By Diane Carman
Denver Post Columnist
From the Denver Post Today Section
October 17, 2001
Filmmaker Patti Obrow White attempts to find the answer in her
documentary, "If I Could," which will have its local premiere
today at the Denver Film Festival. It's not a happily-ever-after
story. "If I Could" takes us back to 1979, when 15-year-old
Theresa Marasco (known in those days as Tracy) entered a Vision
Quest diversion program for youth offenders. Marasco had been sexually
abused by her father, who introduced her to intravenous drugs and
prostituted her to pay his bills. She was a wreck - angry, belligerent
and self-destructive. CBS Reports featured Marasco's story in a
1979 documentary called "The Wagon Train Trial."
Twenty years later when her son James entered a similar program,
she agreed to let the filmmaker continue the tragic saga. In the
intervening years, Marasco had married Jimmy, who fathered James
and a daughter, Holly, and then took off. She survived 15 years
of drug and alcohol addiction, got in trouble with the law, took
up with another guy and had two more children. It was all too much
By the time he was 12 he had been in and out of mental institutions
and juvenile detention. He had a drug problem, was failing in school
and was at least as angry, belligerent and destructive as his mother
had been as an adolescent.
"I subjected my oldest child to the cycle of dysfunction I
learned during my childhood," Marasco admitted with deep regret.
Now she just hopes he can find the strength to break the cycle.
Marasco said she has been drug and alcohol free for eight years.
She enrolled in a paralegal program at the Community College of
Denver in 1995. At the time she was homeless with three children.
In December, she is set to graduate from the University of Colorado-Denver
with a degree in political science. Some day she'd like to go to
law school. But with all that success, she is still struggling.
She works part time for Vision Quest and is barely scraping by.
James is enrolled in yet another Vision Quest program, in a residential
treatment center in New Jersey. "He's doing real good. He's
on the honor roll," Marasco said. Still, she said, she worries
that at 14, he's vulnerable. "James has not reached the point
in his maturity of really wanting to not go back in the other direction.
Right now it's difficult for him with all the peer pressure."
Even with the intense intervention of Vision Quest, which combines
counseling, discipline and physically challenging situations to
help abused kids, Marasco said it took years for her to begin the
process of recovery. "I could probably still be in that cycle
"You have to care about something. You need hope."
All the help in the world couldn't change her until she was ready,
she said. "You have to care about something. You need hope."
For Marasco, the moment came in 1993 when she realized that if
she didn't change her behavior, she'd lose custody of her kids.
"You have to find it within yourself to want change. It's like
starvation - starvation for success." But even the commitment
to change is only the beginning. Marasco's struggle will last a
"If I Could" shows her confronting problems of abandonment,
addiction and low self-esteem that go back to her parents and ripple
through the lives of her children.
It doesn't have a happy, made-in-Hollywood ending.
"Change takes a very long time, especially with deep-seated
issues," Marasco said. "There is no such thing as a quick
fix in the mental-health field. Sometimes it takes not years, but
It's not easy to overcome the scars of childhood. As the movie
suggests, if they could, they would.