In a wooded gully on a Virginia park property, a small, slime-green tent sits beside a lazy brook. The noise of nearby traffic and squeaky park swings are overpowered by the quiet of nature. With an uneasy heart, I call out, “Hello? Is someone here?” No one is home. And it HAS been someone’s home; at least, for a little while. It’s time to clean house and my blonde kid and I have been asked to do the cleaning. Neither of us wants to look inside, but we must.
Drowning face-down in the 6 inches of rainfall is a kid’s library book, “Moon Child”. It instantly deadens my stomach to think of a little person living here. Over there, in the corner, is a dirty hairbrush, and a black bag with kiddie stickers on the outside, that later reveals a woman’s makeup kit and sopping wet lip glosses. Mom is doing what she can; I envision her making up her face to go on a job interview. She’s got 2 packs of purse-sized tissues stuck in the tent pockets, a fresh bottle of acetaminophen and a barely used tube of antibiotic cream, along with a jar of peanut butter, deodorant, shampoo and a flashlight. It’s the bag of pre-natal vitamins staring up from a puddle that speaks to Mom’s desires; she is trying to do right by this baby, just as the “already” baby has a library book and a warm place to sleep. Two bright red sleeping bags and some worn fleece blankets make a nest, but there in the middle…it’s the dirty, raggedy “Barney” pillow that makes my heart moan. Some child in our county is sleeping tonight without their special pillow, and they have probably known this feeling all too often.
We drag all this out into the still air. Now’s the time to just “get it over with”. I can’t. There’s a school journal with, “Gerald” written in a slash across the front, all black and bold. Is Gerald the one who fell asleep snuggling Barney? No. First page, he’s telling Sarah how much he loves her and she is his special person, and he can’t think of life without her, and “as soon as I get out, I will take care of you and the baby, I promise”. A few pages more, and Gerald has started a log, in his middle-school scrawl, to track a daily dose of olanzapine/zyprexa, 20 mg. It only lasted a few days. I couldn’t help myself. I took a picture so I could find out what it’s for, and it pains me to know. Schizophrenia or extreme mood disorder?
it’s Sarah and the vitamin baby and another Barney-loving “Little” in this tent, and I’m putting all their molding, dank belongings in a trash bag so it can be disposed of, because it’s illegal for Sarah to come back. Till now, she’s held onto a journal of love words and hope in pill form, and now she’s left it all behind in these beautiful woods and strangers are pilfering through her life and feeling sick that she’s out there and that Barney’s owner is sad and it’s just one story among many and why does it have to be this way…and…where is Sarah and will she have food tonight, and I wish I could deliver every scrap of this stuff to her and tell her that, in amongst all this despair I feel, that I’m SO proud of her for TRYING.
It’s as if there’s been a book with all but one page ripped out, and that page’s words are so gripping that you long for all the other pages, but you’ll never know. A phrase resounds in my heart as we carry four bags of Sarah’s world up and out into the stark sunshine: “There, but for the grace of God, go I”. I’m sorry, Sarah, Moon Child, and baby. I wish you knew someone cares.