Note: This series of posts illustrates the early childhood experiences contributing to attachment issues in adopted or biological children. While this story is fictional, the majority of children suffering from attachment issues will have experienced much of the trauma written about here. The childhood trauma, as well as behaviors depicted, are common in lessor or greater degrees to the majority of children treated at Zion Hills Academy.
Kyle visited Mariana every week, on Thursday. It baffled him how this child, who was so gentle and careful during their visits, could not find a way to maintain a placement. Mariana’s attention was focused on him like a death ray. She was charming, almost affectionate, and considerably more well-behaved than other kids on the ward. At the same time, there was a distant look that came into her eyes at times. Even with his extensive experience and training, Kyle found it hard to pin down, understand or even predict.
With the regular staff, who spent up to twelve hours a day, five days a week, Mariana was far from charming. She began her first few months much like a tiny debutante holding court. The early months at the inpatient facility were a flurry of police, social workers, pediatricians, psychiatrists, psychologists, ward staff, and Kyle.
Mariana first realized the power she held over staff when one of the hospital janitors accidently spilled ice water on Mariana while wiping down her table. The shock and discomfort startled the little girl, but within seconds she regained her composure. Mariana began to scream, “Get away from me!” at the already rattled janitor. The diminutive Latina flinched, apologizing in broken English. No one yet knew how destructive that first bit of real power and control would be in a mind that was compromised from the beginning.
As Mariana spent time with police going through interviews, she thrived on the attention. Mariana also began to exhibit a sort of hyper sexualized behavior with the males she came into contact with. She had perfected the art of creating extreme chaos with the staff and pitting different caregivers and professionals against each other.
A precious few days before the trial was set to begin, Mr. Ketching decided to take a plea bargain. He would live out his remaining years far from his beloved wife and home. The dark skill with which Jack Ketchings had wooed and abused his foster children over the years launched a media firestorm on the Child Protective Service department of every county in Southern California.
Kyle really hated his job. Over and over, just as one situation would stabilize slightly, another entered a dimension of hell so terrifying it disturbed even him a bit. Discovering Mariana’s abuse at the hands of Jack as well as all his past atrocities left a taste in his mouth that could only be removed by a stiff drink after work. As he sat and sipped the magical liquid, he wondered how this vulnerable little girl could make her way in the world after so many assaults to her spirit.
Nurse Carrie had been able to think of little else than Mariana’s future since finding out about her tragic abuse. It made her heart weep knowing she had been taken advantage of after having been dealt such an unfair hand in utero. Carrie had no one else to look after aside from an old hound named Sarge, who was most likely not long for this world anyway. Having the opportunity to bring the smallest amount of peace to an otherwise severely disturbed young life caused Carrie’s emotions to surge - she wanted Mariana to have a forever home with her.
Of course there was considerable red tape to contend with in setting up yet another foster arrangement for Mariana. None of the involved parties wanted the ball to be dropped even one more time - the little girl’s fragile psyche would not survive much more. Mariana had been barely hanging on at school, with one incident after the other. Nearly all the students in her class had no idea how to interact with her - more often than not, Mariana treated other children with suspicious hostility, recoiling when any of them got near her. As a result of her unpredictable emotions and outbursts, there were always one or two kids in Mariana’s class that couldn’t resist making fun of or trying to torture her. It always ended the same way, with Mariana having a near meltdown and Carrie being called out of work to come and pick her up. Eventually, things became somewhat tense at the hospital with the other nurses - since although they all had a great deal of admiration for all that Carrie was doing - having to cover for her was getting old.
Relationships with Mariana’s peers proved challenging - but those with adult men were a different story entirely. With each passing year at school, it seemed that her heightened feelings of sexuality (very much evident in her shockingly adult behavior) grew several fold. Carrie tried to speak to Mariana, explain the inappropriateness…...but how do you convey such adult concepts to an 7 year old child? Mariana seemed to have no recognition whatsoever that the manner in which she was acting was not normal for a child her age.
Life at home between Carrie and Mariana was a constant struggle - with temper tantrums, the need for vigilant supervision and quite honestly, Carrie worried about the fate of her beloved Sarge. After what happened with the Ketching’s cat, anything was possible, since there wasn’t any evidence of the existence of a conscience. Mariana acted with nearly zero regard for consequences to any life - animal or human. Even so, Carrie felt a bond with Mariana that she didn’t understand. She needed someone to accept her always and without question. Carrie was determined to be that for her - a large and unmoving rock in her raging river.
After several satisfactory home visits from Kyle during which Mariana and Carrie were relating with each other far better than any other foster parents, and since Carrie very much wanted the adoption process to move forward, the hearing was scheduled. On a beautiful and sunny fall day, the first major step toward healing took place - the adoption was approved. To commemorate the event, Carrie, Kyle, Dr. Hornbeck and Mariana had a picnic at a local park. Sandwiches, lemonade and special cupcakes with Mariana’s name on them seemed to touch something in the little girl, and for once she acted almost happy.
The reality of such ambitious goals was proving far more difficult in the day-to-day life of Mariana’s many needs and challenges. As required by the foster arrangement, especially one with the intention of eventual adoption, there were weekly therapy appointments for Mariana alone, as well as for Carrie. If there was any chance of turning Mariana’s behavior around and living more like a normal child, everyone was going to have to put their best foot forward. The first several months of these sessions were extremely frustrating. Dr. Hornbeck, a sweet, yet extremely knowledgeable older woman, worked diligently to fully understand the situation. There was the dynamic between Carrie and Mariana, as well as the child’s many other interactions - with her classmates, teachers, and various other mental health professionals. Toward most everyone but Carrie, Mariana acted the same - sweet, polite, at times a bit withdrawn - but at home, the difference was night and day. Carrie’s stories about the rage, destruction, screaming, lying, manipulation stood in stark contrast to the Mariana everyone else in her life interacted with. During their sessions together (Dr. Hornbeck was experienced enough to understand that making Carrie a part of the conversation was a crucial component to Mariana’s progress) mother and daughter began to find their way toward each other, but the road ahead was still long and winding.
Dr. Hornbeck felt very strongly that Mariana needed to have a diagnosis to truly move forward with treatment. At the same time, jumping to any conclusions and not coming up with the right one would do more harm than good. With the precision of a neurosurgeon, the doctor asked many questions of Mariana and Carrie, at times separating the two so that she could get the most complete picture. Dr. Hornbeck also consulted with Kyle as well as all of Mariana’s school teachers so she had all the information. Once these details had been sorted through and put together, it was clear - Mariana was suffering from Attachment Disorder. Her characteristic behaviors of rage, the inability to bond with primary caregivers, violence toward animals, the absence of any conscience, hyper-sexuality were in keeping with this diagnosis..
On the day Carrie got the news that there was finally a diagnosis, her emotions were a mix of relief to finally have some answers, and fear that her best would never be enough for such a disturbed angel. Mariana was entirely unchanged, mercurial as ever - one moment sweet and almost innocent, the next like a crazed animal. Dr. Hornbeck, as it turned out, was trained in attachment therapy and suggested a couple different treatments right away. During their sessions, role play was an important skill they practiced in trying to retrain Mariana’s emotional pathways and to help her interact with Carrie in a more loving and normal way. Despite the best intentions of everyone involved, Mariana remained distant at best. Dr. Hornbeck also suggested another technique to break through Mariana’s vortex of dark emotion and resistance. Since the early 1970s, Holding Therapy had been helping numerous children with Attachment Disorder to finally accept the love and nurturing of a parent. Over and over, Carrie wrapped Mariana in a blanket and held her tightly, using all the words of support suggested to her as well as truly projecting her feelings of motherly love into the young girl’s heart. Mariana fought against this contact every step of the way - it took Carrie weeks to find a way to even get the blanket around her in the first place. The only way she succeeded was to take Mariana by surprise when she was distracted by something. This felt like trickery - after all the girl had been through, to approach her healing in such a manner seemed like it would do quite the opposite. Indeed, each time Mariana was wrapped up in the blanket she became more disturbed than ever, like a cornered animal. One time, Mariana was so wild with rage that she had an accident, soiling herself. Carrie felt terrible and could only look on helplessly as her daughter ran to the bathroom to wash away the humiliation.
The lack of progress during therapy was only the tip of the iceberg. By twelve years of age more problems had been developing at school that threatened Mariana’s very presence there. Even though Carrie kept a close eye on the girl, somehow, she was managing to sneak different clothing into the school, changing after arriving there. Short skirts, revealing tops and even black eyeliner. Mariana being a middle school student and with the high school within walking distance of one another, Mariana was able to sneak over and meet up with a secret boyfriend there. On a few occasions already, they had been caught by the football coach under the bleachers. Mariana was almost naked, the boy about to have his way with her no doubt. They had not only been smoking cigarettes but also drinking together. Detention, suspensions, nothing deterred these kids. It was becoming a nightmare of a situation, even in the best of circumstances. Just when Carrie thought things couldn’t get any worse, she found a box of condoms under Marina’s bed. As Carrie stood up and prepared to have a very awkward conversation, she saw a text on Mariana’s cell phone that sent chills of horror running through her body.
Continue to Part 5