Monday, February 22, 2010

Train Wreck

By Susan Murphy Milano

“Someday maybe there will exist a well-informed, well considered and yet fervent public conviction that the most deadly of all possible sins is the mutilation of a child’s spirit

-Erik H. Erikson
Anyone who believes that children are not affected by violence in the home is very mistaken.
There is nothing, absolutely nothing more terrifying than hearing your parents scream at each other in anger.
And that terror is magnified tenfold when you see your father, whom you love, beating, knocking, bashing, and kicking the mother you adore.
As a child, you want to make it stop; after rushing to your mother’s aid and getting knocked across the room yourself a few times, you learn to run away from the mayhem rather than toward it. Your feelings become confused, swirling between the fear of being hurt yourself and even worse, dread that your mother will be killed if you don’t make him stop. In the mind of a child they feel responsible for the destruction. “If I cannot make it stop then it must be my fault.”
The first time you experience it, the horror is unimaginable. Your whole warm, safe, comfortable world is exploding in front of your eyes. How can this be? Why is this happening?

The Peterson Children
This made me think of Chris and Thomas Peterson, the boys of Kathleen Savio . Her body was discovered “dead” shortly after ending a violent marriage, in a bathtub in 2004. Their father former police Sgt. Drew Peterson was arrested for her murder and he is currently being held in an Illinois jail until the trial.

Their lives are literally a train wreck. Not once, but twice. After Kathleen's death their father was quick to marry a girl close enough in age to be the boy’s sister. There was no time to process and grieve for their mother and it is likely their father, a stern task master, whom set the tone for what would and won’t be tolerated with their new step-mom Stacy Peterson. Imagine your mother dies and as a child you are commanded by someone whom you likely fear to "suck it up" and move on. The only difference in this abusive household the boys have experienced a triple dose of what I term "roller coaster hell" in an environment deeply rooted in power, control and violence.
The boys are young enough to bond with step-mom Stacy and old enough to have experienced loss, uncertainty, fear and tragedy. Stacy takes on the task of immediate motherhood with Kathleen's boys. She goes that extra mile preparing their favorite meals, being there when they come home from school to tucking them in each night. Slowly the boys begin to trust Stacy and after about a year as a family things settle down a bit. Although Stacy gives birth to a boy and a girl during the marriage she is always conscious of the boys and their feelings working overtime to build a solid foundation for Kathleen's boys Chris and Thomas.
Suddenly, the bright light in the Peterson home is once again burned out when Stacy Peterson vanishes.
Do these children re-live and witness the same horrors as when their mother was alive as the household begins to crumble? The answer is yes.
The boys have now experienced two life devastating train wrecks within a 5 year time period. During the following months the tension is so thick in the Peterson houselhold you could cut it with a knife. Their home is invaded by the media. Police presence both in and outside the home is omnipresent. Everyone in the country soon knows the name Peterson and its' association with something evil, violent and tragic.
The third train wreck happens when Drew Peterson is arrested. The boys are devastated. Regardless of what we may think of Peterson these young men only know him as their loving father. And after his arrest the boys are sent to live with relatives.

I hope and pray in the years ahead Chris and Thomas Peterson have the opportunity to experience joy, love, hope and most of all peace.

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