It had been almost 9 months since I last saw her. In the fleeting moment of her impulses she ran out of our lives. But, now she was found. The court quickly stamped too high a risk, and without any other options available, she was whisked off to her temporary home. She affectionately calls it “kiddie prison.”
After months of fighting for visits, I’m finally allowed.
I’m not sure how she’ll respond. Working in this field, for this long, I’ve learned a few things. One is that emotions are always extreme even if their not identified. Another is that regardless of her response in the moment, my role is to simply keep showing up.
As I walk in, I almost miss her sitting there with her team. She’s slumped over, her extravagant braids have disappeared, and she’s back to wearing lackluster scrubs. As I walk past, she grabs the attention of her case manager and exclaims, “that’s her.” As I turn and smile, she immediately puts her head down and attempts to hide the tear with her hand.
We started unsure and awkward, both trying to decipher what the other person was thinking through words and actions, while the other people at the table served as an intrusion. Once the other workers were distracted with logistics. We both turned our shoulders slightly to create some semblance of a barrier, a mock privacy in a room full of people.
I began asking, “Do you want to talk…” but before the words were completed, tears quietly rolled down her face. After a brief pause, a barely audible “I didn’t want to run, but the other girls mentioned it, and I just hadn’t been free in so long.”
She wiped the tears and then continued. “I knew as soon as I did it that it wasn’t freedom. I wanted to come back right then. But…I was too embarrassed. I thought you’d be disappointed in me…and then more bad things happened…”
The response came out of my mouth without any thought, “I’m not disappointed. I’m just sad that we didn’t have enough trust, so you would know you could come back at anytime instead of waiting to be found.”
She instantly picked her head back up and calmly said, “I trust you now.”
Our brief moment was quickly interrupted with further logistics, goal setting, and scheduling. And just as quickly, it was time for her to move on to the next activity. As we said our goodbyes, she quickly grabbed and hugged me. She then said, “I know you’ll be back and tell Ms. Sherrita ‘hi’.” She then smiled and joined her group.
After walking back to my car, my mind had to process a bit. I replayed the moments finding out she had taken off. I replayed all the emotions of realizing we had done all we could do and now we just had to wait and trust. But I also replayed the phone call from her Djo letting us know that she was found. I replayed the first time I met her, the first time she disclosed to me, and the time I was able to walk into detention and tell her we had a place for her. Each of those moments hold equal weight in her journey.
The journey may be long, but it hers.
As I started to pull away, I realized why the story of the Waiting Father had been so significant to me this past year. I realized why I came back to it time and time again. It’s the summary of our responsibility. At times, we simply wait and trust, but we also hope and embrace the times when we get to run, embrace, and celebrate when our daughters come home.
– Lindsey Ellis, Executive Director