Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Volunteer (11/23/06)
TITLE: Throw Away Child
By Birdie Courtright
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“Are you going to take me home?” Tina’s eyes met mine for the first time.
“I…I can’t take you back, Tina. You’re going to a hospital. You’ve been hurt pretty badly, but I’m going to stay with you for now. Did you know…about the baby?”
Her eyes darted toward the ceiling. “I didn’t want it anyway.”
“She’s being transported by ambulance in about five minutes. She has a social worker?”
“Uhh…yes, the contact information is in here.” I handed the plain manila file over to the nurse.
“We can’t do much here, she’s pretty torn up. She’ll go straight into triage—man, this is pretty bad. Twelve years old? She’s only twelve?”
“Yes, I’m afraid so. She’s been on the run for two days. “
“She was dumped here—lucky for her. If he had dropped her anywhere else, she would already be dead. She’s bleeding internally. We notified the police first, and then we found your card in her jeans. Here, you got a bag for her things?” she asked, thrusting a pair of blood soaked jeans into my hands as she walked off.
The female officer standing behind me hastily looked up from the clip board she had been writing on. “Ma’am, we need those. We have to take her clothing for evidence.” Her tone was reassuring, and I nodded, glad to be passing them off. We’d all seen a lot of bad things, but this was horrifying.
I picked up Tina’s frail hand, gently stroking it. Her eyes remained fixed on the ceiling, her jaw clenched. One tear escaped the corner of her eye, proving there was still a little girl hiding in there somewhere…a terrified little girl who could still respond to love, despite the trauma she’d endured. Her bruised face was almost unrecognizable. Her eyes were swollen, her cheekbone crushed, her nose was broken, her lip bleeding. It was determined that she was thirteen weeks pregnant and miscarrying, because of her injuries.
“Tina…” I was almost at a loss for words. “We’ve been so worried. You ran again, why? You were safe with us, sweetie.”
“I wanted my brother. So I left…I thought I could hitch hike home.” Her voice began to quiver “that man—he said I should have known better than to take a ride from stranger. He…he hurt me, then he threw me out of his car. Some one found me and brought me inside.”
I continued to stroke the palm of her hand, swallowing hard to keep my own emotions in check. “I’m glad you had my card. I’m glad I’m here with you…” I slowly brushed a strand of hair away from her eyes. “I’m going to pray for you, ok?” She blinked and another tear rolled across her cheek, leaving a moist trail in the dried blood. Still, her eyes never left the ceiling. She was so weak, and so small.
She eventually recovered from the injuries she sustained at the hands of the stranger who took her for a ride and then tossed her like so much garbage in front of a free clinic in the worst part of town.
I had no idea I would meet children like Tina when I volunteered at the 8th Street Runaway Shelter. I wanted to help troubled teens, but in the process I would learn the tragic reasons why they ran. Many Tinas’ came through the shelter; kids so neglected, and abused that social workers found foster care placements nearly impossible to locate. The kids like Tina weren’t just runaways, they were throwaways first.
Tina passed through my life more than twenty years ago. Her story is a painful reminder that there is nothing more important than loving a child and nothing more distressing than coming into contact with a child, thrown away. I’m not sure in her twelve years, Tina ever had a moment where she felt safe and loved and protected. She remained a ward of the state. I was the only one to hold her hand that night, when she needed comfort—not her mother—but a volunteer from a runaway shelter whose card she just happened to keep in her back pocket.
According to the National Runaway Switchboard, between 1.3 and 2.8 million children in the U.S. each year, are runaways or homeless youth. To find out about volunteer opportunities in your area visit: www.nrscrisisline.org
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