In October of 2009, blaring sirens and echoing gunshots shattered the silence on a narrow, winding road leading out of Adamsville, Illinois. A bank robbery had occurred, and the getaway car was speeding away, closely pursued by two police cars.
Approaching them was a blue Volkswagen Beetle with an attractive, young married couple, Robert and Cathy Stevens, and their four-month-old son, Mark, between them in his car seat. The parents had come here to enjoy the magnificent fall foliage, and marveled at how the red and orange trees and bushes looked so spectacular in the brilliant sunshine. They looked so much in love as they happily shared what was to them another special time. When Robert heard the sirens, he pulled over and stopped, but soon regretted this action.
“Bob!” Cathy cried out in horror as the robbers’ big, black Buick raced around a sharp bend, lost control, and skidded directly toward them.
Both parents knew they could not escape. Terrified, they turned their heads away and embraced, holding Mark between them to try to protect him. They also prayed they might be spared. But the Buick smashed into them head-on, and both parents died instantly. The cars then crashed through a guardrail, bounced down a rocky hill, sideswiping boulders and trees, before plunging into the swollen Marquette River.
Seconds later, both officers rushed out of their cars at the crash site and looked with horror at the scene below.
“Oh, my God!” Officer Santini said. He then dashed down the hill, and Officer Webb radioed for help.
Officer Santini swam underwater to the demolished Volkswagen and forced open a door. He quickly examined the remains of both parents, then carefully brought Mark in his car seat to the river’s edge. The infant’s bloody face was crushed, his lovely blue outfit was a red, shredded rag, and his arms and legs were severely lacerated.
The first ambulance arrived, and Mark was rushed to Adamsville Memorial Hospital, where he received extensive emergency treatment. The outlook was bleak and a priest administered the last rites.
Meanwhile, word of the tragedy reached the news media and became a nationwide story with people everywhere being concerned for him. He could have died, but because of his car seat and his parents’ embrace, Officer Santini, and what every doctor thought was a miracle, Mark survived.
But as a result, he had to endure many grueling weeks of surgery and intensive care. Due to the publicity the story received, the best doctors in the area donated their services to aid his recovery.
No amount of medical skill, though, could replace Mark’s psychological loss at this critical time. His injuries prevented his being cuddled, depriving him of the warmth, comfort, and security that only the close contact with another human could provide. The nurses did the best they could under the circumstances, smiling at him, talking to him, and caressing him. But the question remained: how would these adverse conditions later affect him?
Six months passed. Because of Mark’s continuous improvement and neither parent having any family, adoption proceedings began. But despite people’s sympathy, his grotesque face repulsed all the approved prospective parents.
There was, though, a thin, downtrodden-looking couple named Adams, who were in their early fifties, had stooped shoulders, pale skin, and sunken cheeks and eyes, making them resemble survivors of a Nazi concentration or slave-labor camp. The Adams were hard-working janitors in the hospital’s pediatrics area, were unable to have children of their own, and had fallen deeply in love with Mark. They thus applied to adopt him, not caring about his appearance.
At first, because of their income and age, their application was rejected, despite all their pleading. But after two months of extensive searching, it was obvious that no one else would take Mark, and the couple won.
Mark thus found a home. Physically, it wasn’t much and, in contrast to the large, magnificent homes characteristic of Adamsville, was a small ranch house. But what the home lacked materially, his parents compensated for with the love, tenderness, and understanding he needed so much. His mother even quit her badly needed job to care for him, and his father took a part-time, second job to partially compensate for the loss of income.
Mark’s appearance also improved. A nationally renowned plastic surgeon new to the area gave him an adorable, beautiful face, and when Mark again left the hospital, he was the center of attention as everyone who saw him was amazed at the change. Mark had become Dr. Healan’s greatest work of art and, with his cute expressions, light sandy-brown hair and blue eyes, was now a child whom almost any parent would have wanted.
Everything went well for the next two years, and Mark was the pride and joy of his parents. Because of his injuries and confinement, he began walking and performing other motor activities much later than normal. But this was soon overshadowed by his talking well, solving puzzles, and rapidly comprehending many topics at an unbelievably early age. He also had a keen interest in books and, with his mother’s effort and weekly trips to the library, he began reading before he was three. His parents, who had observed numerous children at the hospital, were truly amazed at his mental development. So were all the doctors-especially the pediatricians. Obviously, no brain damage had occurred during the time he’d been underwater.
Then on a hot Sunday in August of 2012, almost three years after the accident, his parents decided to go to Lake Tamaroa. They packed their rusted and faded Chevy Nova, dressed Mark in new swimming trunks, and left.
Everything went well on the way there. A refreshing breeze swept through the car. A local radio station played soft, relaxing music. A peaceful and happy mood prevailed.
But this atmosphere changed at the lake, and Mark became increasingly apprehensive as he approached the water. What he saw was not a tranquil lake, but a monstrous blue liquid that somehow wanted to swallow him and suffocate all the life out of him.
“Mark, what’s the matter?” his father kindly asked. “Don’t you like the water?”
“I’m scared of it,” Mark responded uneasily.
“Why?” his mother asked in a mild tone. “You’ve always enjoyed your bath. This is just a larger-size bathtub. Look at all those people out there having fun. We’re going to join them.”
“I don’t want to. I’m scared.”
“But we’ll be with you. Nothing bad will happen.”
“Yes, it will! I know it!”
“Come on,” his father said, picking him up and carrying him closer. “You just have to get used to it.”
“Put me down!” Mark screamed, his body becoming rigid. He then pleaded, with tears streaming down. “Please don’t. I don’t want to die.”
“All right, Mark,” his father replied, putting him down. “We won’t go in the water now. Maybe later.”
“Never!” Mark declared when he reached the ground. “Never!” He then ran crying into his mother’s arms. “Please, Mommy. Don’t make me go into the water. I don’t want to die.”
“You won’t die,” she said reassuringly. “Look at all those people in the water. Are they dying?”
“The water doesn’t want to kill them-only me.”
“It’s all right,” she responded, consoling him. “We’ll leave this place and never come back. I promise.”
No more was said about the incident, but the parents were troubled. Why had Mark acted this way?
After Mark fell asleep that evening, his parents quietly discussed the matter in a distant part of the house. Much was said, but no conclusions were reached.
A month passed without any incidents. Mark returned to his normal self, and time eased his parents’ concern.
The Chevy Nova then broke down and the parents went with Mark in a borrowed car to buy a replacement. After much looking, the parents found a used blue Volkswagen Beetle that seemed to be in good condition. Everything was favorable about the car-except Mark’s reaction.
From the beginning he stayed as far away as possible, viewing it as a blue monster that somehow wanted to carry him to his death. But his parents were almost sold on the car. Now all they wanted was a test drive. They would have had it, except that Mark refused to get in.
“But, Mark,” his father said patiently, “it’s just another car. There is nothing wrong with it.”
“Yes, there is! I’m scared of it.”
“Why? You weren’t scared of the others.”
“They weren’t like this one. There’s death in it.”
“Mr. and Mrs. Adams,” the salesman declared a little uneasily, afraid of losing the sale, “nothing dreadful has ever occurred in this car.”
“Yes, there has!” Mark insisted.
“Come on, Mark,” his father said. “Let’s just go for a little ride in it.”
“No!” He broke away from them and dashed into the street. Brakes screeched, and he was almost hit by a maroon dump truck. Frightened, he ran crying into his mother’s arms.
“What’s the matter with you?” the irate, burly driver yelled as he got out. “Can’t you control your kid? I could’ve killed him!” The driver got back in the truck, angrily pounded the wheel, and drove away.
Distressed, Mark’s parents were now in no mood to buy a car. They went home and tried to calmly speak to Mark, hoping to discover the reason for his unusual behavior. But they failed and became even more frustrated and confused.
That night, the parents were awakened by his screaming, and ran into his room to find him crying and trembling, his body drenched with perspiration. His mother took him in her arms.
“What happened?” she asked as calmly as she could.
“I had a bad dream. I was in that blue car. Then it was hit and went into the water. I was under the water and couldn’t breathe. I thought I’d die. Please help me. Make the blue car and the water go away.”
Mark buried his sobbing face while his parents looked painfully at each other, realizing why he’d behaved so unusually at the used-car lot and lake.
But what should they do about it? Should they tell him about his past? And if they did, how would he take it? Would it help solve the problem or only make it worse? They didn’t know, but hoped the problem would, with love and understanding, soon go away.
It didn’t. The nightmare returned the following night, with the same screaming, trembling , and crying. It came again the third night, with Mark now being afraid to go to sleep and everyone suffering from a lack of it. His parents now knew they had to do something–but what?
The day after the third nightmare, Mark had an appointment at the hospital for a checkup. He and his parents went into a hallway for examination rooms and saw Dr. Curell, a tall, slender man, with a pleasant face, stooped shoulders, glasses, and premature gray hair, still wearing his surgical attire, including the face mask.
“No! No!” Mark cried out. “Not that! Not that!” He then hid behind his mother, holding on to her.
“What’s the matter?” Dr. Curell asked kindly. “What have I done to scare my favorite patient?”
“It’s that thing,” Mark answered timidly, pointing to the mask. “It means death.” He then cried, repeating the words his parents had heard so much.
“Mark, you won’t die,” Dr. Curell said reassuringly. He removed the mask, cut it up, and flushed it down a toilet. “See, it’s all gone. Now come here. You’ve become so-o-o-o big since I last saw you.”
At his mother’s urging, Mark went slowly to the doctor. Dr. Curell picked him up, tenderly dried his eyes and face, and spoke to him soothingly.
“Doctor, could we please speak to you, uh … confidentially?” the mother requested, trying to choose a difficult word unfamiliar to Mark.
“Of course. Mark, we have a new aquarium downstairs with many cute fish. Would you like to see it?”
Mark reluctantly nodded, and Dr. Curell took him to a receptionist area.
“Joan, could you please show Mark our aquarium?”
“I’d be happy to,” she answered with a smile.
“Good. Take plenty of time with him.”
Dr. Curell led Mark’s parents into his office.
“Doctor,” the mother began, “you, of course, know all about Mark’s past.”
“Well, I should. I’ve been one of his surgeons ever since that eventful day. None of us thought he’d survive. But look at him now. He’s come a long way.”
“But not far enough,” his mother replied solemnly.
“What do you mean?” Dr. Curell asked uneasily.
Mark’s parents painfully related everything. Dr. Curell then said, “I believe you’re right. Are you sure you’ve never told him anything about his past?”
“Yes,” his mother answered.
“Could he have overheard anyone talking about it?”
“No. We’ve been very careful.”
“Well, somehow he knows.”
“Yes, but what can we do about it?”
“Unfortunately, there’s nothing I can do for him. What I feel you need for Mark is a psychiatrist.”
“A psychiatrist!” the father responded. “Our insurance doesn’t cover that. We can’t afford to-”
“Mr. Adams, you can’t afford not to.”
Both parents looked at each other painfully, so Dr. Curell said, “There is a free clinic in Cranford.”
“We won’t accept charity!” the mother responded. “Somehow we’ll manage, no matter what the cost.”
“All right. Fortunately, an outstanding child psychiatrist, Dr. Marion Winters, lives in Adamsville. In my opinion, she’s exactly the one Mark needs. If you like, I’ll call her, give her all the details, and schedule Mark’s first appointment.”
“We’d appreciate that,” the mother replied. “And thank you for taking the time to listen to us.”
The parents stood up to leave, but were startled when the door burst open.
“Mark needs you,” Joan said to them anxiously as she rushed in. “He was looking at all the fish, when one of them suddenly died. Immediately, he began to cry and said, ‘The water killed it! I must save the others!’ He then tried to overturn the tank. I held him back and tried to explain that the fish needed the water to live, but he didn’t believe me. All he knows is what he saw. Doris is now trying to comfort him, but is having a quite difficult time.”
“Damn!” Dr. Curell muttered as the parents rushed out.
Because of the urgency, Dr. Winters met with Mark and his parents later that day after her other appointments. Mark was still shaken but, with his parent’s help, outwardly appeared to have recovered from his ordeal of the fish dying.
The outer office was unlike anything the parents had ever experienced. The walls were painted with drawings of trees and flowers, and cute, colorful rabbits, deer, frogs, and other animals. The ceiling looked like the sky, with birds and fluffy white clouds on a pale blue background. Soft, relaxing violin and flute music was playing, and a calming aromatherapy scent permeated the area. Evidently, Dr. Winters was using every method possible to help her patients. Her assistant entertained Mark here while his parents talked with her first in a similar inner office.
When the parents saw Dr. Winters, they were surprised at how attractive and young-looking she was. She had long, curly dark-brown hair, deep-set hazel eyes, somewhat bushy eyebrows, and a flawless, creamy complexion that seemed to require no makeup. She was wearing a light-blue dress, white stockings, light-blue shoes, and a pearl necklace and earrings. And most important to the parents, her face seemed to naturally express the kindness of one who’d combine love with her expertise and treat her patients as though they were her own children.
“Our meeting now will be brief,” she began, “so that I can give Mark all the time he may need today. Are there any questions?”
“Yes,” his mother answered. “How serious is his problem and exactly what can you do for him?”
“His problem, I’m afraid, is very serious. He’s having nightmares about his experience as an infant and – being so young – he doesn’t know how to handle it. The incidents today with the surgical mask and the fish dying further show how severe the situation is. He likely doesn’t even know what is causing the problem. But hopefully, therapy will remove his fear and allow him to accept his past.”
After some other questions, Mark was brought in.
“Hello, Mark,” Dr. Winters said with a soft, tender voice and a warm smile as she extended her hand. “I’m Dr. Winters, and I’m pleased to meet you.”
Mark extended his hand and she shook it gently.
“My mommy told me your name. She said you’d help me.”
For 95 minutes, Dr. Winters had a warm and deeply moving session with Mark while his parents waited anxiously outside. Mark and Dr. Winters then came out, hand-in-hand, and to the parents’ relief, he seemed much better, looking happily at all the animals on the walls. The assistant then entertained him again while Dr. Winters spoke with the parents.
“I asked you back so I could report my initial findings. First of all, I found Mark to be adorable, lovable, and well-mannered. I liked him immediately.”
“We’ve tried to raise him properly,” his father replied.
“Well, you’ve done a fantastic job. Given Mark’s unusual background, I’m truly amazed he’s turned out so well. I’m also very impressed with his use of language. In fact, I’ve never seen anyone like him.”
“He likes the library books we bring home,” his mother said. “He can even read them.”
“Yes, he showed me,” Dr. Winters replied. “But now,” she continued more solemnly, “just as I suspected, Mark is partially aware of what happened to him and is terrified of it.”
“How is that possible?” the mother asked. “We’ve never told him about it and have been careful so he wouldn’t find out in any other way.”
“I’m not sure. He could have subconsciously picked up bits and pieces, and has now put them together. Because he is so gifted, who knows what he’s capable of? His mind could also have been so sufficiently developed at four months that he was always subconsciously aware of what happened to him. The incidents at the lake and the used-car lot then brought it all to the surface.”
“What happens now?”
“At home tonight, I want you, in the best, most compassionate way you can, to tell him everything. I can’t treat him until he knows the truth.”
“I don’t think we can,” the mother sobbed. “I can’t bear to hurt him. Couldn’t you do it?”
“No,” Dr. Winters sympathetically but firmly replied. “If I told him, he could lose confidence and trust in you, irreparably damaging your relationship.”
Both parents slowly nodded.
“Okay, I’ll see him again at 10 A.M. tomorrow. In addition, I’m prescribing a sleeping medication to hopefully prevent his nightmare. Give it to him before you tell him about his past. Good luck.”
To get Mark into the proper mood that night, his mother again had him read part of his favorite story, Adam Roberts, Boy Wonder, by Cathy Waterson. Prayers were said and, sitting in bed, he was given the medicine.
“Mark,” his mother said, “do you remember the story you once read about the little boy who was adopted?”
“Yes, Mommy. I really liked it.”
“Because the little boy was so special.”
“Yes, he was. Do you know if his mommy and daddy were his first mommy and daddy?”
“No, they weren’t. That’s what adopted means.”
“Yes. Now what do you think happened to his first mommy and daddy?”
“I don’t know. The story didn’t tell us that.”
“Well, what do you think could have happened?”
Mark’s face saddened. “I don’t know. Maybe they gave him away.”
“That’s right. Can you think of anything else?”
“Maybe they died.”
“Yes, but the little boy was still special. And isn’t that what really matters?”
“I guess so. Mommy, why are you asking me all these things?”
The mother now said somewhat emotionally, “Mark, how would you feel if you were that little boy?”
“All right, I guess. Why are you asking me things? Am I adopted? Please tell me.”
“Yes, you are,” his mother answered, trying to hold back the tears.
“Then what happened to my first mommy and daddy? Please tell me where they are.” A horrified look suddenly came to Mark. “They’re dead. I know it.”
His mother slowly nodded. They then cried harder and harder as they embraced. The father, also emotionally affected, took out a carefully hidden scrapbook.
Mark, still crying and hugging his mother, asked, “How did they die?”
But she was too upset to talk, so his father said, “Mark, you know those bad dreams you’ve been having? That was how they died. You were with them.”
“No! No! Not that! You’re lying! Tell me it’s not true! Mommy, please tell me it’s not true!”
“I’m sorry. What Daddy says is true.”
“Who were my mommy and daddy? Let me see them.”
The father opened the scrapbook and showed him the newspaper clippings, including the wedding and college yearbook pictures of his dead parents. They looked so young and attractive, but were people Mark would never know.
“Why did they have to die? Please tell me.”
“We don’t know,” his mother answered. “No one really knows; only God knows.”
“Well, let God tell me. Let him tell me why I didn’t die–only my mommy and daddy.”
“God doesn’t tell us things like that, but I’m sure he has his reasons.”
“But I want to know them.”
“Perhaps someday you will.”
Mark continued crying, but soon the medicine took hold and he fell asleep. His parents quietly turned off the lights and left, thankful that this part of the ordeal was over. The medication worked and everyone got their first good night’s sleep in four days.
Dr. Winters was pleased to learn how well Mark had reacted, telling Mrs. Adams it was a good sign. Mark’s willingness to cooperate added to her optimism.
But Mark needed extensive therapy. The nightmare still returned occasionally, despite the medication, but its frequency gradually decreased and eventually
stopped. On a trial basis, Mark was taken off the medication and the nightmare didn’t return. The therapy was going quite well.
Meanwhile, the cost of the almost daily visits was creating havoc with the family budget. Being already heavily in debt, the parents now couldn’t even afford an inexpensive used car like the blue Volkswagen, and had to settle for a rusted-away 1999 Plymouth. They also fell behind in their mortgage payments and had to sell their modest ranch house, renting a cramped, two-bedroom Cape Cod in an even worse part of town. They scrimped in every way possible, but it was inadequate. Realizing their plight, Dr. Winters again offered to treat Mark for nothing. But the Adamses, despite their low socioeconomic standing, were proud people and politely but firmly refused, vowing to Dr. Winters that one day she’d be completely paid.
Then after 19 months of therapy, with Mark being five years old, the last session came and Dr. Winters asked both parents to be present. She met with them first while Mark stayed with the assistant.
“I asked you both here because I feel I can no longer help Mark. His nightmare hasn’t returned in months. He seems to have accepted his past and appears to be a well-adjusted and very gifted young man. Lately he’s been telling me about his fascination with mathematics. But I was the fascinated one. His grasp of the subject is simply amazing. Mr. and Mrs. Adams, you have a fantastic child. He’s come a long way and will go a long way.”
“Thank you,” Mr. Adams replied. “We’re so grateful for everything you’ve done. Words just can’t tell you how we feel.”
“It’s been my pleasure.”
“Doctor,” Mrs. Adams said, “there’s one thing we must ask. You know how important it is for a child to swim. Do you think Mark could now learn how?”
“It probably would be best to wait several years. If he shows no signs of regression, he could try it. But let me warn you, this is a delicate area. Tread very lightly. Suggest it to him and see how he reacts. But do not try to coax him into it. The decision must be his.”
“Thank you, Doctor. We’ll do exactly as you say.”
Mark was then brought in and Dr. Winters said, “Mark, because of all the cooperation you’ve given me, I find that I can no longer help you. But if you ever want to see me again, I’ll be here.”
Tears came to Mark’s eyes. “I’m going to miss you.”
“I know. I’ll miss you, too. Of all the children I’ve helped, you’ve been my favorite.” She then picked him up and hugged him.