She’s crying again. At first, I thought the sound was going to drive me insane. Now, it has become a background monotony; a gentle dirge I can occasionally – if I try hard enough – even forget.
I grew up in a big family. You learn to tune out sounds. And here, faced with the reason she cries, I have to tune her out or break up inside.
She was crying the first day she came here. Those great, gulping sobs of pain and fear and loneliness, held in check by a reluctance to draw attention to herself. By a dread of what might happen to her if someone found her irritating. A dread born of experience.
She sat very still on the couch in the office, gripping the hand of the woman who brought her from the hospital, watching us with huge, dark, sad eyes. She was so tiny – the size of a toddler from back home – with bony wrists and protruding cheekbones. The pajamas she was wearing were stained and dirty and too big for her. She was damp with sweat from the long car ride through the mountains and her shoes were too tight; they pinched her toes terribly. But she didn’t complain. She never complains. She just cries.
When the woman from the hospital finally left, she watched the door wistfully but without hope. I don’t think she believed she would be remembered. She had already been through this. She has been abandoned before.
They took her up to the kitchen but she didn’t eat very much. It’s hard to eat around wet cheeks and a runny nose. And she was scared, so scared, so very alone.
I don’t think she stopped crying between the time they took her to the kitchen, and when I picked her up from her new home the next morning.
Since then it’s been like this every day. She doesn’t struggle, she never complains. She rarely says anything and what she says is impossible to understand. There are no actual tears any more but there’s never a smile, and she struggles to catch her breath, as if the sobs she dutifully attempts to hide are clawing at her throat.
Her little sister came with her. The younger one is just as big-eyed, just as wistful, but I think she’s starting to believe in love again. She leaves her big sister’s side every so often, and makes hesitant attempts to join the other children playing on the floor. She tentatively reaches out to me, testing the waters, testing my reaction.
I try to encourage her. I smile, I play with her. I give her food and something to drink and laugh at her when she makes silly faces. Now, when a stranger comes in the room, she stays by my side, warily eyeing the newcomer, using me for protection.
There’s no feeling quite like knowing that, to a six-year-old, you are the only thing between her and what she desperately fears. I put my arm around her and we share a smile.
But the older girl hasn’t moved. Every day she comes in crying. Every day she stands in the corner, alone, afraid. She watches the world through enormous, pained eyes, as if she doesn’t have anything left to give.
It will take time, they tell me. Give her time. She’s still hurting and, once she finds out that you love her, that everyone here loves her, she’ll come around. She’s adjusting.
Sometimes, when the crying gets on my nerves, like a mourning knell that never ends, I want to throw something. Not at her. Even my frustration cannot make me forget who she is and where she came from. But at someone. Someone who made the choices to hurt her like she’s been hurt; like her sobbing breaths tell me she’s been hurt. Someone who starved a little girl, beat her and abandoned her on the city street.
The pain in her eyes is greater than abandonment, greater than starvation, greater, even, then being unloved. It’s the pain of not believing in love anymore. Because she trusted someone, and they failed her. She’s only eight years old, and she has a broken heart.
I watch her and I hurt. I remember my childhood, with a full table, a full stomach and love in the eyes of everyone around me. I remember my father’s hands, guiding mine as I pretended to help him with a woodworking project, and my mother’s laugh when I twirled around in a goofy dance. I remember brothers and sisters and rambunctious games and bedtime stories, with the baby falling asleep in somebody’s lap. I remember hours of learning, playing, laughing and candlelight and good food at the end of the day.
And I hurt.
If it takes me a decade to teach her to hope, to take away the depth of the sadness behind those beautiful brown eyes, I will sit here and listen to her cry every day of it. And pray that, somehow, that crying reaches a place I can’t touch, and that my being
here for her will let her trust the one person who won’t leave her alone.
Melissa Kirby is a freelance author and editor of numerous magazine articles and web pages, with two books for sale on amazon.com and smashwords.com. She wrote her first stories before she could spell and finished a full-length novel at the age of thirteen. She owns her own business copy and content company, and is working on her third novel, a murder mystery entitled Guardian Black.