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All mothers wince at this child's death


I am writing a column I don't want to write about stories I " could not bring myself to read about a battered little girl whose picture I could not bear to look at.

I am writing about Rita Fisher, the 9-year-old Pikesville child who was beaten and starved to death last June by her mother, her sister and her sister's boyfriend. All three were found guilty of second-degree murder and child abuse and will be sentenced in July.

Beyond saying that these cruel people should have to pray for the release of death the way Rita must have, I can not get my mind to linger on this child and her brief and wretched life long enough to form any ideas worth repeating.

My thoughts flick away as quickly and reflexively as fingers that brush against something hot.

But I write a column about family life, and it is expected that I would write about this family, this monstrous family.

And all I can do is offer some companionship to those who cannot bring themselves to look upon the sad, puffy and bruised little face that stares at us from the pages of this paper. Eyes too dulled by the ordeal of her life to even accuse us. I cannot look at her face, either.

I am a journalist, but I am also a mother, and once you are a mother, all children are your children.

That is the reason why such places as pediatric oncology wards are so often staffed by young, unmarried women, and why those women transfer off those wards when they have children of their own.

The power of our maternal imagination - the same imaginations that cause us to feel our children's hurts and disappointments - does not distinguish between our own little girls and the Rita Fishers of the world.

When we read of her last night alive and of the torture and neglect that preceded it, we project our own children into the basement hole that was Rita's prison and her tomb.

Those of us who would cheerfully throw ourselves in front of a runaway train to save our children and who regret only that we don't have a daily opportunity to do so can't begin to get our heads around what Mary Utley, Rita's mother, allowed Frank Scarpola, the man of the house, to do to her daughter.

I clutched my stomach and curled in pain and nausea after forcing myself to read the testimony I had deliberately and successfully avoided reading during her trial.

What is the point of this inspection now?

Would I do this to a child? Never. Not on my darkest day. Would I go to the authorities if I thought another family was abusing a child? I believe I would.

Will I vote differently because of my renewed social conscience? Would I work for change in the social services system? Will I volunteer in my community? Will I become a foster parent? Will I pack extra sandwiches in my children's lunch for the hungry kids school? Will I reach out to a frustrated parent berating a child in public?

Yes, I suppose. I don't know. Maybe. Sure. Oh, God, what does it matter what I do? That little girl died an unimaginable death after an unimaginable life.

But it is as much a sin for me to avert my eyes as it would be for any police officer, social worker, neighbor or teacher. Looking into Rita's face, reading the gruesome testimony, is my penance.

We are all responsible for the children of the world, even from a distance.

Pub Date: 5/01/98

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