Mindy's Story

The least initial deviation from the truth is multiplied later a thousandfold. ~Aristotle

For My Sister MaLinda Monet (Mindy) Houser,

My sister's life began as tragically as it ended. Born to parents who did not want or love her, the world she knew was a hostile place. In any other home she would have been a cherished member of the family. The pretty blue-eyed girl born two years after me was known for her goofy humor and curly, blond hair. She was surprisingly cheerful given her suffering and pain.

Mindy suffered neglect from the day she was born. Only decades later did I learn that no one wanted to pick her up when she cried as a baby. With no advocate in her early life, medical neglect was more of a companion than an issue.

To understand how the attitudes of the adults around my sister allowed for such extreme neglect, I should tell you a bit of the story. Tragedy struck my mother at the age of 18. In need of stability, she married quickly. That marriage compounded her sorrows. The new husband beat and raped her, leaving her pregnant with my sister. The event left her in the hospital for 6 months while Mindy grew inside her. There was little to celebrate at Mindy's birth.

Religion became a refuge for the single, impoverished mother of two. An emerging cult called the Move of God, or the Move, offered her a future that mainstream society could not. This also relieved her of the responsibility to attend to her childrens' education and health care. The Move did not prohibit members from seeking medical care, but the belief in faith healing meant that some children, like my sister and I, were neglected in this way.

Although Mindy's bad reputation did not extend beyond my family, she was seen as a bad seed. To cure her, she was sent to a deliverance farm for bad children. At the age of 9, she left Portland for Ware, Massachusetts. We sent a third grader to a place we had never heard of to live with people whose names we did not know.

After 3 years, she returned to us, a family she barely remembered. We immediately noticed her badly distorted body. Somehow, her caregivers had missed the worst case of scoliosis Oregon had ever seen. An 83% curvature meant surgery, lengthy hospitals stays, a steel rod in her spine, and extensive scarring. Sadly, this is merely one example of lifetime pain as a result of medical care that she apparently did not deserve. Mindy's pain and desire for a pretty back, or a less deformed one, became defining characteristics.

The neglect Mindy suffered at the Deliverance Farm in Massachusetts mirrored the abuse that I have only reluctantly considered. I barely responded to her vague disclosures. Recent conversations with those who were children at Ware illuminate the three years of my sister's life there.

Mindy died of a heroin a few years ago, I don't even know in what city and don't remember the year. Whether intentional or not, I'm glad she no longer suffers. There was not enough love and no place for her in this world.

I wish someone had told my sister that she was special. Her days were so empty that in many ways, she is more alive in my memory than she ever was in life. No one really appreciated the little girl with whom I colored pictures and dressed dolls. Not even me.

Many doctors, social workers, teachers, principals, neighbors, and family members knew she was in harm's way. As her sister, I can say the unthinkable, that nothing good came of her life. I wonder how differently things might have gone if someone at the childrens hospital had contacted authorities about this case of neglect, or that no one was there when she went through surgery, or that her older sister was the only one to visit.

In honor of my sister and others like her, please do what you can to protect the children who cross your path. Thank you for helping to make this world more hospitable to the children with no one to speak for them.

Mindy's big sister

Lisa Kendall, MPA, is an advocate for animals, children, and the environment.