Sometimes I hate my job as a school counselor and therapist.
Something bad happened over the weekend to one of my student clients. Her face is unusually shuttered, eyes down, monosyllabic answers to my questions, denials that anything more than a “fight” happened at home.
She's in 4th grade, and has been through this before and knows what to say and what not to say. Her eyes beg for rescue and, at the same time, are resigned as one of Seligman's dogs in a cage, shocked again and again into silence.
I do the visual check of all extremities for bruises. I tell her I'm concerned, I'm going to call home and find out more about what happened, talk to mom and see how I can help. Then comes the animation, the frantic tears:
“No! No! I'll get in trouble! I have my backpack packed and I'm just going to run away if he hits me!”
“Did he hit you this time?”
“No. But he might.” Eyes skittering away.
I have nothing to go on, not enough to make a call to an already-overwhelmed agency that I know by now only responds to actual blood and bruising. I send her back to class with a granola bar. My own stomach is churning.
Later in the day the other counselor calls me. The younger sister, a kindergartner and not yet conditioned to the cage, has spilled the beans on the beating she got over the weekend. She wants to know if I agree we should call.
“Yes! Yes!” I say. “Yes!”
So we do. The hounds of “the system” are loosed.
I wish I thought they had some teeth.
I want to hit something.
Instead I take a brisk walk in my ever-present exercise shoes and do some breathing exercises. Tell myself the usual: I'm just one person, I do my part, I have to trust the system, I have to trust God to take care of these children.
But I have no confidence anything much will happen. I've been here before, I've made the call before, and years later I'm still comforting the same kid with a granola bar.
This is why Lei, my main character, exists. Nothing tees her off like child abuse. She doesn't take a walk and do breathing exercises about it, either. She hunts 'em down and drags 'em in. She puts the fear in them that they put in others. She makes the cycle of abuse stop by stopping the abuser.
As for me, the only punching I do is a few phone numbers. But maybe it will be enough this time.