When they polled the jury, they said it came down to motive. They did not see a motive behind murdering Caylee Anthony so after the 33-day long trial, it took 10 hours of deliberation to acquit her mother, Casey Anthony. It wasn’t the lack of physical evidence. It wasn’t the lack of eye-witnesses. It was the lack of motive. Just because 12 “reasonable” people could not understand why a mother would murder her 2-year old daughter, does that negate her culpability for what happened? In Orlando, today it does. That is wrong. When is there ever any motive when a mother abuses her child? Does that mean that we can’t ever find abusive parents guilty for what they’ve done to their children? Lord, I hope not…but my personal experience shows me an incredible lack of justice for the abused.
The Casey Anthony Trial hit me very close to home. My mother married when she was 18, gave birth to me when she was 19 and when I was six-months old, she left my father and returned to her parents apartment. After a couple of futile attempts to reclaim his family, my mother and father divorced. While we all lived under the same roof, I rarely saw my mother. She had a job in Manhattan during the day and went out to discos (I am a child of the ‘70s) or dates at night. She stayed out all weekend most of the time. My grandmother handled all the maternal responsibilities – taking me to school, making sure I did my homework, forging my mother’s name on tests and other papers that required a parent’s signature because it would be “too embarrassing” to let the school know that my mother wasn’t available, going to parent-teacher conferences (the teachers were perpetually told that my mother was stuck at work), feeding me, shopping for clothes and school supplies, doing my laundry, keeping track of who my friends were. She would yell at my mother to take an interest in my life. My mother said I was “a pain in the ass.” I “moved too slow” to take with her on errands. I couldn’t “do a damn thing” for myself. My grandmother didn’t know that I heard any of these arguments. If you ever heard my grandmother speak, you would know how ridiculous that is. Delicate my grandmother was not.
On the occasions that my mother was home when I was and she lost the argument with my grandmother and had to spend time with me, I remember being very nervous about doing everything correctly and quickly. I was chubby (some things don’t change) and awkward to begin with so the additional stress generally did not lead to anything good. I remember coloring with my mother one day in my coloring book. I was working on one page and she was coloring in the adjacent one. I was trying so hard to stay in the lines and keep pace with her picture. I didn’t want her to have to wait for me to be done when she finished her picture. My grandmother splurged on Bic Banana Markers (remember, I’m a child of the ‘70s) and my mother was using them for her picture. The colors were so much more vivid than the crayons I was using so I decided to use them on my picture, too. I stayed in the lines. The colors were beautiful. I was proud when I was done. I showed her. My heart was beating fast at the thought of her being proud, too. She looked down at it. Without saying a word, she turned the page to look under the page I colored. Her lips parsed, she shook her head and let out a huff. “You ruined your whole book. You have to put a piece of paper underneath so it doesn’t leak through.” I didn’t notice that’s what she did on her side. I felt my face grow flush. My pride was gone. “I wish I could have had an abortion.” I already felt stupid so I decided to ask my grandmother what an abortion was. She yelled at my mother “Why the Hell would you say that to a 5-year old?!?!?!?!?” My mother didn’t answer. I am not sure that it was because she was being obstinate. I think it might have been because she didn’t have an answer as to why other than the fact that she’s rather be out at discos with a variety of men than saddled down with me, even though she was rarely forced to be responsible for my care. This was not the extent of the emotional wounds my mother scarred me with. But I think this anecdote is a good example of the most positive dynamic of our relationship; her boundless apathy for me. It got worse.
At times, the apathy turned to rage. My great-grandmother had a stroke when I was 8. It left her paralyzed on her left side. My grandmother tried to care for her at home but she required far too much care. When she moved into a care facility, my mother moved out of the room we “shared” and into my great-grandmother’s old room. One day, I went into her room to look at her make-up. She used a brand called “Starlight.” It had the most vibrant shades. VERY disco. I loved this purple sparkley loose powder eyeshadow she had. It was the same color as Grimace from the McDonald’s ads and the sparkle had a bluish tone to it. I don’t remember where my grandmother was. She didn’t want me going into my mother’s room. But I was 8 and I just had to get to that Starlight purple eyeshadow. And I did. At first I shook it and watched through the clear lid how the powder floated inside. It was beautiful. So beautiful that I wanted to touch it. I opened the lid as carefully as I could. But I didn’t realize that loose powder didn’t really sit still in its container. There was a POOF of purple, sparkle. Like magic fairy dust. My mother walked in as I was smiling at the sight of the mystical cloud. She grabbed my wrist so tightly that I thought I would drop the eyeshadow and lose all of it into the gold shag carpet on the floor. I held steady. With her other hand she grabbed the container from me. She placed it gently, carefully on her dresser, still gripping my wrist tight. Then she turned to face me. Her face was twisted in anger. She brought her face down to mine. She was so close, all I could see was the blackness of her mouth as she screamed at me. I thought she was going to bite my face off. “NEVER…NEVER EVER GO THROUGH MY THINGS AGAIN!!! DON’T COME INTO MY ROOM!!! DON’T EVER COME NEAR ME!!!” She tossed me wrist-first at her door. I just missed the door itself as I landed in the doorway. I felt like crying but I didn’t. I was wrong. Crying would only make it worse. I got up and heard the door slam behind me. I don’t think I ever went into her room again. At times I thought what if I had hit the edge of the open door with my head? Would she feel remorse? Would she feel relief that she got the abortion she wanted 8 years late? I gave up wondering why she would toggle among apathy, rage and conspirator in a third-party’s abuse (not ready to talk about that now but this trial stirred up those recently recovered memories for me as well). It didn’t matter. It would still feel the same.
In Orlando, Caylee Anthony was born to a young mother who wasn’t done being single and untethered by the responsibilities of motherhood, much the way I was many, many years ago. In the big picture of our lives, I am not sure the motives of my mother or Casey Anthony matter as much as their result. The jury had an opportunity to validate Caylee Anthony’s existence. To say that what was done to her was not right. That taping her up and casting her off like a bundle of sticks in the woods is unacceptable, regardless of the reason why. That once a woman decides to give birth and keep the baby, she owns the enormous responsibility to her above all else in her life. And if she fails and her neglect or abuse or apathy leads to the destruction of that innocent life, she will face the consequences for the choices she made. And in some small way, if a guilty verdict was handed down, it would be shared by the millions of people out there who are still living, like me.
Caylee is dead. I am damaged. Justice is absent.