Story of Natasha

June 19, 2005 at 11:27 pm 1 comment

Natasha is 13. Her hair is thick and dark, just long enough to brush her shoulders, and her skin is a warm brown, reflecting a compromise between the skin tones of her caucasian mother and her hispanic father.

Her smile is hesitant and embarrassed, as if she’s afraid of being noticed. And she’s quiet. Very quiet. I ask her questions about her life sometimes, to try to gain an understanding of what’s on her mind and in her heart. She answers, but very simply, like she doesn’t know how to express thoughts with anything more than the bare minimum of words.

Natasha graduated from the eighth grade nearly four weeks ago. In reality, she shouldn’t have passed. She was failing two subjects, and barely passing three more. She’s not dumb, but she still struggles with such things as her multiplication tables and basic math concepts.

Then again, that’s what happens when you are enrolled in six different school systems within one school year. And that’s what happens when your mother didn’t even teach you the importance of such basics as actually getting up in the morning to catch the bus.

Natasha’s dad is in New Mexico. She doesn’t see him anymore, as there’s a restraining order against him for her protection. She and her younger sister live with their mom, in a cramped two-bedroom apartment in a bad section of town. The sisters have no sheets on their shared bed, and just one towel between the two of them for bathing.

Ironically, Natasha owns more clothes than I do, though they are clearly the thrift-shop variety. Her other possessions, though, are few: expensive items, like cd players, have been sold to support her mother’s nicotine habit. As for the little things, there’s no money even for such essentials as shampoo and laundry. Spare change is too quickly engulfed into vending machines and ashtrays.

As for the mother, well…she does little else except move back and forth between her bed and the sofa in the living room. Her normal posture on any given afternoon is sprawling on the couch in front of the tube, a cigarette dangling from her lips and an ashtray positioned within close reach on the floor. If she’s not at home, odds are good that she’s in the Emergency Room with a complaint such as chest pain, back pain, kidney stones, or a toothache. On each visit to the ER, she knows exactly which drug she wants to soothe the ailment of the day.

Natasha, being the oldest, does those tasks that her mother does not want to do. Cooking (if you could call it that), cleaning (once in a blue moon), caring for her sister, asking strangers for change for more cigarettes when her mom goes into withdrawal.

Ah, and that business of asking. Begging is all Natasha knows. I am not used to people asking for my personal possessions; Natasha has overcome any hesitancy about doing such things. Late one night, she asked me about a black skirt, if I had one, to wear for graduation. And later: a white top. Shoes. A pair of shorts. Baby oil for her hair. Money to get her disposable camera developed. Hair bands.

She has no concept of the cost of such things. No concept that people have such things because they work for them. No concept that money spent on cigarettes and vending machines means money not spent on shampoo or bus fare or black skirts.

To her, the world is simpler than it is to most of us: The drugs at the ER are free; the food stamps that put food in her stomach have no cost. Those who have money should have plenty to share with her.

Money matters are not the only foreign concept. Truth, also, is an alien notion to Natasha. In her world, truth is whatever is convenient at the moment, or whatever she might wish were true. That’s the way one has to live, in a life like hers; it’s the life her mother has modeled for her. Creative reconstruction of the facts is how you keep DFACS off your trail, it’s how you get meds at the ER, it’s how you learn to survive on the system.

Not that Natasha is malicious. On the contrary, it’s just that no one ever told her any other way. Inside, I know she’s just a young girl, struggling to navigate the choppy waters of teenager-hood, worrying about the pressures of high school, not knowing how to manage the awkward transition from girl to woman.

Her eyes convey the simple longings of every girl’s heart–longings for acceptance, for love, for purpose, for identity. 13-year-old girls can’t find those things on their own. 13-year-old girls can’t act on information that was never given to them. 13-year-old girls can’t function in a reality that they’ve never seen.

Part of me wonders: How can it be that a girl could grow to 13 without someone ever having told her these things?

————-

On Mother’s Day, she asked if she could use my laptop. She wanted to make a card for her mom. I watched her as she worked, carefully choosing shades of pink and red for a background, and an elegant script for the font. She stopped every once in a while to ask me my opinion.

“Do you think the colors match?” she asked.

“It looks beautiful,” I said.

When she had finished, she showed me the simple message she had typed. “I know things have been hard,” it read, “but we’ll get through this tough time together. I love you, you’re the world’s bestest Mom.”

I smiled weakly, for Natasha’s benefit. And inwardly, I closed my eyes and sighed deeply.

“The world’s bestest Mom.”

Part of this, I know, is desire for who she wishes her mom was. But the other part, I wonder about.

Does she even realize that real moms don’t spend their days in a drugged stupor on the sofa?

Does she have a sense that real moms actually live a real life, and not just a vicarious existence by means of a soap opera on the tube?

Does she have an inkling that real moms mark life’s cycles by something other than the rhythmic pattern of calls from DFACS and visits to the ER for more drugs?

No, Natasha, this is not the way it’s supposed to be.

————-

As I said, I close my eyes, and sigh deeply. And I wonder, late at night when it’s just me and my thoughts…

Is there redemption for this story?

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Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Way too woozy to post This is not supposed to be happening!

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Emerson Schwartzkopf  |  June 10, 2009 at 7:22 pm

    And what finally happened to Natasha?

    Reply

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profile.jpgI am working on my M.A. in Religion at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Besides having a big interest in theology, history, ethics, and the deep stuff of life, I am also very fond of Mediterranean food, snow, and the color red.

Email me: jamie.kiley@gmail.com

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