Behind Lori Baer
……….There were two detectives. They talked to the officer who was watching my mother and me. They whispered. The officer pointed once, maybe twice, to me, once to my mother. I didn’t know what to expect. I was only a kid. What did I know of justice?
When they finished their conversation, a detective pointed to my mother. The officer went to her. The detectives closed the door to the kitchen and sat at the table with me.
They were nice to me. Kind, gentle. They weren’t condescending. They spoke to me as if I was an adult. I remember liking that. I thought I could tell them what had happened and they would understand.
I told them, pretty much what I’ve told you. Of course, I was very emotional at the time, distraught. Not that I’m unemotional now. But it was a different type then. More anger, hostility, resentment, raw, all directed at Sue Ann and my mother.
They listened intently. They interrupted a few times to straighten out a detail or two they couldn’t grasp. I obliged by explaining what I meant in a different way.
They let me talk for a long time. They constantly jotted notes on those little pads they carry. They didn’t talk between themselves.
When I finished, they thanked me. They inquired about my comfort there in the kitchen. Would I mind waiting there until they’d heard the others’ versions? I said I was fine. I liked the kitchen. Besides, I felt better having gotten everything off my chest. I wanted a snack.
I didn’t see them for quite a while. I heard voices droning on in the living room. I recognized my mother’s voice. She yelled a few times. She yelled, “It’s not true.” “I didn’t mean that.” You’re twisting my words.” I remember smiling, thinking they were really giving the old bitch what she deserved.
I was tempted to open the kitchen door, just a crack, to hear better. But I didn’t want to be discovered. I didn’t want to do anything that would interfere with the punishment I imagined they planned to mete out to my mother.
My greatest pleasure came when I heard Sue Ann screech. Then I knew they were questioning her. During the time in the kitchen, hearing Sue Ann, I lost some of the anger I had for her. Sure she had seduced my father. But it wasn’t her fault, was it? My mother arranged it. She knew it would be difficult for my father to resist Sue Ann. When I had the thought, it made me feel strange. It unsettled me. I realized my father was partly to blame. If he’d been stronger, he would have resisted Sue Ann. It was very disturbing.
It seemed I was alone in the kitchen for hours. It was only a half-hour, and maybe not even that. I thought they’d forgotten about me.
The place got spookily quiet after a while. I couldn’t hear Sue Ann. For all I knew, they had taken her away. But the silence aroused my fear and curiosity. I pushed away from the table and tiptoed to the door. I opened it a crack and peeked into the living room.
My mother sat on the sofa. She sat ramrod stiff, staring straight ahead. She was blank, completely without expression. Like she was numb.
One detective occupied himself near the front door by peering out occasionally, as if he was waiting for somebody. I had watched for a brief time, when the other detective entered the room from the back. He caught the eye of his partner and nodded at my mother. The detective by the door tapped his head with his index finger. I understood the motion, sort of the international sign for nutcase. A warmth suffused me. It had been a trying experience. But if it sent my mother off the edge, it was worthwhile.
The detective who had come from the bedroom pointed toward the kitchen door and they advanced toward me. Fear overcame me, because at first I thought they had seen me peaking out. However, that wasn’t it. They simply wanted to talk and the kitchen door was as far from my mother as they could get without stepping onto the front porch.
I closed the door and slid back to where the hinges were. By pressing my ear against the seam, I could hear quite well. For days afterward, I wished I hadn’t eavesdropped on them.
“What a screwed up bunch,” said the short one. “The girl is warped.” Good, I thought, Sue Ann deserves to have her devious mind bent.
The tall one replied, “She doesn’t know right from wrong, that’s for sure.”
The short one said, “I understand the father. I don’t approve, but I’ve seen his type before. What I don’t get is the mother. How she could stand by and allow this to take place. It beats me.”
“That little girl actually thinks her relationship with her father is normal. She believes she and her mother are rivals for the father’s affections,” said the tall one, shaking his head.
As they talked, they stepped away from the door, toward the middle of the room, where I couldn’t hear them any longer. Thinking it was safe, I cracked the door and peered into the room. One of the uniformed officers talked with the detectives. My mother still sat on the sofa.
It wasn’t long before the doorbell rang. The uniformed officer opened it. He admitted two more uniformed officers. They navigated my father by his elbows into the living room. His hands were behind his back. I’d seen enough television shows to know he was handcuffed.
“Where’d you find him?” asked the short detective.
“Where else?” answered the officer gripping my father’s right arm. “At Randall’s.”
Did you find it while you were in Decatur? No? Maybe it’s not there now. It was a dive. No great loss if it’s gone.
My father was quiet, docile, really unnatural for him. He had a bruise, a large one above this right eye. There was a spot of dried blood tucked in the left corner of his mouth. That wasn’t unusual. He’d returned home many nights banged up. When I’d ask about it, he’d always reply, “It’s rough work being a soldier in Christ’s army.” He frequented places like Randall’s. They were the battlegrounds in his war against Satan, according to him.
Incredible, I know, but I believed him.
When my mother saw him, she screamed, “Monster,” over and over again. Even as the uniformed officer restrained her and the detective tried to quiet her, she intensified her screaming. She struggled with the officer, trying to get at my father, giving the impression that if she did, she’d claw him to death.
At the time, I thought she was sincere. She did want to hurt him. With the advantage of time and maturity, I’ve come to recognize her act for what it really was.
Finally, the short detective joined the uniformed officer in holding her back, and then the two managed to get her into the hallway and back to the bedrooms.
The tall detective asked my father, “Will you be good?”—like he was addressing a child. I wanted to burst from the kitchen and free my father. As difficult as it was, I held myself back.
My father bobbed his head in a “Yes.” They released him. The tall detective kicked an ottoman in his direction and my father lowered himself onto it. The detectives stood.
The tall one said, “We’ll get right to the point, Mr. Baer. Your daughter told us you’ve been raping her, pretty regularly from what she said. What, since she was a baby?”
I couldn’t restrain myself any longer. At that, I exploded into the living room, and made straight for the tall detective who had insulted my father. He was so shocked to see me barreling at him he lost his balance before I collided with him and set him down on his ass. As I yelled for my father to flee, I turned to the short detective. But he was too fast for me. Before I’d half turned, he had me in a tight grip, hooking an arm around me and hoisting me off the ground. The tall detective was back on his feet the next I looked. My father never left the ottoman. Even a child could tell he was dispirited, a defeated man accepting his fate, no matter what it might be. I cried at the sight.
“You’ve convinced this girl,” said the short one, “that what you’ve been doing to her is normal. She believes she and her mother are rivals for you.”
My father’s only defense was to stare at the short detective through bleary, bloodshot eyes. What the world must have looked like through those eyes.
I guess I couldn’t accept him that way. So I yelled for him to tell them the truth, to tell them that what we did was right.
You know what my loving father said? “The little bitch is lying. She and her mother are in this together.”
I was stunned silent. I couldn’t believe he was saying this. I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t truthful with the detectives. I remember I began crying. Not simply crying, but sobbing, that horsy, choking wail that has you fearing you’ll suffocate yourself.
The short detective attempted to be kind. He told me to calm myself. He said everything was all right. He declared my problems were over. Little did he know, they were just beginning. And I was about to start a vicious cycle of pain and horror.
I was crazed, you understand. I was certain I was losing my father’s love. I’d never doubted his love … until that moment. I’d done everything he asked of me. And now he was betraying me.
So, I recounted how I had pleased him, of the many times we’d been together, of the affection we shared, of the acts he demanded of me, and which I performed for him, happily, joyfully. I told how I saved him from his wife, my mother. My discourse wasn’t a straight line. I weaved and wandered. I spoke incoherently at times. I paused to cry and scream and plead.
But there was no mistaking what I said.
My father glared at me angrily. I saw him push off the ottoman at least twice, only to be halted by a detective, who cautioned him with a headshake and a hand on my father’s shoulder.
My father’s fury frightened me. I knew I’d lost him, but I didn’t know why. In desperation, I looked to the short detective who still held me. He looked back with sad eyes. I was only eleven, but I’d seen that look before. I’d seen it at funerals. It was the look you use when somebody has died. It was a mix of sympathy and apprehension. It startled me, but no more than what he said.
He said, “You’re safe now. Your father won’t be abusing you any more.” He tried to reinforce his words with a reassuring squeeze, but I pushed him away in revulsion.
I screamed in his face viciously, bathing him in spittle. I was hysterical.
As the short cop removed me from the room, my father’s words rang in my ears. The sad look of the detective burned in my mind. In that moment I realized what I’d suspected all along, what I had suppressed because it was easier to do that than confront it, because I harbored such a hatred for my mother that to punish her I would sacrifice myself, my innocence, perhaps my life, to my father. I’d wanted to belief him. I needed to belief him. Without him, I had nothing. And there, in the living room, he stripped me of what little I possessed. He made me feel dirty, sinful, violated, destroyed.
I condemned and later testified against him and sent him to prison, the only person I’d ever loved, a man who obsessed me, and who I could not stop loving. Loving and hating.
I wanted my mother to accompany him. After all, she’d stood by and had allowed him to rape me night after night. She’d allowed me to live in my fantasy world. But the court wouldn’t do it. She was neglectful, they said, but she too was abused. Now that he was out of the way, they wanted to give her a chance to create a true home for me under the watchful eye of DCFS.
So, I had no choice but to live with my mother. At first, it was a trial. I had resented her so long for one thing. Now I resented her for another. But over time I came to see the situation as the court had. She really had been as much a victim as I had. She had suffered terribly. And every time she looked at me I could see the pain in her eyes, the regret and fear that ate away at her. We came to terms, although it was too late for her. She killed herself.
You’re a former cop, Mr. Tomassetti; you know what a sieve the prisons are. My father should have been in prison the rest of his life, but he came home. It was when my mother was alive, and believe me neither of us was ready to welcome him.
When he tried to come home, it was the first brave defense my mother had ever made on my behalf me. She told him he wasn’t welcome. She forbade him to stay. When he wouldn’t leave, she threatened to call the police. When he refused to budge, she did call them. I knew our reconciliation was complete.
Then I hated him even more than the moment I realized what he had done to me. I was older. I understood more. And I’d had four years of it fermenting in my gut ……….