“Human Disinterest.” A short story from my upcoming Anthology ‘Front-Line Heroes’ #RRBC #IARTG #IAN1

 

Broken hearted

My latest work in progress is an anthology of stories dedicated to the bravery of men and woman worldwide. ALL those that silently and without fanfare hold down the Front Lines. ALL the front lines. On the streets of any town, anywhere, you’ll find them, The Policeman, Paramedics, Firefighters, Nurses and Doctors and all their support personnel. Those on the battle-fronts in foreign lands, and those on the battle-fronts of streets peopled with others that have slipped through the cracks and crevices of the world we now live in. The many brave souls that endure the lasting, life changing flashbacks, and battle each and every day with the nightmare that is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

These are their stories.

Human Disinterest

by

Suzanne Burke

PART 1. The Offer.

Jenny Thurston hung up the phone, then sat in her creaking office chair and gazed longingly up at the brief glimpse of sky visible in the confined space permitted to a two-story building surrounded by towers of concrete and glass.

Brad Levinson hesitated momentarily outside the door, and then he walked heavily, the sound of his intrusive feet deliberately loud to gain his boss’s attention.

“’Sup, Jenny?” He asked.

“I had a phone call, just now. CNN want to do one of their ‘A Day in the Life of…?’ series.”

“Wow, Jenny … I mean, hon, that is huge!”

“Oh, it is huge alright. It’s not a focus on me or our work here they’re after; they want to do a three part series based on interviews with our street folks. They want me as the as head of Street Angels to gain them introductions after they have carefully chosen their preference. Jesus, Brad … they don’t give a crap, that just want someone guaranteed to spike the ratings.”

“Well that would have been a fast conversation. You didn’t threaten them, did you … Jenny?” He looked at her face and found his answer, “Oh, Jenny … not again?”

He was trying hard not to laugh and failed miserably.

“Winters coming fast, Brad. I don’t have time for this shit. You know we stand to lose a few. The donations always slow down around now.” Jenny smiled and then said, “Anyways, I made them an offer.”

She stood then and stretched her lean frame, “Let’s go over those rosters again for tomorrow night. You know it’s going to get crazy. Friday night and a full moon both at once. I’ll need our most resilient on duty. Can you contact the guys for me, please?”

“Whoa, go back a second, you made them an offer? Please tell me it wasn’t one they couldn’t refuse.”

“Yeah …Don Corleone, I’m not.”

Brad just grinned and said, “Coffee first?”

“Always.”

He laughed again. Jenny was like this most of the time. The other times weren’t so hard to witness knowing that this Jenny …his Jenny would be always come back.

The coffee mugs were washed, and the roster argued over and finally completed before Brad approached the subject of the CNN offer again. “C’mon … tell me, what did you say?”

“The repeatable stuff?”

“Oh, hell. C’mon, Jenny, spill it.”

“Simple stuff really, I get to choose the folks they speak to; and this Melisa Doyle, the woman conducting the interviews … she spends some time with me first. No cameras.”

“Do you think they’ll do that?”

“I doubt that this little ‘Human Interest’ special will be enough of a ratings booster to bother. I don’t think they’ll be in contact, except to say ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’”

“Did they talk about donations, relevant to the story?”

Jenny looked stunned … “Oh, hell. I guess they didn’t get around to that; I may have been a little abrupt. Besides, they wouldn’t agree. It would cramp their style too much.”

“Hmm … I guess we wait and see.”

 

***

Jenny was wearier than usual this morning. She moved reluctantly under the covers testing her limbs before she slid silently out of her warm bed.

She checked the clock on the wall, reassured as its strangled old bell clanged through the morning silence. “You and me both, buddy.” She commiserated with the worn timepiece.

It was barely seven am, and Jenny was anxious to learn the final outcome from last night’s patrol. She and the ‘A Team’ the Street name the folks they looked out for had given the staff and volunteers of Street Angels, had had a long, bad, sad night.

Jenny had finished her shift barely five-hours-ago, and some of the younger and physically fit volunteers took the 2.00 am till 8.00. am stretch that was usually the ass-end of a bad night.

She was caught up in those thoughts when her home telephone jangled on its perch in the sitting room.

“Hello, am I speaking with Jennifer Thurston?” A vaguely familiar voice asked.

“Who is this?”

“Ms. Thurston? This is Connie Farrell from CNN … we spoke very briefly earlier this week. About the ‘ Day in the Life of … program …?”

“Yes?”

“We would like a chance to speak to you, about your proposal, that is. We believe we can agree to your terms. What day this week would be suitable for you?”

“Give me your number. I’ll speak to my staff, then I’ll get back to you. It may not be this week.”

“We would like to have the show underway very soon. Is there any way …?”

Jenny interrupted, “I’ve said I will get back to you, Ms. Farrell. Good morning.” She hung up.

She dialed Frank Daley, her friend, and occasional legal advisor. She grinned, knowing in advance that he wouldn’t miss an opportunity to ask her out on his version of a date, with privileges attached.

After convincing a disappointed Frank that this wasn’t a booty call, they agreed to meet and talk about the possible ramifications of proceeding with this type of hyper-publicity.

***

The machinery was in place some three weeks later. Jenny was finally reasonably content with the outcome. Content enough to speak to a few folks out in her small slice of this city.

CNN had tried to stipulate the types of people they wanted. Jenny had exploded. “This is not a damned Hollywood casting for people that fit your vision of what real people living in this situation look like and sound like!”

She’d stood  … all five-feet-seven of her ready to lash out.

The CNN producer had called a truce, and suggested a lunch break to allow everyone to cool down.

Jenny refused to haggle about it. “I know these folks pretty well. I let you make the choices, you’ll end up with the blow-ins that will do or say anything for money. You’ll end up with folks that anyone with good instincts will recognize as a fucking fraud.”

It was finally agreed that Jenny would choose the people best able to contend with being asked intimate questions.

She also insisted on meeting and spending some time with the popular host of the program. Melisa Doyle had a sound reputation as a fair player. But then, her world was permeated by celebrities that all clamored for her individual attention.

Jenny needed to gain a measure of the woman. She wouldn’t chance her street folks being subjected to any form of ridicule. They had that every day, all day. She would spare them yet more of the same if she could.

***

“Are you gonna cut her any slack at all, Jenny? Brad asked carefully.

He watched her draw back from an automatic denial. “I can’t answer that … till I get to know her a little.”

“So … you don’t know anything about her, and she probably knows very little about you apart from the fact that you run this place … well no, you are this place. I’m certain she hopes that you measure up to her expectations as well.” Brad said gently.

“Ouch!  … But …yeah, yeah … I guess that’s a fair call.”

“She’s in the reception area. I’ll bring her up.”

“Why do I feel like I’m being ambushed here?”

This time it was Brad’s turn to be blunt. “Boss-lady people need to understand better. Don’t let your need to protect your street babies keep a possible way of reaching that understanding from happening.”

“Shit, Bradley! You’ve been hangin’ around me too long!”

They were the first words Melisa Doyle heard as one of the volunteers ushered her upstairs to the office of the head of the Street Angels.

Brad extended his hand to the woman, and stood aside to allow her to walk ahead of him into the room.

Jenny decided to behave herself. Brad caught the expression on her pretty face and wondered how long that would last.

“Ms. Doyle, this is Jenny Thurston.” He said. “Good luck.” He left the office with that ambiguous statement hanging in the air.

Jenny stood, “Come in please, Ms. Doyle. Take a seat. Can I arrange a coffee for you, or perhaps tea?”

“Coffee, please. Cream and two.” The elegant woman took the proffered seat and continued, “We are going to be seeing rather a lot of each other. Do you think we can drop the formality? Please, call me Melisa.”

“Thank you, Ms. Doyle. But let’s leave it at formal for now.” Jenny looked her over, “You’re younger than I thought.”

The woman wasn’t certain where to go with that statement. “This business ages you fast.”

“Hmm … . Just why are you doing this particular series, Ms. Doyle? It’s far removed from the glamorous celebrities you are accustomed to featuring.”

“Well, CNN thought that …”

Jenny held her hand up, “No, I asked you why YOU are doing this. What do YOU hope to achieve?”

“I … I suppose, that is, well … I …” She floundered and a red flush made its way up her elegantly made up face.

“Yes, please go ahead.”

The woman recovered sufficiently to respond. “I’m doing this series because my network have instructed me to do so.”

Jenny smiled. “Thank you. That’s honest at least. So, what experience have you had that might prepare you for what you’ll be dealing with?”

“I deal with huge ego’s each and every day. Apart from needing to watch, catch, and stop myself saying yes too often, I guess I have only media interpretations of street life as a guide.”

“Are you willing to learn more? I mean really learn, not just observe?” Jenny’s face gave an indication of just how important the question was.

“Yes … yes, I …yes, yes I am.”

“Okay. Are you ready?”

“What … you mean right now?”

“You need to see the streets during the day, from the perspective of the people that survive there. It becomes a different experience at night. You need to see both. Is that a problem?”

“My crew?”

“No … no camera’s. Not yet. Do you take a crew uninvited into the home of your other guests, Ms. Doyle?”

“No.”

“I thought not.”

Jenny assessed the younger woman, “You’ll need to change your clothes.”

“Oh … of course. But these people will still know who I am.”

“How many of these people do you think have television sets, Ms. Doyle?

“Oh, I’m sorry. That was a rude supposition, wasn’t it?”

Jenny gave her a small smile. “Stupid, and rude. You did say you dealt with ego’s, Ms. Doyle. That’s not what you’ll find out here. Make no mistake about this … these people you may meet will catch you out in a falsehood faster than you can imagine. So … no bullshit. Are we clear?”

“Yes.”

“Good. I’ll meet you back here in an hour. Wear comfortable clothing; you’ll be doing a lot of walking.”

***

Brad was at the wheel of the van and patiently waiting. He knew that the early afternoon warmth would soon make way for the southerly wind. Soon now and with little warning, the winter would arrive. He hated the winter. They lost good people each year, and the loss repeated itself …again and again … just like the seasons.

He watched Jenny and the Doyle woman walk across to the vehicle, pleased to notice that the anchor-woman was now wearing jeans and a hoodie, her hair was scraped back in a pony-tail. Oh, crap … she looks about twelve-years-old. I hope Jenny doesn’t eat her alive.

“Where to, Boss-Lady?” He asked as the two women clambered up and into the van.

Jenny flicked a look at her watch. “It’s too early for the move to the night spots. Head into the main drag, please, Brad.”

Brad just nodded and maneuvered the van out and into the traffic.

She turned to Melisa Doyle, “Are you an observant person, Ms. Doyle?”

After a moment to digest the question the young woman answered, “I think I am. Is that what we’re doing now, testing my powers of observation?”

“I need to know what you see.” Jenny responded.

“Brad, pull over and let us out at the next set of lights, please.”

The traffic slowed them a little, building fast now as the early starters finished their shifts. Public transport upgrades had eased the congestion some over the past few years, but the exhaust fumes still hung tenaciously in the afternoon air.

The two women climbed out, and Jenny lead the way to an alcove, it gave them a clear view of the opposite side of the city street.

“I want you to watch them. There are two of the folks I’m familiar with right in front of you. I want you to watch them for a while, and then I want you to tell me what it is you see.”

Melisa Doyle nodded her understanding. She leaned back into the sandstone wall, and focused her attention straight ahead.

Fifteen-minutes later, Jenny called a halt. “Okay, now turn away and face me, and tell me about them.”

“Which one do you want me to start with?”

“Which ever one caught your attention first.”

Melisa Doyle took a breath, and began.

“I noticed the guy with the dog straight up. The man looked to be somewhere between thirty-and-forty-years old. I couldn’t tell his height too easily, but from the length of his arms, I’d guess he was well above average height. His hair was long and blondish brown. He wore a baseball cap, but I couldn’t make out the logo. He had two other hats, one in front of him, and one in front of the dog. I think the dog was a Labrador. It looked in better shape than he did.”

“Is that all?”

“He smiled all the time, like it was a mask plastered to his face.”

“Anything else grab your attention?”

“No … I … no, I don’t think so.”

“And the other one?”

“It was a woman, I think. It was hard to be sure because of the layers of clothing. The hair was very long and hung across the shoulders in dark matted strands. She wore a pair of large sunglasses, and she didn’t look up once. Um … she had some sort of plastic container in front of her. She was stooped over, I’m not certain if that was because of her age … or her state of mind.”

“Uh-huh, now … tell me, which of them collected the most donations in that fifteen-minutes?”

“I don’t think … . Oh, no, wait … yes, that’s right; the dog had two people stop and drop something in the hat in front of it.” The woman’s face suddenly flushed a deep, unflattering red as she registered what she had just said. “Oh. … Oh my God.”

“So please, tell me …are they just dog-lovers, Ms. Doyle?”

Melisa Doyle’s face mirrored the sudden understanding. “Oh … sweet Lord. They think the dog has no choice … to be there on the streets. But they think that the human must have one.”

“Yes, Ms. Doyle. Some people firmly believe that the human element could be somewhere else if they chose to be.”

“That’s wrong.”

“Wrong? I understand and so should you that this action doesn’t make them bad people. I believe that the state of our current world has desensitized a lot of good folks. The violence, the divisions within their own once safe environments. That’s all they see everywhere they look… on their televisions each night … and on their social media outlets, each and every hour of the day. The passers-by make no eye contact, Ms. Doyle. I understand it as much as I deplore it. That desensitization is becoming common place throughout our entire species.”

“How do I help the public connect?”

“The best you can do is make them feel forever grateful that they are in a safe, warm, hunger free environment. Perhaps that lost empathy will surface for a short while.”

“They don’t look because they don’t want to be contaminated by the pain?”

Jenny nodded. “Something like that.” She almost whispered the words.

She checked on the time, “Let’s grab a coffee. The exodus starts just after the rest of the city workers head on home.”

“The exodus?”

“Coffee, and then we’ll talk, okay?”

Melisa had to agree, but she was clearly anxious to learn more.

The café wasn’t busy, not yet. However it would soon be filled with the folks that either had to catch a later bus or train, and wanted a spot to sit for a while, or those that had dates or appointments after dark. The folks that didn’t utilize the many cafes would frequent a club, or a bar, needing a hit of booze in order to face the crowded, tiring commute back to the familiarity and safety of their homes. Even if that home was not what they’d dreamed, worked and hoped for. It was still a place to call home.

Coffee had been ordered and drunk in silence, and the empty cups waited to be cleared from the table before Jenny spoke again.

“So … the exodus. Just before full dark, or if the weather turns angry, most of the street-folks leave the day spots that have sheltered them. The store-fronts, and bus shelters in the center of town are far too dangerous at night. The smarter ones, the long term folks that have been out here for years, and occasionally some of the newer folks, all head for their own patch of turf. That doesn’t guarantee them safety, but it gives them a fair shot if something bad goes down.”

“They have the same area every night? The reporter asked.

“That’s what they try for. The ones that seek safety in numbers tend to remain in a pseudo family group. That’s how they come to think of each other when they’ve been out here too long to have had any further contact with any other family they may have had once.”

“Can you show me?”

“Yes … I can show you, but be aware it’s not pretty, and the situation can turn dangerous very quickly. We do all that we can do to counteract that possibility, but there are times when even we are taken by surprise.”

Jenny looked at the other woman hard. “Knowing that, are you still wanting to go on?”

“Yes. I am.”

“Okay. You must listen to what I say, and do as I tell you. Don’t deviate, don’t speak unless invited to do so. Understood clearly?”

“I think so.”

Jenny nodded her agreement and messaged Brad to pick them up two blocks east. “We’re taking Ms. Doyle on a little guided tour of the red zone.” She said when he responded, “Bring Rusty, and the night crew.”

“Are you certain about this, Jenny? I mean she can’t be prepared, no one ever is the first time.” Brad’s usually soft voice held sharp concern.

“I think it’s past time for ordinary folks to see this.”

“Will it make a difference?”

“I guess I’m not prepared to gamble that it won’t.”

“See you in twenty-minutes?” Brad responded.

He was there in fifteen.

***

The women re-boarded the van. This time it held three others to be introduced. Two rather large young men, named Tag, and Davey … and an older woman named Betty who smiled at her, saying no more than a “Hello”, with a quick handshake included.

The other member of this night-shift crew extended his paw to be shaken. Brad smiled at Melisa Doyle’s obvious surprise.

“This is Rusty. He’s our bodyguard, and sometimes he’s the only reason we are granted entry into their world. Many of the folks crave the comfort of just petting him.”

The German Shepherd settled himself comfortably in his own space, and the odd contingent headed further into the red-zone.

***

Melisa Doyle looked out the window and watched the neon rainbows begin to ignite the streets.

She thought she spotted several homeless folks along the brief journey down to the edge of the dockland that bordered one small bay in the midst of the concrete citadels.

Brad brought the van to a stop and the motley group assembled in a semi-circle and waited for Jenny to allocate them their patch for this shift.

“The food van will swing by around seven-o’clock, Ms. Doyle. We do it then to catch as many as possible here and waiting, before the bars, clubs and pubs start spewing out the fueled violence.”

“That makes sense. Do the numbers fluctuate much?”

“Depends on the season. Winter is the harshest out here. The numbers increase noticeably if the crowd offers a fire, plus the added security of simple numbers. Summer isn’t as difficult; if they make it through the cold. We always lose people in winter.” Jenny shook her head roughly to dispel the memory of too many seasons when death had taken members of these, her street family.

“What do you want me to do?”

“Do you see the small group in the clearing in front of the overpass?”

“Uh-huh.”

“I think you may want to talk to one or two of them. I’ll ask them … and if they consent, I’ll give you some guidelines to consider while you are with them. Agreed?”

Melisa Doyle nodded. “Yes. I understand, and I agree.”

“Good. Wait here. I’ll let you know when you can come over, if they agree.”

***

Jenny took Rusty off his lead, and he walked quietly beside her as they covered the ground to the group of people now attempting to get a fire burning in their prized 44-gallon-drum.

“You’re too early for dinner, Jenny-Wren.” The man coughed and spluttered when he started to laugh.

“Damn it, Kelso, and here I am all dressed up and ready.”

He grinned at her and called out “Rusty, come here, boy. Come say hello to old Kelso!”

Jenny gave the dog a brief pat, “Off you go, Rusty.”

The dog was happy to obey.

“Pull up a piece of grass, Jenny-Wren … sit with us for a while.” Kelso patted the ground near him.

“Thanks, Kelso.”

Jenny selected a spot in the half circle and perched herself. She collected her thoughts before speaking and then, spoke clearly and gently, “I’ve come to ask you folks permission to let a television reporter talk to you. Well, maybe two of you. It will be filmed to be aired in Prime-time. I’ll be with her the whole time.”

“Another one of those shows. It doesn’t make a difference, Jenny-Wren. You know that better than most.” Kelso almost spat the words.

“Can we risk that, Kelso? What if it does? What if even a few of the viewing public were galvanized into doing something constructive to help?”

“Won’t happen. Count me out, Jenny-Wren. My life is nobodies’ business but mine.”

“No problem, Kelso.”

Jenny looked around at the gathering. “Anyone? I don’t know yet what way this lady will approach this. But I do think she’ll at least try to listen and hopefully ask questions that you can willingly answer.”

A few of the group turned away and towards the fire now burning brightly.

But a few were still listening.

“You think this might help?” The voice was strong.

Jenny tried to mask her surprise at its owner speaking at all. “Yes. Yes … I think it may. But, you have plenty of reasons to stay out of that sort of spotlight. This isn’t something that you need to be doing.”

“They can disguise my face, yeah?”

“I’ll insist on it, if this is something you’re certain about.”

“I think maybe it’s time. I’ve been hiding too long.”

“I’ll bring her over; or would you prefer to talk away from here?”

“Nothing these folks are going to hear will shock ‘em. I’d like it if you sat in though, Miss Jenny. This reporter might need a translator.” The laugh was cynical.

Far too cynical a sound to be coming from a twelve year-old boy.

***

Human Disinterest Part 2

The Interview

PART TWO … The Interview.

Jenny stood; still concerned at the turn this had taken. Nothing had prepared her for this volunteer to come forward. She looked quickly back at him sitting there watching her. He trusted her to be there with him while he spoke to a woman as alien from his world as it was possible to be.

She walked back quickly to where Melisa Doyle stood waiting.

“Ms. Doyle. I have someone who is willing to talk to you. His face will need to be disguised or hidden. That is the only way it will be done. Can do?”

“Yes, absolutely. The crew? I mean, he may not be willing to talk to me more than this once. I’d like it to be recorded if this person consents. Please.”

“He gets the final say before it goes to air. There is no point to this exercise if the network plan on censoring or editing it before airtime. I suggest it be programmed late in the evening. With viewers warned beforehand of what they may hear. I’ll talk to him now, and on that basis I’ll okay him going ahead.”

“Do you hold that much sway with these folks?”

Jenny shrugged. “I guess you’ll need to ask them that. Now are we agreed?”

“I need to get the crew here, and of course I’ll need permission from the network to okay the lack of censorship and editing.”

“I wouldn’t leave it too long. I’ll talk to him once you have that assurance. How long will your crew take to get here and set up?”

Melissa Doyle was already hitting the redial on her cell phone. “Give me a moment and I’ll give you a time.”

Jenny listened in on the call, and the reporter put the response from the network on speaker-phone to allay any fears Jenny Thurston may have about her rules being implemented. She was surprised that all the requests had received such a firm and committed yes in response.

Melisa Doyle then spoke to her crew. She turned to Jenny, “I need an hour. Is that a can do, Miss Thurston?”

“I’ll ask.”

Jenny did so and returned very quickly. “He’s agreed. He’d like me to be present at all times. I’ll introduce you to him now. Are you ready?”

“I guess I have to be, don’t I?”

Jenny just nodded and said, “The others might consent to talk with you. Be aware that they’ll be watching and listening, even if they seem too distracted. So … let’s get this done shall we.”

***

Melisa Doyle followed the woman, careful not to glance in the direction of the others that sat in a semi-circle watching covertly. Jenny stopped in front of a young male, and with a warm smile of encouragement in his direction, she made the introduction.

“This is Deke, Ms. Doyle.”

The young man didn’t stand. He extended his hand and the anchor-woman shook it with no hesitation. “Hello, Deke.”

“I seen you on the telly, in the window at the electrical store. You look better than you do on there. What’s your other name?”

“Melisa.”

“Jenny says you’ll look out for me. How you gonna cover my face?”

“We have the technology to blur out your features, Deke, we can also disguise your voice if you wish.”

“Nah, that don’t matter so much. I have some smokes somebody gave me, you want one? It might help you look less like a stray dog caught in car headlights.”

“I don’t smoke, but thank you. Do I really look that way?”

“Yeah, just now you do. Can the technology cover over that for you too?”

“Pretty much. The crew will try and present me as professionally as they can, and they can cut to a shot that says that about me.”

“That’s kinda cheating, isn’t it?”

Melisa Doyle was a little unprepared for his blunt observation, and clearly intrigued to hear more of what Deke had to say.

“I’ll just call you, Melisa. How long till you get them cameras here?”

She was about to respond when the television van bearing the CNN logo followed the Street Angels food truck into what passed for a parking area.

“I guess that’s about to happen. Do you want to eat first?”

“The older folks go first. Then, if there’s enough I’ll have something. It’s funny how folks like things to have a little familiar comfort around them. These older folks still remember that stuff. The respect they had once, you know?”

“Can we wait now for a moment, Deke? The crew will take no time at all to set up. Then I’ll do an intro piece to tell the viewers what we are doing here; then, when you’re ready I’ll ask you some questions. You only answer the questions that you choose to answer. Is that okay?”

“Yeah. Okay.”

It took a little more than fifteen-minutes for the crew to be satisfied that they were set up for optimal filming. The lights attracted the eyes of those in the group that had until then kept their faces averted.

Jenny sat out of view of the camera, but still close enough to intervene if she felt it was needed. She hoped that her judgement of the younger woman didn’t let her down.

The introduction wasn’t lengthy, and pretty much what she expected.

Then Melisa Doyle sat on the ground near Deke, and began.

“How old are you, Deke?”

The young man thought about that for a moment, “I guess I’m around twelve, maybe thirteen.”

“You guess? Don’t you know?”

“Not for certain. I can remember back to a sort of party thing. There was cake, with maybe four candles. That was a long time ago.”

“How long have you been out here, Deke?”

“With these folks, you mean?” He asked.

“With these folks, and before that?”

“I’ve been in this spot now for two summers, and last winter.”

“Since you were around ten, or eleven?”

“Yeah, pretty much. I guess that’s around the right age.”

“Deke, can you tell us where you were before that?”

The boy glanced across at Jenny. She nodded slowly, “Only if you want, buddy.”

“I guess it’s important, ‘cause most folks that will maybe be watchin’ this, well those folks will have ideas of their own. That’s fair I guess.” He nodded to himself as the thoughts began to clarify themselves. “I had a mom and a dad just like everyone else does. We lived in an apartment building not too far from here. I remember we had heating, and food that weren’t spoiled. I remember we had a television, and I had toys. There was no rats in that building.”

“That changed? Can you remember when it started to change, Deke?”

“It’s a bit jumbled together, like some bits just don’t fit.”

“Just talk about what you remember. Those pieces that are jumbled are part of it too.”

“Okay. I do remember my dad comin’ home drunk. I remember that first time, ‘cause I’d never seen my dad drunk before. He was crying. My mom told me that he had been laid off from work. She said he was just sad, ‘cause he’d been there a long time. She said not to worry about it. She said everything would be just fine.” He shook his head as the memories started to resurface.

“And was it, Deke? Was it just fine?”

“In the beginning it was okay, you know? I kinda liked him being around all day. He’d say it was lucky that he had his rainy-day-money. He’d watch the television with me and stuff. He had a drink sometimes at night. He didn’t think I knew about that. I saw the bottles and asked him about the stuff that was in them. He said it was just somethin’ he had so he could sleep. He started to sleep a lot. It got to be that I only saw him maybe once or twice in a day.”

“How did your mother deal with that, do you know?”

“Mom … well she would always tell me it was okay. Till it wasn’t okay any more. I’m thinkin’ that that rainy-day-money wasn’t meant to last through a storm that big. They started screamin’ at each other. It was loud enough for the folks upstairs and in the apartment next door to pound on the walls and yell at them to just shut the hell up. The cops came, and they was okay at first. It was like they understood, some. As long as my mom told ‘em that nobody was hurt here, they kinda looked at me with that sad look they get sometimes, and then went on about their business.”

“Did it get worse then?”

“Not straight away. My mom found out she was havin’ another baby. I remember her tellin’ me I was gonna have a little brother or sister. I don’t really know how I felt about that back then. But … my dad … he cried a whole lot more. I heard him promise my mom that he’d get a job. I heard a whole lot more stuff that I didn’t understand too well, back there and then. But I did understand that he gave it a shot. ‘Cause things did get better there for a while. He got a job some place, and was so worn out when he got back home, he’d just fall into bed. He kept at it though. He did. The power got turned back on. I remember just being happier for a while there. I figure as long as I had food in my belly and the screamin’ had stopped … well, you know, I guess I figured everything would go back like it was.”

“Did it, Deke?”

“It did.” He watched her face. “No, really, it did, for a while. It must have been for a few months at least, ‘cause my mom had my baby-sister, and her and my dad seemed to laugh more again. Then it changed. It wasn’t a slow thing that creeps up on you when you’re not watchin’, you know? It happened before I had time to gather some peace from being almost back to the way it used to be.”

“Did you ever have a visit from Child Protective Services, Deke?”

“I think maybe this lady that came by was with those folks, but she came when my dad was workin’ again, and we had food and power and stuff. I didn’t see her no more after that.”

“ What happened, then, Deke? Did your dad keep his job?”

“I think he would have. But … he’d met up with some new folks. I don’t know where exactly he met them. I don’t know if they worked at the same place he did, but I doubt it. It don’t matter anyways I guess. Not now.”

The young man lit another treasured cigarette, and then passed the near empty packet across to Jenny. Melisa Doyle watched the pantomime that passed between them, and then she saw Jenny quickly move over and hand them to an older man, one of the ones now watching on. He took them with a smile, and raised his hand and snapped off a salute. “Thanks, Deke.”

The young man gave him a grin and needed to say nothing in reply. It was simply understood.

“Is he your friend, Deke?”

“My friend? Yeah, you know somethin’ he probably is at that. We kinda all look out for each other, those of us that still can.”

“Can you tell me what changed at home, Deke?”

The young man looked sadder than any twelve-year- old had a right to look. Melisa Doyle was worried that he couldn’t continue and the silence dragged on …

“Deke, we can stop now. It’s okay.”

He looked back at her and managed a crooked grin. “Nah. Folks maybe need to know this shit. Maybe it will help ‘em a little bit, to give ‘em an idea, you know?”

“When you’re ready, Deke.”

“Yeah, okay.” He sat up a little straighter and continued, “So, like I said there was new folks comin’ and goin’ in the house, seems it was always full to busting with folks. Some stayed for a while, and some only came to the door and disappeared quick before I saw who they was. My dad didn’t seem to mind it a bit, and he didn’t sleep much anymore. He was wired up all the time, you know? He moved different to what he used to do. Like he was all jerky and faster. Mom just seemed to get all caught up with my little sister and me, and she stopped talkin’ a whole lot of the time.

“Anyways …  I was told to stay in my room when anyone came, and the telly was good company you know? But … sometimes I needed to use the bathroom.” He took a deep breath, before he went on. “One time there was this small plastic bag thing sitting on the counter in the bathroom, it was kinda like a sandwich bag only real small … I picked it up and opened it to see what the white stuff was that was in it, it smelled funny. Anyways, someone came in and I got a surprise and I dropped the open baggie thing in the toilet bowl. Then there was just a whole lot of screamin’ and the guy that had come in hit me in the face, and I bled. My dad came rushin’ in, and saw me bleedin and cryin’ and I thought he’d pick me up to see what was happenin’. But he just shoved me out of the bathroom, and screamed at my mom to get me the fuck back to my room.”

“You know now what is was, don’t you?”

“Hell, of course I do. It was cocaine, it has its own special look. So does crystal-meth … ice. That’s how my dad was earnin’ enough money to keep the apartment and buy food and pay for the shit he was shootin’ into his veins. He was dealin’ … and he was using as well. That ain’t never a good combination, Melisa.”

“Deke, what about your mom? What was she doing while you were being hit? What did she have to say about it?”

“She just put iodine on my face, and told me never to touch anything I saw around the place. She was sad, I reckon. Then she’d tend to my little sis, who was startin’ to walk by then. I was in charge of makin’ sure, Casey … that’s my sisters’ name, Casey. I was in charge of watchin’ her and makin’ sure she didn’t touch anything at all.”

“How long did this continue, Deke?”

“For a long time, it seems. Casey was startin’ to talk. She was so sweet. I took to takin’ her out when the weather was kind. I used her pram, you know … the ones that the little kids sit up in? I’d pack us up some food, and we’d go to the park closest to home. She loved to feed the ducks. I figured gettin’ her out of the apartment was a better idea than havin’ to keep her cooped up in my room all of the time. I pinched some of my dad’s rainy-day-money and I got her juice and sometimes those little packets of sherbet, those ones that go all fizzy and sweet on your tongue. She loved that sherbet.”

“What were your parents doing at those times, Deke?”

“Dad was only home at night; he was dealin’ pretty full on, and using much more stuff to get him through the days. My mom was gettin’ to be real skinny lookin’ and she said it was just losin’ the weight she put on having Casey, but she looked bad. She still cooked every night, but I didn’t see her eat. Pretty soon she stopped cookin’ at all, and I’d bring her a sandwich in her bedroom after I fed me and Casey. I learned how to change Casey’s diapers, and I’d get ‘em as clean as I could manage. The washing machine was broke. Dad said he’d get it fixed, but that didn’t happen.”

“Was your mom using Ice or Cocaine, Deke?”

“I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think so. I asked her one time, and she just shook her head, she said she’d go see a doctor ‘cause she was feeling sick all the time.

“I pretty much took care of Casey by myself then. I had her sleepin’ in my bed with me, so I’d know when she moved and I could see what she was doin’. I guess I figured that would keep her safe.”

Melisa Doyle caught the tone in his voice, and looked across at Jenny Thurston. The woman had tears rolling down her face.

The reporter hesitated for a long while before she asked the next question.

“Did it keep her safe, Deke?”

“No… .  No … it didn’t. Came a time, I got sick. The chicken in the refrigerator had tasted funny, but you know, I was hungry. I just made Casey her favorite peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. But, I ate that chicken.  I was pukin’ and needin’ the toilet all of the time for a couple days, or maybe three. Dad had the place full of those people that he hung with, and he just said for me to feed Casey and take her to my room. I was dizzy and I hadn’t had anything to eat for a couple of days, cause it made me puke worse. I guess I passed out cold.

“I woke up sometime in the early mornin’ to the sound of my mom screamin’. I rolled over and Casey wasn’t there. I got out of my bed as fast as I could manage and made it out to the sittin’ room.

“Casey was layin’ there on the sofa, and my mom was shakin’ her and screamin’ but that baby didn’t open her eyes. I ran over and touched her, and she was cold. I grabbed my mom’s cell and I hit 911. My dad was cryin’ … but he grabbed the phone off me and yelled that he’d take her to the hospital. He didn’t want the paramedics in the apartment.

“I recall screamin’ at him,  Dad, we ain’t got no car no more! Mom, please Mom  … it will take too long! My mom was past listenin’, she held Casey and she was rockin’ her back and forward like she did when Casey was just a baby. I ran to my dad and started pleadin’ with him to let me call 911. He pushed me hard and I fell. I got back up and I guess I went kinda crazy and started kickin’ him and punchin’ him …  and then he punched me in the face, and I guess I went down for the count.”

Melisa Doyle was crying openly now. She stopped the crew filming for a moment and wanted to offer comfort to the child man she had in front of her. The look on his face stopped her in her tracks. In her entire life she had never witnessed such desolation. One of the crew pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket with hands that shook. He lit one and walked across and offered it to the boy. Deke took it without comment and allowed the stranger to light it.

Melissa Doyle didn’t even try to pretend she wasn’t openly crying.

“Deke? We’ll stop now. Okay?”

NO.” He stood up. “By the time I came around I knew she was already dead. That baby girl was already dead. There was lines of cocaine on the coffee table, with little hand marks in ‘em. That baby had white powder around her little mouth and all over her fingers. I think she maybe thought it was her favorite sherbet, you know. She had blood comin’ out of her mouth. My dad wasn’t there, he’d run off. My mom was still holdin’ Casey and croonin’ and rockin’ just like baby-girl was just sleepin’. I rang 911. They got there real quick, but it was already way too late for them to be able to help. My mom went with them in the ambulance. They wanted me to come in the ambulance, but I stayed and waited for the cops to come.

“ I told them everythin’ about my dad, and his dealin’ and I gave them a whole bunch of names. They found drug stuff all over the place. The cops was kind, they were as gentle as they could be, and a couple of ‘em looked real shook up. They told me that I would go with them to the station, and they would have someone from Child services come over to see me, after they had me checked out by a doctor.

“They was busy, going from room to room looking for anything to help this make sense; while they waited for a lady cop to arrive to sit with me.

“I took off. I ran as hard and as fast and as far as I could. I just wanted to run and run and never look behind me.

“I’m still runnin’ I guess.” The boy was quiet now. The German Shepherd came over and sat beside him, and Deke stroked his head.

Melisa Doyle leaned forward, “Deke, your father … what happened? Do you know?”

“They ain’t never found him. He was a weak man. So if he’s dead it wouldn’t surprise me. But if I find him first the cops won’t need to bother none.” He left that statement to stand on its own.

“The others, the ones that came to your apartment?”

“Some of them got busted. Some of them are still out there someplace, if they ain’t left the country by now.”

“Are they after you, Deke?

“I don’t know, Melisa. I doubt they was far enough up the food chain of dealers to be bothered. I guess I just have to keep watching, you know. But, I was just a kid, back then. I’m all growed now. So maybe not.”

“Where is your Mom?”

“S’far as I know she’s in a place for folks that are gonna die soon. She has the cancer right through her brain. It weren’t her fault, Melisa. I was in charge of lookin’ after Casey. I gotta live with that.”

Melisa Doyle clearly wanted to say something to reassure him that that wasn’t the case at all, the look on his face stopped her.

“How have you kept track of what was happening, with your Mom, Deke?”

“That don’t matter. I guess maybe there is just some good folks in this world. Sometimes they don’t stand out from the rest, and sometimes they just do. So let’s just say I got real lucky and I met me some of those ones that stand out. Okay?”

“What will you do, Deke? Is this where you want to be?”

“Here? I don’t know, Melisa. I guess I just keep going and hope maybe to make some sense of this fucked up old world. I just gotta stay alive long enough for that to happen.”

“Deke, is there anything you’d like to say to the people watching this show?”

“No … I guess I’ve already said it.”

Melisa Doyle leaned across and extended her hand. “It’s been an honor to meet you, Deke.”

He just nodded … and Melissa said “Cut.”

***

Part 3 … “The Aftermath” will be posted tomorrow. I do hope you’ll join me here.

 

 

Preview my Non-Fiction books “Empty Chairs” & “Faint Echoes of Laughter” @pursoot #RRBC #IARTG #IAN1

Please be advised, the contents of my non-fiction memoir books are disturbing. Child abuse is not a pretty topic. If my books helps you understand the long term repercussions  of abuse, it will have been worth the pain of writing them.

.”Empty Chairs” BOOK 1 (Standing Tall & Fighting Back) By Suzanne Burke writing as Stacey Danson.

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Newly Edited May 2017.
Stacey Danson, lived through and beyond horrific child abuse. This book tells of her brutal beginnings, the streets of Sydney at the age of eleven were preferable to the hell she endured at home. She ran, and those streets became her home for five years. She was alone, ill, and afraid. Stacey also had an unshakeable belief that she would do more than just survive her life. She would not allow her future to be determined by the horrors of her childhood. She reached out for something different; there had to be more to life; if she could only find it. She had a dream of a life where pain and humiliation had no place. She was determined to find that life. Empty Chairs is the beginning of the journey. Now she is living the dream.

Just one of the 390 outstanding reviews of Empty Chairs.

on March 13, 2017
This was a profoundly painful read. The author writes from her experience, from her terror, from her strength. She uses the language of this experience to powerfully capture the depraved situations that she ultimately survived. Everyone should read this book – everyone. Why? Nothing will change in terms of child abuse until we are all aware of its horror. Perpetrators, whether doctors or priests or parents or neighbors, need to be incarcerated where they will learn what it means to be terrorized and used. Therein rests the hope for our children. No one who tortures the most precious among us (little children) has a right to walk our streets freely.

“Faint Echoes of Laughter” Book 2 (Standing Tall & Fighting Back.) By Suzanne Burke writing as Stacey Danson.

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The shocking and spirited sequel to the much-praised ‘Empty Chairs’. Life on the streets of Sydney was preferable to the nightmare Stacey Danson had survived in the hell that was home.

She hit the streets running at the age of eleven, and armed with a flick-knife and a fierce determination to live a different life, she began the journey from the 1960s to today. For those that came to know ‘Sassy girl’ in ‘Empty Chairs’, and for those caring people that asked how her life worked out from there, ‘Faint Echoes of Laughter’ continues the story.

For those that haven’t met her yet, this book stands alone as a tribute to the kindness of strangers, the loyalty of true friendships and the way things really are on the streets of any town …. anytime.

JUST ONE OF THE 189 Outstanding Reviews.

on April 26, 2017
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I read Stacey’s first book ‘Empty Chairs’ and was eager to read the sequel and find out what happened to this brave and courageous little girl, who ended up living on the streets of Sydney at the age of eleven. ‘Faint Echoes of Laughter’ continues her story. As you read you are pulled into Stacey’s world, her struggles, her thoughts and despite it all, her dreams for a better life for herself. Tough decisions are made and with a reference written by the local librarian and friend Eunice, Stacey lands herself a job after many knock backs. A page turner in every sense of the word you read how are slowly her life changes for the better. Heartbreak and pain follow as the scars from the past are impossible to erase, despite being married to a loving husband. The roll of honour at the end of this most emotional and inspiring memoir brought me to tears as Stacey recounts what happened to her friends from her past life on the streets. An absolute must read.

BOOK 3 of my memoir “Still Sassy at Sixty” Available early 2018.Still sassy at sixty 1st promo SEPTEMBER 2017

RRBC Holiday Train “Book Trailer’ BLOCK PARTY!

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Hi and “WELCOME” to Rave Reviews Book Club’s HOLIDAY TRAIN “BOOK TRAILER” BLOCK PARTY at Welcome to the World of Suzanne Burke in Sydney: AUSTRALIA.

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 This is a celebration. I am here, living, loving and laughing each precious day. I look forward to every sunrise, for it is a gift to be treasured. I could never have done this alone. My capacity to survive would never have been enough on its own. At times it only took the smile of a stranger to help me through another day.

My memoir is written under my pen-name of Stacey Danson.

My memoir “Empty Chairs ” is not an easy book to read. The subject of ‘Child Abuse’ will never be an easy topic to discuss. But, if we, as caring, loving, human beings are ever going to have a hope of making a difference, we all need to stop hiding ourselves away from what is undoubtedly a painful and confronting issue.

I have lived it. I ran and hid from it for too many years. It took the love and understanding of people just like you to help me confront and deal with my demons.

YOU … yes …YOU, CAN make a difference, but first you need to remove the shield you hold to your eyes and the protective layer you hold to your heart, and take a look.

Help the children, by helping yourself to understand.

I’d like to introduce you to my book trailer and I do hope that you will take the time to check out my book.

To be eligible to win one of the many prizes on offer please leave a comment on the BOOK TRAILER site.

VIEW BOOK TRAILER HERE

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Stacey Danson, lived through and beyond horrific child abuse. This book tells of her brutal beginnings, the streets of Sydney at the age of eleven were preferable to the hell she endured at home. She ran, and those streets became her home for five years. She was alone, ill, and afraid. Stacey also had an unshakeable belief that she would do more than just survive her life. She would not allow her future to be determined by the horrors of her childhood. She reached out for something different; there had to be more to life; if she could only find it. She had a dream of a life where pain and humiliation had no place. She was determined to find that life. Empty Chairs is the beginning of the journey. Now she is living the dream.

Once again, thanks for stopping by and don’t forget to share your thoughts and comments on my trailer and also, at the bottom of this post if you have a moment.  Good luck on winning my giveaways!  I’ll see you at the next stop of this awesome “BOOK TRAILER” BLOCK PARTY!

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Empty Chairs: Much more than a story of Child Abuse. Excerpt here.

Empty Chairs Amazon cover

Click on the link to read an excerpt of Empty Chairs. Before you begin, be aware that the content is not an easy thing to read. But then ‘Child Abuse’ is not a topic that is an easy thing to deal with.  This book, my story, has been called Inspirational, and life changing. I wrote it to keep a promise I made to an eight-year-old child who never tasted happiness. I hope that it helps people open their eyes and begin to understand the nature of the beast that is Child Abuse.

 

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Child Abuse. Recognize and respond!

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Closing your eyes to the horror of Child Abuse doesn’t make it go away. The problems associated with this kind of abuse continue unabated because some people just don’t know the signs. They have no idea what to look for, and no idea of how to deal with a child that may come to them for help.

Hopefully the following information will assist, at the very least it will help you to understand what warning signs to watch for.

Child sexual abuse is an especially complicated form of abuse because of its layers of guilt and shame. It’s important to recognize that sexual abuse doesn’t always involve body contact. Exposing a child to sexual situations or material is sexually abusive, whether or not touching is involved.

While news stories of sexual predators are scary, what is even more frightening is that sexual abuse usually occurs at the hands of someone the child knows and should be able to trust—most often close relatives. And contrary to what many believe, it’s not just girls who are at risk. Boys and girls both suffer from sexual abuse. In fact, sexual abuse of boys may be under reported due to shame and stigma.

The problem of shame and guilt in child sexual abuse

Aside from the physical damage that sexual abuse can cause, the emotional component is powerful and far-reaching. Sexually abused children are tormented by shame and guilt. They may feel that they are responsible for the abuse or somehow brought it upon themselves. This can lead to self-loathing and sexual problems as they grow older—often either excessive promiscuity or an inability to have intimate relations.The shame of sexual abuse makes it very difficult for children to come forward. They may worry that others won’t believe them, will be angry with them, or that it will split their family apart. Because of these difficulties, false accusations of sexual abuse are not common, so if a child confides in you, take him or her seriously. Don’t turn a blind eye!

Warning signs of child abuse and neglect…

The earlier child abuse is caught, the better the chance of recovery and appropriate treatment for the child. Child abuse is not always obvious. By learning some of the common warning signs of child abuse and neglect, you can catch the problem as early as possible and get both the child and the abuser the help that they need.Of course, just because you see a warning sign doesn’t automatically mean a child is being abused. It’s important to dig deeper, looking for a pattern of abusive behavior and warning signs, if you notice something off

.Warning signs of emotional abuse in children

  • Excessively withdrawn, fearful, or anxious about doing something wrong.
  • Shows extremes in behavior (extremely compliant or extremely demanding; extremely passive or extremely aggressive).
  • Doesn’t seem to be attached to the parent or caregiver.
  • Acts either inappropriately adult (taking care of other children) or inappropriately infantile (rocking, thumb-sucking, throwing tantrums)
  • Warning signs of Physical abuse
  • Frequent injuries or unexplained bruises, welts, or cuts.
  • Is always watchful and “on alert,” as if waiting for something bad to happen.
  • Injuries appear to have a pattern such as marks from a hand or belt.
  • Shies away from touch, flinches at sudden movements, or seems afraid to go home.
  • Wears inappropriate clothing to cover up injuries, such as long-sleeved shirts on hot days.

Warning signs of neglect in children

  • Clothes are ill-fitting, filthy, or inappropriate for the weather.
  • Hygiene is consistently bad (unbathed, matted and unwashed hair, noticeable body odor).
  • Untreated illnesses and physical injuries.
  • Is frequently unsupervised or left alone or allowed to play in unsafe situations and environments.
  • Is frequently late or missing from school.

Warning signs of sexual abuse in children

  • Trouble walking or sitting.
  • Displays knowledge or interest in sexual acts inappropriate to his or her age, or even seductive behavior.
  • Makes strong efforts to avoid a specific person, without an obvious reason.
  • Doesn’t want to change clothes in front of others or participate in physical activities.
  • An STD or pregnancy, especially under the age of 14.
  • Runs away from home.
  • All types of child abuse and neglect leave lasting scars. Some of these scars might be physical, but emotional scarring has long lasting effects throughout life, damaging a child’s sense of self, ability to have healthy relationships, and ability to function at home, at work and at school.

  • Some effects include:

    • Lack of trust and relationship difficulties. If you can’t trust your parents, who can you trust? Abuse by a primary caregiver damages the most fundamental relationship as a child—that you will safely, reliably get your physical and emotional needs met by the person who is responsible for your care. Without this base, it is very difficult to learn to trust people or know who is trustworthy. This can lead to difficulty maintaining relationships due to fear of being controlled or abused. It can also lead to unhealthy relationships because the adult doesn’t know what a good relationship is.
    • Core feelings of being “worthless” or “damaged.” If you’ve been told over and over again as a child that you are stupid or no good, it is very difficult to overcome these core feelings. You may experience them as reality. Adults may not strive for more education, or settle for a job that may not pay enough, because they don’t believe they can do it or are worth more. Sexual abuse survivors, with the stigma and shame surrounding the abuse, often especially struggle with a feeling of being damaged.
    • Trouble regulating emotions. Abused children cannot express emotions safely. As a result, the emotions get stuffed down, coming out in unexpected ways. Adult survivors of child abuse can struggle with unexplained anxiety, depression, or anger. They may turn to alcohol or drugs to numb out the painful feelings

    There are several types of child abuse, but the core element that ties them together is the emotional effect on the child. Children need predictability, structure, clear boundaries, and the knowledge that their parents are looking out for their safety. Abused children cannot predict how their parents will act.

    Their world is an unpredictable, frightening place with no rules. Whether the abuse is a slap, a harsh comment, stony silence, or not knowing if there will be dinner on the table tonight, the end result is a child that feel unsafe, uncared for, and alone.

  • Emotional child abuse “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me?” What a load of rubbish! Contrary to this old saying, emotional abuse can severely damage a child’s mental health or social development, leaving lifelong psychological scars.
  • Examples of emotional child abuse include:
    • Constant belittling, shaming, and humiliating a child.
    • Calling names and making negative comparisons to others.
    • Telling a child he or she is “no good,” “worthless,” “bad,” or “a mistake.”
    • Frequent yelling, threatening, or bullying.
    • Ignoring or rejecting a child as punishment, giving him or her the silent treatment.
    • Limited physical contact with the child—no hugs, kisses, or other signs of affection.
    • Exposing the child to violence or the abuse of others, whether it be the abuse of a parent, a sibling, or even a pet.

Helping an abused or neglected child.

What should you do if you suspect that a child has been abused? How do you approach him or her? Or what if a child comes to you? It’s normal to feel a little overwhelmed and confused in this situation. Child abuse is a difficult subject that can be hard to accept and even harder to talk about.Just remember, you can make a tremendous difference in the life of an abused child, especially if you take steps to stop the abuse early. When talking with an abused child, the best thing you can provide is calm reassurance and unconditional support. Let your actions speak for you if you’re having trouble finding the words. Remember that talking about the abuse may be very difficult for the child. It’s your job to reassure the child and provide whatever help you can.Tips for talking to an abused child

  • Avoid denial and remain calm. A common reaction to news as unpleasant and shocking as child abuse is denial. However, if you display denial to a child, or show shock or disgust at what they are saying, the child may be afraid to continue and will shut down. As hard as it may be, remain as calm and reassuring as you can.
  • Don’t interrogate. Let the child explain to you in his or her own words what happened, but don’t interrogate the child or ask leading questions. This may confuse and fluster the child and make it harder for them to continue their story.
  • Reassure the child that they did nothing wrong. It takes a lot for a child to come forward about abuse. Reassure him or her that you take what is said seriously, and that it is not the child’s fault.
  • Safety comes first. If you feel that your safety or the safety of the child would be threatened if you try to intervene, leave it to the professionals. You may be able to provide more support later after the initial professional intervention.

Reporting child abuse—anonymously;

reporting child abuse

If you suspect a child is being abused, it’s critical to get them the help he or she needs. Reporting child abuse seems so official. Many people are reluctant to get involved in other families’ lives.Understanding some of the myths behind reporting may help put your mind at ease if you need to report child abuse.

  • I don’t want to interfere in someone else’s family. The effects of child abuse are lifelong, affecting future relationships, self-esteem, and sadly putting even more children at risk of abuse as the cycle continues. Help break the cycle of child abuse.
  • What if I break up someone’s home? The priority in child protective services is keeping children in the home. A child abuse report does not mean a child is automatically removed from the home—unless the child is clearly in danger. Support such as parenting classes, anger management or other resources may be offered first to parents if safe for the child.
  • They will know it was me who called. Reporting is anonymous. In most places, you do not have to give your name when you report child abuse. The child abuser cannot find out who made the report of child abuse.
  • It won’t make a difference what I have to say. If you have a gut feeling that something is wrong, it is better to be safe than sorry. Even if you don’t see the whole picture, others may have noticed as well, and a pattern can help identify child abuse that might have otherwise slipped through the cracks.

When reporting child abuse

Reporting child abuse can bring up a lot of difficult emotions and uncertainty. You may ask yourself if you’re doing the right thing, or question if your voice will even be heard. Here are some tips for communicating effectively in difficult situations:

    • Try to be as specific as you can. For example, instead of saying, “The parents are not dressing their children right,” say something like, “I saw the child running outside three times last week in subzero weather without a jacket or hat. I saw him shivering and uncomfortable. He seemed to want to come inside.” However, remember that it is not your job to “prove” abuse or neglect. If suspicions are all you have, you should report those as well.

If you see future incidences, continue to call and report them. Each child abuse report is a snapshot of what is going on in the family. The more information that you can provide, the better the chance of getting the best care for the child.

Child Abuse Hotlines:

“Empty Chairs.” Powerful, and Unforgettable.

“Empty Chairs.” Powerful, and Unforgettable.

“Empty Chairs” by S Burke writing as Stacey Danson. My life … my book.

“Empty Chairs” More than a story of Child Abuse. (Standing Tall and Fighting Back 1.)

“Physically and emotionally, everything that made me who and what I was was destroyed. But, they never got my soul. They didn’t break me. Something in me refuses to be broken. I don’t know what the hell you call it, but it’s strong. It burns inside me with a life force of its own.”

“Powerful and Unforgettable”

How lucky I am to have had that said about my book, “Empty Chairs”

Just Two of the 300 plus reviews for Empty Chairs

Bill Kirton rated it  5 Star..

Some of my friends have said of this book that they want to read it but, knowing the pain and horrors it chronicles, need to get themselves into the right frame of mind to do so. Others have admitted that they doubt whether they’ll actually get round to it. They should and must – for several reasons.

It’s an autobiographical story, written under a pseudonym, which reveals how a 3 year old was subjected to gross sexual abuses at the behest of her own mother, and forced to continue servicing visitors to the house until eventually, at the age of eleven, she ran away. Thereafter, life on the streets proved equally stressful, threatening to confirm all the negatives she felt about how people behave.

Perhaps that crude synopsis has made you join the ‘I’m not sure I could read this – it’s too horrible’ camp. If it has, it’s deprived you of an astonishing experience. Because this is a page turner and, bizarrely, a sort of celebration. I know that’s a cliché beloved of Amazon reviewers, but here it’s a fact. The story is relentlessly riveting. There’s tension, hidden (and not so hidden) forces at work, powerful characters, and observations of social interaction that are penetrating insights into what lurks behind the facades of sunny, happy-go-lucky Australia, where families picnic in the sun and glory in sights such as the fabulous Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The abuse inflicted on the infant Sassy-Girl (let’s use the street name she earned) was not at the hands of social low-lifes, but ‘respectable’ middle class professionals. When she eventually rebels and runs away, she has to find places to sleep, clothes to wear, ways to get food, and simultaneously avoid the pressure from pimps to recruit her into their stable. She experiences some kindnesses but her whole life seems to have been a denial that trust is possible between humans. When groups of girls at the zoo mock her for the clothes she’s wearing, she asks ‘why do people do those things? What was it that gave those girls the right to make fun of something they didn’t understand?’ adding that ‘It would take a very long time to discover how common that trait was in humans’.

It would have been so easy (in theory) to succumb to prostitution to earn her keep, but the abuse she suffered makes her determined never to allow her body to be used again. As she says ‘I knew my soul would die anyway if I made a conscious decision to sell the child’s body in which it was housed. I wasn’t being brave, or strong. I simply knew that all of me would survive – or none of me would. What point would there be living without my soul and my spirit?’

An author’s note at the beginning speaks of the compulsion Danson had to write this, the promise she’d made to someone to do so, but she also admits that it’s taken longer to get round to it than she thought it would. And that’s part of the spell this narrative weaves. We’re getting the intimate day to day experiences of a 12 year old – the encounters, the threats, the violence, the alienation – but they’re all being recounted by the mature woman she survived to become.

And the narrator herself is aware of this, of course. This is a woman who knows how to write, how to use language, sometimes simply, always directly, to engage the reader, a woman who has come to know that friendships and trust are possible, and yet who’s re-entering the mind of her pre-teen self and reliving those years, with their innocence and ignorance. Because Sassy-Girl is uneducated (in formal terms). She thinks everyone speaks Australian (except Americans, whom she’s seen on TV and who speak American). ‘If someone had told me we all spoke English,’ she says, ‘I would have been even more confused.

At times, the mature narrator lends her voice to the girl. When she makes her way to the War Memorial, for example, she says she ‘spent the rest of the night in the company of the spirits of people who had died in a nightmare as well’. And there’s an awareness of the power of simplicity in sentences such as ‘I wanted to laugh and mean it’, or ‘It reminded me of the way I cried, back when I still could.’

But these aren’t intended to be criticisms. The moment Sassy-Girl suspects she’s feeling self-pity, she forces herself out of it. She’s a survivor and, despite all the torments she’s endured in these early years, what remains is an affirmation of her spirit, a confidence that, despite the enormous forces ranged against her, she won’t be a loser. It’s a compelling read, a reminder of the deepest evils of which we’re capable, but also a celebration of our ability to overcome.

 

George Polley

Oct 12, 2013 George Polley rated it 5 star

If you’re the victim of child abuse, know someone who is, or work with victims of child abuse, Stacy Danson’s autobiographical account of the sexual abuse she endured at the hands of her mother from age three until she ran away at eleven is the book for you.

Empty Chairs is, as the subtitle says, “much more than a story about child abuse.” It is about the resilience and triumph of a girl whose street name was “Sassy”, who not only survived the horror of sexual abuse and her mother’s sadism, but survived life on the streets of her native Sydney, Australia as a tough-as-nails, don’t-take-no-crap runaway. At age of eleven, she made a mature decision about her life: “No one was ever going to force me to do anything again. Such are the thoughts of a child whose experience of the world started in hell.”

Living on the streets at any age is no walk in the park; living on the streets as a young girl can be fatal. Stacy Danson learned its lessons quickly: Trust no one, stay out of the way of the pimps and other predators that prey on attractive girls, make yourself invisible. In spite of all the precautions, it doesn’t always work, and didn’t for Stacy. Key to her survival was running into a tightly-knit group of fourteen street kids who took her in, provided her a home, and protected her.

Why does she tell her story some forty years after her life on Sidney’s streets ended? Simply put, it was time. “Recent events in my small world have caused me to think deeply about the responsibility I have, that we all have, to make people aware of what can and does happen in a home that may well be right next door to you.”

In her case, the neighborhood was an upper middle class one where  her abusers were respected members of the community. One of her steady abusers was a family physician. Another was a sadistic cop. If she cried, her mother beat her, sometimes viciously. Did anyone hear her screams? If they did, no one said a word. It ended at age eleven when she beat her mother up, stole her money, and left.

The central tragedy of childhood sexual abuse is the damage it does, physically and emotionally, to the victim. Here is what Ms. Danson says about it: “Physically and emotionally, everything that made me who and what I was was destroyed. But,” she continues, “they never got my soul. They didn’t break me. Something in me refuses to be broken. I don’t know what the hell you call it, but it’s strong. It burns inside me with a life force of its own.”

“I firmly believe that everything that happened has helped to make me who I am, and I am kind of fond of who I am these days. It has taken half a century to get here, but here I am.” Indeed, here she is: from an abused kid who trusted no one and wouldn’t let anyone touch her, Stacy Danson has grown into a compassionate woman, loving mother and fine writer. I look forward to reading more from her

.Purchase Empty Chairs here.