The sweet little girl with the tummy ache looks at me with frightened eyes. I talk to her quietly, softly, drawing her out of her shell in the tiny little first aid room. She tells me of her puppies, then mentions how her Dad abused them. She tells me of her siblings, then tells me they are in foster homes. She tells me of school, and how she hasn’t been in weeks. I want to hug her, to make her life easier somehow, but I just sit and talk. Shane slowly pushes the door open and steps into the room. I smile and look up at my trusted friend, but the little sweetie in front of me freezes in her chair. She pushes back, trying to shrink away from my lovable partner. A veil drops in her eyes, she refuses to speak or even look up, still cowering. Without speaking a word, I quickly advise Shane to leave, and he slips from the room without a sound. I watch my frightened little charge sadly. What is she so afraid of?
An excited din in the hallway brings me to my feet quickly. An ever-smiling Spanish child is holding her screaming brother tightly by the arm. He shrieks and cries out, “No, no!” as one of the leaders runs over to me and tells me he has a popsicle stick stuck in his throat. The leaders are trying to convince the girl to let me look at him as she shakes her head and adamantly repeats, “No, no.” I can assess him to some extent without touching him, and by the way he is screaming his head off in sheer panic, I think it’s safe to assume that he is breathing. He just keeps shrieking and pulling away in abject terror, his ever-smiling sister showing the same fear through her eyes. What are they so afraid of?
The kids file out of the building as Shane and I watch, smiling and saying goodbye. We try so hard to be a comforting, safe presence for them. So many of them shy away, look at us with fear. A tiny black boy looks at me with distrust as he passes, holding his even littler brother tightly by the arm. He also looks at us with fear in his eyes. What is he so afraid of?
What is the sweet little girl afraid of? What are the brother and sister afraid of? What are the two little boys afraid of?
I’m afraid to know.