Offering Our Presence

***Portions of this post focus on trauma, self-harm, and suicidal ideation.

My mind is often crowded with the images I have seen through the years working with at-risk youth.  They are often hidden for years, but come to the front of the crowd at unexpected times to teach me a new lesson, or help me see it from a new perspective. 

Last week, I was reminded of a boy we had on our unit years ago.  It was long before trauma-informed care was an expectation or we had options for placing kids in specific demographics.  We had lots of kids with lots of needs all on one hallway and we were doing the best we could with what we had.  And B was one of those kids with lots of needs.  He was extremely violent with both staff and the other residents, he would destroy property, and yell incessantly.  But each aggressive behavior was partnered with tears.  Without fail, his behaviors were angry, but his face was sad, afraid, hurt.  His cycle happened daily with very little reprieve, for him or those of us working with him.

Several months into his treatment he finally divulged that he had been a rape victim.  The shame and self-blame he felt was obvious, but it seemed the only emotion he felt comfortable showing was rage.  With his new confession, came an increase in his violence, and eventually some self-harming.  Things escalated, but surprisingly enough so did our love and concern for him.   He started to trust us, but even that created new fears and concerns for him. 

One evening while assisting with showers, I heard something break.  I ran down the hall where a co-worker was and she quickly explained it was B.  Since there were no men working that night and I was the supervisor, I quickly went to his bathroom door.  I knocked but my only response was deep breathing loud enough to be heard over the shower.  I knocked again, told him who it was and said I was opening the door.  I was met with shards of “unbreakable” glass laying on the floor.  B was standing in his clothes in the corner of the shower, a large shard in one hand, tears streaming down his face, and blood flowing from both arms.  I reached up to turn off the shower and my arm instantly went red from the scalding hot water his body was being met with to create more pain.

There was not a good protocol to follow in this instance, there wasn’t a system to follow, or a training we went through.  This was pain and love in its truest form. 

We both looked at each other and without talking I started to clear a path for him out of the bathroom.  He looked at the shard of glass in his hand over and over and then slowly handed it to me.  I gently assisted him out of the shower and we walked to another room. 

The nurse started getting bandages to clean him up, the other staff collected him clean, dry clothes, but he and I, now both splattered with blood, sat looking at each other without words.  There were no words.  We were both heart broken and respected that moment in one another, if only for that brief instance. 

Once the nurse and clean clothes returned, I stepped out.  I found myself slumped against a wall and exhaling, attempting to hold in the tears.  When he was dry and bandaged, he asked if I would come back in.  We returned to our silence of setting on the cold, hard ground facing each other, both unsure of how to begin. 

After what felt like an eternity of silence, I heard a mumbled, “I heard your voice.” 

My profound response was, “what?”

Again, “I heard your voice…so I stopped.”  That was it.  No more explanation.  No warm and fuzzy hugging.  No tearful recounting of how much we cared for one another.  Just more silence.  But, now the silence was different, because B had just shown me the importance of presence.  That was all I had offered him and all I could offer him in that moment…presence.

If it would have been someone else’s voice would the reaction have been the same … I don’t know.

If I would have noticed something with his behavior would it have been different … I don’t know.

If I would have had trauma-informed care, could I have responded better … I don’t know. 

All I know is that in a moment of what I can only imagine is complete desperation, the one thing B needed was presence. 

A few weeks later, B was moved to a different facility his behaviors being “too acute to handle.”  The staff watched devastated knowing that in this incident, with this kid, the system was going to fail.  I watched knowing that this kid had changed something in me even if I didn’t know what it was. 

Now, years later, I often wonder about B.  I try to push the memory of that night out of my mind as often as it surfaces, but last week I found myself an observer in another man’s desperation.  His desperation leading to dangerous behavior and it made me think about this idea of presence once again. 

How often do I offer my presence to another person?  With the chaos of life and work, have I forgotten the importance of just sitting with people and being present in their life?  Do I engage enough that my voice being heard is enough to help pull someone out of desperation, if only for a moment?  Do I allow myself to feel deeply for others that sometimes the only thing needed between us is silence? 

I Had a Good Ride with Old Blue!

old car

Today, the inevitable happened!  It was time to get Old Blue cleaned out and ready to be sold/given away.  A few weeks ago, after a few near death experiences (one including a kiddie scooter), I decided it was time to get a new car.  Something more reliable.  Something more practical.  Something that had a driver’s seat that actually sat upright on consistent basis.

So, last week with some help from the family, I drug myself to the car dealer.  I made it clear from the beginning that I’m somewhat of a cheapskate, I didn’t need bells and whistles, and I planned on driving it until it died, just like I did with Old Blue.  I think a small piece of me was secretly hoping it wouldn’t work out; they couldn’t meet all my demands.  The result, me walking off the parking lot and sticking with the familiar.  But, that didn’t happen.  Everything I asked for I received and then some.

That’s how I found myself cleaning out my treasured friend today.  And as surreal as it feels, it’s time.  As I began cleaning her out, I couldn’t help but think of the lessons she taught me. I know it sounds crazy, I mean after all she’s an object, a machine, nothing more than a necessity to most people.  But to me, she hold memories, lessons, and was with me half my driving life.

Here’s just a few things I learned through the years with Old Blue:

1.  Life is too short to not have some adventure!!

The first trip this car took was a impromptu weekend trip to Colorado.  We left in the middle of the night on a Thursday with the only rule being we could stop at any point of interest we wanted to along the way.  Bobby D was always up for anything, and Annie, well she was easily persuaded when we were road tripping.  This particular adventure led us to “see 7 states” from our tower tourist site.  As we pulled up, we realized something was not quite right.  First, there were rusted out cars with huge boulders setting on top of them.  As we got a little closer, we noticed there were taxidermy animals setting inside of it.  This was a small red flag, but we were young, on an adventure, and perhaps we thought ourselves a little invincible, so we kept driving.

As we pulled up to the building, it was the kind of place tourist go into and never come out, and as we looked up into the “tower” we were met with what I’m hoping were mannequins staring back at us.  I was something straight out of a House of Wax movie.  In that moment, we found out exactly how fast Old Blue was able to move.

This was the first of many trips she would make across the country.  When I couldn’t wait to see the Stanfield Clan,  Sherrita and I loaded up and headed to South Dakota.  She guided me to Louisville to visit great friends and a side trip to the Zappos Warehouse. She drove through what can only be described as a blizzard to get me to the airport hours away, so I could make it to my first professional conference.

Adventure, we’ve seen our share together.  But there were other lessons along the way, as well.

2.  Community is built by spending time together!

As I was cleaning out Old Blue, there were some things I just wasn’t going to be able to clean.  There are stains left in the floorboard from spills from my youth kids, or my many coffee trips with friends.  There were letters from friends tucked in the glove box, my handmade coffee cozy sitting under the radio, and a “few” pairs of my favorite shoes hidden in the trunk.

Every item I found, reminded me of an event.

The shoes, for example, reminded me of a time when some of my girls (junior highers at the time) and I were enjoying their summer off.  We stopped to get gas and it was a great opportunity to teach them how to pump it.  What I hadn’t expected was that they had all put on a pair of my high heels they had found in the floor board.  As K got out of the car to help me pump, I was met with a pair of bright yellow, green, and orange heels.  We laughed so hard we forgot to put the gas cap back on and I drove off with it setting on top of my car.  We suddenly became aware of it as we heard it clunk to the pavement as we pulled up to the stoplight.  It rolled back several feet and once again K agreed to help.  She dashed out of the car and ran as best she could in her bright high heels to come to the rescue.

It made several trips for coffee, or late night Steak ‘N’ Shake trips.  We drove on back roads, sometimes listening to music and sometimes talking until we were so tired we could barely make it home.

All my relationships, friendships, community, had memories in that car.

3. As time goes by, we must learn to be innovative!

Year by year, things started going wrong as they often do with cars. I wasn’t in a place where I could justify buying a new vehicle, so I had to improvise. I had to be innovative. I had to use duct tape! If you look at the seats, you’ll see tiny slivers of silver from where I put tape to keep the springs in the chair to keep it from ripping our pants.

But, just a few months ago I had to be really innovative. I sat down in the driver’s seat and I heard a pop and suddenly my driver’s seat reclined back, all the way back! It was great if I wanted to take a nap, or perhaps spy on someone, but it wasn’t so conducive for driving. I spent the day setting completely upright and realized right away that this wasn’t going to work. My mechanic was having neck surgery and was several towns over, so I had to do something. I slipped myself underneath the seat and used my legs to push it as far forward as I could manage. Then I took a small laundry basket and wedged it in between the back and front seat. I then filled with random items so the weight could hold it in place. I was pretty proud of my innovation, until I realized there were people watching the whole situation. I wasn’t sure if I should smile or take a bow, so I opted for running inside.

There are a million more stories I could share and want to. Maybe, it will become it’s own category someday.

But today, I’m just experiencing gratitude for life I’ve been able to live the past 10 years and the car that joined me on the journey