Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Releasing the Darkness

The summer before I turned 16 I took a part-time job at a woman's shelter. It was actually the same shelter where my mother had worked for awhile as a Case Manager after she obtained her Bachelors. Part of my job duties entailed assisting with the office work and the other part involved interacting with the mothers and their children. They hired me partly because of my mother's connection and partly because my own early life experiences were parallel to those of the residents. 1992 sometimes feels like a million miles away and at other times it feels close enough to touch, as though its events were still unfolding.

The experience I had that summer crossed my mind this week, reminding me that you can always transform life's horrific experiences into something that will make a huge difference to someone else. The experience I had there was one of those experiences that ends up having the simple unspoken power of transformation for both the receiving and giving ends. An experience containing that little bit of transformation magic that often blurs the lines between those two.

I was pretty lucky to have my first "real" job, sans all the babysitting gigs, turn into such a rich experience. Of course, what does a moody, precocious 15 year old know, right? She thinks it's just a way to pass the empty summer evenings, finally get her mother off her back about learning "responsibility," and earn enough money to pay for the insurance on the car she'll soon be driving. Back then "Greality," as most Coloradoans affectionately call my hometown, was even more of the sleepy dot on the map than it is now. Trust me, not much has changed, despite the fact that we now have our own Best Buy and Chuck E. Cheese. Anyhow, that was the summer the sugar beet plant was still in operation and you could smell its aroma in the air against the musky twilight as you approached the industrial sector along Highway 85 where the shelter was located.

That shelter was only a temporary solution to the danger these women and their children were trying to escape. It was a realm of protection that only let in those who were supposed to be there and questioned everyone else from behind bolts, peepholes and intercoms. All of those children became beacons during those three months, running to the door to greet me each time I would arrive for my "shift." We played, laughed, giggled, cooked, watched movies, ate too much candy, read to each other and put on the classic stuffed animals’ skits. It was a way to get their minds off the emptiness and uncertainty that existed where only innocence should. A realm of shadows I knew too well, but tried to pretend as though it didn't exist inside me.

There was one girl, in particular, whose name I should remember, but I can't. Long, straight blonde hair with blue hazel eyes. We somehow instantly bonded that first night. I was told to "go play with the kids" by my supervisor, an older woman with hair as fiery red as her spirit. A sort of down to earth version of Tammy Faye, if there is such a thing. I thought, "ok." “Me, go play with the kids?” I was scared. I wasn't sure what to do, what they would be like or what they would want from me. It didn't take me long to realize that all they really wanted was to feel like someone loved them.

That night the blonde girl got angry at another one of the kids while we were trying to all play together. She threw a fit, even running out of the room and up the stairs so she could sulk in true dramatic fashion. I think somewhere inside there was a level of recognition between my fifteen year old self and this young girl. She wasn't really angry with the boy she had yelled at. She was angry because her Daddy wasn't there, her life had been turned upside down, she couldn't know whom to trust and she felt abandoned and discarded as though her existence didn't matter. So, I put that boy in charge of the others while I went up the stairs. I found her sitting on one of the steps. I sat down next to her and tried to tell her a piece of advice I wish I had been able to tell myself at that age.

I remembered what it was like to be that angry. So angry you couldn't speak or look at anyone. So angry you would run up to your room, put on your pajamas to make yourself feel better and just sit in silence, hoping that somehow if you didn't speak about it, nothing that just happened would be true. Somehow what I said to that girl made her nod in agreement, come back down from the stairs and rejoin the others as though she only had the intent of enjoying what carefree fun there might be left to capture.

She was my little shadow that summer, always at my side, wanting to sit on my lap and talk about whatever she wanted to say. I hope that wherever and whomever she is now, that she still remembers those months as something special. I hope that I was as helpful to her as she and all the other children were to me. I think we showed each other that we were lovable, that we mattered to someone somewhere in the world and that life could be good even when it was shelled in darkness.

Reflecting back on those three months of 1992, I realize that the Universe always places us where we're supposed to be. We may think at the time that it's only for our benefit, for our lesson or for our growth. We don't have to reflect for too long to get that it's for a lot more than just that. In reality, it is for someone else's too.

Within our own night's sky there exists a multitude of stars for those who choose to stop and gaze. We just have to remember to not let their lights flicker away or forget that we aren't really that darkness. It is something that we can release, if we so choose, in order to focus on the beauty of the good that makes up who we really are.

1 comment:

  1. OMG!!! I cried when I read this. Thank you sooo much for sharing. Not only did your story touch my heart, but I am now inspired to write a few posts of my own in a much more personal style, something I've been wanting to do, but didn't have the courage (until now) to do. Thank you again, from the bottom of my heart.