The client that was

Madeleine Peyroux, “Smile”

It’s been a while since I have held a baby in my arms. I don’t usually ask to hold them, preferring instead to admire their baby mystique from a distance, the interest quickly dissipating once they start crying.

But today it was different.

I held her and something in my heart went off again, something strong and meaningful, something that makes me want to write it down because I don’t want to forget what it meant to me then, a few days from now.

She was wearing a pink jumpsuit, the kind with the footsies. Only four months old, this little piece of humanity, here in the place desperate people come to seek protection from the law. Her mother, my client, was an 18 year old who, at such a young age, told me she had enough abuse from her (today) ex-boyfriend. It had been two years of fights and beatings.

She told me the baby woke up crying when they fought. Four months old and already crying more than other babies do. And babies, for the most part, cry a lot. At least all the ones I see out in the world, in planes, churches and such.

We had to take pictures of the client’s scars to use as an exhibit. As she got up to be photographed, without thinking, I asked: “Do you want me to hold her?”

My client didn’t think twice before extending her baby out to me from across her chair. I shuttered when I mentally predicted  that she would scream in agony and cry very loudly, in that small office,  the moment I held her in my arms.

But instead of tears and shrieks, I got a pair of big pretty black eyes that opened to look straight at me.

She stayed quiet in my arms, binky in mouth, looking at me for a second. Still surprised she was not screaming, I started rocking her back and forth and humming a lullaby my mother used to sing to me when I was little, still waiting for her to realize I was a stranger. Again, she closed her eyes and laid quietly in my arms, not one bit worried about where her mother had gone, or who this weird, singing stranger holding her was.

I choked. Unexpected tears filled my eyes and it took me a moment to realize why, to reconcile my brain and my heart. Most times, we have to keep those two separate in the office. We have to ask brutal details, hear terrible stories, and keep on writing.. not a “sorry”, not one word to express our anguish. Got to stay professional.

But those eyes! How could I? I stopped singing and thought of how today, of all the other days, I really was making a difference in this small human being’s life. Her mother was going to be alright now, and consequently, so would she. And I had been a part of that. Those were my words the judge was going to read and his judgment was going to be based on them. Yes, she was going to be just fine. If I could protect her from nothing else in this world, at least I was shielding her from her abusive dad. I looked at her, proud, that she was going to be both physically and mentally fine. She was young enough to never have to remember the fights, to never have to see the picture of her mother being choked by her father in her mind. For a moment, I wanted to call her lucky. But then I realize how foolish that was.

The same way she won’t remember her father’s abuse, I know she will also never remember me, the intern that completed all of her mom’s paperwork and hummed her a lullaby.

But I will remember her forever; her big black eyes, that look that seemed to say to me: “hey, it’s going to be alright,”  her serenity mixed in with all that madness, and the fact that one day, I did make a difference.

Turns out all I needed to convince me I was doing the right thing was a pair of big, beautiful black eyes.

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