Sunday, May 23, 2010

Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book? (Psalm 56:8)

This rainy, chilly Sunday morning, I wake at around 5 or so. One of my children is sobbing. At least, it’s not sobbing that I have ever heard before from any of them (yes, it’s true, mamas can pick out the cry of her child in a crowd, let alone her own house). But it must be one of them, who else is here?

I was confused when it appeared that all three boys currently under my care were sleeping peacefully (albeit two in one bed – impromptu slumber party). Even though I saw them in bed, I then thought, It’s coming from outside (I know, don’t think I didn’t think that. Cue the axe murderer.) My still asleep brain somehow could handle the fact that despite the fact that I had just laid eyes on all three children IN THE HOUSE, apparently one of them was locked outside, crying.

When I opened the front door, there was a small figure – so small that at first I thought it was a dog – huddled in the middle of my street, sobbing heartbrokenly.

Next thought: someone’s cat got run over. As I approached (yeah, if you’re thinking, Idiot! get in line with my husband), I realized it was one person, a (seemingly) young, teeny tiny girl, sobbing as if her heart would break – or indeed, as if it already had.

Sadly, because we live when we do, in the society we do, the gut instinct that led me out into the street to find a crying child cautioned me against getting too close – that this girl could have a gun or be whacked out on drugs, or be of danger to me – and more importantly, to my sleeping children in my house - somehow.

I spent close to an hour sitting out on the street with her. She never moved, just cried and cried and cried. She repeated things like, “I don’t have anybody! I don’t trust anyone! I have no home!” over and over.

Because I live where I live, there are certain things that immediately pop into my head when a ruckus occurs out on the street, especially in the off hours.

Was she drunk?
(I don’t think she was.)

Was the guy sitting in the shiny new SUV parked behind her her boyfriend, her father, her pimp?
(Turns out the boy was her boyfriend. He was a slight, clean-cut teenager who was somewhere between exasperation, resignation, and amusement with his girlfriend (I think) and her drama.)

Did he have a gun?
(Yeah, I asked her that, and I am not proud, but you know, I wasn’t approaching a strange car without at least some inkling of who or what was in there.)

Should I call the police, the women’s shelter, her mom?
(No, no, no. I got out of her that she was 18. She looked about 10.)

Mostly, she HAD to get out of the street before someone – most likely my newspaper guy – ran her over.

A woman driving home from an engagement party – immaculately dressed, driving a silver BMW – stopped to see if she could help. I was just glad for another face at that point. The boyfriend never emerged from the car (seems he’d been driving around following her as she wandered the streets, sobbing, and had pretty much given up on talking any sense at all into her.) I offered to call the cops, I offered a jacket, I offered food, money for a cab. She just kept repeating “I don’t know anymore!” and sobbing. (Well, once I thought she asked for Cheerios, but I was wrong.)

I had just about decided there was nothing I could much do, if she didn’t want me calling the police. I told her to come knock on my door if there was anything I could do to help, reiterating my earlier offers of phone calls, food, money. I told the very polite boyfriend the same thing. I was about to reluctantly disappear back into my house and let the drama go on without me.

Then, an angel descended. No, not really. But my rector, one of the nicest men alive, and a man of God so he’d know what to do, drove up the street. He didn’t have any more idea than I did, but he was leaning towards calling the police.

Then, before any of us could make a move, the girl unfolded herself and stalked regally down my alley, disappearing. She was lovely, even after crying for an hour, crumpled on the wet pavement.

The silver BMW lady wanted to leave, I could tell. She had been talking out her car window to the boyfriend. He had said that the girl was upset over something (yeah, I wasn’t gonna pry, wasn’t it enough that I had engendered a three-ring circus?) and he’d been driving around, following her, for hours. On one hand, great, she was pulling the Camille act all over the neighborhood at 5 o-freaking-clock in the morning. On the other, that was some serious emotion I saw. Whatever was upsetting her – however trivial or laughable it may have been to any of us – was real to her. (Of course at 18 *I* thought my heart was never going to recover from Michael Madigan loving someone else and not me anymore. So, you know, 18. So young. A child.)

I am still ashamed that my first presumption was that she was drunk, my second that she was a prostitute (are hookers rocking Converse tennis and skinny jeans these days?). I am ashamed that I worried about a gun. I did not do any of these things JUST because both young people were African American; I did it because they were strangers, and gallivanting around my neighborhood in the wee hours of the morning, and because I had three sleeping children in the house behind me. If they had been white teenagers, I actually would have been less sympathetic. Which smacks of racism right there – my assumption that a white teenager has resources that a black girl might not have is just as prejudiced. (I still would have asked about the gun. I hate guns. They terrify me. And apparently everyone in the world but me has one at this point.)

All I know is that I heard a child crying and the mom in me wanted to fix it. I couldn’t. I couldn’t even really make her feel better. But maybe, sometime, when she thinks about how no one cares, she’ll recall how some crazy middle-aged lady wearing pajamas and a retainer stood out in the wet street for an hour, talking to her, teasing out details of her life, trying to find a way to help.

I even offered her her Cheerios. Thank God I’d gone grocery shopping yesterday.

20 comments:

Penni said...

You've told this story beautifully, I feel like I stood beside you both.

Isn't it a strange thing, narrative? How the bubbles we are brush past and even link with other people's bubbles and then drift away and we never know of the beginnings or endings.

daysgoby said...

You

are good people.

Beautifully written. My husband is a paramedic and often sees people at the worst moments of their lives - he says that not knowing what happens to the families and the patients themselves after doing the hand-off at the hospital is the worst part.

You did all you could. I think that's admirable.

Beth said...

You are a dear, dear soul.

The world is a better place because people like you and those other two folks in your neighborhood reach out to help, even when it's not at all clear what is needed.

delta said...

wow.

David said...

good job

ssheers said...

From a mom of two teenage girls: thank you.

Mary said...

What Ssheers said.

I too felt like I was there with you - and then kept re reading the psalm - which is so beautiful..

Suse said...

That is a strange, sad story.

And you my friend, are a good and loving woman.

kim at allconsuming said...

This is when it becomes palpably obvious that mental health services the world over are clearly lacking. That girl needed to be somewhere safe and somewhere sedated to get through the mania.

Oh we've all had the youth heart-breaking I'm-never-going-to-recover experience but to be doing what she was doing? With the sudden change in demeanour? For so long?

It's when my heart is grateful for people like you - who do dare to approach and try to help. But simultaneously breaks that a number for a mental health rapid response team (as easy to remember as 911 or 000) was/is not there.

God I hope she's OK.

sueeeus said...

I would have had the same presumptions, the same caution, and the same shame afterwards, but the important thing to note, like all have said previously, is that you are a good, good, kind, loving, and beautiful soul, and the ripple your act of love and compassion started may have many long reaching and very positive effects.

Dawn said...

*sigh*

Oh what a world we live in. I would have immediately called the police so that tells you how admirable what you did was.

Oh and by the way we do not and will not ever own a gun. It's always my fear too.

BabelBabe said...

you are all too kind.

you know what the real pisser is? I lost my dang retainer.

Amelia Plum said...

your post really drew me in, it so affecting and i'm glad you were there to help her out. but then reading the post you put up about losing your retainer cracked me up. so sorry to hear but it's nice to laugh after that emotional post.

Cat said...

I was lost and confused at 19. Wandering the street just like this girl....with a concerned boyfriend in his car trying to calm me down. But mine was the making of late night partying and self-inflicted drama.

She will never forget you, of that I am sure. And in a little way, you allowed trust to rebuild within her. I believe it.

Agreed with other commenters about it being so well written and drawing me in....and about you being so very kind.

Duyvken said...

You did a wonderful thing.

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