Nowhere Boy

His biological parents didn't want him -- but to get him the help he needs, his adoptive parents must give him up.

David was placed in Hutchinson's special-education program and eventually moved into an isolated classroom where he received one-on-one instruction. Over time, his spelling and reading skills improved and he took some interest in Boy Scouts and art. Some of his teachers described him as creative and imaginative, with a good sense of humor. But others noted his hyperactivity, anxiety and bizarre behaviors. One teacher reported that he'd hidden under a desk and barked like a dog; another said she'd found him on the floor choking himself because, he said, a parrot told him to.

"He wanted to have friends, but he had absolutely no social skills, no idea of how to go about sustaining a relationship," says Paul. "He had imaginary friends that were as real as you and me, this whole realm of fantasy that was very true to him."

The unsettling incidents at school became so frequent that Susan rarely left the house for fear that she'd miss a call from Hutchinson telling her to come get her son.

Little boy lost: David Mallamo bounced through five 
foster placements before he was adopted.
Little boy lost: David Mallamo bounced through five foster placements before he was adopted.
David Mallamo's art.
David Mallamo's art.

"Around this time, there was kind of a little lightbulb that went off," Susan says. "It was kind of like, hmmm. This is a little bit more than what was presented to us, a little bit more that we don't know about this kid."

What they ultimately learned changed not only the Mallamos' understanding of their child, but their lives.

When David was four, his mother told him that she wished he'd never been born. She wanted a girl, not a boy, so she sometimes dressed David in girls' clothes, even after she gave birth to a daughter, Mary.

Physically and psychologically abused as a child, David's mother was wild as a girl and often ran away from home. She first received psychiatric care at sixteen, was often depressed and thought about suicide. In July 1995, diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, she committed herself because she "liked being in the hospital." By then, David had been in the child-welfare system for almost two years.

In the four years that David lived with his birth mother, she would fly into rages, beating him with coat hangers and kicking him. Although she denied drinking or taking drugs during her pregnancy, she had a history of alcohol and drug abuse, as did her father, mother, brother, ex-husband, grandfather and grandmother.

David's father was a drifter who dated David's mother for two boozy months before marrying her in Pueblo. He'd done time in an Oregon prison for molesting two boys; David was born in 1988, less than a year after his father's release. David told one foster parent that his father had frequently touched him in a sexual way while he was a toddler. A doctor who examined him suspected a "history of genital and rectal fondling." David's father was questioned by the police but never charged.

Paul and Susan Mallamo didn't learn any of this until nearly two years after taking David in, when Pueblo County finally sent them David's complete social history -- a nightmare narrative condensing the boy's beginnings into fourteen pages.

"I call it the paperwork from hell," Susan says. "I remember the day it showed up here, I was on the phone with David's therapist, just reading it, saying, 'Can you believe this?' This is information we should have gotten before we even met him."

In addition to describing his biological parents' various addictions and abuses, the report chronicled David's trek through foster care. By the time he was four years old, he had come to the attention of social services, which charged his biological mother with abandoning her children, dependent and neglected. In 1994, his then-divorced mother and father terminated parental rights altogether and turned both of their children over to social services for adoption. After Mary was placed in a permanent home in early 1996, her new mother cut off all communication between brother and sister. Despite his attempts to contact her with the help of his foster and adoptive parents, David never saw Mary again.

David himself bounced through five foster placements, lasting just four days with one family. One couple who described him as a "co-operative, pleasant child" they "loved a lot" moved to Germany after four months. In another home, he retreated into a fantasy world, insisting to his foster mother and schoolmates that he was a lion and a prince. After two years, that family decided to move to Kentucky without David -- another attachment broken.

Although the deluge of new information confirmed some of their worst fears about their son, the Mallamos were relieved to at last have some insight into the past of the child they'd struggled to understand. David had received counseling both in and outside of school since they'd taken over his care, but neither the family nor the various therapists who saw him knew much about the pathology they were chasing. Therapists, pediatricians and psychiatrists had suspected intrauterine exposure to alcohol and drugs, but now they finally had specifics to guide their treatment.

"With the team of people we knew and respected, there's a whole range of things we could have done to be more proactive, to intervene," Susan says. "Instead, we were just operating out of ignorance, aside from what my instincts would tell me."

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