Columns 2012

A life cut short

Of course, the first question that comes to mind is “Where were her parents?” While this 14 year old lay in a bed dying of a heroin overdose, why weren’t her parents concerned with where she was all night? Maybe they weren’t part of her life or, if they were, they were not a terribly positive part.

Death is always a sad moment. But when the death comes to someone who should have been scheming about how to get her parents’ permission to go to the school dance with a 16 year old and not how to get some 28 year old to shoot her up because she couldn’t find a vein, it bewilders and angers us beyond the normal sadness of a life ended.

I want to grab this man who shot up a 14 year old and scream at him, “How could you? How could you look at that girl and not have even the vaguest sense that injecting her with heroin was a simply heinous act?” But that wouldn’t bring her back. And it wouldn’t explain what she was doing there that night. Why was she with people so much older than she was? Why did they think it appropriate to have her at their “party”? Why, of all the people in this town who will happily party with you for a free high, did they chose a 14 year old? PTSD simply doesn’t answer those questions adequately.

I’ve been alive long enough to know that troubled kids can come out of the best of families and that the worse of families can produce some pretty outstandingly amazing children. But given the glaring absence of any family publicly mourning a young life so criminally wasted, I’m going to guess that this girl’s world was such that it led her to escape into drugs to make daily life a little more bearable. Her sober reality was probably less than bearable.

When you work with kids who have been damaged by life long before they are seemingly old enough to have one, you find out they have a lot in common. Most have had little stability in their lives. Most have seen abuse or been abused in one form or another. Most have adults “supervising” them who you and I would not let supervise our Chia pets. And most are looking for love, affection and affirmation of their existence from anyone who will give them a smile or a nice word. Unfortunately, that affirmation often comes with a steep price from some pretty creepy people. But if you’ve never really known what true affection is, then you really don’t have any guidelines that tell you the affection you are getting is wrong.

The sad truth is that this young girl’s problems probably started long before that needle found a vein. Because most kids simply do not go from being fairly well adjusted human beings with a healthy family relationship to lying on a bed asking someone to shoot them up. That bed was the end of her journey. Its beginnings were far in her past and there is probably not a soul in the field of child abuse prevention and treatment who couldn’t outline her probable story for you in their sleep.

Here’s what we know for sure. If a child does not form secure emotional bonds in the first three years of life, the likelihood that they ever will is dramatically reduced. If a child does not have stability and some affirmation of their self-worth, they will probably think they are pretty worthless and act accordingly. And all the treatment and help that society can throw at them when their problems come to light are not going to be able to fully make up for what they lacked from birth.

We make people get a license to drive a car. We make them wait until they are 21 to drink.  We won’t let them walk into a voting booth until they are 18. If we can do that, why can’t we set up some rules for becoming a parent? Because unless we catch the problem before it starts, we are always behind the eight ball in trying to fix it. And this poor young girl will be just another in a long line of sad, untimely deaths.