Sometimes words carry the weight of the world. They are heavy and strap to your shoulders and back.
They wake you up at 2:00 a.m. and you can’t go back to sleep because the words are whispering. They have wormed there way inside you and started gnawing at your gut. You try and push them away, but they keep creeping back in.
I toss and turn on these nights and then start the next day bleary-eyed and weary. I tell myself, “Things are going to be okay,” but those words seem empty and hollow.
I hear her words and see her face light up when the donated coats come in. She knows she will be a recipient of one. We dig through the bags, me pulling out coats way too big for her, but wanting her to have something she can grow into. She refuses them all.
In the bottom of the last trash bag, I pull out an old worn looking white sweater with a fur-trimmed hood. Foolishly, I point out the thread-bare places, the not so little hole in the back. The small red stain on the sleeve.
Her eyes have seen none of this.
She puts it on and sheepishly steps into being a vogue model. Her shyness melts away for the briefest of moments as she struts around the room.
To her it is treasure.
My little friend lives in a project across town. One morning it is frigid and the kids come piling off the bus soaking wet. The pipes burst and most of the apartments got flooded. She brings me her younger brother.
He has literally walked the soles of his shoes off. The only thing holding the shoe together is a few stitches across the toes. His feet are freezing cold, his socks are dripping. I find a pair of hiking boots, two sizes too big and some wool socks to dress him in.
She is so happy because she knew I could fix things. I am, after all, the bearer of treasure.
I watch her with a close eye. She always comes to tell me, “Good Morning!” but today she is wearing a veil of sadness. Her clothes are dirty, her hair is unkempt. I can see where the tears have dried and streaked her face.
The inevitable question is asked.
He won’t leave.
He tells her she’s stupid, ugly, and won’t ever amount to anything in her life. He pinches, pushes and pulls her hair. She shows an example of how he doesn’t hit her with his fist, but slaps her on the back of the head.
Then she has an unaccustomed moment of fierce rage that wells up out of her. She is almost screaming that she just wishes he’d go away and never come back. Her momma tells her just to stay away from him and he’ll leave her alone, but she just wants us to know that when he’s gone they (her other siblings) pray he won’t come back because when he is not there – it is the best day there ever was.
Then she is spent and weeping. The fiery rage is extinguished just as quickly as it was lit. She comes back several times throughout the day to get counseling.
Finally, she is so distraught we let her lie down in the nurse’s station and try to sleep. She goes in between sobbing fits and hand-wringing until she nods off from exhaustion.
When it’s time to go home, I tell her to go get her things the buses will be here soon. She pleads and begs with me to not have to get on the bus. I tell her she has to go home.
In a moment of guilty clarity she accepts her fate and agrees. She has to go home, who will take care of her brothers and feed the baby?