Later on, during the summer of 2011, I got another call from Mary. This time she called me from a hospital where she had been taken after a car ran into her while she was riding her bike. She said she was crossing the street and didn't see the car coming and it slammed into her and sent her sailing across the pavement. Luckily she survived. It was the first I'd heard about her accident. Her mom hadn't called to tell me about it even though Mary was living with her at that time. I guess she didn't want me to know anything about Mary, even something like this.
But Mary wanted me to know about it, and I could tell she was worried someone might find out she was talking to me again. When I asked her if I could come up and see her, she had to think about this for a while, and then she told me she thought it was better if I didn't. She never said why, but I was sure I knew the reason and I respected her decision. I only wished it hadn't taken a car accident to get her to call me. It was the last time she called me.
The next day I had an appointment with my doctor. The first thing he did was ask me about Mary:
"How's your daughter doing?"
"What do you mean?" I replied, wondering how he would have known about Mary's accident.
"I saw her name in the paper. It looked like she was hit by a car."
I didn't know her accident had been in the paper. And if she hadn't called me from the hospital, I would have first found out about it from my doctor or the newspaper. But this was becoming the way I found out nearly everything about my kids at that point — secret phone calls, a friend I might bump into, the news, or friends of my daughters I meet on the street.
One afternoon I was walking out of the Walgreen's store in my neighborhood when I noticed a couple of young girls sitting outside with their dogs on leashes. They looked familiar, but I couldn't place them right way. Then one of them spoke to me:
"Is your name John Brosnan?"
"Yes. Do I know you?"
"We're Grace's friends. You're her dad, right?"
"Oh yeah, I remember you guys. You were in all those plays with Grace and you live just down the street."
They were friends of Grace's, but it had been over a year since I had seen them and they had grown in that time. They were sisters who had been in a number of plays with Grace, and all three of them were close friends. But I never saw Grace's friends anymore because I seldom saw her anymore. We talked a little, and then I asked them if they had seen Grace lately. I realized how strange this probably sounded to them, but I was trying to find out anything I could about my kids any way I could.
"We've hardly seen her at all this whole school year," they told me. "Whenever we call her, she always says she's too busy with homework to spend any time with us."
I thought this was odd. These girls had been close friends, and I think they also thought it was odd that Grace was isolating herself now like she was. I recognized the excuse, however; it was the same one she and her mom used whenever I called her, and the one her mom used to keep me away before she started calling the police on my whenever I tried to see Grace. I think isolating Grace like this was her way of keeping Grace from having to answer awkward questions she might get about her dad's absence in her life. But it's also a symptom of abuse; and what she was doing to both my girls is considered abuse by experts who understand children and the emotional trauma this kind of manipulation causes.
Like with Mary, Grace was also being told to have nothing to do with me. And it seemed like the less time she and I spent together, the more her hatred for me grew. And also like with Mary, I was never told what I had done to make her suddenly start hating me. But by now I understood what was going on. I could see the writing on the wall, and I knew that what had happened to my relationship with Mary was soon going to happen to my relationship with Grace and that there was nothing I could do to stop it.
Even though emotional abuse doesn't leave visible scars like physical and sexual abuse does, it's still visible to those who know what symptoms to look for. And kids who are being used in the way my girls were being used are more susceptible to bullying and other types of manipulation. When children feel threatened with abandonment, withdrawal of love, or even pain by someone more powerful then them who expects them to adopt a belief system that is foreign to them, they have to cope with this somehow, and their coping strategies can be visible to someone paying attention, while being oblivious to those who don't care or don't realize what they're doing. I don't think her mom necessarily wants to do these things this to her kids; I just don't think she can help herself. And to her, wining is everything. Winning what, I'm not really sure. But at what cost, I'm all too well aware of.
Karen hadn't told me anything about this problem Grace was having at school that I had to find out about from her friends. And I think her friends were as concerned as I was for her, and probably confused when they realized they had to tell me about it. I had to call her school counselor to talk about this, and it was the only conversation I ever had about this problem with someone who knew my daughter. What a position for a parent to have to be in.
Here I was, living literally blocks from my girls, yet light-years apart in reality. We didn't exist in each others' lives anymore even though we were both straining to connect with each other while fearing the consequences of a crazed social worker or their mother if we were caught trying to connect. I was in the dark about my girls and left to rely on kids I run into on the street, the newspaper, or who-knows-what to find out what was going on in their lives.
Mary had badly wanted me to know she was in an accident, but she knew her mom wouldn't tell me nor want her to, and so she had to call me when she knew no one was listening, like she did when she was in Oregon. And regretfully, she couldn't allow me come up and visit her while she was hospitalized. What a position for a child to have to be in.
Later I learned that Mary had fractured a disc in her back from her accident. But that's all I know about it to this day. I still don't know exactly what happened to her the day the car ran into her except from what I've read in the paper. Her mother won't tell me anything. Mary could have been killed when that car hit her, and the books I have on nonverbal learning disorder remind parents that, because their children have spatial perception problems — where their physical proximity to other objects is impaired — they are especially susceptible to accidents when riding their bicycles in traffic. I don't know if anyone had warned Mary about this or not. I'm guessing not, but I hope someone is talking to her about this now.
I wanted to ask her mom how badly Mary or Grace would have to be hurt in order for her to call me to let me know about it. But I'm afraid I already know the answer, and so I'll just keep checking the papers.