Define "Better"


It was a sight that no person should ever have to see, much less a child. But there she was, cowering in the corner and crying. She stared through her tears at the image of her mother's lifeless body with a needle still stuck in her arm.

A lady officer grabbed the girl by the hand and led her into the hallway of the apartment building. "I'm so sorry, Sweetheart. I am officer Kelly. Some nice people will be here in a minute to take care of you. In the meantime, you can stay out here with me."

The girl said nothing. Her tears continued to pour out of her eyes, but there was no audible sobbing.

A police sergeant approached Kelly from behind and ushered her away from the girl a few feet. "What have we got here?"

"Suicide by stupidity; it looks like an accidental overdose," reported the officer.

"What's the story with the girl?"

"The woman's six-year-old daughter. DFC will be here in a minute to take her. As bad as foster care can be, she will be better off. The mother was a known prostitute and drug addict. That girl didn't have a chance with a mother like that. At least now she may have a chance."

As Kelly turned to gesture toward the little girl, she only saw an empty hallway. "Where did she go?" She turned and ran down the hall searching for the child.

Six-year-old Sarah couldn't stay there any longer. She set out on her new quest. It wasn't long until her ordeal took a toll on her. Because of her physical and emotional exhaustion, she stopped to rest behind a dumpster in an alley a few blocks away from what was her home. Intending to only rest a minute, she succumbed to sleep.

It wasn't long until the whole neighborhood knew what happened to Sarah's mother. Sadly, scarcely no one gave Sarah a thought.

The sunlight reflecting off a window on a building that lined the alley woke up Sarah the next morning. She continued her search. Not far away, she saw a woman walking down the street disheveled and smelled of stale wine. "Have you seen my mother?" Sarah asked her.
"I heard about your mother. You need to go and be with your daddy," answered the prostitute. "Your momma is gone."

Sarah never knew her father. The term "daddy" was a foreign concept to her. "I don't have a daddy. Can you bring my mother back to me?"

"No I can't bring her back. I gotta get me some sleep. Run along. Go be someone else's problem."

With tears welling up in her eyes again, Sarah continued her quest. She went inside a small hole-in-the-wall store where her mother often bought cigarettes and talked to some of her "special men friends" as she would call them. She looked up at the man behind the counter. "My mother is gone. Can you bring her back?"

The man responded sharply, "No! No one can bring her back. Where are you supposed to be? You need to go find where you need to be!"

Sarah ran out of the store and down the street towards the park. There, she saw an elderly woman sitting on a bench feeding the birds. Sarah had seen her several times there before when she accompanied her mother there where she had "business."

"Do you know my mother?" she asked the woman.

"I knew OF her," answered the woman softly. "Who's taking care of you?"

"My mother is, but I have to find her. I need someone to bring her back to me. I don't think she knows the way anymore."

"Oh baby, your mother is gone. You come back to the house with me and I will call a friend that will help you," the woman said comfortingly.

As they walked, Sarah asked, "Will your friend be able to bring my mother back?"

"No Sweetie, but you will be able to go someplace better."

"Better? Better than my mom?"

With sympathy in her voice, the woman responded, "I saw how your mother treated you, baby. I have seen your bruises and they all didn't come from falling in the park. I saw her lead you around by your hair."

The little girl broke away from the hand that was holding hers. "But she is MY mother!" Sarah was now crying full force. "I don't want better; I want my mother! And if no one will bring her back, I am going where she is!"

Sarah ran away without looking back. She ignored or perhaps refused to hear the calls from the park lady. She only had one thing on her mind and that was to go be with her mother. The only way she knew how to do that was to follow her mother's footsteps. So, that is what she set out to do.


Sayre said...

Jeff, I hope you are printing these out and saving these vignettes because even though I know they come from deep pain, they are also examples of most excellent writing. I'm thinking that perhaps one day when you are more or less back to normal, you will look at these and think of putting together a small book of essays. {{hugs}}

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Sayre.

Meg said...

This is good, Jeff.

Anonymous said...

This is how well-written this is, Jeff: When my mom comitted suicide, she had been missing for two weeks when the police came to the door. My Grammy was staying with me at that point, but I answered the door. They told me the news, and - oddly - asked me to identify her (I had just turned 18, as you know). The thought of seeing her two weeks ...gone terrified me. The imagined sight of her was too much to bear.

Fortunately, a close friend of hers agreed to do it, but it took me a really long time to really "get" that I'd never see her again. For years I would have dreams about her as being alive, and would wake up and have to remind myself that she was no longer around.

You capture that feeling really well here. That feeling of loss and being lost. Tragic abandonment by a parent - on so many levels - regardless of the level of parenting ability, leaves a vacancy so few really understand. ...or can even come close to articulating, but you did it perfectly.

rebecca said...

children love unconditionally and that is why they cannot see or understand how badly they are treated... they only know love, however that love is defined by the circumstances in their lives. and, unfortunately, it is in that "conditioned" type of love that one then seeks to recreate later in life, except as adults, the hurt and lack of self-love comes from ourselves and is turned towards the self because it is what one has learned to respond to and knows and feels, and however crazy it may sound, feels comfortable in. it is the skins our mothers/fathers have given us.

this was so sad. yet, unfortunately, a reality for many. i am so glad i found your blog. this was excellent.

Charles said...

Good story, sad ending.