Untitled by Robin Lynn Davidson
Elizabeth stalked down the path that cut through the large city park. She huffed and kicked at rocks and then tried to remember that the reason she had come to the park in the first place was to blow off some steam and calm down. She forced her feet to slow their pace and took several deep, cleansing breaths. Then she started a mental rundown of what was bothering her.
School was a mess. Elizabeth's grades in her advanced classes were dipping lower as the school year progressed. Her math teacher was infuriating and insulting. Every day, that woman made her feel small and stupid with her snide comments. When other students acted up, she punished the entire class and she laughed along with the bullies who made fun of the quiet students. But, what could she do? No one cared. No one believed her because Elizabeth was the student and Mrs. Miles was a teacher with twenty plus years under her belt.
Elizabeth also recalled the girl drama that was circulating through her group of friends. Amy was mad at Ginny because Ginny had started dating Amy's ex-boyfriend. Amy expected all of their friends to be on her side and Ginny expected the same. The other girls felt pulled in two directions. Meanwhile, Stefanie was struggling with her self-image and had been cutting her arms and legs. Elizabeth was the only one that knew, but didn't know what to do. Her friend had sworn her to secrecy but she didn't want her friend to hurt herself and she worried that Stef might do even worse. Joelle was experimenting with drugs. Maddie was sexually active and had just had an abortion, which made Elizabeth uncomfortable when Maddie talked about it like it was no big deal, though Elizabeth could swear that she saw something else in her eyes. Speaking of uncomfortable, Elizabeth hadn't known what to think when Jenna had confided to her that she was a lesbian but she was beginning to feel violated when she was changing in the gym locker room and caught Jenna staring at her. And Jessica had just told her that Olivia was spreading rumors about Elizabeth around school. She had thought she had seen some strange looks and people laughing at her, but she thought it was just her. All of her friends leaned on her and asked her for advice and told her their innermost secrets. But, Elizabeth was only 16 and she didn't think she could shoulder all their problems, plus hers too.
If that wasn't enough, there was Jordan. Elizabeth had had a crush on Jordan for two years. At first he hadn't known she existed. Then they became friends. Jordan had told her that he liked her and would like to ask her out. However, Elizabeth wasn't allowed to date. Her parents believed in "courting." It was her life! Why were they trying to control her? They said they wanted to protect her but she believed they just wanted to keep her from having any fun because they were scared she would have sex and get pregnant. Didn't they trust her at all? She told Jordan this and he said he understood and would wait for her. Two months later, he started dating another girl that Elizabeth did not get along with. It broke her heart that she had spent two years having her emotions wrapped up in Jordan, only to feel like he had betrayed her. Maybe her parents were right after all. She couldn't tell them that though.
With all of this weighing on her, Elizabeth came home from school with a heavy heart and a dark mood settling around her like a cloud. Her mother hadn't picked up on it and had asked her if she had any homework and scolded her for her grade decline in math. "Better get busy studying if you want to get that grade up," she'd said. As Elizabeth headed for her bedroom, her mother had called after her, "Don't forget, you are supposed to take out the trash before you do anything else. And make sure that you pick up anything you drop this time." Elizabeth blew. She whirled around and yelled at her mother, something she hardly ever did. She wasn't even really mad at her. Her mother was right, it was just the final straw. Everything that had been pent up came tumbling out. "Get off my back, mom! I'll do it in a minute! You never make Anna or Timmy do anything around here. I do it all! You don't even do as much around here as I do and I still have to go to school and go to work! I can't do everything! I can't make perfect grades, I can't sleep at night, I can't do everything for everybody, and I'm not sure I'm going to get into the colleges I want. I want to play soccer and go to camp but since you can't afford it, I have to work to pay for things myself! All my friends' parents are paying for their soccer equipment and camp fees! All my friends have smartphones and tablets and laptops and I don't have any of that!" Elizabeth's mom's face looked like she was trying very hard to maintain some self-control, as if she were caught between the human reaction of anger from her daughter showing her so little respect and the mother reaction of controlling her temper and showing concern for her daughter's underlying turmoil. Elizabeth knew she couldn't handle whichever of those reactions won out, so she grabbed her purse and headed toward the door, leaving her mother sputtering and calling her name behind her.
Now she was terrorizing squirrels in the park, letting out an occasional gutteral growl and throwing pinecones at the fluffy annoying little rats. She wasn't really mad at her mom--she just happened to be in the vicinity when Mt. Elizabeth erupted. Elizabeth walked the massive park for about half an hour, her anger slowly subsiding, leaving behind confusion and bewilderment about what she should do about all these things. Why did all of this have to happen at one time? She sat down on a bench near some bushes and tried to let the vitamin D from the sun sap her bad mood away as she prayed that God would give her an answer.
She heard a commotion from across the street. She turned to crane her neck over the bushes to see what the fuss was about. A small girl that appeared to be about her age was cowering before a large imposing man. He was the kind you didn't want to meet in a dark alley. Elizabeth didn't catch the whole conversation, but the parts she did hear led her to believe that the girl's mother had abandoned her because she was a drug addict and couldn't afford to feed her, much less be bothered to be a mom to her, and that this man had offered some sort of assistance like money or a place to stay, but only upon the girl's agreeing to be his prostitute. The girl wouldn't do it. When the man had used about every colorful phrase he could muster and punched her a few times, he spit on her and got in his shiny car and drove away, leaving the girl in the dust. Elizabeth had thought she should call the police, but she sat there frozen, unable to move. The girl wiped her face free from saliva, blood, and tears with her shirt tail, and staggered slowly into the park. She looked so skinny and dirty and haggard. When the girl reached a trashcan just around the bushes, Elizabeth watched in shock as the girl reached in and fished out some bread crust and half a slice of pizza. She devoured them quickly and hungrily. But, her stomach growled loudly and Elizabeth wondered when she had eaten last. The girl's legs buckled and she sat sobbing on the grass out of sight.
Elizabeth was stunned. And she was shamed. Five minutes ago, she was grousing about not having the latest technology or the money to go buy a soccer uniform while this girl had no food to eat. She had yelled at her mom, who loved her very much, while this girl's mom loved a needle in her arm more than she loved her daughter and had traded her own child to a drug dealer to pay for her next fix. She drove to the park in her own car, with a flip phone in her pocket (though she'd turned it off to avoid her mother) ,while at home she had a computer sitting on a desk and a big screen TV on the wall while this girl didn't even have a home. She was bemoaning her relationships while this girl was fighting to get away from a pimp who was beating her up. Elizabeth suddenly had perspective. Her life, which had seemed hellish five minutes ago, appeared a paradise now, in light of how this other girl was living. Tomorrow, she would walk into school and hug Olivia and give an apple to Mrs. Miles and she had to go home and thank her mom for all she did for her every day. But, for now, she asked God to forgive her for her selfish arrogance and asked Him to give her the wisdom to know what to do. Because she couldn't see what she just saw and walk away and leave that image behind in the park. She had to do something.
Immediately, she remembered an organization she had read about that helped young women caught up in human trafficking in the area. She didn't know if this qualified, but she knew that if anyone would know how to help this girl, it would be the volunteers there. Elizabeth took a deep breath and stood up. The girl saw her immediately and was startled. She had thought she was alone. She struggled to get to her feet and turned to retreat when Elizabeth caught her easily and said softly, "Please wait." The girl turned at the tone of Elizabeth's voice, more curious than anything. "My name is Elizabeth. What's yours?"
"Naomi," rasped the small quiet voice that came from the shadow of a girl that stood in front of Elizabeth. Naomi refused to meet Elizabeth's eyes and Elizabeth was almost grateful because her eyes were filling with tears.
"Naomi, I didn't mean to eavesdrop, but I heard a little of what was going on. I...I want to help you."
"No, you'd better not. If Big John finds out, he'll hurt you too."
"I'm not worried about that. I know you don't know me, but I know a place you can go that's safe, if you will trust me."
Naomi seemed torn. She was in a desperate place, but she didn't know how to trust people. Everyone in her life had not only let her down, but had kicked her while she was there.
Elizabeth tried a different approach. "I was about to go get something to eat and I wondered if you would eat with me. I don't like eating alone."
"I ain't got any money."
"That's okay. I have enough for both of us."
"I don't think no place will let me in--I'm all dirty."
Elizabeth didn't think any fast food place would turn away someone that was dirty or all construction workers would go hungry all the time. But, she considered that Naomi might be embarrassed about her appearance. "Let's go through the drive through and then we can stop somewhere on the way to the safe place."
Naomi was waging war with her empty belly. She bit her lip and then hunger won out. "Okay," she squeaked.
Elizabeth smiled encouragingly at her. "Great! My car is this way. Not too far." As they walked, Elizabeth tried to engage Naomi in conversation by asking her a question. "What grade are you in?"
"I was in tenth, but I had to quit school because my mom needed me." Her eyes filled with tears and she looked away, pretending to study a tree.
Elizabeth couldn't think of anything to say, so they settled into an awkward silence. When they reached the car, Naomi looked a little apprehensive, but they both climbed in and Elizabeth headed to the closest McDonald's. When she pulled into the drive-through, she asked Naomi what she wanted.
"Just a little cheeseburger," Naomi said, barely audible over the car engine, which wasn't that loud.
"Any special way?" Naomi shook her head. Elizabeth ordered Naomi a Big Mac, a large french fry, a large drink, and an apple pie.
When she handed the food to Naomi, her eyes were huge. "I thought you got that for you."
"No, I think you need more than a little cheeseburger."
Naomi stared at the food incredulously for a minute, as though she were afraid it might just be a mirage. Then she dug in and ate every bite.
Elizabeth gently spoke up, "I'm going to drive to my house. My mom won't mind if you use the shower and you can have an outfit of mine."
Naomi was shaking her head before Elizabeth had finished. "No, your mom'll call the police and have me arrested. Please don't take me there."
Elizabeth tried to explain that her mom wasn't like that, but it was obvious that Naomi hadn't had good experiences with parental figures. Now what was she going to do? She hated to deliver Naomi to the organization like this, even though she was sure that they would take care of her. She felt like she needed to do something. She thought about the money she had tucked away in the secret compartment in her wallet, saving for new soccer cleats. Suddenly that seemed shallow and unimportant. How had those Nikes seemed so important before? There was nothing wrong with her old cleats. She grit her teeth with determination and executed a right turn.
"Where are we going?"
"I have an idea." Elizabeth pulled into the parking lot of one of her favorite stores. She turned to Naomi. "Stay here. I will be right back." Naomi's sad brown eyes were huge. Elizabeth was half afraid she would bolt as soon as Elizabeth was out of sight.
She ran into the store and started grabbing things off the rack: a shirt, a jacket, jeans, socks, shoes, and undergarments. She was guessing at sizes since Naomi's current clothes were baggy and hanging off her. She pulled out the soccer shoe money and paid for it all and grabbed the bag and headed outside. She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw Naomi still sitting in her car, sipping the last of her soda. She threw the bag in the backseat and pulled the car into traffic.
"Where to now?"
"I have another idea." Elizabeth soon pulled into the parking lot of a YMCA. Her family had a membership there. She looked at Naomi. "They have showers here. I have a locker with shampoo and soap and a hair brush. I thought you could get cleaned up here before we go to the safe place."
Naomi looked at the building with trepidation. But, she saw all kinds of people walking in and out. She had always thought these gyms were for rich people, but what she saw were average people. She nodded and stepped out of the car. Elizabeth grabbed the bag from the backseat and led the way. She grabbed a couple of towels from the front desk and guided Naomi to the locker room. She opened her locker and handed the items to Naomi and pointed her toward the showers.
When Naomi undressed, Elizabeth had tried not to look her direction because it was the unspoken rule in the ladies' locker room: yes, we are all naked and changing, but we avert our eyes out of courtesy. However, Elizabeth couldn't miss the bruises discoloring Naomi's skin or the sharp angles of her shoulder blades. Naomi disappeared in the showers and Elizabeth busied herself with setting out the clothing she had bought and removing tags. She hadn't bought showy items as all that suddenly seemed pretentious and unimportant. But, she hadn't skimped either, wondering if Naomi had ever had a nice new outfit before. She gathered Naomi's dirty ragged clothing up and stuffed it in the bag. Then she turned her phone back on and sent her mom a text that said she was fine and she would explain when she got home. When Naomi returned, scrubbed clean and hair tamer, she looked at the clothes laid out in wonderment.
She touched the shirt and looked quickly at Elizabeth. "Where's my stuff?"
"It's right here, " Elizabeth said, holding up the bag. "I thought you could use something new and clean."
Naomi's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Why? Why would you spend your money on clothes for me? Is this a trick? Are you gonna tell the cops I stole this stuff from you? I been the joke too many times."
"No! No, no, no. Naomi, I had some extra money and I just wanted to give you a gift. No strings attached. I feel like God wanted me to." Elizabeth shrugged, not sure what else to say.
Naomi's features relaxed and she whispered, "When I was sittin' there in the park, I was prayin'. I don't know if there is a God, but I asked Him to help me, if He was there."
Elizabeth instinctively reached her arm out and squeezed Naomi's shoulders. "Put these on and let's get you someplace safe."
Once Naomi was dressed, she almost looked like any of the girls at school. Of course, the girls at school would also have makeup and jewelry on and wore their attitude in their facial expressions and the way they walked. Naomi walked like someone who had been kicked around by life and took each step cautiously.
They got in the car and Elizabeth drove to the address she had found in the phone book at the Y's front desk. Naomi seemed nervous. "What if they won't help me?"
"If they can't help you, they will know someplace that can. And if they don't, we'll keep trying. Even if I have to bring you home and hide you under my bed...." Naomi actually managed a small shy smile at that.
The organization had a shelter for young people and they immediately started making arrangements. The baton had been passed and Elizabeth really had no more reason to stay, but as if Naomi could sense that Elizabeth was considering leaving, she suddenly reached out and grabbed Elizabeth's hand. "Stay with me please." Elizabeth nodded and squeezed her hand.
By the time they were done, Naomi seemed more at ease with the volunteer and they were preparing to drive her to the shelter. Elizabeth stood awkwardly and then reached in her purse for a piece of scrap paper. She scrawled her name and phone number on the paper and pressed it into Naomi's hand. "If you ever need someone to, you know, talk to or hang out with. We have a pizza and movie night coming up at my church's youth group if you want to come."
Naomi surprised Elizabeth when she suddenly hugged her, tears in her eyes. "When I woke up this mornin', I didn't have no one. I didn't have a place to stay or any food. Now I got the first good meal I had in I don't remember when, new clothes that I ain't never had, and a place to sleep. I also got an answered prayer and a friend. Thank you." She looked like she wanted to say more but couldn't find the words. She smiled through the tears and turned to leave.
Elizabeth watched her go and when she was out of sight, she went to her car and cried until she didn't have any tears left. She knew she would never be the same again. She started the car and headed home because all she wanted to do now was hug her mama.
|~ Robin ~|