The Little One Leaves

"You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams." ~ Khalil Gibran (Lebanese - American Artist, Poet, Writer)

I have been working with a girl who I refer to as 'Little C' since August 2010, which is a long time in residential treatment. Not to say that I haven't worked with kids for longer; I had one boy for two and a half years. 18 months has been too long for Little C and she has experienced many trials and tribulations during that time. From a small Aboriginal community up north, Little C came to us as an aggressive, abused, addicted teenager. I remember the day she first came into my residence - it was her birthday. Happy birthday to her, moved hours away from her home to come live with strangers who knew jack shit about her world. She looked like a boy wearing the gangster clothes that were 3 times too big for her very small frame. Her hair hung in her face and she was without the glasses she desperately needed because, somewhere along the line, she had broken them again. She was hungover from partying for her birthday, wobbling on her feet from a profound lack of sleep, too much booze and who knows what else. And she was pissed. Her eyes betrayed her as she tried to appear calm; they told me stories of her disdain for the adults in her life who had hurt her and those who were "trying to help her change her life." She didn't want any help and she was wiser than most of us.

Little C was placed in the care of the local Children's Aid around age two or three. Removed from her home, as all of her older sisters had been, due to her mother being a homeless alcoholic who had damaged her body so much she was on dialysis three times a week. Her father, dead, stabbed in a knife fight at a local bar. Little C doesn't remember him. Her three older sisters, all with substance abuse problems, regularly used Little C as a punching bag to take out their anger, resulting in her having a broken nose, broken ribs, and a broken heart. Bounced between placements - both foster and group homes - Little C only remembers one family who had a positive impact on her life, who cared about her deeply, and who she was removed from after living with them for some years. She learned quickly that nothing was permanent and that love was a temporary feeling that couldn't be trusted. Her life consisted of garbage bags full of clothing and pictures of her family with worn edges due to being trekked between the various places she's lived. Despite all of this, Little C is fiercely loyal to her family, accepting of the fact that her destiny is directly tethered to theirs and that, likely, this will result in her drowning.  Over the past 18 months, I have witnessed her reaching out to her family back home, only to be on the receiving end of conversations with her mother that are incomprehensible to most of us. She is commonly heard saying, Mom, I know you're drunk....can you just talk to me?

Little C is by far the most affectionate youth I have ever worked with and, given that the staff cannot engage in physical affection with the children they work with, she identified me as the person to get this affection from. She fits perfectly under my arm and will wrap herself around my waist to hold on tight for her hugs. Her head sits directly underneath my chin. Over the time we have spent together, she has called me many things - darling, Mom, her friend, her clinish. In reality, the only appropriate name is clinish but I don't really give a shit. I wish I could be all of those things to her. We meet weekly for her therapy sessions, talking about any number of things from her family to her future to her relationships with boys (and, sometimes, girls). Generally, no topic is off limits; however, she can skillfully avoid conversation around things that make her heart hurt if she is not up to it. Every week she asks me to adopt her. It takes everything in my being to not say, okay, come home with me.

All of the youth I have worked with over the years have been unique and special. Not all of them have carved a place in my heart however. I think there's been three who have accomplished this and Little C overrides any deep feelings I've had for other youth in my care. She is what I look forward to when I enter the residence, she is what I look forward to in my endless week of meetings and paperwork. She has a part of me, as I have a part of her.

In the beginning of March, Little C is being discharged back to her home community. One of her sister's is pregnant and just got out of jail and the two other sisters are continuing with their legacy of substance abuse - as is her mother. She knows exactly what she is walking back into. Despite any change that she has made over the past 18 months of treatment, nothing has changed within her family system and this is unlikely to ever happen. In order to cope, she will drink and drug and place herself in extreme situations of danger, as this is all she knows. She will become lost within herself and found all at the same time. She will be back where she started. My heart breaks when I think of her leaving; selfishly I want her to stay in treatment with me forever. I want to know she is well fed with a warm bedroom and a chance at an education. I want to know that she is safe when she is asleep. I want my hugs, as they bring us both a measure of peace and comfort. I don't know who has learned more from who, as I have certainly learned about survival from her. She has learned love from me, which is not the lessons I am professionally supposed to impart on the youth I work with. It is what it is and I am not ashamed of the relationship we have built.

The only thing I can hope for is that she remembers me, somewhere deep in her heart, and that she takes me with her through her life journey. I hope that she remembers that someone loved her once in all the right ways, without abuse, exploitation, conditions or expectations. And may be, should she continue to survive, she will someday reflect back on her darling, her Mom, her friend, her clinish and offer herself the same love that I did.

To Little have a piece of me.