Tug of War

Two counties, feuding parents, a sex-abuse allegation and one quagmire of a custody battle.

"I know what the boys are going through because I've been there," she says. "I know what it's like to want to kill someone because they hurt you. I know what it's like to sit there and fantasize and think about it. I know what it's like to have so much hate in your heart and so much anger, and it took me being an adult before I could get rid of all that and realize I may never be able to confront this person, but it's okay, I don't have to. I didn't do anything wrong."

The back door opens, and Darla's stepdaughters come running outside. "Ethan's on the phone! Ethan's on the phone!"

Darla runs to the girls to take it. "Ethan?" She keeps her voice upbeat.

Darla Carrigan waits in her boys' empty room.
Mark Manger
Darla Carrigan waits in her boys' empty room.
Eliot's life went badly off the tracks.
Mark Manger
Eliot's life went badly off the tracks.

"I miss you. I love you so much."

"What are you going to do today?"

"Emily's going to send you some seashells from the ocean."

She keeps talking like this, though Ethan says little. Before hanging up, she tells him one more time not to let anyone but him help Eliot go to the bathroom.

"Usually, when I talk to [Ethan] on the phone, he's so full of life, like, 'Hi, Mommy! Love you! Gotta go, having fun!' He hasn't been like that. I can picture him, head down, like everybody's watching him so he has to watch what he says. He's just all quiet, like he's nervous. That's his nervous voice. I worry every day about Ethan. He has a lot of anger inside of him, a lot of hate."

Ethan refers to Tony as his "ex-dad." He's asked Darla if it's okay to hate him. "Don't hate him," she'd say. "Hate what he did to you." Now she's not sure what she'd say if Ethan asked her that question again — not that he would trust her word anyway. Darla once promised him that he was safe and would never have to see Tony again if he didn't want to.

Tony doesn't see his children as harboring anger or hate. "Life couldn't be any better," he says of the first week of his summer with his kids. "I'm so happy. [Ethan and Eliot] scream every day because they love playing and being kids. They just want to be kids. They don't really care about what's going on with Darla and I. They just want to be part of a family, and as far as I can tell, they're extremely happy. I'm trying to spend as much time as I can to make up for the time I've lost.

"I just try to be the best father I can and be civil about everything. It's hard with her keeping the kids from me and tying me up in court. I can't imagine what she's been telling the children for two years."

Darla makes no apologies for wanting Tony out of her kids' lives. "I want a conviction," she says. "This man raped a child. My son told me he did it. He did it. When your son comes to you and tells you he put his penis in my butt, that is rape. He should go to prison for that."

For now, Darla's resigned herself to work within the divorce court to get the custody arrangement changed, assuming she and Dan can figure out a way to pay for a lawyer. The last quote they received was $10,000.

"Someone has to be that magistrate's boss," she says. "Someone has to see the system messed up and they need to fix it.

"Where was the special advocate that was supposed to investigate things? Where the hell was he? Where is the lawyer for the kids?"

"Can't someone sit down with my kids and ask them, how do you feel? I don't want to hear they're too young to know what they want. Bullshit. They know what happened to them. They want to be safe."

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