Monday, April 25, 2011

Lying Awake, Waiting

Lying in her bed, her eyes wide open and focused on the ceiling, she holds her breath and strains to hear what is happening in the kitchen below, listening for the telltale sounds of violence. If she hears them, she will bound down the stairs, step between them, and stop them.

The arguing has escalated from hushed complaints to screamed taunts as it does on nights when they drink too much, which seems like most nights. The voices, sarcasm and anger are difficult to miss. What she tries so desperately to hear are not the sounds of words, but the sounds of physical interaction, a push, a thud, a slap, a crack.

While other seven-year-olds in the small Dutch community lie sleeping, she lies wide-awake, holding her breath, listening, ready to intervene.

Sometimes I lie awake at night listening to Iris breathing, enjoying the warmth and softness of her lying next to me. Normally, she breaths deeply and slowly, but every once in a while she'll momentarily hold her breath as though she were still straining to hear her parents, readying herself to intervene. She'll release it, breath quickly and shallowly for a few seconds, and then hold her breath again.

After her parents split up, Iris stayed with her brother and her dad until one night, when she was just fourteen, her dad came home from the pub drunk and angry. He looked at her and somehow got it into his head the Iris was in fact her mother. He screamed and then chased her through the house until she found refuge behind the locked door of her bedroom. The next day, after he'd gone to work, she loaded all her belongings into a shopping cart and pushed them to her mom's house.

It didn't take long living with her mom to notice that something wasn't right. Putting together bits and pieces, she recognized her mom's schizophrenia and that she needed help, but Iris had no idea what to do. None of the other adults in her life seemed to understand that her mom wasn't just difficult to deal with, that more was going on.

One day, Iris walked into a local social welfare office and found someone to talk to, someone who understood her situation and her mom's condition. He told Iris that he could come to see her mom, but only if her mom invited him in.

Iris intervened, and her mom received assistance.

Iris has a long history of intervening, of recognizing a problem and not turning a blind eye to it, of taking on the burden whether rightly hers or not.

It can be hard when at seven you're the most responsible person in the household. I sometimes think about that as I lie awake listening to Iris breathing and it's easy to drift down the rivers of sadness, but then I stop and wonder who'd she be without those experiences. Would she be as strong and courageous? Would she be so easy with change and adversity? Would she be as resourceful and able?

As I ponder these questions, my sense of sorrow is replaced by a sense of gratitude and wonder.

Happy Monday,

1 comment:

  1. The older I get, the more I understand that it's the experiences and my response to them that have shaped me to who I am today. I am very grateful for my full life so far. I was in the middle of saying and would not change one bit about it, if I could do it again. But that's not true. I am no longer the person I was growing up, and the person I am today surely makes different choices.


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