This story was inspired by true events. Names, Dates, and locations have been changed.
On October seventeenth 2011 Nadine Hick’s world, as she knew it, ended. After a year of fighting for custody of her son the court refused her plea, granting full custody to her child’s father, sheriff’s deputy Edward McKinney. As the judge deemed Nadine an unfit parent a sardonic smile spread across the face of Edward; he loved to win.
In that moment, she could not see, hear, or feel anything; it was as if all of her senses were now useless, and she would never be able to do anything or feel anything the same way again. She’d put up more of a fight in the past twelve months than she had in her entire life, and it didn’t matter. In the end she still lost. Nadine’s lawyer grabbed her arm , causing her to become acutely aware of the wood paneled courtroom she stood in.
“Come on, Nadine. Let’s get you out of here.” Her lawyer whispered. Nadine stared at the woman in her plaid pant suit, feeling nothing but an all encompassing rage.
“Get your hands off of me you good for nothing bitch,” she snarled back at the woman. She wrenched herself out of her lawyers grip and began to walk out of the room as quickly as she could, avoiding the looks of pity that befell her.
“I told you, Nadine,” Edward called after her, “I told you not to try and take my son away from me.”
As always, the sound of his voice stopped Nadine in her tracks. It was just one of the many instincts she acquired after years of abuse. It was like putting her arms over her face to prevent a broken nose or playing dead so he would stop sooner. If she froze when he spoke to her, the outcome was always less horrendous.
She felt his eyes on her and, even though they were in a public place where he would not touch her, every nerve in her body anticipated the first blow. She knew he wanted her to turn around, but she was not going to grant him the satisfaction of seeing the defeat on her face. Not anymore. He’d taken her son, and even after all of the sadistic things he’d subjected her to, this was the worst. She stood in the doorway for a second longer, took a deep breath, and walked out of the courthouse.
Nadine walked three blocks to the closest bus station, rage growing inside of her with every step. She was mad, mad at Edward, her lawyer, her mama, her daddy, and at her dirt poor ancestors. Nadine couldn’t help but believe that if her mama had taken her away from her alcoholic daddy, or if her great granddaddy hadn’t gambled away the family money and passed down a mountain of debt that she never would’ve looked twice at Edward McKinney. Never would have thought he was so dreamy in his stylish clothes, or been so impressed with his car, or his family’s big fancy house; but that wasn’t the way life went. She had seen Edward as her prince charming, able to take her away from her poverty and despair, and that had been her biggest mistake.
When the bus screeched to a halt, Nadine was the first person on. She avoided the eyes of the bus driver who knew very well what was going on and walked straight to the back of the bus, putting her purse beside her so anyone thinking of sitting beside her knew not to. The bus lurched forward, turning out of downtown and towards Nadine’s home on the outskirts of town. Nadine stared at her reflection in the window, studying every scar, releasing the dam and letting herself drown in the memories.
She touched the purple scar on her forehead, feeling the knot under the skin. She remembered how confused she’d been waking up to Edward screaming at her about the television being on. He’d grabbed her hair before she could even say anything, forcing her face into the mantle of the fireplace. That was the first time she’d needed stitches
She moved her hand down from her forehead to her nose. When she was young everyone used to comment on how cute her nose was. Now it was crooked, knotted, she couldn’t remember how many times Edward broke it. She tried to recall them in her mind; once for rolling her eyes at his joke, once for asking him to be quiet, once when her mom called in the middle of the night and woke him up, once when she smiled at another man, and once when she tried to convince him to marry her.
She took a deep breath and moved her fingers to her lips. The left side of her upper lip protruded out further than the other. She could still remember how the marinara sauce smelled. She was holding Leonard, who wouldn’t stop crying, and stirring the pot. All of a sudden Edward got up from the couch where he was watching the game, walked over to her, and punched her. Yelling at her for being a bad mother, saying if she was a good one Lenny wouldn’t cry so much. Then he took Lenny from her, held him with one arm, and threw the marinara sauce on her with the other.
Nadine looked at her reflection and tried to hate herself for staying with Edward, but she couldn’t. She could never hate herself for staying with him because she’d gotten Leonard, and he was her saving grace. Giving birth to Leonard gave her the strength to start regaining control of her life. A week after he was born, after another beating, Nadine filed her first report against Edward.
She went to the station, gave a statement, and had them take pictures of the bruises and cuts to document the abuse. Two weeks later, after surviving another attack, Nadine went to the station to file a restraining order. The officer she dealt with coldly looked at her and said that there were no grounds for a restraining order, since she was not married to Edward and they technically did not live together, it didn’t qualify as a domestic dispute. She protested, frantically trying to convince the officer that even if it wasn’t domestic abuse, it was still assault.
The officer laughed at her, “Ma’am, this is Saluda, North Carolina, I know what kind of stock you come from and what kind of stock Eddy comes from. Hell, from what I hear from him you tend to go sluttin’ it up all over these parts, in Hendersonville, and even Asheville. Could be anyone doing this to you and you just trying to pin it on him.Anyways, I just don’t believe Eddy done it, no one does.”
And that was it, he just left Nadine sitting there with Leonard, a bloody nose, and a busted lip. She gave up after that, feeling stupid to have thought anyone would take her side over Edward’s. She had no fight left, she resigned herself to what she believed was her fate. Every time Edward showed up she did her best to make sure supper was tasty, the baby was quiet, and her house clean. When Lenny started getting older, she convinced Edward to send him to his room before he hit her. She was thankful to Edward for allowing her that small relief. Knowing Lenny would not see it happen made it more bearable.
Then one week Edward did not come over at all. Nadine was shocked, he always made it a point to show up at least three times a week. One week turned into two, then three and Nadine began to let her guard down. She visited with friends, started doing her hair, and picking out her outfits. She learned that Edward had a new girlfriend and was spending all of his time in Hendersonville with her. While Nadine felt bad for the woman, she felt an overwhelming sense of peace come over her life.She felt like she could now allow herself to be the woman and mother she’d always wanted to be. Then one night she woke up to Edward on top of her..
“You should really hide your key better,” he slobbered over her, his breath smelled heavy of whisky. She tried to push him off of her and tried to fight back but he was too strong. She couldn’t scream because she didn’t want Leonard to see what was happening, and she definitely didn’t want Edwards drunken fury to fall on him. She struggled to stay conscious as he beat and raped her, but she could not.
When she regained consciousness Edward was gone and she could not feel her body. She pushed herself into a sitting position and looked at the puddle of blood she was laying in. She sat there for what felt like a long while before she called an ambulance. On the way to the hospital she couldn’t help but feel thankful, because now she would have the evidence she needed to gain full custody of her son.
The bus stopped, pulling Nadine out of her sea of memories. She slowly stood up and walked down the aisle.
“Nadine, baby, I’m so sorry,” said the bus driver as she stepped down off of the bus.
“Yeah, me too,” she responded in a voice that sounded weaker than the one she had left her house with.
Nadine walked straight to Fanny’s house. Fanny was an older woman who lived two doors down from Nadine, she rarely took a liking to anyone. She mostly kept to herself but when Nadine started walking out of her house with bruises and cuts, Fanny made her her business. She never preached to Nadine and never told her what to do, mostly because she understood Nadine really wasn’t able to do anything given that Edward was a sheriff’s deputy. Fanny was also of the belief that no one can tell anyone else how to live their life, all a body could do was let someone know they were there and help them when they asked. So, Fanny brought pies over whenever Nadine was hurt, watched Leonard whenever Nadine went to the hospital, and testified in court when she was called to. Not that the latter did any bit of good.
“I guess the bastard won out,” Fanny croaked when Nadine reached her front steps.
“I’m a fool for thinking it would go any other way,” Nadine said, taking a seat in the lawn chair next to Fanny. For a long while both women sat in silence, then Fanny went on.
“What I do not understand is how they turned him raping you around to you being the unfit parent. Makes no sense at all. They had his DNA, they had my testimony accounting for every bruise, how in the hell did they turn it around?”
“They made you look senile, and they made me look like a whore with a drug addiction and a gambling problem. Apparently since I had Lenny out of wedlock, and I come from the Hick family bloodline it makes for a good argument that I never had the best interest of my child in mind. They also said that since no one saw him rape me, and I’ve had sex with him before, it can be argued that he didn’t rape me, even with DNA.”
“Well fuck, Nadine. I need a cigarette,” Fanny pulled out her Camel’s and lit one, handed it to Nadine, then lit another and took a long draw.
“Fanny, I think they’re partly right about something.”
Fanny turned a little in her chair so she was facing Nadine, “What the fuck nonsense are you talking about?”
“I don’t think I ever had the best interest of Lenny in mind, or else I would’ve run away with him, got him away from Edward.”
“Nadine, you know Edward would’ve just tracked you down.”
“Maybe so, but I still should’ve tried it. Fanny, does your son still live in Argentina?”
“Well, yeah, why do you ask?”
“Because it is in the best interest of my child that his father does not raise him, and I have a plan to make sure that doesn’t happen. Will you help me?”
Fanny nodded her head yes.
Two weeks after the court granted Edward McKinney custody of Leonard, Nadine drove the Toyota Camry she rented from a dealership two counties over up to the playground at Century Oaks elementary school. She waited all morning until finally, grade by grade, the students began to be let out for recess. Nadine had no doubt in her mind that in order to save her child from the evils of his father she had to first commit a felony.
She spotted Leonard as soon as he stepped foot on the playground. He was wearing a new blue button up with a red pocket and faded blue jeans, Nadine smiled for the first time in a long time at how cute he was. The sight of him gave her even more strength, she grabbed the batman costume she purchased at Wal-Mart earlier that morning and walked towards the fence of the playground, making sure she was off to the side where the teachers could not see her. It took all of thirty seconds for Leonard to spot her, and when he did his face lit up with a huge grin and he sprinted towards her so fast that he had to run into the fence to stop himself.
“Mama! What are you doing here? Daddy said I’d never see you again.” he exclaimed.
“Baby, I just thought I would come and give you this Halloween costume I bought for you,” she held up the batman costume, Leonard’s face shown a mixture of excitement, surprise, and thankfulness. Nadine relished in the fullness of her heart at that moment, she knew now that every moment with her son held the promise of the better tomorrow she was going to give him.
“Lenny, do you want to come trick-or-treating with me tonight? I know of a special place we can go where every house gives out whole candy bars.”
“Well, I don’t know. Daddy says I’ll get in trouble if I go anywhere with you,” Nadine felt nervous for the first time, she hadn’t thought about having to convince Lenny to go with her. She thought he would be more than happy to come along.
“I went by the police station earlier this morning and talked everything out with him. He told me to come and get you at recess so we can make it there on time! He told me you could come with me.” The lie was easy coming off of her tongue, she was used to lying to Lenny. She did it all the time, making up stories about why she was bruised, or bleeding, trying to shelter him from the terrible of the world. As a matter of fact, it was the easiest lie she ever told him.
“Really?! He said I could leave with you at recess?” Leonard smiled up at her again as she nodded yes, “I’ll go tell my teacher!” he panted, he turned away and she sprung into action.
“No! Lenny, come here, just climb over this fence and we’ll go. They won’t let you leave if they know it’s to go trick-or-treating.” Another easy lie to tell.
Lenny grew up feeling that there was always something wrong. Almost every time his father came over he got sent to his room and Miss Fanny ended up coming over and spending the night while his mama went somewhere. Then his mama would come back and have a bandage or a black eye and tell him she’d been clumsy and fallen again. He always believed his mama, but he always felt like there was something that was wrong with her story. It was a feeling he’d grown so used to that when his mama told him to climb over the fence and leave with her he didn’t question it. He just did it because she told him it would be okay. In all honesty, he was glad to leave school early to go trick-or-treating.
Nadine looked down at her son as they moved towards the car and felt bad at how easy it was to convince him of her lies. She knew that it was her fault he was so impressionable because she had lied to him all her life. She wasn’t stupid, she knew her son could tell when something was wrong. She just could never bring herself to tell him the truth about how awful the world really was. It brought a sadness to her to know that she would never be able to tell him the truth about his father, or about what she had been through.
They drove North two hours until they reached Sylva. Nadine knew that it wouldn’t belong before local law enforcement was alerted. She checked into the only motel in town and took Lenny to the ratty room where she dressed him in his batman costume. As he jumped around the room pretending to be a superhero, tears began to fall from her eyes.
“Mama, what’s wrong?” he jumped onto the bed she sat on and sat next to her. Nadine looked at him, he was beautiful and he deserved the best.
“You’re beautiful, Lenny. Really you are.” It was one of the only truths she had ever told him outside of how much she loved him.
“Mom, girls are beautiful.” He said matter-of-factly.
Nadine laughed, “No sweetie, anyone can be beautiful,” she wiped her eyes and put on a smile, “are you ready to go get some candy?” she asked with fake enthusiasm.
“YEAH!” he screamed and punched the air.
She put him in the camry and drove up the mountain to the sylva airport. There was one plane on the tarmac, Fanny’s son’s private plane.
“This isn’t a neighborhood mama, this is an airport,” Lenny’s voice rose up from the back seat.
Nadine held back tears as she told her last lies, “yeah baby I know, this plane is going to take you there, that’s the other surprise, you get to fly like batman!”
Lenny’s face lit up with excitement, “I get to fly?!”
“Yes you do,” she said leading him out of the car, “Do you remember Fanny, baby?”
“Of course I do.”
Nadine walked Lenny over to the stout middle aged man and his Argentinian wife.
“Well, this is her son and his wife. Now I can’t go with you, but they’ve promised to take you to that special place and take really good care of you, okay?”
Lenny looked at Fanny’s son and his wife, then back at his mother. He had a feeling that something was wrong, but his mother’s smile seemed so real. She looked, happier than usual, she wanted him to go with them. He looked back at the man and his wife and somehow felt like, in their world, everything felt right. So he hugged his mother goodbye and boarded the plane holding Fanny’s sons hand.
Nadine watched as the plane took off, a wave of relief came over her. Leonard was safe, and it was the one really good thing she’d ever done for him. She walked back to the camry and drove down the winding mountain road towards the motel. It was dark, so she knew no one would see her come in.
She had committed a felony, now she had to make it believable. She knew what Edward would tell people, and she knew they would believe him just like they always had. There was only one way to ensure that Lenny stayed safe. She was going to make herself look just as crazy, and deranged as Edward always wanted her to. She found a pen and paper and wrote a note:
You will never find Leonard
He is safe
Then, she pulled out the handgun she bought three days earlier, put it to her head, and pulled the trigger.
On November fourth 2011 Fanny shuffled down the sidewalk to retrieve her paper. The headlines read, “Deranged Mother Kidnaps Son and Commits Suicide, Possibly Sold Him to Pay Off Debt, Sheriff’s Deputy Edward McKinney Heartbroken”. Fanny chuckled at the paper, she was always so surprised to see how gullible people were.
“They’ll fall for the lies of a devil before they’ll ever listen to the words of an angel,” she said to her cat, “I guess it’s easier to believe lies than the truth.” The cat blinked at her then yawned lazily and made its way to the porch where it laid down and went promptly to sleep. Fanny shuffled after it with her mail and the paper. She sat down and opened a letter from her son in Argentina.
Leonard is a wonderful boy, he is so intelligent. On the plane ride down here he asked so many questions about his mother and his father. We told him the truth, the truth about everything. He seemed to take it better than we thought he would. In fact, I would say he seemed a bit relieved. I would venture out to say that he knew all along he just needed someone to tell him for sure so that he could live his best life. And that is precisely what we are going to give him. He prays to God each night and asks him to tell his mother that he loves her, and always will. Rest assured, I will not let him forget what she did for him. We will give him the security Nadine always wished him to have.
Fanny re-read the letter one more time before taking out her lighter and setting it on fire. She watched the flames and pondered the strength of a mother’s love, and how beautiful it was that a woman would sacrifice her legacy and her life so her baby could have better.