August 25, 2011
At work on a Wednesday ... if you're living like a fugitive
I'm at work on a Wednesday, logging details on each kid before clocking out to drive the forty minutes home. It's eleven o’clock and the news is on.
The lights of the community room are off and it still smells of burnt popcorn. There are black and white bits strewn on the floor, cradled between plastic couch cushions. I am half listening and half typing-- documenting medication administration, bedtime compliance, group attendance...
I hear on the t.v., "Fire, robbery at 7-11, an endangered runaway missing tonight..."
I glance up and catch her picture. My chin drops with my heart and I feel it in the gut.
She is one of ours. She is sixteen.
This gal on the run is no stranger to these halls and I have witnessed, firsthand, her ability to flee.
And I’m not surprised that she is on the run.
She's been with us several times-- in and out again. The last time she resided with us, she jumped up and over that chain link fence while kids and staff stood frozen-- basketballs and tennis rackets in hand.
She hit the concrete and just kept going.
We called the police and they found her, claimed her. Then a family member claimed her too …
but only briefly.
I thought she would have come back to us by now.
Because she usually calls to “check in” around this time of night, when the lights go low and the anxiety turns way up. We always answer, pass the phone, and encourage her. We ask her where she is and what she is up to and is she taking care of herself? She tries her best to shock and stun us but there is nothing new under this sun and we simply stay kind and objective.
We remind her all that she learned here.
And then she asks if she can come back.
But she hasn't called lately.
And I am surprised by this--
because she was six the first time she moved in and I wonder if this place, though sort of sterile, was the best place she ever laid her goth-black hair. She lived in nearly every room on this hallway and bits of her-- like that burnt, smelling popcorn-- are scattered all over, hidden in cracks.
Often here for a year at a time, she passed full seasons and stages of her life on this hallway.
In the piled-high 'donations' room there is box labeled with her name. Every time I rummage through that space I catch a whiff of her: loose papers with dark words, worn through black jeans, black composition books, black spiked belt, sketchbooks in black ink that make me wonder if she ever drew a rainbow or an apple tree ... or a puppy.
And there’s the baby doll-- the one we gave her at Christmas when she admitted she had never owned one. She painted that baby’s fingernails black and tattooed her fat little arm in ink on the night she unwrapped her.
And then she carried that baby everywhere.
She ate good food here and she slept in safety. She went to school and worked through near-debilitating trauma. With all-star therapists and lots of time, she waded through her past in safe space. Her countenance softened and she stopped wearing black around her eyes.
We cheered her on but she felt unworthy of the praise and every time she made major progress,
she panicked. She was afraid to think of things getting better… for fear they would just get bad again.
During these times we watched her close-- logged her every move on a yellow caution sheet-- because we knew her patterns and how fast she could outsmart us.
And more recently I find, in a pile of girl- things labeled MISC: a black underwire bra with no wires.
I assume it is hers, because she just wasn’t safe and we had to take every precaution. Despite all our efforts at safekeeping, that mastermind girl wasn’t daunted by hovering staff.
I'm still typing on the computer and I'm in my head. I'm with her on a night not too long ago. She panicks again and I find her in her room. Follow my gut and do premature check-in. I see what she's done and I grip her hands and grab raw wrists- stinging arms- and escort her to safe room. I scrub her down in silence and wrap her in gauze and then I do what they say not to do.
I plead with her to deal with her "stuff."
I tell her again ... how she has high value, how she is loveable, how she has a purpose and it won't always feel this bad, cut this deep. She drips red onto white tile and paces four steps one way, four the other. Back and forth, over and over. Tears fall hard and saltwater dilutes this wine and in the moment I don't know which is thicker.
She rants about fathers gone and mothers who should have protected from step-fathers. She yells why and she looks right into my soul ... hurts so deep and she is numb to tears and sting alike. I am feeling it for her and I have to turn around for a minute and breathe. Because there are no good answers and I can’t cry like this and how do I stay therapeutic with my mother heart bursting?
I just want to hug her tight.
But this girl doesn’t do hugs and the hurt is here for the taking-- wide open, visible, gushing--
only I'm not the one who can bear this burden.
And in this room I pray she might meet the One who can.
But that was then and she isn't under our roof tonight. I wait to clock out-- hoping the phone might ring and I wonder when this grand chase will end. She is a fugitive and I know full well that she is wanted.
The news has moved on to other news but I am static, praying the Hound of Heaven on her heels.
She is on the run and being pursued. If she only knew by whom, this charade could cease.
I stand up to go and I call to her in a whisper … “Come home, girl."
If you are on the run, I pray you might cease this game of chase. Run home. And should you chance upon a girl in black, or any young soul whose appearance may offend ... I pray you might look closely. He/she has walked a long road. Might you see, instead, a young beggar just like you ... and then graciously offer the bread.