My eyes jerk open, but I lay still. Darkness swallows me; my heart
pounds in my chest. My son is asleep at my side, oblivious. Why am I
awake? And why am I afraid? Was it a nightmare? Did I hear a noise?
Yes! There! A noise from downstairs. Someone is pounding on my door.
Four times, five. Muffled voices. I rise, careful not to wake my son. I
find my slippers first, then my robe. I twist the sash about me and
leave the sanctuary of my room.
I pause at the top of the stairs. I am trembling, and the pounding
starts again, louder, more urgent. The door shudders in its frame. My
hand reaches for the banister, pulls back, moves forward. I descend the
Voices again, shouting now.
“Open the door!”
Lights flash outside my home, stabbing through the frosted glass that
frames the wounded door. Red. Blue. Red. Blue. Fire. Water. Blood.
Why do I think that?
I am at the foot of the stairs now. The voices are still screaming, the
lights still flashing. My son calls to me from the top landing.
“Daddy? What’s wrong?” His bare feet glow. Red. Blue. Red. Blue. “What’s
“It’s nothing,” I say. “It’s only the police. There’s nothing to be
My hand reaches for the doorknob.
My cruiser’s lights alternate red and blue, bathing the sleeping street.
Tonight we’re raiding a meth-lab, nestled right in the heart of
suburbia. I check the warrant against the address painted on the curb.
Is it 125 or 126? In the dark it’s hard to tell.
Other cruisers are arriving. Officers are milling in the yard. There’s
no time to debate it.
I motion them forward.
At the door, I start pounding with my fist. The place doesn’t look like
it hides a drug lab, but who can say, anymore? You’d be surprised what
lurks in plain sight. Besides, it doesn’t matter. We’ll find out soon
“Police!” I shout. “Open the door! Search warrant!”
No response. I pound some more, shout again. A few more seconds and I’ll
order the ram. Other officers run to the rear and sides of the dwelling.
My adrenaline is high. But the door opens. A man stands before me. He is
hugging a robe around him; a woman’s slippers are on his feet. Why do I
always get the perverts?
“Can I help you?” he asks. He acts confused. Perverts and druggies are
“Search warrant,” I respond, shoving the paper at him. He glances at it
and hands it back unread.
“I don’t understand,” he says. “There must be some mistake.”
“Daddy? What’s going on?” A child’s voice.
A young boy is standing at the top of the stairs, naked except for a
thin pair of boxer shorts. His knees are scabbed and bruises dot his
shins. His arms are wrapped around his chest and he is trembling. His
eyes are huge and frightened when he looks at the man he calls “Daddy.”
“Go back to bed,” the man says to him. “I’ll be along in a minute.”
I look at the man, then the boy. Something’s wrong here. ”Along in a
minute”? What does that mean? Where is the woman? Why is the boy
scared of this man? And why are they both almost naked?
No, I don’t like this at all. If this is what I think, it’s far worse
than any meth-lab.
“Sir,” I say, “I need you to step outside. I have a few questions to ask
I wake up and rub my eyes. I was having a bad dream, the same one that
chased me into my Dad’s bed earlier tonight. In it, I was lost in a dark
place. I couldn’t find my way home. No one would help me. No one would
listen to me. I called out for my Dad, but he couldn’t answer. Strong
monsters held him back, tearing at him. Others grabbed me and dragged me
to their lair, pulling me away from him. He was crying . . .
Daddy! Where is he?
I cross the room on tiptoes, listening; the floor is cold. There! I hear
him in the hallway. Red and blue lights swim through the house like
“Daddy?” I ask. “What’s wrong? What’s happening?”
“It’s nothing,” he says. “It’s only the police. There’s nothing to be
Then why am I afraid?
Daddy opens the door. A policeman hands him a piece of paper. They
speak, but I can’t hear what they say; other policemen are coming in.
“Daddy?” I repeat. “What’s going on?”
“Go back to bed,” he tells me. “I’ll be along in a minute.”
The policeman looks at me funny, then he takes my Dad outside.
“Is that your Daddy?” he asks, later.
I nod. Someone has put a blanket around my shoulders; it is making me
“Where’s your Mom?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “She works a lot.”
The cop nods, as if he understands. Maybe he does.
“You always sleep with your father?” he wants to know. “Or just when
your Mom’s not here?”
“Just when Mom’s not here.” Because the bad dreams come when my family
“Does your father ever touch you?” he asks.
“Sure.” He hugs me all the time and rides me on his shoulders and lets
me sit on his lap to watch baseball on TV . . .
The cop nods again. He’s started scratching notes in a small pad.
“I guess so.” So what? He’s my Dad. He’s supposed to.
“He touches you when you sleep with him?” he looks at me funny again,
but I nod anyway. I want to ask him why this is important. Didn’t his
Daddy ever hug him or scratch his back until he fell asleep?
“Were you scared?”
The dream was really bad tonight. Should I mention the dream to this
policeman? Would he understand?
“Don’t worry, son,” he says. “You don’t have to be scared anymore.”
But I am.
The room is small, dimly lit. I smell stale smoke and strong coffee,
though I have been offered neither. I shiver, and draw my robe tighter
“What’s the matter?” the cops asks. “Scared? You should be. You have any
idea what they do to guys like you?”
“This is absurd,” I say. Guys like me? “I’ve done nothing
The cop leans forward, a sudden co-conspirator. “Why don’t you just play
along and cooperate? Just tell us what we already know, and we’ll let
you go home.”
“I have done nothing wrong,” I repeat. “I want to speak to a lawyer.”
The cop pushes himself away from the table, stares at me. “If you’ve
done nothing wrong then you’ve got nothing to be afraid of, do you?
Nothing to hide. You don’t want to bring the lawyers into this.”
He spreads his hands as if to say, See how reasonable it is? You’re
blowing this all out of proportion.
“I want a lawyer.”
“Then are you gonna tell me why you had a half naked boy in your
“I already told you: he’s my son. He had a bad dream. He was scared.” I
look at the cop, hard. There is a cold glint in his eyes, a tiny smile
teasing the corners of his lips.
“You might as well tell me the truth,” he says. “Your son already told
us all about it.”
“All about what?” What is he talking about?
“Everything,” the cop smiles. “He told us everything.”
I’m sitting on the couch in my office. The boy is curled at the far end,
hugging his knees. Someone has brought him clothes. They are too big,
but they hide the bruises on his legs. He regards me with wary, wounded
I’ve seen them before.
“I’m a Psychologist,” I say, smoothing my blouse. “Do you know what that
The boy shakes his head.
“It means that people come to me with their problems. We talk about
whatever’s bothering them, and I help them to feel better. It also means
that anything you say to me stays between the two of us. A secret. You
understand?” I nod when I ask this, encouraging his agreement. It works.
“Don’t you want to feel better?” I ask.
He nods. He is close to tears. Both are good signs. A lot of these kids
don’t even know they’ve been victimized until I tell them.
“What do you want to talk about?”
The boy looks confused, and doesn’t answer. I try again. “Do you want to
talk about your father?”
He shakes his head. I scribble a note on my pad. “Do you want to talk
about what happened tonight?”
Hesitant. I pursue. “It’s ok. I won’t tell anyone. Just between us,
He nods, and the first tears trickle down his cheeks.
And that’s how it begins. The challenge is to get them to open up, to
wear through their resistance. Being a woman helps. Once these victims
start talking--or crying--they’ll tell you everything you want to
The woman, the Psychologist, hands me a tissue. I take it and wipe my
eyes. She scribbles something on a large yellow notepad. It makes a
scratching noise that reminds me of the policeman.
“What’s going to happen to my Daddy?” I ask. She looks at me and smiles,
but it looks like a frown, too. “You want to help your father, don’t
I nod. I love my Daddy.
Scratch scratch scratch. . . .
“The best way you can help him right now is to talk to me,” she says.
“Can you do that?”
I nod again.
She asks me the same questions as the policeman. I give her the same
answers. She asks a lot of other questions, too, mostly about my Dad.
I’m very sleepy; I can’t keep track of them all.
Scratch scratch scratch. . . .
What does she want me to say? If I say it, will I get to see him? Will
we get to go home?
“Your father likes to wrestle with you?” she asks.
“Yeah.” We wrestle all the time.
“He likes to tickle you?” She’s nodding again.
I smile. “Yeah.”
“But sometimes he makes you do things you don’t want to do?” She looks
like she’s waiting for something important. I wonder what it is?
“Uh-huh,” I say.
Homework, chores, eating all my peas before I can have any ice cream . .
Scratch scratch scratch. . . .
“And that makes you feel bad, doesn’t it?” Her eyes are big now, and she
is still nodding. I nod too, but I’m not sure why. Just tell me what to
say so I can see my Daddy again.
Scratch. She closes her big yellow pad.
“Don’t worry,” she says. “This will all be over soon and then you won’t
have to feel bad anymore.”
The policeman said that, too.
I wonder when they’re going to be right?
Do I get to see my Daddy now?
My throat is dry. I sip from the glass of warm water and miss the
“I’m sorry,” I say. “Would you repeat that?”
The prosecutor makes a great show of frowning. “I said, ‘What do you do
for a living?’”
“I’m a teacher.”
“So it’s fair to say that you like children?” The prosecutor turns her
back to me, faces the jury.
“Of course I like children,” I say. “What has that got to do with any of
“So you admit that you like children.” Her tone is mocking, as if that
alone is a crime.
“It’d be hard to teach otherwise,” I say. But the jury doesn’t laugh. My
lawyer gives me a sign; he is reminding me: only answer yes or no. Don’t
give her any more ammunition. A small knot begins to form in my stomach,
twining itself tighter with each question.
Have I ever touched my son?
I hug him all the time!
Have I ever seen him naked?
I used to change his diapers!
Do I play with him?
Checkers. Baseball. Nintendo . . .
Do I kiss him?
I’m his father!
Do I go into his room at night?
To read to him! To make sure he’s asleep!
Have I ever hurt him?
I spanked him once; he darted into traffic and was almost hit by a
car. I’ve never been so scared in my life.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, your decision is simple.” I always
begin my closing arguments with the same words. I want to make it as
easy as possible for the jury to vote for conviction, and if they think
it’s easy then it becomes easy.
“We have heard the sworn testimony of a decorated police officer: a
small child found half-naked, bruised and terror-stricken, in the same
bed as a grown man.”
The Jury shake their heads.
“We have heard the testimony of a highly credentialed Psychologist: a
little boy traumatized by his father. Touched, kissed, fondled. Used as
a tool to satisfy the twisted needs of a very sick man.”
The Jury frowns.
“We have heard from the victim’s mother: a frequent traveler who has no
idea what goes on in her home while she’s away. She testifies of the
father’s ‘unusual’ affection for his son. Her husband’s ‘unhealthy,
obsessive’ involvement in his work--work that brings him in contact with
dozens--if not hundreds--of potential victims every day.”
In the Jury Box, arms cross and brows furrow.
“We have heard from the Abuser, a man who admits to touching his son,
caressing him, hurting him. His own son, ladies and gentlemen.”
The Jury scowls.
“And we have heard from the Victim himself, the little boy whose
testimony is most damaging of all.”
I pause to show the Jury that I am sympathetic to the boy’s suffering,
and to the pain the Jury themselves must endure while listening to these
acts of barbarity.
“In his own words the Victim says his father touched him on more
occasions than he can remember. Relentless ‘wrestling’ and ‘tickle
torture’ during which the Abuser ran his hands freely over the Victim’s
“Kisses. Touches. Sharing the same bed.”
The law gives me incredible leeway in any crime involving a child; the
burden of proof is all but shifted. Now it is time to finish. I point to
the Abuser, but my eyes lock on the Jury.
“That man,” I say, “has shown no remorse for his crimes. He refuses even
to admit that what he has done is wrong! He is a dangerous man, ladies
and gentlemen. Do you really want to release him into your neighborhood?
Do you want him teaching in your schools? Teaching your children?”
I see the looks of fear and horror and anger as the Jury glares at the
Abuser. They have already made their decision. This case was almost too
easy. I struggle to contain my smile.
I’m sitting on the bench in the courtroom, holding Mommy’s hand. She
cries a lot these days. I do, too.
The Judge bangs his gavel and I jump. It sounds like the police pounding
on our door.
“Has the jury reached a decision?”
A fat woman stands and fiddles with her shirt. She’s trying not to
smile. “We have, your Honor.”
“What say you?”
“We find the defendant Guilty.”
The courtroom erupts with applause, like someone just hit a homerun.
“Your Honor, please! The warrant!” It’s my Dad’s lawyer. He hasn’t said
Bang! goes the gavel.
“The law is very clear on these matters,” the Judge states. “Any
instance of suspected child abuse must_ be reported and acted
upon, regardless of the circumstances under which the abuse was
discovered. Failure to do so is a felony offense. We’ve been over
The lawyer sits down. He has given up; I can see it in his eyes. I
wiggle closer to Mommy. “What’s happening?” I whisper. “Can Daddy come
Mommy is crying into a tissue and doesn’t answer me.
The Judge is talking again. “. . . further finds that the mother of the
Victim was negligent in protecting her son from this abuse. The Victim
is to be placed in foster care until such time as the courts can
determine . . .”
A strange woman in a business suit is coming toward me, arms
“Mommy?” But she is gone, pulled away by a crowd of people who pet her
and whisper mean things about my Daddy.
Bang! The gavel.
The strange woman takes my hand, pulls me away, too.
“What?” I cannot move. I can barely think. How can this be happening?
There has to be a mistake. I turn to my lawyer, but he is already
shoving his notes deep into his briefcase.
“You have to help me,” I almost shout. “You have to appeal this!”
“I’m sorry,” he mutters. “I’ll file an appeal, but there’s little hope;
not in a case like this.” He will not meet my eyes.
I lurch to my feet. The bailiff is coming for me. I stagger backwards,
toppling my chair. The room spins. Where is my wife? There! I cry out to
her, imploring her. Help me! Do something! Do something!
She turns away. Her friends and family--our friends, our
family--surround her, comforting her. Do they comfort me? I need your
help now! Help me!
But they only glare.
I hear their whispered comments as they usher her to safety.
“We’re so sorry . . .”
“We had no idea . . .”
“We should have known . . . ”
“We always suspected . . .”
“We should have said something earlier . . .”
Strong hands grab me, throw me to the desk. My arms are pinned behind my
back. Handcuffs bite my skin. The last thing I see as they drag me from
the courtroom is my son.
He is crying.
I hear the jeering and the catcalls from the other inmates long before I
see the new guy. He walks down the center of the corridor, as far from
the taunts . . .
. . . and thrown toilet paper as he can manage. But he can’t hide
forever, and everyone here knows it.
“It won’t be long now, Daddy-O!”
“Don’t fall asleep, Papa-Bear!”
His head is down. He hugs to his chest his prison issue: blanket,
pillow, a roll of toilet paper, a toothbrush. A bar of soap. Don’t drop
that! He is pale and skittish in his orange jumper.
“You’re my bitch now, baby!”
“Let’s see how you like it!”
He won’t last long.
The guard stops in front of me. The door clangs and slides open. The new
guy cringes as he enters the cell--my cell--and again when the bars slam
shut. The taunting is louder now, vulgar. Obscene.
On the other side of safety, the guard chuckles. I can hear him
whistling as he strolls away. As soon as he is out of sight, I move in.
My first blow catches the new guy unaware.
The cheers become deafening.
No, I think, advancing, he won’t last long at all.
The Social Worker --she calls herself a Child Advocate--takes my hand as
I climb out of her car. I try to pull away, but she squeezes tighter and
my hand starts to hurt.
“You don’t have to be afraid anymore,” she tells me. A lot of people
have said that since the police knocked on the wrong door, but saying it
doesn’t make it true. “Your foster family is very nice. You’ll like it
here; they have some boys about your age.”
She half-drags me across the yard. A large man and his wife--my foster
parents--come out to meet us. They shake hands with the Social Worker
(Child Advocate). Everyone is smiling, but they haven’t even looked at
me. She hands them a slip of paper that looks like a check, then gives
me a little shove forward.
Then she is gone, and I’m alone on the porch with my new parents. They
aren’t smiling anymore. None of us is. They are eyeing me, sizing me.
Glaring at me. Three boys cower just inside the door behind them. Their
eyes are narrow and fearful, and somehow malicious through a cloud of
My foster father drops his heavy hand on the back of my neck and pushes
me into his house. The monster taking me to his lair.
The door closes behind me, darkness descends, and the children scatter.
x x x
The last line made me shudder--but then, so did the whole story. Mr.
Phillips has scared me twice, now: last year with Harvest Moon,
this year with this. Did he scare you, too?