This is a post for the Picture it & Write Blogging Challenge at Ermiliablog!
“What are you looking at?” she snarled, when she saw me staring at her. I couldn’t help it. She was just a little girl — she couldn’t have been more than eleven or twelve, but she was hard as nails. The bitterness and hatred that sparked in her eyes broke my heart. I knew her, all to well, and now, my challenge was to reach her before it was too late.
“Oh Lord,” I silently prayed, please don’t let it be too late for her. “Give me the wisdom I need to reach her, Father, before it is too late.”
“Well?” she brazenly demanded. “I asked you a question.”
I smiled at her, and answered her question. “You know very well what I’m looking at, or should I say who I’m looking at? I’m looking at you. Are you Candi?”
Giving me a hard look, she took a deep, exaggerated drag from her cigarette, then slowly exhaled the smoke from her nostrils before she answered me, “Who wants to know?” she replied, as she flicked some ashes on the ground.
I couldn’t help myself. I burst into laughter as I walked up to her and took the cigarette out of her hand, dropping it to the ground and stamping it out. “I’m Jenny,” I replied as she gave me a dirty look. “Don’t you know those things are bad for you?”
“Who cares? Why did you do that? Those things are expensive, you know!” Fire was flashing from her blue eyes, and if looks could kill, I wouldn’t be here now.
“I care,” I replied, looking her right in the eye. “That’s why I’m here. We need to talk.” The other children, presumably her brother and sister were staring at us with eyes as wide as saucers.
“Why should I talk to you? I don’t even know you,” she replied angrily, crossing her arms in front of her chest and stomping her foot on the dirt road. Her unkempt blonde hair flashed in the sunlight, as she shook her head at me.
I bent over, until I was eye to eye with her, and I told her why she should talk to me. “You need to talk to me, because I’m here to help you. You need to talk to me, because you want to protect your brother and sister, but you can’t do it alone. You need to talk to me, because I’m probably the only one who doesn’t think you’re just a brat. You need to talk to me, because I care about you and your brother and sister, and I want to help you.”
As I was speaking to her, I saw fear flash across her face briefly, before she quickly hid it behind that hard, cold mask she was wearing. “Why do you want to help me?” Candi asked, looking me up and down. Not for the first time, I wished that my job didn’t require me to dress as a professional, in my navy blue pant suit, with a white shell, and a pair of bright red shoes. My auburn hair was tied back from my face with a red scarf, which completed the outfit. It would have made my job as a social worker so much easier, if I could have worn my faded jeans and a tank top, so that children like Candi could relate to me better.
“Candi,” I responded, “I want to help you, because just a few years ago, I was a lot like you.” She eyed me in disbelief, as I continued. “Look, kid, don’t let these fancy clothes fool you. I didn’t always have nice clothes. I didn’t always have a home either, and when I did have that home, I wished I didn’t have to live there. Living on the streets was better than living with my mom and all of her boyfriends, ya’ know?”
I could see her guard beginning to drop a little, and after instructing her brother and sister to go ahead and continue playing without her, she followed me over to my car, and joined me as I sat on the hood. “So what do you want to know?” she whispered as we sat side by side.
Turning so that I could see her face, I softly replied, “I need to know everything. Listen, I don’t want to hurt you or get you in any trouble. I just want to help. I need to help you. Do you want to know why I studied to be a social worker, Candi?” Her big blue eyes focused on mine as she nodded, and I continued, “I wanted to be a social worker so that I could rescue girls and boys like you, girls and boys who were like me when I was your age.”
Candi nodded, and gulping, she asked, “Did your dad ever –?” She looked away, struggling to get the words out, but terrified of what might happen if she spoke them out loud.
Taking her hand in mine, I lifted Candi’s chin up so that she could see my face, as I nodded yes to her question. I didn’t try to force her to speak, because I knew that she was almost ready, and if I tried to push her or rush her, she might never speak those words out loud. “Do you have a brother or sister?” she asked me.
I nodded, and replied, “I have a little sister, like you do.”
“Did your dad ever… ever… did he ever do that to your sister?” a lone tear slid down her cheek.
“I don’t know for sure. I only know that I tried to protect her, but we never talked about it, ya’ know?” She nodded her head.
“I think my dad is… is… I think he’s going to hurt Reba if I don’t stop him.” She looked earnestly into my face, as the tears began to flow freely, leaving a dirty wet trail down her cheeks. I took my scarf off and handed it to her so she could dry her tears and blow her nose. I never think to bring tissues with me, but the scarf could be replaced. My heart ached to see her pain, but I knew that I couldn’t hold her yet. She wasn’t ready to be held yet.
“Can you help us?” she whispered softly.
“I can,” I answered with all seriousness, “but you have to tell me everything.” Haltingly, over the next forty-five minutes, Candi shared the torment that she had endured at the hands of her father. Such things should never be.
After she shared her story with me, I explained that the police would be here shortly, and she and her brother and sister would be removed from their home, and placed in foster care. I told her that I would do my best to keep them all together, but there would be no guarantees. Then, we called her brother and sister to come to us, so that we could prepare them for the change that was about to occur in their lives.
Throughout the entire process, I couldn’t help but admire this woman-child. She was old beyond her years, comforting and caring for her brother and sister, as though she was their mother. I felt confident that given the right environment and the right set of circumstances, this young woman would not only survive her tumultuous childhood, she would thrive and overcome the pain of her past.
“Lord,” I silently prayed, as the police arrived, and I loaded the children into my car, “watch over these beautiful children, and give them the chance that they deserve. Set them free, Father from the pain and the sorrow that has been inflicted on them. In Jesus’ name, let them know peace.”
I chose the foster family to care for these children. I knew them personally, and they were good, caring people… the people who had once cared for me not so long ago, and raised me as though I was their own child.
Do you see that little girl in the picture? Don’t judge her — love her!
Cheryl A. Showers