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.
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.
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