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.
I hope so.