There’s a little girl sitting on the swings. Her hair is in a messy bun on top of her head, the hair near the nape falling backwards to touch the soft skin of her neck. She’s in a white shirt, a black skirt and shiny black dress shoes, frilly white socks hugging her tiny ankles. She was scuffing her toes in the sand, kicking back and forth, slowly rocking on the swing.
Her mother was nowhere to be found.
I approached the swing set and settled in the swings next to the girl. I mimicked her rocking motion, kicking myself slowly back and forth. She didn’t look up from where she gazed at the ground.
“Hello,” I said softly.
She didn’t respond. I leaned in a little closer.
“Are you alone?” I tried again.
Nothing. She made no move to show she had heard me.
“Where’s your mother?” I asked, glancing around the playground.
“Gone,” came the small voice.
I looked back at the girl. She had stopped moving, her feet planted firmly in the ground, hands gripping the chains tightly.
I let go of my own chains and moved my swing closer to hers. “What do you mean, she’s gone?” I said, reaching out to turn her face towards me.
Suddenly the girl jerked, hopping off the swing and standing up. I started at the movement, and rushed to get off my swing and follow her as she walked away.
“I mean, she’s not here,” the girl said, walking briskly towards the other side of the playground. “She left.”
“Where did she go?” I asked, rushing to catch up with her. For someone with such tiny legs, she sure did move like the wind.
“I dunno,” the girl said, bouncing slightly with each step. “My grandma says she’s in Germany.”
She grabbed onto a climbing play set and began to pull herself up. I stood by, ready to catch her if she were to fall.
“I know where Germany is,” she continued, grunting with the exertion. “It’s on the other side of the world.” I raised my eyebrows. The girl didn’t look to be older than five or six or seven. She seemed smart for her age.
“And why would your mother be in Germany?” I asked, ducking underneath the play set to keep the girl in my sights.
“Because she hates us,” the girl said matter of factly, letting go of the bars and dropping down, hanging by the backs of her knees. My eyes widened and I reached my arms out to catch her, but she wasn’t falling.
I took a deep breath and dropped my hands. “Now, why would you say something like that?”
“Because it’s true,” the girl said, reaching up and grabbing the handle bars again, pulling herself through the maze-like structure. “She’s never home. She doesn’t love us. If she did, she would be home with us. But she’s always working. She never comes home.”
“Well, where’s your dad?”
“In jail,” she said, just as nonchalant. My eyes grew even wider. What had this girl been through?
“Mommy was going to take us to Virginia,” she continued, climbing back down the play set. “Me and her and daddy and my sister were going to live there all together and be happy forever. But then grandpa and auntie told her not to go, so now we’re stuck at their house and daddy is gone and mommy never comes home.”
The girl jumped down from the play set, heading determinedly towards the slide. I followed her, a bit more slowly this time, trying to process everything that she’d said.
“So…it sounds like your mom is never home because she has to work,” I said softly.
“I don’t care,” the girl said, climbing up the ladder of a slide.
“But how will you live without money?” I asked, watching her settle in at the top of the slide.
“I said, I don’t care,” she said, and with that, she pushed herself forward, tumbling down the slide. There was no smile on her face.
She got up and came back around to the ladder, grabbing the rungs with her tiny hands. Halfway up the ladder she stopped and tipped her head towards me, her voice dropping low.
“We would’ve been okay,” she said, hurrying up the rest of the way and sliding down again.
I rushed around to meet her, stopping her at the bottom of the slide before she could get up again.
“Hey,” I said, placing my hands on her knees. She kind of drew in to herself, placing her hands on her lap, eyes staring down at them.
“If your mother’s always gone,” I said, “then who is it that takes care of you?”
I’d never seen a change of expression happen so quickly. In an instant the girl had gone from quiet melancholy to bright nostalgia, a wistful smile breaking out across her face.
“My grandma!” she cried happily, squirming where she sat. “Grandma takes good care of us. She raised five girls already so she knows what she’s doing.”
I laughed at her know-it-all attitude, listening rapt as she prattled on and on about her grandmother.
“She cooks us breakfast every morning and makes us dinner every night. She wakes me up really early to sit in my little yellow chair and she straightens my hair for a whole hour so I can look really pretty when I go to school. Sometimes she even lets me sleep in the chair, even though it makes it hard for her. She helps me with my homework. She does my science projects – she even buried fake dinosaur bones outside for me to excavate! I want to be a paleontologist.” Again, I was amazed at the mouth on this girl. She continued, “Sometimes she spanks us on the hand with a spatula if we’re bad, but she’s not really mean. Sometimes she gets really upset but she just wants us to do good. She comes to all our plays and recitals. She and grandpa always drive us to school and to rehearsal and take us wherever we need to go. She makes us cookies and grandpa sneaks us cereal in the middle of the night. She loves us very much, and I’m happy we get to live with her.”
We sat there for a while, both of us marveling at the amazing stamina of a woman who could do so much for a child that wasn’t even her own.
“Well,” I sighed, reaching up and tilting the girl’s chin up, “it sounds like, even if your mother is gone, you have a woman at home who loves you very much.”
The girl smiled at me, her bright little teeth shining white.
“Yeah, I do.”
This was part of my self-therapy. The assignment was to write about every “hurt” that still existed from childhood, and converse with the “you” from that age in order to sort everything out.
This was one of my “hurts,” my mother never being home when I was little. I still remember how I told everyone she was off in Germany working. I also believed that she went out to party most nights instead of coming home to be with us (she says this is not true, but I don’t know whether to believe her… I think I’ll go with my memory on this one).
There are other “hurts” that I hope to release soon.