Chapter 1: Dr. Jeff Barnes
“I used to have all these dreams and hopes, and now I have nothing. I have lost everything and everyone, and it’s all my fault. Everything good in my life I destroyed, and now it’s all gone. I’m numb. I’m empty. I can’t remember feeling anything else. I don’t want this anymore. I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to hurt anybody else. I’ve caused too much pain, and now I have to make it right for everyone. Good-bye.”
Dr. Jeff Barnes had played and replayed this tape, the voice of a former patient and domestic abuse victim named Sarah Crawford, now dead by her own hand. Now it was another day, another session, and another patient to try to save. Carrie Mathers would enter this office soon. Would she be looking for deliverance? He knew he was.
For almost fifteen years, Dr. Barnes treated hundreds of abused boys and girls, men and women. He had built a reputation as a venturesome and empathetic clinician, undaunted by the direst case.
Dealing with abuse victims requires a special ability to be understanding, compassionate, and strong, all assets he used in his work. He had a special gift for listening and hearing, catching the meaningful word or breath or inflection that might illuminate the rest of what a patient said.
After Sarah, he refused to treat any more abuse victims. “Bring me the schizophrenics and the manic depressives, but no more abused kids,” he told Dr. Peter Franks, Chief of Psychiatric Medicine of Branton Psychiatric Hospital. Despite the pleas of Dr. Franks, Dr. Barnes intended for Sarah Crawford to be the last abuse victim he treated He did not intend to add more weight, more names, to the burden of failure he already carried.
Abuse victims were such a different challenge. These victims were clinging to the edge of an overhang and hoping someone would pull them to safety. Dr. Barnes had often offered that rescuing hand. Yet Sarah had slipped away before he could grab her—before he realized she was falling. By the time he reached for her, Sarah was gone. And he was left with the guilt and pain of knowing that he had contributed to an abuse victim’s final downfall.
For years, parents and colleagues begged him to treat an array of broken children, but he had refused that dark journey that had ended so ruinously three years ago. Although many of his colleagues tried to convince him that Sarah’s death was not his fault, he did not believe their words—he knew they did not believe them either. His mistake was a topic of many conversations. There seemed to be no way to move beyond this mistake. He could not escape his lingering guilt.
He had also managed to alienate his wife, Tracey, to destroy his marriage, and to sacrifice his sobriety. Drunkenness might have cost him his life and his career as well. Having spent the evening with a bottle of Jack Daniels at O’Neill’s saloon, he lost control of his car and rammed a telephone pole. He was rushed to Jefferson Memorial Hospital. He got off lightly with a mild concussion, a broken wrist, and a broken rib.
The hospital tested his blood alcohol level, which was .16, well above the legal limits. The hospital was prepared to alert the police, but Dr. Franks convinced them to allow him to handle the situation. As Dr. Barnes had not harmed anyone else, and Dr. Franks promised to make sure he got the help he needed, the Chief of Emergency at Jefferson agreed to allow Dr. Franks to take care of this situation.
Dr. Franks demanded that Dr. Barnes seek help. Dr. Barnes reluctantly agreed to take medication for his depression and to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings regularly.
After several months, Dr. Barnes showed signs of improvement, but he was still reluctant to treat abuse victims. Without alcohol as a buffer between him and his memories, he feared that he would never escape his past failures. Then Dr. Franks asked him to review a new file. For no reason he understood, something about this file inspired him.
Carrie Mathers’s file was not unlike those of many abuse patients he had treated throughout the years. Typically he would have rejected her case—yet another girl victimized by a close family member—and passed her file to a colleague. Some impulse compelled him to see her, though. On paper, as he reviewed her file at Saint Peter’s Memorial Hospital in Pleasantville, she seemed both different and familiar.