Before I would go to teach at dance club, I would often go tanning at the salon in the parking lot beside the residential facility. It was a shopping center with a few restaurants, Kroger, a tanning salon, a dentist office and Massage Envy. It was always convenient to tan before I went to teach and it helped me relax for fifteen minutes. Sometimes those fifteen minutes were all I had!
I parked my car in front of the tanning salon and went to walk inside. As I was about to step up onto the sidewalk, two employees from the dentist office beside the salon walked outside, looking panicked.
“Did you see that?” One of them asked me as I was about to go inside to tan.
“See what?” I asked. I hadn’t seen anything.
“There was this girl just running down the sidewalk. She looked like she was a kid and she was covered in blood!”
I knew instantly it was a kid from residential. When kids would AWOL, they often came over to this shopping center to go to Kroger. I’m not quite sure why that was their place of choice to try and hide, but it was a common theme. I even had a few of them AWOL into Kroger and drink alcohol right then and there!
When I looked up and down the sidewalk, I saw three staff members from the facility running into Kroger. I could have gone ahead and went tanning. I wasn’t on the clock. However, that’s not the kind of person I am. I had no second guesses on if I should go and help them or not. I knew that I could help so I walked into Kroger and immediately saw the staff walking around the store trying to find her. They were notifying the manager at the store of the situation.
I walked into the bathroom because I had a hunch that she would be in there, especially since all of the staff members looking for her were males. Obviously, she would go where they could not.
She was washing her arms in the sink with soap. They were covered in blood from self-harming. She stated that she AWOLed because they were trying to restrain her because she was hurting herself. She had blood all over her shirt and when I tried to assess the cuts on her arms, she pulled away from me and covered them with paper towels.
Now, I didn’t know this patient very well yet. She had only been at the facility for a few days and clearly she wasn’t having a good time. She was hurting. She needed someone to listen and try to understand her situation.
So I walked out of the bathroom and found the three staff members who were looking for her. I told them that she was in the bathroom with cuts on her arms, but that she was going to be okay. I told them that I would talk to her and see if I could convince her to walk willingly back to the facility instead of having to be taken back by the police.
When a child ran from residential and was officially off of the property, we had to call the police to get them brought back. We were not allowed to restrain them once they were off the property. I get that, honestly. Imagine being at Kroger with your kids, just doing some grocery shopping, and the next thing you know, three men are restraining a teenaged girl.
Yeah, it sounds a little traumatizing for all involved.
And it usually is.
I walked back into the bathroom and she was sitting on the floor up against the wall. Her arms appeared to have stopped bleeding and none of the cuts looked like they would need stitches which was reassuring.
Maybe by lack of better judgement, I sat down on that nasty bathroom floor beside her.
I didn’t say anything. I just sat there and waited.
Sometimes the silence makes people uncomfortable and it forces them to fill the quiet with their own voice. Sometimes this backfires and it turns into kids screaming at me, but sometimes, like this time, it worked.
“I want to go home,” she whispered under her breath. When I looked over at her, I saw a tear running down her cheek. It was the first time that she had cried since I had arrived at Kroger.
I again didn’t say anything. I sat and waited for her to tell me why.
And she did.
“I miss my little sister. She’s only four. My dad is so mean. I have to be there to take care of her. My mom is always working and doesn’t even realize how awful it is.”
Finally, my time to talk.
“Why are you in residential?”
“I was brought here because I tried running away, with my sister. I put her in the car and we drove for almost two days. Then we got caught and the police brought us home. I told them that they were making a mistake because my dad was just going to hit us again. They didn’t believe me. So I ran again, to my grandmas house. She made a report and they put us in foster care for a few months then sent us back home with that piece of shit!”
I can’t remember what I said back to her after that, but I wasn’t surprised. This happened all the time. Give the abusive parent a few weeks of therapy and ta-da! They are cured and ready to be a better caregiver.
She then went on to tell me that she was drinking a lot to numb the pain and to drown out her dad’s voice. She said one night she was drinking in her room and got so drunk that she jumped out of her window in hopes to kill herself. She said it was then that she was removed from the home again and brought to residential.
I could speak for hours on the effect’s trauma has on the brain, especially to children. I know I have touched on this briefly already and I will do a post specifically on trauma eventually.
But again, how are we supposed to fix the child when we aren’t fixing the true problem?
Abuse is a vicious, terrifying, heartbreaking cycle that is rarely broken. If we do not fix the cause of the problem, things will not improve, and more people will be damaged.
I have no idea how long I sat in that bathroom with her, talking about her family and the traumshe’d experienced. Needless to say, I had to cancel dance club that night.
When she was finally able to process what had happened and realize that AWOLing was not the right choice, she willingly walked back to the facility with staff and myself.
She did not AWOL again from the facility and honestly, she made huge strides while inresidential. She turned 18 a few months after being discharged and I always hoped that she was able to live a better life, away from the trauma and abuse. I always worried about her little sister and if she was removed from the home again. I’m guessing not since we discharged this girl back to her dad. I’m hopeful that if she learned anything while at residential, she learned that running from your problems is not always the answer and facing them head-on is key. I hope that she was able to fight for her and her sister’s safety. I hope that she uses her skills she learned in residential to somehow live the best life she possibly could live.