She fell quiet, and looked down so that her soft, wavy, five year old hair fell in her face. I turned my attention from the other children playing a game and caught her eyes and saw liquid forming at the base of her eye lashes. ‘What’s wrong?’ I asked in a hushed tone so the other kids wouldn’t grow silent and watch her like some sort of entertainment as they tried to figure out the spectacle in front of them. Suddenly, she burst into to tears, ‘I miss my daddy!’ she blurted out through broken sobs, and I quickly walked her out of the classroom as kids followed at the edge of my feet asking me what was wrong with her.
I led her to the drinking fountain, and asked her to match my slow breathing as I tried to calm her down. I knew that she missed her daddy. We all knew that she missed her daddy. I remember one of the first days of school I watched her purposefully walk up to another little girl and seemingly unprovoked say ‘You’re stupid!’ Causing the other sweet child to burst into tears. I pulled her aside and asked her why she had done what she did, and she said matter of factly, ‘I’m mean. I am just a mean girl.’ Later, another teacher pulled me aside and told me that they were having behavioral problems with her because her dad was in the army, and the trauma of it all had turned her into a mean, disrespectful five year old. After school that day, this revealed itself to me as I walked down the long school hallway to go to the bathroom when I heard her screaming at her mother. Apparently, he mom had accidently ripped a picture the girl had drawn. She sobbed, and screeched out hoarsely, ‘That was for my dad! My dad!’ softly she continued to herself through tears, ‘My dad…my dad…my dad…’ as he mother tried to hold her and console her.
I thought of all of this as I tried to calm her down by the drinking fountain that day. What do I say to this child when I have no answers. I rubbed my hands across the bright pink flannel that was covering her back as I searched for words. ‘Tell me about your dad’ I said, hoping that remembering good times with him could make her happy again. Looking back, I realize how silly of an idea that was, but I was empty handed. I got down on my knees on her level and she looked down at me and whispered ‘Sometimes, I look at the picture he gave me, and I just cry and cry and cry.’
What the hell do you do with that. Another teacher walked by and connected eyes with me, knowing the situation immediately. She touched the girl’s shoulder and said, ‘It’s okay! Your dad will be back soon!’ The little girl sucked in a breath and said quietly, ‘Yeah…but not today.’
My professor once told me that the reason why some people are more apt to get depressed than others is that they are sensitive to the things that should be depressing. Sometimes, I wonder if I am one of those people. I witness these kinds of situations with other people and it seems like they have a hard shell covering their skin which makes the sadness bounce right off them. They can see these things, and just turn a cheek and say things like ‘such is life.’ But, I am not one of those people. I see things like this and I simply cannot turn away. My skin is not like a shell, on the contrary, it seems like I soak in the awful things of life like a sponge soaks up ink. I can’t let it go, I can’t not let the weight of this crush my heart. But, I would rather be depressed and carry the weight of this little girl, than deflect her pain and let her carry it on her five year old bones. She probably doesn’t realize it, but I am carrying her on my heart. Maybe it helps her feel a little lighter.
I wish pity could truly save the world.