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.