The handwriting is looping, the capitalization non-existent, the ragged piece of paper torn on one edge, but with a faint flower at the top. It looks like the effort put into the note is considerable, the pressure of the words seen through the paper from the other side.
It is childlike. It is simple. It is a priceless treasure given to me upon my departure from Community Mental Health that I keep under glass on my desk.
No, it wasn’t written by a child. It was written by a 31-year old woman – a patient for 2 years. A woman-child. A woman whose emotional maturity was paralyzed in early adolescence, when she had several children as a result of sexual abuse by her father…abuse that her mother never stopped. A woman who never finished junior high and who ran away to get away from the monster at home, only to meet more of them on the streets and under the bridge where she slept. Where she did what she could to eat and to take care of her children until Child Protective Services removed them and placed them in Foster Care.
No protection for her, but at least there was for her children. And for the children with different fathers from severed relationships who came after that.
Rape. Childbirth. Physical abuse. Homelessness. Death of one of her children and institutionalization of another. Arrests and incarceration. Drugs and alcohol. Prostitution. Multiple suicide attempts and hospitalizations. Emotional abuse.
Self-esteem: zero. Worthlessness: 100%. In her mind, that is. And in the mind of the bruiser of a man whose son she raised as her own, who beat her up regularly, even though she took any and all that he threw at her.
But she never left. Why?
Where could she go?
She had no job – who would hire her? She had no high school diploma, with her jail time checked honestly on every application. Applications where the handwriting would look like it looked in the note above.
But she loved the squirrels outside her window, and had names for each one of them, and when her boyfriend killed one with a BB gun when he was drunk, she carefully dug a hole and buried it while he slept off the rage and the drink.
Until the next time.
Non-compliance with therapy appointments and medications until she realized that I saw past her bravado and resistance to the little girl underneath.
She was hard to like, but her survival instinct was easy to admire.
For several months, she never missed an appointment. I looked over her shoulder while she filled out applications with an agency that was willing to hire people with an arrest record. We picked out an outfit together for her interview, her boyfriend there to have the final approval on what she wore.
She didn’t get the job.
But she finally got a driver’s license so if another opportunity presented itself, she would be ready. She started to study for her GRE but didn’t have the money to sit for the exams. A fairy godmother took care of the fee at the local office that registered people for the review classes that she got thrown out of for being disruptive.
She always had difficulty with anger management, but she was also sleep deprived, since everyone around her did whatever they could to prevent her from studying. She passed all but one part of the exam for her GRE anyway, and got a tutor for the higher math.
Her father got a cancer diagnosis, and she struggled mightily with whether to go see him to tell him that she still loved him as a daughter, or to go see him to kill him for the despicable horrors that he visited upon her as a little girl. Normal feelings for what she had been through, and I daresay far above anything her father would have felt.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, for me, a chance at another job, this one in higher education. One with a secretary to answer the phone and a computer to make appointments, with time off and supplemental help. Nothing like the limited resources of Community Mental Health that wore people out.
For someone who was exhausted with compassion fatigue, it was a relatively easy choice.
But it was so terribly hard to leave the patients in my case load. And she was one of them. Right when she seemed to be making some headway, another person who she had slowly, hesitantly learned to trust was abandoning her.
Who to save? It had to be me. Because I cannot “save” anyone but myself, and I needed to give some of the compassion that I so easily poured into others, to myself.
So everyone was transitioned to new psychotherapists whom I thought would be a ‘good fit,’ and I had enough advance notice to properly ‘terminate’ my clients.
I wish I could tell you that she passed the final portion of her GRE, left what would hopefully be her last abusive relationship and found a full-time job.
But I can’t.
I don’t know what happened to her…not even if she kept her appointments with the new therapist. Not every story has a happy ending, or at least an ending that we are a part of or even privy to.
But I do have the tiny stuffed green frog she gave me on the last day, one she got from a McDonald’s Happy Meal. And I have the “Greatest Therapist Award” next to me on my desk.
Not to remind me of my award, but to remind me of the special woman-child I was so privileged to work with for 2 years.
To remind me of what a survivor looked like…a woman so tough that she was still standing, a woman so gentle that she named each of the squirrels in her back yard.
Thank you for gifting me with a glimpse into your life and sharing things that no one else knew. For keeping a small shred of hope alive even when the voices all around you ridiculed and berated.
I wish you happiness and warmth and smiles; sunshine and rainbows and sweetness.
But most of all, I wish you love.
Pure love. Of yourself and from someone good and decent and kind.
You deserve nothing less.
The privilege was mine, lovely lady. Be well.
You are in my thoughts and in my heart…go out and shine!