A beautiful boy, a horrible life

Everything about this house was born to grow and die…
And love lies bleeding in my hands.

Love Lies Bleeding – Elton John

Yesterday, my nephew Ryan, a man I didn’t really know anymore, died. He was 28 years old.

And I don’t know how to feel.

Let me go back 25 years.

Back in 1989, I was not yet married, but the woman that would be my wife and I had been dating for about a year. My mother was living a couple of hours north of us.

My brother had a son, Ryan who was roughly three years old at the time. My brother was no longer with Ryan’s mother, Val.

Anyway, Karen had a week of vacation that I didn’t have, as I’d just started a new job. My mother hadn’t seen Ryan in a while, so Karen agree to pick him up and, along with her girlfriend, spend the week up at mom’s.

For a week, the three of them were enchanted by the exceptionally polite and bright little boy that was my nephew. He was a charmer and the sweetest little kid you’d ever want to meet.

However, it was also during that week that all the shit came out. In his own way, Ryan was able to get it across that his mother was locking him in his bedroom and going away all night. He had a couple of small round burns on his leg where she stubbed her cigarette out on his leg for punishment. He told a story about his mother stabbing her boyfriend at his birthday party. My brother backed that one up because he’s the one that drove the boyfriend to the hospital.

Needless to say, my mother and Karen were horrified. Ryan, for his part, seemed to take it in stride. It was his life. He didn’t know anything different. This was his normal.

Trying to play it cool, I called Val and asked if it was okay for mom to keep Ryan for another week. Val didn’t care. And in that week, I almost lost my job because I was on the phone at work with police, with various people at the Children’s Aid Society. I can’t even tell you who all I talked to, but I know I eventually reached the director of the CAS. But all along the way, the story remained the same: Unless Val tries to hurt him, there’s nothing anyone could do. Even though we could point to scars. Even though he could tell them everything. Even though there was a hook on the outside of his bedroom door to lock him in.

Even though he said the most unwittingly chilling things. During those weeks at my mother’s, he once said that, if he could somehow escape his bedroom when he was locked in there, he would go out to the balcony and “fly away.”

Still, for that entire week, I tried. I tried everything I could to help him, but the system was all against me. There wasn’t anything we could do. Our last call had been to the Durham Regional Police, who told us if we didn’t get him back to her, she could have us charged with kidnapping.

I can still clearly remember sitting him down in my living room on a summer Sunday evening, Karen having brought him back that morning. He hadn’t seen his mother in two or three weeks by this point. Karen and I, fighting tears, told him we were going to take him back home. I remember Ryan looking up at me and, while he pushed his finger into my knee, said, “No, I want to stay here. With you.”

I had to get up and leave the room to cry. We knew the hell he was stepping back into, and no one would help Karen and I prevent it.

We drove him back to Val’s and, with him sobbing and hugging us because he would rather stay with us than his own mother, Karen and I dropped him back off with his mother.

A week later, she tried to kill herself.

Luckily, Ryan was with Val’s mother at the time (because apparently Val didn’t ever want to look after him herself). She told the ambulance attendants they might as well let her die, because if they saved her, she’ll only try again, and this time, she’ll take Ryan with her.

Unfortunately, they didn’t listen to her and saved her ass.

Finally, Ryan was taken from her. The CAS contacted me and I was told I would have unlimited access to see him and could speak in court when the hearing regarding her ability to parent him came up.

It was during this time that the CAS representative revealed to me that they had previously checked Val’s apartment and, when they saw the hook on Ryan’s bedroom door that locked him in every Friday and Saturday night, Val explained it away as him having gotten up early one morning, tried to make toast and almost set a fire. They bought it and didn’t demand that it be removed.

The CAS considered allowing me, as next of kin, to take him (my brother was, for all intents and purposes, out of the picture), but decided, for whatever reason, that a foster family would be better. Three days after he was moved to the foster home, I was told I could no longer see him because the foster family had “proof” that Karen and I had had sex in front of him.

Their “proof”? A three-year-old boy that grabbed his crotch every once in a while. Because no other three-year-old boy has ever done that without some sort of sexual prompting.

And, of course, the CAS backed them.

So, I was cut out.

When it came time for the hearing, I remember sitting in the courtroom. The file on Val, with no exaggeration, was a solid two or three inches thick.

The person that could have best championed Ryan, my brother, should have talked, He couldn’t, because he was so stoned. Instead, he slept most of the time in the courtroom.

Long story short, the judge never actually got to hear any of the story because the lawyers bargained it all out. They went from trying to have Ryan permanently removed from Val, down to a year of AA and parenting courses before she could get him back. Finally, they bargained it down to a single session of AA.

She didn’t even do that.

So, the woman that tried to commit suicide mere weeks earlier, the woman that threatened her own son’s life, the woman who never seemed to care if her son was even around, got her kid back.

As soon as she did, she fucked off to BC and I didn’t hear anything from him again until he was 17 and Val called me out of the blue to demand that I take him. He’d been in and out of jail by then and had developed a fairly serious drug and alcohol habit. And I had two very young kids of my own. So, as much as it killed me, I had to say no.

She called me every name in the book and accused me of “not caring” about Ryan. The mother that was calling me to take her son off her hands. The bitch that was willing to throw her own son away like so much garbage. Accusing me of not caring.

Though I never really saw Ryan after that, there were the inevitable stories of him spending the latter part of his teen years and early twenties in and out of jail for various indiscretions. There were the stories of drugs and alcohol.

He seemed to be getting his shit together in the past few years. He had a girlfriend, though it was on and off. He had somehow managed to find a way to deal with his psycho mother. He got in contact with my mother and called her fairly regularly.

He moved out to Edmonton a year ago or so. And in mid-January, his son was born. Apparently he swore he would raise the boy right, not like he had been raised.

Then, last Saturday, his girlfriend found him in bed, not breathing. I don’t know all the details, but apparently his heart had stopped. By the time they had him on life-support, his brain had been too long without oxygen.

Supposedly, my brother, a truck driver now, is going to try and get a load that needs to be hauled out to Edmonton so he can make it out there eventually. Because, hell, Ryan can wait, right?

And yesterday, with some of his family around him (but not his father), they pulled the plug and he died.

So now Val gets to play the grieving mother. His girlfriend has decided that she and Ryan’s son will now move in with her.

It chills me to the bone to think of what that bitch will do to this new life. Somewhere, I pray there’s a special place in hell for all parents like this. And I pray that both Ryan’s parents will end up there.

For me, all I really have is the memory of a beautiful little three-year-old boy pushing his finger into my knee and saying, “I want to stay here. With you.” And somehow I have to reconcile that with an adult that didn’t ever really get a fair shot at a normal life because he had a mother bound and determined to put her own needs first, and a father who was more of a non-entity than anything. He didn’t have a chance, because that was Ryan’s version of normal.

And now he’s dead.

And I don’t know what to feel.


14 thoughts on “A beautiful boy, a horrible life

  1. This is so sad Tobin. But you know that it was a no- win situation for you. When you are dealing with people so far into their disease they will use you and abuse you. Just know that the time you did have with Ryan was meaningful to him and you. He is where the universe wants him to be and he is at peace. For once in his life.

    • Yes it is sad, Diane. On so many levels. I believe each of us is born, filled to the brim with possibilities. with potential. Unfortunately, there are so many people standing in line, eager to drain all that potential away.

      And then they stand back and say, “well, I knew they’d never amount to much.” But when something bad happens to that person, they’re the first to whip out the tissues and wail about what a waste it was, how horrible it is that the person is gone. Such a waste, such a good person with a life cut short.

      I hope to God Ryan’s at peace now. It would be the only good thing that ever really happened to him, aside from the birth of his son.

    • Unfortunately, it’s a story I’ve heard again and again since then. I know there’s people in there that are working for the right reasons, and surely they do some good. But in my case, I have rarely been as frustrated as I was by the inaction of a group who’s stated goal is the protection of the child. Instead, I saw them do everything they could to coddle the parent, to not piss them off. It made me sick then, and it makes me sick when I think of it now.

  2. What a horrible story. I can only imagine your frustration. Nobody wants to hear. They are too busy hiding behind rules and regulations.
    Please accept my most heartfelt condolences.

  3. Shit is thrown at us everyday and some of that shit we can wipe up and flush down the toilet and some is just too much for one person and it spreads all over and the harder you try to wipe it up the messier it gets. The worst part is you know that you could have cleaned it up and would take a very long time but on the other hand that shit would never ever go away.

    I’m sorry to hear about your loss. It’s a very emotional time that you and Karen are going through and it’s all the “what ifs” and you know more than a lot of people from all the shit thrown at you that you can’t save everyone. I may sound harsh but you do understand.

  4. I’m sorry is too little a word to use here. You’re story has landed a familiar groin kick in my own blackened heart. When my son was 15 he said a song by Said The Whale “Gift of a black heart” reminded him of me. It inspired a tattoo I have above my shoulders. He always knew me as the loving mother with a heavy heart because of the blackened family history. The actual “Gift” in having this heart is the ability to become the light out of darkness. Something out of nothing. Sounds like he became something from nothing. A caring father. Those few weeks you and your wife had with him may have been the torch he carried in the darkness to guide him to fatherhood this day. Don’t regret not being there all the time. Be thankful you were there at just the right time!

    • I don’t think we were there at the right time. I like to think we may have helped a little bit, but honestly, I don’t think anyone was there for that poor kid at the right time in any of his 28 short years.

  5. This story is heartbreaking. It must be so frustrating to try to do the right thing within such a broken system. So sorry for your loss, Tobin.

    • Thanks, Sherry. It was easily one of the most frustrating things I went through. Everyone seemed to understand the issue, but everyone still fell back to protocol. Except in the case of the CAS, who just didn’t seem to give much of a shit. The caseworker, I seem to remember, became pretty good buds with the mother, and didn’t seem to worried about crossing those ethical lines.

      Frustrating is right.

  6. Your story made me cry. So sorry to hear it. So sorry for poor Ryan and his wasted life. You did what you could, what you had to do. I hope you don’t beat yourself up about it.

  7. Oh my gosh, Tobin how very, very sad. Truly heartbreaking. The poor guy. Not knowing how to feel…is feeling enough. Get your comfort in your wife, as I’m sure she’s dealing with her own set of feelings. Lean on each other. All I can do is shake my head in disbelief.

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