Anatomy of a Broken Heart: A Screenplay

 ”Ma’am, give him the children and there won’t be any trouble. Alright? Do you understand? Just give Mr. Duckworth the children.”–Kentucky State Trooper Elliot

Brash talk show host Wendy Williams profoundly angered a multitude of mothers–custodial and non-custodial alike–with a flippant remark on her TV show yesterday. She devoted a portion of her show toward lambasting beleaguered Texas mom Pilar Sanders, who  lost custody of her three children to football hero Deion Sanders last month, for her emotional distress.

Williams contemptuously declared: ”When a man gets custody, the mother is full of crazy.” She concluded by saying,  ”I would say good luck, but I’ll just say oh well.”

That Williams is a mother herself isn’t the only reason for outrage; in her big booming voice she embodies the lack of empathy, of understanding, of the plight of so many mothers who are losing their children to a lopsided legal system. This system continually, and increasingly, favors the fathers–to the point of literally taking the children away from their mothers forever. And then society steps in to join the condemnation by ridiculing the bereft mother’s pain and laughing and scoffing at her concern for her children and her pleas for justice.

Playwright/scriptwriter Christopher Karr wrote a poignant, spot-on (because he was there) screenplay chronicling the day his younger siblings from his mother Robin Karr‘s second marriage,  Matthew and Laura, were taken away from their home on court orders.

Already too old for his years from his experience watching an abusive system punish his mother for protecting all three of her children, Christopher was just a boy of 13 when he wrote this heart-searing screenplay. Technically powerless to do anything about what he witnessed–as would be anyone–he not only watched in horror but tried his valiant boyish best to intervene.

 ”Matthew and Laura”

By Christopher Karr

OVER BLACK;

INSERT–TITLE CARD

This movie is based SOLELY upon a true story.

INSERT–IMAGE

Photo of MATTHEW (2) and LAURA (1) with their mother ROBIN in a restaurant at a supervised visit in Rockwall Texas. Matthew and Laura have OBVIOUSLY been brutally beaten. Matthew has a black eye and Laura has a large scrape across her forehead. Robin is holding them, forcing a smile.

Robin Karr 1

HOLD FOR 30 SEC., THEN:

CUT TO:

EXT. TRAILER PARK—SUMMER/DAY

Establishing shot.

CUT TO:

INT. TRAILER—THAT MOMENT

WIDE shot of Robin, SHANNON, JANICE, CHRISTOPHER, Matthew, and Laura in the kitchen. They say nothing for a long time. Not a move. Nothing. CAMERA pushes in REAL QUICK on Robin, who is holding Laura. She stares into space for a BEAT:

                 ROBIN (VO)

               They’ve got bottles, formula, bibs, diapers, medicine, blankets, Barney and toys. That should do for at least a weekend of this insane arrangement. They should be here any minute to run away with my two babies into the great state of Texas, to do with them what they please. I wish Matthew were old enough to testify. I wish none of this were happening.

CAMERA pushes in on Matthew who is sucking on his pacifier. HOLD, then:

CAMERA pushes in on Janice, who is washing and cleaning bottles out for the twenty-one hour trip to Texas:

JANICE (VO)

Dear Heavenly Father: You have a plan for these two precious babies. I know that. I know that you have a reason for them to be sent into an abusive situation every other weekend. I realize that you must have a plan in all of this. I pray that you send your angels to protect and watch over our babies as they sleep at night. And if Neil Duckworth should raise a hand to harm a hair on one of their heads, I pray that you will send one of those angels to stop him. Thank you, Lord. Thank you,

Lord…

CAMERA pushes in on Christopher (13) who has his arms crossed, and is switching glances from Matthew to Laura to Robin to Janice:

            CHRISTOPHER (VO)

               Matthew and Laura have no idea what they’re getting ready to go into. Matthew doesn’t even remember what Ed’s dad did to him last Valentine’s Day. He could’ve died that night. In a way, I guess it’s good he can’t remember. But then again… God, give them peace.

CAMERA pushes in on SHANNON now. She bites her lip and stares into space with everyone else.

SHANNON (VO)

               How did Robin get into all of this in the first place? She hasn’t ever hurt those babies or Ed and she never would. What in God’s name could she have ever seen in Ed Duckworth? Maybe we’ll all find out the answer someday…

EXT. TRAILER PARK—THAT MOMENT

CAMERA zooms in on a tan Chevrolet Tahoe with a Kentucky state police car following behind it. Both vehicles pull onto the gravel road. CAMERA is hand-held and shaky as it follows OFFICER ELLIOT to the front door of the trailer. The door is opened just as he’s about to walk up the front steps and ROBIN comes out, followed by JANICE. We can see CHRISTOPHER and SHANNON peeping through the window.

           OFFICER ELLIOT

               Mrs. Duckworth, I want you to know that there is a video camera and tape recorder on the police cruiser recording the words spoken during this exchange. Do you understand this?

               ROBIN

               What do you mean?

               OFFICER ELLIOT

               Do you understand the words that just came out of my mouth, Mrs. Duckworth? Do you understand the conditions of this exchange?

               ROBIN

               What do you mean “This exchange”? This isn’t just an exchange. These are my children, I-

               OFFICER ELLIOT

               Mrs. Duckworth, I’m just here as a favor for Mr. Duckworth. He asked me to come to make sure you weren’t hostile and to be sure that you are going to cooperate with the instructions made by the judge in Texas who heard this case. Alright? Do you comprehend this, Mrs. Duckworth?

               ROBIN

               I comprehend, but-

The conversation continues between OFFICER ELLIOT and ROBIN as CAMERA pans RIGHT to CAROLYN (50s), ED’S MOTHER, who is taking pictures of the trailer. JANICE sees her and comes out the front door, walking towards CAROLYN. CAMERA follows ED as he exits the passenger side and makes his way past JANICE to stand behind OFFICER ELLIOT.

      ED

               Now Robin, don’t be foolish about this. Are you gonna give me the children or not?

               ROBIN

                Ed, why are you being this way? Why do you want to put these children back into abuse? They don’t deserve that! You can’t tell me that you don’t remember the night that Neil body slammed Matthew and almost broke his neck. Don’t you remember? You said that your parents would destroy our children. Remember the night your mother burned Matthews’s throat and mouth? Remember what you told me that meant? Please tell me you are not going to let them have our babies.

               ED

                Are you gonna give me the children?

               ROBIN

                Ed, tell me you remember. Don’t act like that didn’t happen. Don’t tell me they have you that brainwashed into believing that none of the abuse really happened!

               ED

               Robin, are you gonna give me the children?

ROBIN

               Ed, why are you doing this? Why –

ROBIN and ED continue to audibly argue as the camera pans back to

 JANICE, walking over to CAROLYN, who is still taking pictures of the

trailer.

               JANICE

               What are you doing? What do you think you’re doing? What are you taking pictures of my home?

JANICE gets closer and closer to CAROLYN, but CAROLYN continues to take

 Pictures, paying no regard to JANICE – as she continues to ask her questions. Finally, CAROLYN appears to be finished taking pictures, turns to walk back to the Tahoe, being careful not to say a word to JANICE.

Once CAROLYN is safely in the Tahoe, she rolls up her window and stares blankly at JANICE, as Janice continues to ask questions.

CAMERA does a REAL QUICK 180 degree turn to view the front door of the trailer. ED is now standing on the front porch, with his hands held out. ROBIN is inside, frantically moving from one spot to the other, trying to prepare everything for the babies’ trip. CHRISTOPHER stomps onto the porch and drops the babies diaper bag at ED’S feet.

CAMERA pushes in on CHRISTOPHER as he looks hard at Ed.

                 You’re just a loser Ed and you know it.

ED looks at CHRISTOPHER even harder, but says nothing as CHRISTOPHER walks back into the trailer.

ROBIN steps out the door with MATTHEW – holding him tight.

               ROBIN

                He’s had diarrhea Ed and has been vomiting since last week. Do you know how to handle that? Do you know what to do? You need to call his doctor in Rockwall if anything goes wrong or if he gets worse. You need to give him his medicine. Alright?

               (pause)

               What do you think you’re gonna do with these babies, Ed? You don’t know -, you don’t have a clue how to take care of another human being. You can’t even take care of yourself. How do you expect to take care of these babies, Ed?

ROBIN holds MATTHEW back from ED.

               ED

               Robin, are you gonna give me the children? Are you gonna give me the children, Robin?

CAMERA spins REAL QUICK to OFFICER ELLIOT.

               OFFICER ELLIOT

               Ma’am, give him the children and there won’t be any trouble. Alright? Do you understand? Just give Mr. Duckworth the children –

OFFICER ELLIOT continues to bark instructions at ROBIN as ED continues to repeatedly ask if Robin is going to hand over the children in monotone. The CAMERA spins from situation to situation, and then back to ED, who VIOLENTLY SNATCHES MATTHEW from ROBIN, who has her head turned asking CHRISTOPHER something about LAURA.

      ED

               Give me the other child, Robin. Give me the other child now and I’ll be on my way-

CAMERA cuts to ROBIN, who is staring at ED, HOLD; Then:

ROBIN with tears streaming down her cheeks tells Christopher to get LAURA.

CHRISTOPHER

               But Mom . . .

ROBIN

               Christopher, get her – just get her.

CHRISTOPHER doesn’t budge for A BEAT, then as his eyes shrink wrap in tears, he walks back into the trailer to get LAURA.

CAMERA holds on ROBIN who is frozen in shock while CHRISTOPHER bustles in the background for toys, bottles, etc.

CHRISTOPHER shows back up at the door with LAURA and hands her to ED, who is stiff and intimidating. ED takes her and hands her to OFFICER ELLIOT, who carries her to the Tahoe as CAMERA follows.

Once at the Tahoe, JANICE directs her attention from CAROLYN to OFFICER ELLIOT:

               JANICE

               And what are you doing here? You have no jurisdiction to be on my property. You can’t come here on your own time and expect to able to have a say in a matter this serious and under conditions this ludicrous as a mere favor to another person. Does the state police post know about this? Do they know you are here? You’re an officer of the law, for crying out loud! How do –

We continue to hear JANICE and OFFICER ELLIOT audibly argue in the background as the CAMERA does a REAL QUICK SPIN to ZOOM IN to the front porch of the trailer. ED is standing in front of the door with his arms crossed and a blank look on his face. CHRISTOPHER is standing opposite ED and as soon as ROBIN goes inside once more to make sure everything is packed, CHRISTOPHER steps cautiously towards ED:

In one fluid motion, CHRISTOPHER jumps on ED, grabs him by his collar, pulls him close and spits in his face

               CHRISTOPHER

               “I’M THE ONLY ONE WHO’S GONNA BE STRONG ENOUGH TO PROTECT THOSE BABIES AND IF YOU HURT ‘EM, I SWEAR I’LL MAKE YOU PAY FOR IT, FAGGOT!!

Just as OFFICER ELLIOT spots this scene, ROBIN comes running and pulls CHRISTOPHER off of ED, who is wiping spit from his eyes.

As OFFICER ELLIOT talks to ED and CHRISTOPHER about the altercation that just took place:

ROBIN bolts to the Tahoe, quickly followed by OFFICER ELLIOT, where MATTHEW and LAURA are being strapped into unfamiliar car seats by CAROLYN – who says nothing to MATTHEW OR LAURA. Both babies are crying.  Screaming. OFFICER ELLIOT gently and forcefully pushes ROBIN away from seeing distance of the children. He backs her back onto the porch and REMAINS at the bottom of the steps, keeping SHANNON, ROBIN, CHRISTOPHER and JANICE on the porch, seemingly guarding them like a dog.

ALL AUDIBLE SOUND DROPS OUT.

CAMERA is hand held and shaky once again. It is the collective POV of the little family of ROBIN, JANICE, SHANNON and CHRISTOPHER. CAMERA flies up to VIEW the TAHOE pulling away in a cloud of dust.  CAMERA drops back to OFFICER ELLIOT taking a call on his CB, and then to CHRISTOPHER standing stern, arms crossed:

CHRISTOPHER (VO)

            I guess that was when it hit her.

HE LOOKS over to ROBIN. CAMERA follows his stare:

ROBIN is standing on the porch, COMPLETELY ZONED OUT; JANICE and SHANNON walk over to try to comfort her, but ROBIN only stares ahead and eventually and slowly slides out of the view of the CAMERA, leaving CAMERA to look nowhere other than the dusty blue sky.

FADE TO BLACK

Finally, here is a Christopher wrote to his brother Matthew not long after his two siblings were taken by the law:

Christopher's letter

Christopher Karr is now a playwright, having just moved from New York City to Austin. This is how he dedicated the opening performance of his first play:  ”For my mom, the strongest tree in the forest.”

So, Ms. Williams–much has been made by you in the media of your personal struggles with drug addiction, plastic surgery, and most especially your despair in your difficulties conceiving a child. The world rejoiced with you at the arrival of your son in… what, 1999? He’d be… about 15 now? The same age as my oldest? Only two years older than the author of this screenplay? Would you care to make a crack now about this boy’s understandable emotional distress and deep adolescent angst that he could do nothing?

Would you like to try to reconcile your lofty, dismissive views with the gallery of images below showing a beaming big brother proudly holding his new little siblings?

I didn’t think so.

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