The Hudson River slips calmly by my Harlem apartment, flat in the evenings with the red Western sunsets. A fourteen-year-old trusted me today. She, with her dark hair and terrified eyes, opened up one sentence at a time. Eventually, she asks me if I will be her mom. Her glossy, wide eyes are serious. I tell her, “I can’t, but we will find someone good to be your mom and to love you.”
There’s a burnt, overwhelmed gratitude that comes with being the recipient of need, of trust. The words for “it’s ok, I’ll be here for you” get caught in my throat. I swallow the words for “it’s ok, sweet child, I’m terrified too.”
I sit on my bed and sob my heart out to my mother at the end of that day. “How do I know I am doing the right thing?” She listens to me as I hurt through the goodbyes, leaving a job that means something.
In law school, they tell us, “Succeed.”
I trip over myself. I wake up with a panic in my chest every day and throw my cat off my blankets as I roll outward, toward the bathroom, awakening into my own desperation to succeed at another day. The only person I’ve made room for on my path right now is myself.
I’m in the wake of my old life. I have waves of memories, rolling in during my nights studying. There was an old man who read me poems after his wife died, at the community dinner downeast; we sat together and loved, and people didn’t have warm homes or enough hot meals, but we had the intoxication of not being alone.
I wonder why I feel alone, now, in school when I know once upon a time, I felt connected to humanity, to hope, to good. I was happy in a small town in Maine, making $12,000 a year, teaching children about static electricity.
I think of the social work job I recently left in half-regret, urged myself outward, through tears. The service stipend that got me through cold nights in Maine. I always feel I have to take a new and promising route, to show I’m brave, that if given the chance, one day I’ll be equipped to “make a difference.”
I once told myself, “This is too easy, this happiness, in quiet places, helping children live good lives. You can’t hide in beautiful, quiet places forever.”
The beautiful, quiet places.
I don’t understand my own desire to push myself to new heights. To a new path. “You can do more. Do more. You’re not enough.”
What is fearlessness besides every blind fear driving us to defy ourselves?
All I want to do is hide in quiet, beautiful places. I want to slip into silence, unnoticed. Every word I say about myself, I want to take back. I say, “human trafficking issues,” like I wasn’t holding a sobbing teenager once. I say, “violence against women,” like I wasn’t listening to her account the bruises.
She is not a stepping stone. The words on a resume are people, “my girls” or “my kids” not “my clients” or “my students,” and I did not abandon them.
The lawyer I’m talking to at an event says, “You’re such a 1L” when he asks me what I want to do and I tell him, “human rights.” He explains, “You all start out so idealistic.”
I am hurt in the soul part of me, listening, because every human I’ve seen broken and I’ve held and helped is not idealism.
It’s a faith that where most people do not care, I do.
I’ll be back, I’d like you to know, sweet child. I’ll be back. You are enough. We are enough.