Grieving the loss of two 4-year-old boys

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This post originally ran on Sept. 1, 2010. We are rerunning it to mark the first anniversary of Dominick’s death on April 12, 2010.

Police say 4-year-old Dominick Calhoun was tortured to death by his mother’s boyfriend in the spring.

At the end of March, Dominick’s 25-year-old mother moved with him and his 8-year-old brother into the apartment of her boyfriend, a 24-year-old ex-con who was a couple months out of prison.

Less than two weeks later, after four days of unimaginable horror, Dominick was dead.

I didn’t know Dominick, but I find myself grieving for him, at least in part, I think, because I do know well how lovely it was to spend a year with a 4-year-old boy.

When my son was that age, he sometimes had trouble sleeping at night. Bad dreams, car headlights shining into his window, temperature fluctuations and general sleeplessness often chased him into our bedroom.

On those nights, I’d wake with a start to find two huge, blue orbs staring at me.

“Momma, it’s me,” my son would whisper loudly. “Are you awake?”

I’d lift him into our bed, hold him close and wait until he fell back to sleep. Then, my husband or I would gently carry him back to his own room and tuck him into his own bed.

After awhile, his sleeping patterns righted, and those blue orbs became part of my maternal memories.

My son told me last week that during that sleepless spell, he was convinced he was “magical.”

“I would come into your room at night,” he said. “I’d open my eyes and I’d be in your bed. I’d shut my eyes. Then, when I opened my eyes again, I’d be in my own bed. I thought I was magical, that I transported myself.”

I smiled.

“You guys carried me back into my room, didn’t you,” he asked.

I refused to answer; it delighted me that for a time in his life, my son believed he was full of magic.

I wonder whether Dominick ever thought that he, too, might be magical, whether he ever felt extraordinary or special, or in possession of superpowers.

I imagine DNA hurtling through time, from generation to generation, mixing and moving and morphing, landing who knows where, creating who knows whom. Some of us are either extremely fortunate or unfortunate in the circumstance of our birth: thin or fat, serious or funny, exciting or boring, with good parents or bad. Some of us are at one extreme or the other, with most of us landing somewhere in between.

Why, I wonder, was little Dominick so unfortunate? How could a 4-year-old deserve such a short life and terrible death? Why did the village surrounding Dominick let him down so?

I’ve been thinking, too, of the mother authorities say didn’t do enough to protect her son. I want to know why she and so many other people couldn’t, wouldn’t or didn’t do anything to save the little boy’s life, to shield him from the wickedness that rained down upon him. My heart aches to think how scared he must have been.

There are so few answers. All I know is that the end of this child’s life was horrific.

The police officer who responded to the scene when someone finally reached out for help testified that when he saw the condition of the child, he cried, “What the fuck kind of animals are you people? Look at this boy. He’s crucified.”

The medical examiner stopped counting the injuries to the little boy’s body when he reached 100.

This case is so vicious, so full of fury and rage, that it is making me rethink my opposition to the death penalty.

Dominick’s final days were long and torturous, meted out in kicks and punches and burns. It began when he wet himself while eating breakfast on the sofa and ended four days later when he was removed from life support. And even though there were at least a couple handfuls of people with the knowledge, proximity and ability to summon help, it wasn’t until it was much too late that anyone did anything.

There’s so much about this case that has kept me awake some nights.

Maybe it’s that I am the mother of a boy who’s not so little anymore. Maybe it’s that Dominick met his “bogeyman,” as a prosecutor called the man charged in his death, so close to my own home. Maybe it’s because this case defies all standards of basic, decent human behavior.

All I know is that I can’t get this little boy out of my head.

His mother was in drug rehab when she was 13, and involved with Child Protective Services after she became a mother. She was on probation for a drug charge. Her own mother tried unsuccessfully to get custody of the two boys a year-and-a-half ago, citing her daughter’s drug use as the reason.

The boyfriend, who was released from prison after serving nearly two years for assaulting, resisting, obstructing and fleeing a police officer, had previous convictions for drugs, and domestic violence and battery.

The Brady Bunch this was not.

While Dominick was being tortured, his mother left the apartment at least once for over six hours with her mother, but said nothing about the danger her son was in. Police say she was left alone in the apartment with her sons at least twice, yet did not summon help.

Visitors to the apartment throughout the weekend saw that the boy was injured. They urged his mother to get help. She asked them not to alert anyone, that she didn’t want Child Protective Services involved again, so no one said a word.

Now, 4-year-old Dominick Calhoun is dead.

I have no way of knowing what hell his mother may have been going through. Maybe she had no idea how close to death Dominick was during those four days. Maybe she was too battered by her boyfriend herself to think straight.

I can’t know what she was thinking, but I wonder how such disregard for a child on the part of so many — including his own mother — could be possible.

When I held my son in my arms for the first time I knew instinctively that I could and would do harm to someone else to protect my baby, that I would push him out of the path of an oncoming truck, that I would sacrifice myself for him.

That’s not to say I am the best mother in the world, because I’m far from it, but I pity the person who tries to harm my child. That’s why I struggle to understand this case.

Dominick’s mother and her boyfriend are both charged in his death.

When binding Dominick’s mother over for trial on second-degree murder and child abuse charges, the judge said, “If you can’t depend on your mother, I don’t know who you can depend on.”

The boyfriend is charged with seven felonies, including murder, torture and child abuse.

Like so many, I am sorrow-filled about Dominick’s murder, and I keep thinking about my own 4-year-old boy who asked me a beautifully thoughtful question years ago that struck like a thunderbolt and stole my breath away.

“Who put the magic in us, Momma,” he asked.

“The magic in us?” I replied, not quite grasping where his question was going.

“You know, Momma,” he said, “the magic that makes us alive.”

That question is now part of my soul; it’s what I hold close when my kid frustrates me; sometimes, when I am alone and in the right mood, the depth of it makes me cry.

I grieve for both little 4-year-olds.

I remember fondly my own, holding his thoughts of magic and life close to my heart as he readies himself for middle school, eagerly leaving his younger years behind.

I cry for the one I didn’t know, wondering why there was no magic in the world that could have protected him from the village that let him down, the bogeyman who beat him to death, and the mother who didn’t save him.

About Maria Stuart 212 Articles
Journalist Maria Stuart lives in Howell. She worked at The Livingston County Press/Livingston County Daily Press & Argus as a reporter, editor and managing editor from 1990-2009. She is often spotted holding court at Uptown Coffeehouse. You can check out her website by clicking here.

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