The other day I was unpacking yet another box from the "great house move" and found an old diary I kept from my last "real job". I always seem call it my last "real job" because it was the last job I worked where I received a paycheck from someone other than myself.
I'd probably kick someone's ass and tell them to stick it where the sun don't shine if they said my business now wasn't a "real job". I'd point out how I am self employed. Proudly recite the list of museums, galleries, and boutiques my items are sold in and remind this fool that I have been self employed for long while now. But between you and me, kind reader, I still call it my last "real job". Strange how that works...
I worked at a shelter for abused and neglected kids ages 1-13. It was an "emergency" shelter and we would get children that had just been removed from the home by the state of MN. It was a heavy job. Heavy on the soul. Heavy on my outlook on humanity at times. On the flip side - it was also rewarding when you were able to make a child smile who hasn't smiled in ages. The staff was really awesome and the pay was OK.
I kept kind of a diary to sort out and remember the feelings I would have on the tough days and I thought I'd post one of the entries here on my blog about an important character in The Weird Life of Molly.
Her name was Latrisa (*Of course I've changed names and some details for privacy purposes) and she changed me in a way a young, self absorbed person needed to be changed. I'll let the diary entry explain:
She was 8 years old. One would not call her a pretty girl, in fact, she has been described as ugly many times in the past and that harsh word will probably follow her into the future. She holds her face in a way that looks like she's waiting for someone to pinch her at any moment. Earlier this week she cut big clumps of hair off the back of her head leaving the staff with little options on what to do with it. Today I've sectioned the front off in little braids with colorful bobbles and plastic barrettes. She's wearing a red and white gingham checked dress, donated to the shelter the day before by one of the wealthiest families in Minneapolis. She informs me the dress is from the GAP and does a little twirl. She tells me she never thought she'd be able to wear a dress from the GAP. She looks up at me with huge, hopeful eyes. I tell her she looks beautiful.
She was brought to the shelter three weeks ago. I read her file and found it was the same as most of the shelter's kids. Parental neglect, sexual abuse, mental health issues within the family, bounced from home to home...
Today we are going to Wal-Mart. She has a five dollar gift certificate her 15 year old sister frantically gave her the day they were separated. I have no idea what she can buy for five dollars that's worth the 20 minute drive to the closest Wal-Mart, but she has been sad lately and I figure it might cheer her up to get out of the shelter for a while. I get the keys to the van out of the office and ask her if she's ready to go. She gently slides her hand into mine as we walk to the van. I am the only staff member she allows to touch her. I don't know what I did to earn this trust. Maybe it's because I was working the day she arrived. Maybe it's because I gave her a bubble bath that night and scrubbed the caked dandruff out of her hair. Maybe it's because I look nothing like any of the people she has been surrounded by the past eight years. Maybe it's because I always tell her she's beautiful. She automatically opens the side door of the van to get into the backseat. I ask her if she wants to sit up front with me before we leave and pick a radio station. In what seems like one fluid motion - the side door is closed and she is sitting in the front seat with a secret smile dancing on her lips.
We both know we are breaking the first van rule.
No kids in the passenger seat. I'm not concerned. I ask her to find a radio station and TURN IT UP! She giggles and turns to a hip-hop station. Van rule number two... She slides back into the backseat, puts on her seat belt, and we head out. We sing along to the radio for a while before I turn it down and ask her how she's doing. She looks back at me through the rear view mirror, her eyes instantly watery. "I miss my sister." I turn the radio down some more and ask her if the phone call a week earlier was the last time she talked to her. She nods her head. "Do you want to tell me what your sister is like?" I gently ask. "Sheanna saved me. She's the one who told the police about my dad and grandpa and what they did to us. She wasn't afraid anymore." She looks out the window and I can't see her face.
Instantly the details of her case flash through my brain. ... vaginal and anal penetration by the father... ... masturbation in public... ... removed from home... ... temporary custody to grandparents... ... sexual abuse by grandfather... ... fifteen year old sister impregnated by grandfather... ... removed from placement to emergency shelter... ... Latrisa will not discuss issues of sexual abuse to date...
I know it's coming and I don't know what to do. Self doubt pours over me. I'm not trained in child psychology. I clear my throat. "Hey, sugar pie, " I reach around and touch her hand "you wanna talk about what happened?"
We pull into the lot of Wal-Mart and I clumsily park the van.
An eternity passes as she slowly turns her head to look at me. Huge tears are pouring down her cheeks. She takes off her seat belt and lifts up both arm rests. She awkwardly climbs into my lap wedging herself between me and the steering wheel.
"My dad... he touches me in my nasty places. He's ... he's not a good dad."
I put my arms around her and rest my chin on her head. I close my eyes and am instantly ashamed for every ounce of self pity I have ever felt in my life. I have never been touched in my "nasty place" by my father. I have never been raped my my grandfather. I've never been ripped away from my sister. I had my innocence.
We sit in the parking lot for 45 minutes that way.
She sobs in a way I have never heard before. People walk by and stare. She vomits out years of secrets, lies she's been told, and beatings. I speak in low tones and rub the side of her neck because I remember my mother comforting me that way when I was a child. I don't think she even hears my words. I know this is a vital thing for her to do. I feel the horrible importance swirling around us and landing on our skin.
I gently rub her neck until she stops crying and the emotional tornado slowly dissipates. She wipes the back of her hand on her cheek and half hiccuping and genuinely curious, asks if I think five dollars is enough for a real Barbie. I tell her I think it is. I know five dollars is not enough and that staff is not allowed to buy items for kids.
Another rule I am going to break.
As we walk through the automatic doors of the store she slips her had into mine for the second time today. She involuntarily hiccups one last time, musters up a half smile, and tells me she's always wanted a real Barbie. She gently swishes her hips as we walk so her red and white gingham dress from the GAP bells out. This girl amazes me and I give her hand a little squeeze. She looks up at me with those huge, hopeful eyes and I bend down and whisper in her ear that she is the most beautiful eight year old girl I have ever seen.
I have no idea what became of Latrisa. She would be about 18 years old now. A legal adult and finally out of "the system". I like to think she has become a stunning young woman with an amazing future.
As a buffer to my next post "I'd Like to Dedicate This Middle Finger..." I've decided to go in a complete about face, if you will, and bring out buckets of gushing love into the picture.
In my mid twenties I knew this woman named Cary. She lived in Northern Minnesota with her husband and 30something dogs.Yep, you read right. 30something dogs. They raised husky sled dogs and were the closest people who lived by my boyfriend's A frame cabin we used to go to every weekend. He had known them for years and considered them family and we would hang out with them regularly. They were Northern MN folks that were impossible not to like. She was an ?early 50's?, weather worn woman, grown up hippie who spent all day in the dog yard feeding and maintaining these dogs at, what I would call, a sled dog ranch. These were not cuddly house dogs. Quite the opposite. They were work dogs - athletes. They each had an individual dog house they were chained to with a flat roof that they would jump on and around. She and her husband would spend all day mixing and dispersing dog food, picking up poop, replacing hay in the dog houses, running the dogs... it seemed a never ending task. When the day's work was done she would go into their cabin and make a kick ass dinner from scratch. After dinner they would sit around the sparse kitchen's table, have a beer, and shoot the shit with ya. I loved hanging out with her! It was my first friend that was significantly older than me and my "Little House on the Prairie" heartstring woke up and sang the loudest when I was in their cabin around canned goods and homemade fried bread just off the wood burning stove (a technique she learned from a Native American back in the 60's). She was interesting to me. Not like any of the women her age I've been around before. There were no mani-pedis, highlights, and waxings going on around here. She was truly happy working her ass off every day of the year to be able to take hours long sled dog rides in the winter. Just her and her dogs (who, by the way, enjoyed those runs just as much as her). That was her reward for a life filled with manual labor and she loved it.
After a year and a half of knowing her through weekend visits up North, Cary and her husband moved to Alaska. I guess their hearts were being called even further North by some hypnotic siren song that's in a pitch that only dog mushers and their dogs can hear. On the night before they left MN we had a huge bon fire and the Northern Lights came out and rolled across the sky in shades of green that were unbelievable. I had never seen the Northern Lights before or since. It was pretty magical in a drunken bon fire way. It made sense that the MN skies would wish these awesome people a fond farewell.
The boyfriend and I ended up moving to Oregon shortly after. We visited them and stayed the summer in Alaska a couple months after they moved there and to my surprise they had a new husky dog in their yard. Cary informed us the dog's name was Two Face. She was completely white except exactly half of her face. It looked like a line drawn between her eyes down her muzzle that split both sides of the face. The right half of her face was completely pitch black. A totally awesome dog to look at! She told us they had drove hours and visited another dog musher they had read about on the other side of Denali to see how he set up his dog yard. The guy was a weird, back-woods, type man and while there he showed them his dogs and casually pointed out Two Face and told them he was going to shoot her later that night. He had just found out the dog was deaf and now she had no use to him. She wouldn't run with his dog team and he didn't want to waste any more money on vaccinations and dog food on her. After they left and drove about 10 miles they couldn't stand the thought of that beautiful dog getting killed and turned around and went back and told the dog musher they would be more than happy to take her off his hands. Sure enough, the guy's tune soon changed and he told them he would sell her to them for $100. NOW this dog was worth money to him. ("Total Dick #1" character in this dedication.). Cary and her husband paid the $100 and took her home.
Cary never called her "Two Face". I often heard Cary calling her "Lucky" and I would watch her from afar whisper in the dog's ear when she would brush her fur out. The dog was for sure deaf but after a week or so Cary hooked her up to the dog team and the dog ran perfectly somehow just knowing when to stop. A couple months after we left Alaska I broke up with the boyfriend ("Total Dick #2" character in this dedication), never to talk to him again, and moved back to MN from OR. I would write Cary (as they had no phone) and keep in touch. She would find time in her busy day and write long letters back telling me about her life on the dog ranch. Sometimes she'd send me pictures. They became my favorite thing to receive in the mail. About a year later I moved again and lost the box that had her letters and address off the back of the pick up truck. It fell out on the highway, exploding contents everywhere, and *poof* she was out of my life. Just like that. She didn't have my new address and I didn't have hers.
I found the ex boyfriend on social media many years later. I sent him a message telling him I hope he was well and politely asked if he could give me Cary's address. To my surprise, within a few short minutes, his wife sassily responded back that she was monitoring his account and she doesn't want women sending him messages and to not contact him again. humm. A little "once a cheater, always a cheater" action still going on with this man. Still a Total Dick. I'm pretty sure she never even told him I contacted him. Poor woman.
That was it. My last possible chance to reconnect with Cary swept out in a fit of jealous rage.
I think about her and her kind, simple heart often. I like to dedicate this smile to kind, sweet Cary, the mother of all dogs.
10 years later and I still think of you all the time.