Her footsteps on the stairs are my cue to assume a rigid stance, a vapidly welcoming smile plastered on my diminutive features. The child’s gait is not a tell like it is with her father, who occasionally tromps with the subtlety of an aggrieved elephant. Nor usually does her face give a glimpse into her subconscious, but on this occasion, the tears staining her fine cheekbones are a sign of trouble. I first knew her when she was in the midst of a maddening, mind-bending maelstrom and, yet, I have rarely seen her this upset. She is the absolute sweetest kiddo, just barely ten, but with the worldliness and heart of a particularly kind grown woman. She does not deserve any of this.
Her grip is fierce when she alights me from my stroller and I can feel the frustration pulsing through her strong, long fingers. Fortunately, while not indestructible, I do not bruise easily and am happy to absorb some of her sadness and rage. Rendered mute by my innate fate, I am also a patient listener, a perfect foil to whom she can externalize her troubles without having to immediately hear solutions, like in her conversations with some unnamed person to whom she may or may not be closely related. Sometimes I wish that I could be more actively helpful, but that is a wish that only comes true in movies.
Taking me into her bed, she begins the process of breathing into her problem, gathering her thoughts. Prior to the day of our meeting in New York, she had been emotionally devastated. In the wake of that storm, she has been working hard on strategies to stem the tide that threatened to swallow her. Yoga, stretching, breathwork, walks, reading, these all add a calmness that allows the catharsis to come more easily. But it is hard to inhale when you are sobbing and I temporarily fear that she will choke on her tears. She blows her nose, flushing out the accumulating detritus, and with five deep gulps of air, she is somewhat serene.
That was the eye of the storm. In the next moment, she unleashes a torrent of pent-up laments. For reasons that are completely unfathomable to me, she has become the target of taunts and bullying at school, from girls that she had considered friends. My experience largely being in the feminine realm, these are not uncommon occurrences, but are no less infuriating. A strong girl, one with an amazing sense of self and an incredible moral compass, she still feels betrayed. Rightfully so. Of course, I am aware that the bullying comes from a place of weakness, a skewed and sinister attempt to bolster one’s confidence by destroying another’s. However, intellectual understanding is irrelevant in the face of emotional turmoil.
It is the self-doubt that the girls’ attacks are engendering in my beloved waif that crushes me so completely. I have not come across a more caring, compassionate, supportive, hilarious, emotionally and academically intelligent, curious, gobsmackingly cool little human and I have had the (mis)fortune to be exposed to a wide spectrum of girls, as have my sisters in creation. Many/most are unholy terrors of psychological warfare, plotting the demise of others as a distraction from their own shortcomings and those of their upbringing. In contradistinction sits my girl, a beacon of hope for the generation.
Even though I can offer no advice, can express no sympathy, feel helpless, I know that she values the ability to vent, to be heard unconditionally. I hate that she has to struggle, but I also know that, despite the inherent foibles of her caretakers, that they will be there for her in the ways that I cannot. I also take heart that out of the crucible of the current despair will be forged a girl armed to take on the slings and arrows of life, counterattacking not in kind, but with the light and love that is her hallmark.