Lauren Gregory, who was raised on a horse farm, discovered a love for writing in sixth grade when she learned she could move people with words. She misplaced that love for a couple decades and traveled the world in the Navy, floundered through two college degrees, and embarked on raising a rowdy son who’s too much like her. She found that love again on a cold November morning in 2013, and they’ve been locked in a tortured embrace ever since.
These days, she writes novels, maintains a history blog, and herds poodles in her native Colorado.
March 30, 2016
A shudder rolled through my body, a quake fracturing the surface calm. Tears came, and I cried. Big, wet sobs of horror and sorrow.
I’m not a bleeding heart. I dislike confrontation; I often avoid controversy and distance myself from emotional topics. Some would call me a pessimist, a cynic. So it’s rare that an event outside my tiny sphere brings me to utter despair.
It happened today.
First, I read a news item which reported a development in the case of a woman who had stabbed and decapitated her three-month-old infant on the kitchen counter. Authorities revealed the mother had been forbidden contact with the child due to psychiatric issues, including likely postpartum psychosis. The baby had been placed in the care of an aunt, who turned around and let the mother move in. The report provided few other details. I will probably never know how the case is resolved.
Later, I read another. This one announced the sentence of a foster parent who had routinely mentally and physically abused the eleven-year-old boy he and his wife intended to adopt. The man burned his face with a hot wire and twisted his fingers with pliers. They denied him food and clothing. They handcuffed the child to the front porch and tied a dead chicken to him. The wife worked for Social Services. The man pled guilty and received six to ten years for his crime; the wife awaits trial.
At day’s end, I clicked on a headline that read “Pregnant woman attacked, baby cut from womb.” The mother-to-be had answered an ad offering baby clothes for sale. A female stranger proceeded to beat and stab the woman. Then the stranger cut the unborn baby from her stomach and left the now un-pregnant woman to die. The attacker showed up at a hospital claiming to have suffered a miscarriage. The baby died. The woman’s life was saved. I may hear of the outcome, some months or years down the road—but only because it happened in a town not far away.
I cried. I cried for an hour imagining the terror that woman felt. The terror of a worst nightmare coming true, the grief that will never heal.
I cried for the boy—a boy the same age as my son—and the pain he endured at the hands of someone who was supposed to save him from whatever circumstances left him without a family. The pain of a child whose scars will never heal.
I cried at the thought of a tiny baby lying in a kitchen in a pool of blood. The infant’s only mark left on this world a stain of red, and anguish that will never heal.
I cried because I suffered a family with mental illness and abuse, as so many others have. Band-Aids hide the scars, and isolation smothers the pain. I survived, but I have wounds that will never heal.
I cried because these stories will likely fade, like most stories on mental illness and domestic abuse and death. The perpetrators will pay a small price but receive little treatment. Their victims will struggle to find peace and receive little treatment. And there will be more stories–the few that make it to the news–likely to end the same.
Medical advances have come far in treating disease and improving health, but mental illness remains a poorly understood and neglected problem. It is not possible to prevent every instance of violence, especially when it happens in the privacy of a home. There are many mental health issues we cannot predict. But we can do better.
We must do better. We must provide resources to learn better how to detect and treat mental illness. We must demand more treatment centers, hospitals, and insurance coverage. We must have the courage to help those in the depths of pain many of us don’t understand, because that pain spreads just like any communicable disease. Mental illness isn’t catching, but it is an epidemic we cannot ignore. No one is immune; it strikes every sex, age, race, religion, and economic level. It is an illness that inflicts wounds, visible and invisible, far and wide.
Wounds that never heal.
To read more letters, click on The Path!