Reform Rochester Now!

Making city and citizens self-sustaining

The Queen of Water

Please, Doña Mercedes, just answer my question.” My lip is quivering. “Tell me how fathers show love for their daughters.”

She sighs. “Well, fathers love them and respect them. But fathers can’t touch them like that. Don’t let anyone touch you like that, Virginia. Understand?”

This is a book review, of sorts. Several months ago, my 4th grade daughter Mandy brought the book, The Queen of Water, a full 354 page novel, home to me. She really wanted me to read it. She bugged me and bugged me. I think I maybe got to Chapter 7 before I had to put it down and do schoolwork of my own. The next time I picked it up, I got about halfway through Chapter 18. The next time I picked it up, again at Mandy’s urging, was a few days before her dad came to get her for their Spring Break visit this year.

“My library teacher says she’s going to start charging me money for the book if I don’t return it,” she said. Plus, I had just been suspended from my private college, so I had some time on my hands. I was shocked by what I read, and I asked her about it. She didn’t remember the part I was referring to; she had to go back and start re-reading.

* * * * *                               * * * * *

I still remember the problems we had getting her into counseling when Mandy was in second grade. Each therapist made me sign a form prior to treatment that they could not testify about their findings in court. The first professional I took her to see cost me $400 a month out of pocket, even though Mandy was covered by her dad’s insurance. She was a Christian therapist and we really liked her, but I later found out one reason her services were so expensive was because her agency was committing a practice called “balance billing” made illegal during the Clinton administration. She had been an out-of-network provider, so we tried in-network providers. The next therapist told me sessions were pointless because Mandy only wanted to talk about baby kitties and puppies and Pokemon. Weeks later, I found out she had told my daughter during one session “maybe your father is right.”

It all began September 11, 2010. Mandy was sleeping over at the home of a little girl whose older brother was in Mandy’s kung fu class. We were close with their family because it turned out they went to a Protestant church I attended weekly with dear friends. At about 10:30 pm I got the call. The mother had walked in on her and my daughter and they both had their panties off. Mandy, older than the other girl by 2 years, was pressed for an explanation. She said boys at the summer camp had touched her that way and that they threatened bad things would happen to her or her mom if she told anyone.

I cried for three straight days. It was the first time since my daughter was born that I’ve regretted giving her life. I hope it will be the only time.

* * * * *                               * * * * *

At 6 years old, Mandy looked just like a Barbie doll. A beautiful little girl with long blonde hair, Mandy had had problems with bullies all through first grade, which was why at the end of that year I enrolled her into a kung fu academy. The night first grade started, she told me something happened at summer day care with her dad in Texas that made her feel really bad about herself. Boys had done things and said things to sexually humiliate my daughter. They made her take off all the dolls’ clothing and kiss their naked bottoms. They told other children that Mandy was a naughty girl and because of this, no one would play with her. I called her dad immediately and he said there was nothing he could do about it because it had happened six weeks ago. I never expected he would put her into the same summer day care again the following year.

The trials of the year bookended by my daughter’s time spent in the Texas summer day care will have to be the subject of a different post. Suffice it to say after what happened, therapy seemed higher on the priority list than kung fu. It was a blessing I got out of my contract with the kung fu academy quickly. I’d like to say I did it by asking nicely.

I took her immediately for a medical exam and then to a child advocacy center, where Mandy was interviewed at length. When it was over, the interviewer told me Mandy was a captivating and charming child and, smiling indulgently, said that very bright children sometimes have a “precocious” curiosity about things, like the human body. No cause for alarm. And that was that. I was tempted to believe that nothing was wrong. I took myself out for Ethiopian food the next day for lunch to celebrate. My mental vacation was a short one. Slowly it dawned on me that there had been other incidents, too, and they had taken place immediately before and right after Mandy’s visits with her dad.

* * * * *                               * * * * *

“Mandy, I need to talk to you about what happened at the sleepover,” I said. She wasn’t going to tell ANYONE what happened. She didn’t want to talk about it anymore. By this point it had been several days since then, maybe a week. I had tried to fake her out that night on the car ride home. “I know everything that happened,” I said, trying to coax new information out of her. She shut me down with, “do you know what happened two years ago?” I remained silent, trying to guess. Two years before that, she had been living with her dad. She was only four years old. Summer day care hadn’t happened yet.

“Mandy, sweetheart, listen to me. You can’t touch other children under their clothes. EVER. You’re not allowed to touch ANYONE like that until you’re old enough to drive a car, okay?” I said. “The other thing you need to know is, don’t EVER touch anyone younger than you under their clothes, okay?” She said she would follow those two rules.

What else can you say to your child to protect them when no one believes you?

* * * * *                               * * * * *

Christmas was coming. It was 2010. Mandy was acting funny, and I decided to file a restraining order. Mandy’s dad got an attorney who chose the law guardian, an overweight man with a lazy eye. The judge ordered me to hire a lawyer. My lawyer told me I would lose no matter what, then started scheduling monthly hearings. At least five years younger than me, he dropped dead of a heart attack months afterward. I found this out from another lawyer I called in the city for advice. After spending more than $750, I still owe the dead guy’s firm money.

The law guardian made no pretense that he despised me at the initial hearing. After I hired the attorney, he sent me the papers accidentally on purpose the day of the hearing instead of sending them to my lawyer. This guy is so creepy no sane parent would want their child taking candy from someone like him, but he went to my daughter’s school to ask her questions.

I realized there would be no restraining order, so I scheduled a service project for my daughter involving the Children’s Cancer Center and Locks of Love. The process took 6 weeks. She wrote a paper for school about a film I watched with her and gave a talk at our church about serving others. Then, two or three days before her dad came for her, we cut off all her beautiful hair. The lady at the salon called the cut “an inverted pixie bob” and because of our 6 weeks’ preparation, it wasn’t traumatic for Mandy at all.

The day we showed up at the airport to meet her father, there was a strange feeling in the air. Her father was repulsed. It seemed for a moment as though he didn’t want to take her or even touch her. Mission accomplished. Like magic, the bed wetting and pants wetting stopped, the hysterical crying fits and the centerfold posing where the child juts out her crotch suggestively. That was gone. A temporary but effective solution that would buy Mandy and me some time and sanity. I had asked for supervised visits and the judge had compromised by saying no more out-of-state day cares, so that was something.

Last summer when he brought her back, I heard him say in a strange tone of voice, “ohhh, your lovely hair is almost all grown back now.”

* * * * *                               * * * * *

It’s truly amazing in this society that someone on public assistance would need to retain a lawyer, and that paying legal fees, considered by most a luxury, are just as necessary for those in desperate need as paying rent or basic household expenses. But they are, though I’m not allowed to claim them on my taxes or ask the Church for help paying my lawyer.

And, in case you’re wondering whether I told my lawyer the story you’ve just read, the answer is Yes. Word for word, several times. When he heard the latest developments, he had the following suggestion for me before he changed the subject.

“Get Mandy into counseling.”

Quote taken from page 159 of The Queen Of Water by Laura Resau and María Virginia Ferinango, copyright 2011 by Delacorte Press.

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