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the empty

The fat girl as they call her, came to school with a hypodermic needle in her backpack. It may have been to defend herself, it may have been to instigate something. She comes from a broken home and this is her second or third school. E steers clear of her, and the bullies she tangles with. It was never understood  - how things began, who threw the first insult, the first punch, the first grabbed book but the end is a chronic cycle of violence. At one point, the girl's mother got the police involved and this was seen as offensive, a step too far. The police did not resolve anything so it was all just a lot of saber rattling. That is the most common sound here. The empty threat.

Last week, there was a sobrani, sort of a cross between a parent-teacher conference and a school meeting. I was busy, so E went by herself and took notes. Five minutes in she messaged me, that I was wise not to be there. Nothing about this girl was going to be resolved.
"Boys will be boys" was all …

all the pretty little horses (put your hand in mine)


She wakes in darkness, tapping on my door. Silhouetted in the hallway she tells me she has had another nightmare, her voice hushed, defeated. I ask if she wants a cracker, maybe a glass of water. She shakes her head no, just holding her arms up to me.

We shuffle around the house, her chin digging into my shoulder as I carry her from room to room. I hum a melody for her, an old cowboy song.

When you wake,
you shall have,
all the pretty little horses.
Blacks and bays,
dapples and greys,
go to sleep 
you little baby.



The sky still black, the streets are wet with rain and it is time to make that first coffee, to get her ready for school. She stares up at me, hands crossed on her chest, blankets pulled up to her chin.

"Pop." She says quietly.
"Yes." I whisper, stepping on some legos that crunch under my bare feet.
"Mom said you should die." She says.
"What do you mean?" I ask.
"She says you should just be dead." She says, sighing and staring right through me.
"I don't know what to tell you kiddo." I say.
"Is it true?" She asks.
I shake my head no.
"What did you dream?" I ask, changing the subject.
"We were in a train station." She begins. "And then I got lost from you."
"Aha." I say, brushing the hair from her eyes. "It was just a dream kiddo, just a dream."
I pinch her nose, kiss her forehead.
"Pop." She says. "Can I have some crunchy cereal now?"

I go to the kitchen, splashing some in a bowl. The sky is empty. A low wind whistles through the windows we leave barely open. I imagine her dreams, the thoughts in her head when she is forced to listen to such madness. I imagine her sitting quietly, nodding her head because she is small and what else can she do, alone with such a mastermind?

Then I imagine her fighting back, arguing, refuting. But that is me, and my way - not hers. That is my struggle, my way. She is much wiser than me, choosing the path of least resistance. She can roll with punches, knowing she will be back here soon enough, to lick her wounds, to eat and laugh, to be kissed goodnight, to wake up with a full day ahead of her.


Snow pants on, hat and sweater and hood all strapped into place we go downstairs and outside. The sidewalk is slick, smelling of rotting leaves and car exhaust. She holds my hand tight, as we navigate around the puddles.

"Pop." She says at one point.
"Yes?" I say.
"When I am at mom's house, even for some hours." She says. "I just hide in a place in my mind until you come and get me."
"I know." I tell her. "You told me before."
"Ok." She says, and falls quiet.

Our walk is silent, as faces flash past us in the dim light. There are no words now, just a playground that stands empty, a traffic light that counts out the seconds we have to cross a busy street. Her hand in mine, holding fiercely. The underpass, our footsteps echoing in the wet corridor. And then inside the school, dressing her quietly. I almost forget a doll she shoved in my pocket before we left the house.

She smiles up at me.








Comments

liv said…
Bless her
Bless her
Bless her
A stormy Monday, M. But I imagine her grown up. My father used to say that the only thing in life worth accumulating was experience. For better or for worse. Thinking of you both!
Banker Chick said…
She is such a lovely little girl. It is criminal that her mom is allowed to have such control of her. Her time with you seems to mitigate the ugliness of her mother. Bless you both.

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