The boy wriggles his arms out of his sleeves and hugs himself under his baggy T-shirt. He is trying to explain the significance of a life-size statue of Pinocchio, but first he has to describe something that happened to him when he was 8.
It was the Fourth of July. He and his brothers had been out playing and had come in for the night; that's when their mother's boyfriend came over, punched a hole in the wall and then locked the brothers in their room.It wasn't the first time the boys had been locked up. Not even the first time they'd been locked up naked. But this time the boys discovered some dirty clothes under the bed, and this time they climbed through a hole in the screen. This time they walked all the way to their grandma's house, across the freeway overpass and up toward the Capitol. Three little boys - 8, 6 and 4 - heading off into the night looking for a safe place.
That was five years and many foster homes ago.
The little boy can remember lying in all those strange beds. He would look out the window and make a wish upon a star, just like the cricket told the puppet to do in the movie "Pinocchio." What he wanted, he says, was a real family. Sometimes he wished it would be a new family, and sometimes he wished he could move back to his mom's, even if it meant being locked in a room.
The woman sitting in the chair next to the boy helps him tell the rest of the story: abuse more horrible than you can imagine, she says; neglect; a mother who used drugs; eight foster homes in two years; trouble at school.
"I grew up very naive and very protected," says the woman. You can see it in her face.
Two years ago, when the woman and her husband realized they would never have any children of their own, they adopted the boy and his two brothers. Last year the woman and her husband adopted two more children, two little sisters who had also been abused. One of the sisters was so terrified when they first got her that she tried to sleep with her eyes open.
"We're a cut-and-paste family," says the woman, who may have grown up naive but now is related to a considerable amount of chaos. (She asks that we not print her name or the names of her children because of threats from the children's biological parents, some of whom have served time in prison.)
She has watched her oldest son struggle at times about living with his new family, since that means he has had to give up on the idea that his biological mom might ever be drug-free enough to take him back.
The woman knows that her son is only one of thousands of Utah children who dream about having a happy home. So she and her husband had a statue made: Pinocchio.
They've donated it to the Children's Center in Kearns. For all the children, she says, who wish upon a star for something better in their lives.