By Sean Cruz
2. “Dad, I will never be well.”
My son spoke these words to me, a thick vein of despair in his voice, and I felt at once a heartburst of pain for him, for all those years that had been stolen from him, those last years of adolescence, those years in which he was forced to become a man without his dad to guide him, those years he had been held in remote Mormon enclaves in theocratic Utah, those years he had suffered through the emotional chaos of dealing with his mother’s life, her boyfriends plus three step dads, including the step dad who often slapped my children around their house in Payson, Utah, a heavy-set angry bastard named Steve Nielsen….
Aaron said these words to me in the early fall of 2003 just a few weeks after I had recovered him from the abduction, the only one of my four children that I was able to recover, and he was filling me in, telling me about how the damage came about, that look in his eyes telling me how severe his suffering had been during those years….
“Dad”, he said, “I didn’t want to tell you over the phone”, he said, “I wanted to see you in person and tell you myself,” he said; that’s the kind of young man Aaron was, an honorable son, his best years already gone forever….
“Dad, I will never be well!” he declared. I had just gotten him enrolled into the Oregon Health Plan. You had to be very sick to gain entry in 2003, and Aaron was more than overqualified for emergency acute care, with eight years’ worth of experience as the victim of a kidnapping…and in my heart, I knew he was telling me the straight-out truth, his opportunity to live a normal life, the life that I had dreamed of sharing with him, had been taken forever; now we were going to need a lot of medical help to find out what was left, what we could hope for….
Aaron was talking about more than the physical damage, he was talking about the emotional damage that he suffered during his years of 100% forced Mormon immersion….
In all the years that had passed since my four children disappeared into the exclusive control of his mother and her Mormon friends, I was able to gain access to only one medical report, that for Aaron, and nothing at all for my other three kidnapped children, despite an Order for Joint Custody….
The one report that I had seen was the documentation for Aaron’s admission “on an emergency basis” into a psychiatric ward in Provo, Utah, dated December 18, 1997, four months short of his 16th birthday. It was a miracle that I had been able to obtain this document….
The report described my son: “He is tall and thin…He has a slightly dark facial complexion…He looks sad…His mood is depressed and affect is sad. He speaks with a soft, slow voice. He reports a number of symptoms of depression including suicidal ideation and self injury...The patient’s insight judgment and impulse control is impaired as evidenced by wanting to resolve his problems with suicide and cutting himself…he has numerous large scars on both arms. He reports that when he cuts himself he feels relieved from internal pain. He cuts himself with a knife….”
I did not actually see those scars until Aaron was laying there comatose in Payson, Utah; he was sensitive about his arms and always wore long-sleeve shirts, plenty of time to count them during those five days and nights he lay motionless and unresponsive, to see the way they crisscrossed both upper arms, left and right, scars across scars…no needle marks on those arms, but lots of long scars, four inches long or more, wide scars, I hadn’t realized that a knife’s edge could create a scar so wide until I saw them on my son’s comatose arms….
I wondered how long he was cutting himself, at the tender age of fifteen, his despair so complete, how soon after his disappearance into Utah did the cutting begin, the report described multiple scars but provided no information as to when the self-mutilation began and how long it continued, and absolutely everyone concealed this information from me, most especially his mother and whoever she happened to be married to or otherwise involved with at the time or at any time thereafter….
Now, a few days after Aaron had been pronounced dead, his mother was telling this memorial gathering her story about the last time she had seen Aaron alive, about how he was sick and feverish and at risk of slipping into a coma, about how she had left him without meds but with a sack of groceries, her new husband Ben Foulk waiting impatiently across town, and she in a hurry to get back to California to her newly affluent life, co-owner of a string of high end retirement homes in El Dorado Hills, the new Mr. and Mrs. Ben and Gina Foulk, grumpy Ben, deep-pocketed Ben Foulk, waiting impatiently across town….
Gina had also left Aaron behind during his emergency psychiatric hospitalization, had gone on vacation out of state, leaving my 15-year old son to spend that Christmas in the psychiatric ward in Provo Utah with the other patients, while she took a Christmas holiday in Oregon and Washington, including a couple of shopping runs at Lloyd Center….
The report quoted my son at the time he was admitted: “I am very depressed. I want to die. I want to commit suicide. I cut on myself.”
As soon as I learned he was in the hospital, I was able to reach Aaron by phone and we talked about our love for each other. Then he was abruptly released into the custody of stepdad Steve Nielsen, the man who slapped my children around throughout their marriage, and I lost contact with my son, the hospital refusing to provide any additional information, this is Utah after all, and his mother Gina Nielsen refusing to provide any further information about my son, where he was or where Steve Nielsen was holding him…years would pass before I would learn anything more….
“Dad, I will never be well”, he said….
To be continued….
Part 3 is coming soon....