Wednesday, November 3, 2010

God's Little Girls

            The phone rang.  It was the night shift social worker from the safe house.
“Iana, it’s Gabriella—Mariana---again.” Between her clipped words and my interrupted sleep, that’s all I made out.
““Slow down. I can’t understand you.” 
“Mariana…threatening Susana… with a knife.”
I called security and rushed to the shelter.  We managed to talk Mariana into giving us the knife about the same time security arrived. 
I shook my head. “I can’t allow you to disrupt the healing process of the other girls with your threats”
            Mariana stared back at me and her chin tilted up. Her mouth dragged at the corners and her eyes squinted. Being repeatedly raped in adolescent years doesn’t do a lot to develop a pleasant personality, but Mariana went beyond unpleasant. She was dangerous.
I made up my mind. For the rest of the girls to feel safe, Mariana had to go.  I filed paperwork to move her to Gaesti, a juvenile delinquent institution.
In other countries, time spent in juvenile detention might not be such a big deal. In Romania, its stigma could be as bad as that of having been a teen-aged prostitute.
            The juvenile institutions here imprison youth without dealing with their mental or emotional issues. When they reenter society, they end up back in prison or they do something careless and wind up maimed or dead. No one wants to train them for a vocation. They’re considered a waste.
            I filed papers for Mariana to go to Gaisti, but found she would have to continue at the shelter until the court processed her file.  In the meantime, we dealt with her outbursts and lived in uneasy watchfulness.
Then one day she came downstairs fully dressed and headed for the door.
“I’m going to school.”
“What did you say?”
She looked like any other schoolgirl. Her shirt didn’t expose the tops of her breasts as it usually did and her pants offered breathing room. 
I tried to act nonchalant. “OK, so don’t forget your coat.”
            She nodded, took her coat and went for the door. Her friends wouldn’t be up at this hour. The clubs wouldn’t be open.  She might really be going to school.
            Each day after that she attended school. She didn’t threaten the other girls and she did her chores. The change was so dramatic it was as if someone else had taken over her body.
            “What happened to you Mariana? What made you start going to school and being nice to the other girls? Why did you stop threatening the social workers and start asking how you could help around here?”  She smiled and shrugged her shoulders.
My eyes held her gaze. “I worked with you and I worked with you. I applied every psychological method I knew in an effort to get you to a place where you could live with others and work toward a future. But you weren’t like the other girls. You refused to cooperate. Were you frightened because you were being sent to Gaesti? Is that why you changed?
            She shook her head. “If you remember I got worse for a while. Nothing mattered. I knew things would always be the same. No one would ever accept me or love me.  I didn’t care if I lived or died.  What difference would it make if I went to Gaesti?
            “What then? What motivated you?”
“Even though I acted so awful, one day I decided to pray.  I prayed because I didn’t want to hurt. As I lay there, prickling, like pins and needles penetrated my skin. It tingled up and down my spine.  My stomach that rumbled all the time quieted. The heaviness in my chest loosened.  Like a block, it rose and dissolved.”
“Warmth spread from my chest up into my head and down to the tips of my toes.  I tingled. A stream of light shined through an open window. For the first time since I had met the trafficker I fell completely to sleep and slept until morning.
“When I woke, I no longer resented the furniture claiming it came from rich people with too much money who didn’t know what else to do with it.  I viewed the room as a space provided for me.
“The walls that had made the room feel like a prison now looked like a private place where I could connect with the light. I wanted to stay in the room. Yet, I wanted to make a future. The first step would be school… I had to finish school.
            “I dressed and went downstairs. It was good you didn’t ask too many questions. I wouldn’t have known how to explain what had happened to me.  When I came home that night and laid back in bed, the needles pricked and tingled again.  This happened night after night.
“My skin tingled when I thought of what could happen for me.  I saw how Louisa got a job. She goes to school and she has friends.  She seems normal now. I heard of Christina who went through training, got a job, met a man and later married. I remembered how she stopped by the shelter and showed us her two daughters.
Mariana smiled. “One day, I’ll have a job. Someday, I might even meet a man who will fall in love with me.
            “I was so mad about you no club dancing and no alcohol rule but now I get it. You were trying to protect me.
“When I go to my room at night, I wait for the tingling, that presence. It helps me know that I’m much more than a doomed girl. I had some horrible days, but I won’t have a horrible life.”
             Months went by and Mariana grew more self-assured.
 Then, one day she didn’t return from school. Or the day after that. Did her trafficker find her? Did he kill her? Did something happen to cause her distress? Did she run away?
            Dread rose like lava I needed to outrun.  (continued next week)

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