Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Kids With Black-Eyes

Pam came back to our middle school homeroom after Christmas break and I will never forget the swollen, black-eye that she donned. Pam was an athletic, sweet, honor student. She had a wonderful family, and slumber parties at her house for the cheer teem were always the best! Pam's mom developed a homemade hot cocoa concoction that I still use to wow my kids, to this day! Pam had been sledding with her family over break, and she lost control and hit a tree. I remember in my pre-teen angst, being so shocked by, and uncomfortable with, the physical trauma to her face. As the weeks went on, and the weather became warmer, her swelling faded and the eye returned to normal. Her exciting and harrowing story, and her temporary deformity have never left me. 

*Names are changed to protect the confidentiality of the youth.

I prepared my vehicle by concealing my purse and iPad under my car seat in the unsafe, and run down neighborhood, and walked extra quickly to dodge the rain. As I was let into the building, and led to the interview area in the dank shelter, (I thought) I knew what to expect. The young ladies that I came to see always skulked in wearing the prison-orange jumpsuit pants with an oversized and stained white, men's T-shirt. They also wear their anger like a shield, shun social warmth like it is the Ebola virus, and are unable to conceal their attempts at "figuring me out". Mostly though, their overall disappointment with LIFE fills the room, and is palpable. 

Annette walked into the interview room, and I focussed my attention, almost solely, on keeping my face in order. There is a special kind of "art" to maintaining the warm smile, and relaxed body language, when you are interacting with a child who is at the actual end of their emotional rope. Those feelings are compounded with the real-life abandonment the girl carries under the soul-crushing reality of living out her days in a shelter for minors.

As I rose to physically greet her, and introduce myself with as much disarming kindness as I could muster, I see it...her discolored and swollen eye. The sight of her black-eye stole my breath and it felt stuck in my throat. It was immediately obvious that she was completely ashamed of it. She was quick to introduce it, sheepishly excusing it away. "I am so sorry!", is all I could think to reply. The emotional trauma manifested in her physical body was almost too much. I sat with her for a very long time. She cried. She laughed. She sang for me and (beautifully assertively) told me that she has her sights set on college. She lamented how no one believes that she can do it, but she will! I know she will. I will help her!

Black-eyes are evidence of trauma. Perhaps, so much more trauma than we can really ever know.