The week careened, collided and crashed towards Saturday, with me clinging to the overhead strap, swaying in the aisle. Tired, drained and raw, I spent its waning hours reading, writing, and meditating. My ride through life personifies a reputed Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times." But as I sat in a lab tech's chair for the third time in as many days, she and I agreed on one principle: Unlike the mother of Hailey Owens, we are blessed to be able to see our children's wide eyes each day, see the rise and fall of their chests as they breathe, mutter as we trip over shoes they have abandoned or push aside the other daily debris of their exuberant existences.
The slaughter of Hailey Owens haunts me as no other story in the news has for many months. I realize this holds irony; hundreds die in a foreign country, scores die on our American city streets. But this child did not just die: she was savagely stolen and mercilessly murdered. I cannot imagine surviving having a child succumb to such fate; but scores of mothers have. Mothers of teens in the mean streets of New York, Detroit, Los Angeles and even Kansas City form bonds with women they would otherwise never know, members of a club for which I pray I am never eligible.
The week's events cast a pall over everything clean and good, and sets in perspective anything difficult that I endured. As I gaze out my window at the grey morning sky, I am remembering other lost children, children whose stories appeared in my newspaper or whose paths crossed, however briefly, with mine. The unluckiest of them died; but the ones who lived carry terrible burdens. The stamp of violence which reroutes the neuropathways of the young. The brittle bones that never quite heal. The uncertainty lurking in the small heart of an abandoned baby. The lingering, stark knowledge of being unloved, unwanted and untended.
This week, a young mother of three sat in my office and signed consents to terminate her parental rights to two of her children. A child of her parents' late life, this girl shines with innocence and unknowingness. I've read her records and know her challenges: A low IQ, attentention deficit, an uncontrollable temper. Just twenty-one with children aged 3, 2 and six months, this girl has no chance to have the kind of life that most aspire to live. She's one of the lucky ones in some ways, though. Those parents, 45 when she was born, are adopting her two oldest and fostering the baby.
This sweet, senseless girl stumbles from boyfriend to boyfriend, hovel to hovel, job to job. She ranges from rage to giggles and calls anyone who harbors her, a "Play sister". I'm not quite sure what that means. Occasionally she stops by my office to use my cell phone charger for one in an endless string of throw-away phones that men buy her for reasons I imagine with sickened stomach. But for all her faults, this girl lives in her mother's heart, just as loved, just as cherished, as Hailey Owens who lies cold on a table in the Greene County coronor's office. The plight of both mothers, of all mothers, weighs heavy on me, as I sip my herbal tea and wonder what tomorrow holds for each of us.