Watching her sit across from me is like being hit with a ten foot wave.
She sits there, slightly defiant, wearing the uniform - Clothing cheap and too tight. One or two piercings too many (though I am slightly jealous of the small stud in her nose). Red eyes that speak of last night's misadventures and another set of buried memories. Lots of colorful language thrown in (when she speaks, that is). All she's missing is the team jacket with the "OTD United" name and logo on the back.
It's like being hit with a ten foot wave.
She doesn't really want to talk. But she also knows that I'm here to help. She knows I'm not judging.
She looks me up and down through half lidded, furtive eyes. "You don't look like you've been where I have been," she mutters, sullen. The slight "Yeshivish" accent is still there though she is taking pains to hide it.
I smile, try to look non-threatening (in my smart business attire - I have after all, just come from work). "Believe me, I have. Not that long ago, in fact."
I smile again. If she sees me as part of the establishment, then all I've done is waste the money I'm about to spend on drinks.
She gives me doubtful. I excuse myself to get us drinks. Large latte for me, huge ice coffee for her. She's sucking through that straw like she's afraid that at any moment I'm doing to reach across the small, circular table and snatch it away from her.
She's me, of course. Well, me of five years ago. From a different small minded community in a different state. But her story is mine. Fucked up parents, military style education. Her own doubts swirling constantly in her head but with no proper outlet for them.
Did she tell me all this? No. She's playing hard to crack. But the person who "set us up" gave me some. Just looking at her gave me the rest. We have a look, we band of survivors. It's part defiant, part haunted. Plenty lost and confused, as well.
I don't even wonder why I'm here. I know why. I'm a success story. I'm one who got out but made good. Hell, I even came back, at least to some people's definitions. And if someone who tries to help people thinks I can help too, it's my obligation to try.
So here I am.
Only one way to do this, I realize. Deep breath, jump, plunge.
"I was broken too," I say. She looks up from her coffee. ""I was broken and damaged and lost. I hated. I cursed God and I pissed on religion. I did unimaginable things for a roof over my head. Shit, I did unimaginable things for a lot less than that."
She smiles. She knows what I'm talking about. She's here because she wants the same thing. She's been there and done that. She's rebelled. Now she's alone. But she's smart and savvy and knows this is the middle. But there needs to be an end game.
I look at her as I tell my story. And I see her looking at me. Intent. Soaking it up. She stops me a few times to ask a question. She's listening. And she's hearing.
And then, just like that, it's her turn.
It's like being hit full on by a tsunami.
It's my story, sure, but it's much worse. There's sexual abuse. There's emotional abuse. There's physical abuse. Some of it is probably not true (I suspect this girl hasn't told a whole truth in a very long time). Some of it is. It doesn't matter. It's her story now.
Memory, after all, is edited time, running in reverse.
Another latte (for me) and a diet coke (for her) later, she is done. Tears dried, mask securely back in place. We talk for another half an hour. I try to give her some advice.
But the truth is, I have nothing for her. As bad as I might have had it, she's much worse. Her family has disowned her, she has no friends in the normal world. Every single person in her life is from the shadow world. All are takers, no givers there. She has no money for good therapy, no education. What am I supposed to say, "go ask my parents if they will put you up for two years while you turn your life around"?
She thanks me for the drinks, picks up her battered bag and slips out the door. Not before stealthily pocketing the tip I had left for the person who was going to clean up our mess. I sigh, put a few more dollars on the table. I sit for another five, clearing my head, and then I'm also out the door.
Did I give her hope or did I obscenely show her a world she could never be a part of? I don't know. I take out my cell and call the "shadchan", letting him know how it went. He understands what I mean. Exasperated. Knowing there isn't much anyone can do for someone whose heart really isn't into it. Or simply isn't strong enough yet. You can try and assist and advise but in the end....
My hands are shaking. It's the latte, I tell myself. But I know it isn't. I'm shaking because I've just seen a ghost. My ghost. The me that I would otherwise have become. Fucked up, stealing tips of cafe tables. Lost.
I take my cell out again, get a number from it's memory banks. When I hear my dad's voice on the other end, I burst out crying, right there on the street.
To his credit, he takes it all in stride. "So how was your day? he asks in a sing-song voice. And then, like a loon, I'm laughing. I talk as I walk, just about shit and nonsense. He doesn't push. Doesn't wonder why I'm thanking him for saving my life on this sticky May late afternoon.
Memory is time, edited, running in reverse.
But the key is the future. Living in the past is like living in a badly cut movie. There's nothing to be gained from looping it over and over.
No, not crash.
Ducking under the waves now. Getting out to sea. Going forward.
No more being pushed back.