Thank You for Christina, bringer of Joy
The first time I saw her at Stuart’s coffee house she was bald—head shaved, dirty clothes, and a speech impediment that caused her to appear intoxicated.
She approached me without trepidation, took a hand full of my hair like it was satin ribbons and said “I used to have long hair but I got head lice and had to shave it off.”
She appeared to be about 18 years old but had the demeanor of a small child. “Your hair is beautiful, do you have some spare change?”
I gently retrieved my hair from her fingers, a little creeped out about the thought of head lice.
“I’m an artist, I’m poor.” I smiled at her and she smiled back and said “Okay” and walked away.
I saw her intermittently for a few months after that and she always asked me for spare change.
Eventually, I responded “Look sweetie, I am not the person to ask for money. I will always talk to you, or even buy you something to eat, but I don’t hand out cash so maybe we should just say Hello when we meet, okay?” We exchanged names and she agreed to my request and abided by it for a few months.
Then one day she crossed the street to catch up to me and said ”Lea, remember when you said you’d buy me something to eat?”
“Yes, are you hungry? Let’s go over to Kendrick’s and I’ll buy you a sandwich.”
As we walked she said “Okay, but we have to sit way in the back, okay?”
I assumed she was embarrassed or something but got the sandwich and followed her to the far table out of sight from the windows.
As Christina tried to take a bite of the sandwich, I noticed her wince with pain.
“Do you have a bad tooth?” I asked.
“No, I think my jaw is broken.”
She said this like she was stating the time. “That’s why I have to sit in the back, so they don’t see me.”
All my instincts prickled up and I said “You know, we’re going to have a talk now right?”
“Yeah, but I’m not allowed to tell anybody.”
After long minutes of gentle interrogation and intensive reassurance that I would make sure she was safe, Christina spilled the story of two men that coerced her to panhandle all day, every day, and took the money away with her social security check (she was disabled due to falling from a window when she was four and acquiring brain damage). The men made her sleep on the kitchen floor and hit her if she did not bring home enough money.
I explained to Christina where we were going as she took my hand for the walk over to Domestic Violence Services.
While Christina told the intake person her story—which had been going on for almost a year, I went with a police officer to gather her meager belongings from the address she gave us.
The apartment was filthy. There was a blanket on the kitchen floor with a couple books, a small stuffed animal, and some dirty clothes next to a back pack. The back bedroom boasted brand new stereo equipment, a drum set, new guitars, and various expensive items piled, still in their packaging, against the wall and in the open closet amidst filth and dirty clothes.
After returning to Christina with her things I met the social worker who was taking her to a shelter. I hugged Christina, gave her my number, and told her it was going to be all right.
She called every day for two months.
“Guess what Lea, I’m going to get my own apartment and I got into a program and I’m gonna get my GED and I talked to my case worker and she’s gonna help me get a part time job, and I can keep my social security so I don’t have to panhandle and…”
And all these things came true.
Christina is twenty two now and she still radiates the innocence of a child but she works very hard at every challenge she is given.
We sometimes have coffee and frequently chat on the phone.
She still has a difficult time with boundaries and trusting some of the wrong people but she is an amazing young woman with nice hair, clean clothes, and a smile that can melt a heart.
She giggles when I call her Christina Joy (because her middle initial is J) She always shrieks my name from across a street when she sees me and comes running for the hug that I love to receive.
I am so proud of her courage and tenacity, and I am thankful that Christina is fulfilling her destiny as a bringer of Joy.
~ by leakelley on January 4, 2009.
Posted in affection, change, communication, Community, dignity, Disabilities, domestic violence, Friends, friendship, Gratitude, health, Homelessness, human rights, innocence, Joy, Life, Love, mental health, people, real people, responsibility, Social Services, society
Tags: Friends, Joy, Love