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.


4 thoughts on “Fraud

  1. Hang in there. Hold on. You are not alone. We exist.

    Those of us who are not idealistic, merely unwilling to turn others’ lives into “volunteer experience” or “required pro bono hours” or lines on a resume. Those of us who find alien a definition of success that hinges on an email from a partner or an offer of a clerkship. Those of us who breathe easiest in the beautiful, quiet places. Those of us for whom “human rights” isn’t an abstract project or a futile one, but an apartment for a woman with halting speech or a moment of trust for a girl with terrified eyes.

    If we find each other, we can last through law school. We can last through cocktail receptions and exams and debilitating debt. We can remind each other that it’s possible to survive the gauntlet without losing who we are, without losing the beautiful, quiet places, without losing the human beings who brought us here in the first place.

    We exist. You are not alone. Hold on.

  2. Don’t lose faith. I felt the same way just a few weeks ago where I was encouraged to and did mention the fact that I financially sponsored a child in Ecuador, all in an effort to get a job. I felt like I was using that child. And when I did receive the job, I rose “up” in the social ladder, but my sponsored child stayed exactly where he was, in social and economic poverty in Ecuador. I don’t know how to reconcile how wrong it felt to mention that in the interview, and how right it felt to get the job. But thank you for your heartfelt post.

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