.

“God placed it on my heart to call you. Is everything okay?”

Her sympathetic question made my composure crumble. “Oh Janice. I just want him dead. Why do I have to go through this? What is wrong with this world? What is wrong with the justice system?” My sobs slowed as my anger rose.

“I know, Heather. It doesn’t seem fair. But you can find peace knowing that God is caring for you.”

“God?” I spit out His name. “Where is He in all of this? If He were taking care of me then I wouldn’t be in this situation to begin with.”

Janice remained calm. “You can’t blame God for the evil in the world. He doesn’t cause it. But He is here for you when it does come. And He’s on your side. Even if this world doesn’t give you the justice you deserve, God will.”

“What do you mean?” I asked. I settled on the couch with my legs tucked under me.

“Well, ultimately God’s the one who delivers justice.”

The next sentence came out with a cough. “I thought that’s what we hired lawyers for.”

“In the Bible, it tells us that human errors result in imperfect justice but God knows all things and He knows best how to see that justice is done. We have to leave room for God’s wrath.”

When Janice said that, I envisioned a thunderbolt coming from the sky and striking Rod dead. I smirked.

“Sissy, read Romans 12:17-21. It’s in the New Testament.”

“Thanks, Janice, I love you.”

“Love ya, too. Is there anything I can do for you?”

“You already have.”

“I’ll call you soon. Bye.”

I had to think about where to find a Bible. Oh yeah, at the Women’s Coffee Break. I wrote down the scripture verse and made a plan to look it up the next time I went to the ladies group.

Padding over to my bed, I burrowed under the covers and thought, “Wrath – I like that word.”