To be honest, I have not felt much like writing. Ever since I read the news last week about 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy, who was allegedly beaten to death by her mother and stepfather, Julio and Sharon Carrillo, in Stockton Springs, I have felt gutted and flat. Just writing that sentence — “beaten to death by her mother” — makes me shudder. How can that string of words ever go together?
I didn’t know Marissa, even though she was in my son’s grade, but I have thought about her pretty much every moment since I read the news.
It’s interesting, isn’t it, how some stories grip us. They shake us to the core and wake us up. According to statistics, child abuse is happening all around us, all the time. Even now, as I write this, some child is living in the same conditions that Marissa was. But we aren’t always aware, and we don’t want to believe. We stuff the thoughts away. Until a story like Marissa’s comes along, and we absolutely cannot ignore it. And we are horrified.
But, oh, how I tried to ignore it! I did not want to read the stories, and my husband begged me not to, also. He knew that I would walk around like this for days afterward, unable to think clearly or stop hugging our children. He knew I would then lose my strength to hold the line when enforcing the bedtime of our youngest son, the one who is the same age as Marissa. He knew I would be baking cookies for all of our boys, as if that somehow helps the world, and that I would spend too much time at night telling him that I can’t get it out of my mind.
Did anyone bake cookies for Marissa? I wondered.
What Dustin didn’t expect, however, was that I would come home the next day, after the first story was released, with an actual list of children (basically all of them) that I want to adopt. He did not anticipate that I would become obsessed with the thought that Marissa deserves a proper burial, or that I would seriously consider quitting my career to volunteer full-time for underserved children.
A mother beat her child to death allegedly. I cannot wrap my mind around it.
Each day, the news seemed to get worse. There were more details about the abuse, how Marissa suffered, and the signs that agencies meant to protect her had missed. I could not get past the idea that this beautiful child was on the planet for 10 years and maybe never felt true safety. Was she afraid when she went to bed at night? Was she hungry?
Eventually, I got stuck on the little things, things that define being 10 or 11 for children like my own: Did Marissa know the joy of watching a cake rise in the oven? Did she play in the leaves? Did she make snow forts? Did she have bedtime stories? Did she play Monopoly on a rainy Sunday? Did her parents go to Spaghetti Dinner Night at school?
Today there is literally a whole city of us who, in hindsight, would have offered any day to show Marissa these experiences.
As the days went on, new details emerged that suggested Marissa’s life had been mostly fine until her stepfather, Julio, entered the picture. The news gave many people mixed feelings. There was comfort in knowing that this child at least had some early years of happiness. Maybe she did play in the leaves, make snow forts and have bedtime stories. But then, how can any of that possibly matter when the mind goes back to the original news, to facts so horrible that they almost cannot be processed?
According to reports, Marissa was beaten multiple times a day, every day since October. Think about what you were doing in October. Think about all the days since then, all the mundane Tuesdays, the busy holidays, the weekends, the ski trips, the family dinner nights. And during all of those things, a 10-year-old girl was being beaten with a mop until she could not walk or talk. Every day. Multiple times a day. Right down the road from us.
Suddenly, I felt helpless. It’s just too much. It’s beyond horrible. And I cannot adopt all the children. I cannot save the world. I cannot change Marissa’s circumstances. I cannot even do a funeral for her.
“But every day, you have small moments to help children,” Dustin said. “Your own and others.”
Dustin went on to say that he believes all of us have a chance to change a life with every interaction we have, and that while we can’t always save the entire world or adopt all the children, we can make an impact in our small circle. In other words: “Changing the world” sometimes involves baby steps in our own space, within our own community.
None of us can save Marissa, but we owe it to her to be aware and to find small ways that we can help other children around us, even when we don’t realize that we are. We can coach. We can help in the schools. We can volunteer in the community. And if each of us commits to that, maybe one by one, we can make a difference, and if not change the entire world, maybe at least change one child’s world. After all, there is another Marissa out there, and that child needs us right now, not after the news hits the stands.
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