Nancy

“It is lonely to be poor”

HEART:  Over the past two decades there has evolved a group of dedicated, compassionate women called HEART—-or Helping Ease Abuse Related Trauma

—who have made it their mission to make certain that the needs of our patients, these women and children, are met.  They raise funds through a membership in their organization ($1000 per year) that fund clothes, food, transportation….even housing, utilities and they fix cars.  They make it possible for the victims of the most horrendous assaults and neglect to have a chance to recover.   They provide VIP staff with the means to respond after we ask each child, family or woman  “How can we help you? With the essential —non-essentials—so critical in the path to safety and recovery.

The story of Nancy was the beginning of HEART—-I made a vow to myself that I would, if I had a chance,  build a clinic with a shower and always have access to clean comfortable clothes including what now includes hundreds of pairs of underwear, socks, sweats and coats in winter.    Nancy never benefited from this organization, but she did know that she was loved and cared for by us to the best of our ability.

 

HEART now has 200 plus members and holds the line against hunger and homelessness for our patients here in East Los Angeles.


 

Nancy

Watch children around the world! They can make play out of whatever is given them.  Nancy, was given very little.   She was raised in a Central Los Angeles gang zone.  Her father had run with the gang since he was 13 and her mother proclaimed her allegiance to the same gang with her tattooed hand and face. Her face was marred by a crude tear appearing to run from the corner of her left eye  and  the dots and letters identifying more closely her particular gang allegiance nested in the webbing between her thumb and index finger.

At seven Nancy learned to get up with the sun.  Her parents still unconscious in their room, she quietly put on yesterday’s clothes, stepped over whatever leftover bottles or bodies sleeping in the front room and walked to school.  After school she would walk the ten blocks to her grandmother’s house. This grandmother had also run with the gangs and bore the marks on her face and hands and the wear and tear of teenage pregnancies, drug use and poverty made her looked decades older that her 41 years.

But the grandchildren were a good thing.  They distracted her, and were a source of what small measure of affection there was left.   She had mellowed and looked forward to Nancy’s daily visits. She was a funny, bright child and was a welcome break in her day.

By five o’clock Nancy headed home along the abandoned railroad tracks that ran behind her house.  It was her game, this shortcut across the blocks that separated her house from her grandmother.   She played hopscotch along the railroad ties—balancing with her arms outstretched—on the tracks. Today was the first of many hot smoggy days of the Los Angeles summer and was the first really hot day with temperatures soaring over 100.

Nancy was balancing on the old Southern Pacific tracks singing a song from school.  She did not notice the white Toyota that crossed the tracks ahead of her, and then stopped.

He dragged her behind a stack of long forgotten wooden pallets.  She screamed but the surrounding houses were too used to screams to hear hers.

It was Newton division, LAPD,  that brought Nancy and her Mom to the hospital.

“Why are they always so thin?”  My internal voice asked.  A skinny little girl, half hidden behind her mother.  But under the dirt that turned her face and arms gray, was a beautiful child.  She was not just dirty, the gravel and dust of where she was raped had been ground into her body.  Her only clothing was a too big, faded dress that hung below her knees.  Clean tracks streaked her face where the dust had been washed away by her tears.  Her feet were bare.

My first thought was to get this done quickly and get her a bath. We did not have a shower yet and I thought of my swimming pool at home and wanted to take her there to see if she could wash away the dirt, the blood.  Perhaps to see her smile!        The best I could do was to send our secretary to the store to buy her underwear, perhaps a clean pair of shorts and a tee shirt.  She owned no underwear.

Her mother was furious with —us?  Why, but she stood across the room—arms crossed lips tight over clenched teeth.

“ Here mom,” indicating that I wanted her to stand close to Nancy while I examined her—“Stand here and hold her hand.”—But she only backed herself further away into the corner of the examination room.   I was clearly the enemy.

“She needs to take these antibiotics and to have a bath three times a day.”

“We don’t have a bathtub”,” she answered. So it was agreed Nancy would go to stay with her grandmother until she was healed.

“Can you take her to McDonald’s on your way back to the station?”   I asked the patrol officers, “And bring her back in one week.”

Clean clothes helped, and new flowered underwear made me feel that at least these injuries would be covered.  Her grandmother seemed more attached to her, and Nancy held her hand when they left with LAPD.

One week to the day, the patrol officers brought her back.  I knew she was there when I turned to find her standing close to me at my desk in the clinic.  She was wearing the clothes we gave her, now in desperate need of washing, but her week’s supply of clean underwear was holding up.

“If you wait until clinic is over, I will give you a ride home.” I offered.

Faced with a long ride on multiple buses Mom agreed.

The clinic staff had bought her new clothes for court, a flowered dress, white blouse, clean socks and new shoes.  Someone brought in a navy blue sweater from their daughters closet, and our nurse added paper, crayons and a school bag so she would have something to do while she waited to testify.

I drove them home.  Down Central and right on 31st Street.  In the midday the streets seemed safe.  The hookers and pimps, drug dealers and gang members were just getting up.  As I turned the corner onto 31st street, I could see what this community looked like 70 years ago, when new immigrants to Southern California built their neat homes near to the Red Car train line that would carry them to their jobs in downtown Los Angeles.  Now the neighborhood stores and houses were obscured by graffiti and bars closed off the first floor windows of every house on the block giving them a closed, shuttered appearance as if everyone on this street was on their own.  No neighborhood watch here.

A little six-year-old girl with her blue and white dress, navy sweater and clutching her Pooh book bag took the stand six months later. She sat quietly in the court hallway, sandwiched between the police detective and the victim’s advocate from the district attorney’s office.  She never wavered in her testimony.  A six year old whose testimony ended the trail, unable to break her, the defendant pled guilty.

His statement, “I was careful not to hurt her” belied the evidence

“I am here to say that he destroyed her.” I testified.

Nancy has disappeared into Los Angeles.  My last memory of her is her visit to our clinic in January six months after the assault.  She came and stood as close to me as possible—as if she was trying to find a way to get into my space, stay and be safe

Her mother pulled her away, but not before we hugged.  Our calls to her went  unanswered for ten years. Her mother asked us not to bother them and refused us any updates on her progress.  Her rapist is on parole.

But I think of her often, wonder if she remembers that someone cared about her, at least once in her life.    I hope that she has finished High School.   Maybe she has moved away from the graffiti and bars of South Central.  I would like to think that it is a possibility..

Nancy pushed us to create HEART—she pushed me to realize my dream of a shower and new clean clothes for every child, boy or girl, and everyone who was asking for help.  She focused my attention on creating a center where healing was our primary goal and where children found safety, encouragement and hope. 

 

 

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Luck

FORWARD

Our eyes meet across the graduation crowd.  Our relationship has lasted for sixteen years.  During this time she has gone from being my first patient, through adolescence and the struggle to find her inner strength to now a time of achievement and new beginnings.

“How did you two meet?”  Her friends ask.

We hug, and then lie to everyone. They will never hear her story or know why we are friends.

There as been a lifetime listening to stories.  Everyday there is a new story, some with the same themes, others that stretch belief.  There are stories that make the headlines.  The children killed by caretakers or sexual predators and left to die by the side of the road.   But there are many ways to kill a child.  Breaking the spirit of a child, stealing their childhood, their soul, kills them as surely as if their lives were taken.

East Los Angeles provides the backdrop for most of these stories.  Everyday I drive the streets of East Los Angeles.  My mind looks past the yards overgrown with weeds; the dark, wet alleys filled with abandoned cars; and the houses with barred windows and surrounded by razor wire. I see the children living here.  The photographs in this book are the images of what is familiar to the children who live here.

Too often these children are invisible because they lack color or definition. “We never noticed you! You were colorless—blending into the city.”    Our children are invisible in their washed out clothes, passed through multiple lives on their way to be rescued from the charity bins of churches and thrift shops.

Children have surrounded me all my life.  My own children were loved and cherished, nurtured and protected throughout childhood.  But all children deserve to be cherished.  They arrive in this world like a white linen dress or shirt; carefully, washed and bleached by the sun…starched and pressed and hung perfect on the closet door.   For many, they are loved, cared for, washed carefully, pressed a bit when needed and admired with pride.

Children from all economic strata are vulnerable.  Those born to privilege may have more resources to help them survive their abuse.  They can be more visible to neighbors and teachers.   However for children born to poverty or abuse, childhood is a time of pain and want.  Their families live in garages or cardboard shacks.  For many they are a nuisance and inconvenience; for others a safe place to vent anger and frustration.  It is impossible to keep these children “clean and pressed” in the slow-moving, muddy river of the inner city.

Jonathan Kozol in his Time essay of 1995 writing on the death of a small child in New York stated that “it is possible that the icy equanimity and a self-pacifying form of moral abdication by the powerful will take more lives in the long run than any single drug-addicted and disordered parent.”  I believe that this is true. I also know that without looking at each child that comes for help as an individual with their own story and their own needs, it is impossible to continue to reach into the flood and pull out the children.  It is only when each story is valued and personal that we can return to face another day filled with the tragedies and the triumphs of children.

These stories are either stories shared with me by those trying to find a brave space and sanctuary within themselves or stories told me by my patients and colleagues as we marveled at the resiliency of children.     The voices telling these stories may be silenced because of guilt, shame and fear, but it is important to hear and to acknowledge their pain and courage in surviving the worst that can happen.

 

This first story is from a wonderful young women who I know while working on a campaign to stop abuse in our world.  This is her story.

 

Luck….

I was told this morning during a meeting that I reminded the gentlemen with whom I was talking with about a super hero in a movie, who’s super power was “Luck.” This literally made me laugh out loud. After thinking about it for several hours now, and sitting here writing this piece, I can’t help but both curse and snicker at the concept of my super power of “Luck.” (with a capital L for Lori of course).

I think of this word and I am not quiet sure how to swallow it. Lucky… From a truly optimistic and positive perspective, yes, I am probably one of the luckiest people alive. And… from an exhausted (most days)-warn down-mom of three-executive director to a national effort ending child abuse-trauma survivor-nurturing-fanatic, lucky isn’t the first word that comes to mind. Surviving seems to fit a little better. 😊

I could spend years and volumes writing about each lucky experience I have had in life, however I will spare you to antics and get on with only a few.

My story really kicked into high gear in 1983. I played in my front yard while my dad went inside to get me a popsicle, a stranger drove up with the passenger door ajar and asked if I liked candy. Like any sugar loving 3 year old, I got in the car after following instructions to leave my pants on the curb. My abductor took me to the mountains and sexually assaulted me. He then left me for dead in the bottom of a 15 feet deep outhouse toilet. 3 ½ days later bird watchers passing by heard me crying and found me. I was reunited with my family (who’d experienced their own form of trauma in the ordeal) and we attempted to put life back together as “normally” as one could imagine.

My pain and abuse didn’t end there in the mountains unfortunately. It was then that I began a life becoming invisible. I began living for the benefit of others. My stories were rewritten by others over and over again. I walked a tight rope to ensure that I wasn’t too upset or sad so not to cause upset with my family (I didn’t want them to feel like they’d done something wrong). I couldn’t be too happy either (I didn’t want them to feel like their pain was unjustified). I allowed people to hurt me, I attracted the hurting, the weak, the scared, and the lonely. I became their life buoy. My relationships became about others, I began to slowly lose myself, my identity, my needs, and after years of these kinds of relationships, I’ve come to find this doesn’t meet the needs of my soul. There was only so much of me to go around.

Shame is the leading emotion that I’ve lived with. We have placed so much shame around child abuse and neglect that we have forgotten what it does to all of us. The victims feel shame in speaking out, asking for help, being judged, coddled, discriminated against, speaking up against it, ashamed they may grow up to reoffend, the perpetrator feels so much shame for having been a victim (96% of perpetrators were once victims), that they cause harm and do what they learned, which continues the cycle, the bystanders feel so much shame for not having said anything when they were suspicious, not having intervened when they thought it was a problem, not having stopped, helped, supported, believed, or addressed it. Shame…everywhere.

So Luck… how does one come back to luck when they feel all of that? Well, I look at the little things. 1. I was lucky I was taken in the middle of the day so people saw me leave, saw the car, identified my abductor, etc. 2. I was lucky he placed me in the outhouse pit; had I been above ground, I would have died from hypothermia. 3. I was lucky the toilet I was in was old and abandoned, there was only a few inches of toxic chemicals that only my feet were in as I sat on a pile of sticks. 4. I was lucky I was found on day 3.5, had it been 12 more hours, I would have died from the poisoning that had gone into my feet, then legs. 5. I was lucky I was reunited with my parents. 6. I was lucky to have found the organization who had a physiatrist and director (Dick Krugman) who treated and helped me. 7. I was lucky that my life for many years as a little girl felt pretty normal (4-9 years old). 8. I was lucky my instincts led me to allow others needs and feeling supersede mine, this allowed me to get loved because I gave to others. 8. I was lucky I experienced people who showed me to be kind in the world even when the world isn’t so kind to you. 9. I was lucky my intuition became louder as I grew up and led me to meet myself and want to have a happy and healthy life helping the world. 10. I was lucky I met Meg at 25 who was the first friend I’d met who I felt like loved me for exactly who I was. I spent the next 12 years creating new guidelines for my relationships and surrounded myself with people who loved me for me, not so much for what I could do for them. 11. I am lucky to have become a mom to three beautiful children who teach me everyday how to be more humble and kind and that there is really so much beauty in this world. 12. I am lucky to have met Dick Krugman again as an adult and then have him become my professional mentor. 13. I was lucky he saw my gifts, my abilities and took a chance on me by asking me to co-found an organization that can and will change the world. 14. I am lucky to be the Executive Director of the National Foundation to End Child Abuse and Neglect. 15. I am lucky because I’m fairly good at it, and really love it. 16. I am lucky that I know I am lucky.

So luck is my superpower, strength is its sister, and love is it’s mother. Together we hold tight and move forward, one day at a time.

 

We want to hear your voice and to share; please contact us at: contact@vip-cmhc.org.