Sunday, June 10, 2018


My library gave me a free copy of "A Child Called "It": One Child's Courage to Survive," by Dave Pelzer.  They had duplicates.  I don't know why.  The book is short, simple, and horrific, a detailed account of the torture of a child by his mother.  I've read many of this kind of book and also the fewer accounts of the torture and death of a pet, which is closely related.  Famously, the first child abuse case was presented to the court as that of a little girl, who came to the judge wrapped in a horse blanket.  

Pets are accepted child stand-ins.  These cases present vivid examples of strong emotion, both negative and positive, entwined.  The only way known to chill is with drugs or alcohol.  (Until jail.)  But the molecular derangement of pregnancy and birth are known to occasionally trigger a mother to kill her children.  Fathers' abuse is linked to the frustrated desire to control and is sometimes enacted directly on the child but often passed through the mother: he controls her, she controls the children by force.  Isolation from other relationships makes this more likely.

Giving an inchoate and unstoppable event like child murder a cold Latinate name like "filicide" and then doing studies that render suffering into percentages, we have turned the hot coin over and "chilled" it into a subject that is bearable.

"In a 1999 United States Department of Justice study concluded that between 1976 and 1997 in the United States, mothers were responsible for a higher share of children killed during infancy, while fathers were more likely to have been responsible for the murders of children aged eight or older."

"Furthermore, 52% of the children killed by their mothers (maternal filicide) were male, while 57% of the children killed by their fathers (paternal filicide) were male. Parents were responsible for 61% of child murders under the age of five.  Sometimes, there is a combination of murder and suicide in filicide cases. On average, according to FBI statistics, 450 children are murdered by their parents each year in the United States."

"Dr. Phillip Resnick, who published research on filicide in 1969, stated that there were five main motives for filicide, including "altruistic," "fatal maltreatment," "unwanted child," and "spousal revenge."  The fifth category is psychosis, so who knows what the murderer thought?  Often, they thought they were saving the child somehow."

"Filicide, or the murder of one’s children, while an unthinkable crime to most people, is seen in many countries around the world and in every social class."  

In our time we have dropped some of the sentimentality.  Separation of children from parents at the Mexican border is only one example.  We bomb places we know will kill children.  We withdraw health insurance from children.  We refuse to fund schools.  Yet there are factions who fanatically oppose abortion on grounds of compassion, then lose interest as soon as the child is born.

Since they lose interest in infants and toddlers as well as the years from five to the onset of puberty ("between" years that are easy to exploit for simple labor), they never know that this timespan is crucial to the development of persons, a kind of skill and identity gestation that creates effective citizens.  Kids are seen by some as objects, until they are subjects for sex.  Treating children like objects creates adults who treat children, pets, nations, and the natural world as merely objects with no life of their own.  

But all this is multi-stranded.  Some children suffer because their parents cannot see them as separate from the parents themselves and impose the same demands and punishment on their children as they require of themselves.  Sometimes it's mild and loving and the only abuse is impatience in the child with his or her confinement and expectations.  When the adult love between the parents turns into hate, children may be killed out of revenge.  At animal control we learned how often people brought pets for euthanasia out of hatred for the pet owner.  We tried to find out about their marital status, but not many people bother to marry these days so there is no record of relationship.

When enlarged by power, these dynamics start wars and commit wartime atrocities.  This is why Trump is seen with so much alarm by those with backgrounds in social sciences: he shows all the signs of a tortured child desperate to please a father who is dead by reproducing a caricature of a man already distorted and out-dated.

Among the many writers who used to be identified as "Montana writers" was a woman raised with sisters on a remote ranch by a deranged father.  His meek and obedient wife produced the girls.  The oldest one was regularly strung up by wrist ropes to the rafters, naked, so that her father could whip her bloody with a horse whip.  The place was remote, unvisited, unaddressed by the law or neighbors because no one knew and the daughters didn't believe they would get help. The writer was that girl, now grown and competent.  Her book was presented with the others at the book "festivals," but it didn't sell and her talk made people squirm.  Some quietly left.  Too real, too present.

In Portland when I was growing up the neighbors were a Swedish carpenter on one side and a German machinist on the other.  We knew all about each other.  When I went back briefly in the Nineties, the neighborhood had become black.  The Swedes sold to a respectable, quiet black family.  They had a young daughter and my mother sheltered her between school hours and her parents getting home from work.  Milk, cookies, stories for a smart youngster.  Happy times.

When this girl was grown, she found drugs and her own marriage exploded.  She had a little girl but her parents died and she herself became a witch, a monster either in a rage or zombified.  She never dressed.  The child was retarded, almost inhuman, a Caliban.  

I heard a puppy shrieking in agony and went to see what was wrong.  The little girl had pinned it down on her front porch and was beating it with a stick.  I called, "Is there something wrong with your puppy?  Can I help?"  Roughly she grabbed up the whimpering animal and rushed it into the house.  I rang the bell but no one answered.  In a few hours the mother threw the limp body of the puppy out the back door and there it lay in the weeds until it disintegrated.

I had been an AC officer.  I wanted to intervene or at least turn them in.  My mother begged me not to because she was terrified of the mother.  "She has no limits.  I have to live here."  In the end I wasn't staying there anymore.  I don't know how long before someone acted and the neighbors were gone.  Maybe it was the Filipinno academic artist who moved in on the other side of that house.  He was less afraid of crazy people.  More likely the house was taken for debt and the bank evicted them.

We live among a million murder mysteries and never solve them.

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