It’s 6AM and maybe this is as close as I’ll get to being a mother. My little girl is all baby fat, she could be 15 but she is 20. The only grown up thing about her is her long bone straight black weave. She has a cute German name. If you go to Germany or Holland, you’ll meet hundreds of namesakes, every second girl has your name, I tell her. She nods, I know, I’m going one day.
I’m very good with the girls who are tearful or angry. But she is neither, she’s cool and bored. She has seen through the whole performance, opened the curtains while the rest of us were buying expensive popcorn in the lobby. The forensic examiner is quite deaf, and this always irritates the girls, having to shout, No he never put his penis in my mouth! three or four times before she hears it and scribbles her notes, and comes back with another question looking for trails of the perpetrator’s fluids lingering on the survivor’s body. This German girl is not even mildly irritated by the deaf examiner, and she hardly acknowledges me. The other girls often catch my eye and pull an exasperated face when the examiner is fiddling with the camera stand. And when the examiner leaves the room I’m compelled to give a firm speech about her skills and good intentions, but actually, something is wrong with her. Whenever I’m left alone with her, she apologizes to me, on behalf of the City maybe, something in the line of, Thank you so much for being here, you’re a saint, so sorry you had to get out of bed for this crap when there are real rape victims out there.
I talk to the German girl about her college Major. I advise her to speak to the school’s counseling services and to make sure she doesn’t lose her student aid or lower her GPA. I tell her, They just see a good looking, happy girl, they don’t realize that you are having difficulties with your housing situation and that you have been the victim of a violent crime. She smiles because I called her good looking, and I smile too because we are vain, even after a rape, sitting in an ER. I woke up at 5AM and dressed as if for work, in tight dark pants, a pink Lauren sweater, jewelry, scent, lip gloss and comfortable but stylish granny shoes. It’s a cold room, and the German girl is wearing her big puffy jacket over her hospital gown. Her t-shirt and underwear are in the rape kit. She stops texting and becomes animated and coquettish when the doctor comes in, the way some women do when a straight man walks into a beauty salon.
He is a handsome youngster, who never makes eye contact with the survivor as he asks the examiner and I about the prescription for the HIV meds, the pregnancy test and did she get all her jabs in high school. I have learned a lot about my German girl in an hour and a half: She got into a fight two weeks ago with her brother’s girlfriend’s sister, and was picked up by the cops, but they didn’t press charges. She had a miscarriage three weeks ago, she’s dropped out of her third year of college, this is her second reported rape, she wants to be a social worker, she got into bed with a strange man – she took off her underwear in a dark room, and said I told you I’m not sleeping with you and then he penetrated her. When we are left alone in the room she asks me, I shouldn’t have gone to his house right? I’m her Advocate, so I say, It’s bad out there. You made a mistake. We make mistakes. Noone deserves to be raped, beaten or killed for trusting a bad person. That’s not right. I want to tell her more, about the time I made a mistake, but she’s too young to be interested in me, I’m so old.
I get her a container of milk from the fridge in the reception, and she shakes her head, I don’t drink milk. I want to lecture her about osteoporosis, calcium in green vegetables, and supplements, but I don’t – I’m already leaving her. I put the apple she had no appetite for in her handbag, and I tell her to wait, sit down on a bench while I tell the nurses we are checking out. There is an Albanian nurse, the one who gave me the apple and milk. She asks me, Is this your real job? She really wants to know, so I tell her, I teach.
Let’s go, I tell the German girl. We walk out of the ER, and I ask her as we hit the main road, Do you know where we are? She says, Is this still the Bronx? I’m not paying $25 for a taxi!
I once left a little crazy girl on the street outside the hospital after sitting with her throughout her forensic and Psyche exam. She had a sweet smile, like a baby, watching to see if she did it right, if it would make the grown ups exclaim with pleasure. Everybody knew her, even the hospital cops. A nurse sidled up to me as I followed the little crazy girl in a procession and asked me, Did she have a baby? What happened to her baby? She sat in a wheelchair, it was pushed by a nurse escorted by two police officers. The Ghanaian nurse in Psyche recognized her and he admonished her as gently as he would his younger sister. You’re back again, this is not good. Is your baby with your sister? And all the time, this same story. Two times, three times now. Be a Lady! You must change, you must behave like a Lady now. I reproached him, She’s not here to talk about that Sir! She’s here for an evaluation before they discharge her.
The doctor asked her if she wanted to hurt herself or another person, and if she was taking her meds. And then they watched me walk out with her. I thought I could take care of her, sleep with her in my bed, make her breakfast, fix her. Outside the hospital on the black street, I asked the little crazy girl if I could drop her off with my taxi, and she said, Just give me a dollar for a cigarette. I gave her a dollar and I left her. Three days later my supervisor called and told me that my little crazy girl was back in the Emergency Room, and how did I feel about my work in that case. I have to get this other one, the German girl closer to home.
So do you have any girl friends you’re close to? I ask the German girl.
I don’t like females.
What’s wrong with us?
Too much drama.
I climb from cool to angry, out of a scale of 1-to-10, I am level 10 angry. I think, Your rapists, were they women? The friendly nurse in the ER, wasn’t she a woman? I got up at 5AM to be with you, aren’t I a woman? I’m taking you half way home, aren’t I a woman?
I pay for the bus tickets, and I follow her aboard. She walks to the rear of the bus and finds us seats separated by the aisle. We are together, but not really together, our relationship status is ‘complicated.’ I pull out a book Love Me Back, and it’s sad, pathetic, degrading, and deeply arousing. I read it like I’m drinking a slushy with a straw, no breathing out until my mouth is full. “I didn’t hide from Calvin how much I pretended. Pretended to like it, pretended to want it, pretended to have orgasms. He didn’t understand and I couldn’t explain. It had something to do with love and something to do with grief…I am not a mother, I’d think as I walked to the trash can. You can fuck a lot of people, Calvin would say to me, and still enjoy yourself. Make it about you, about pleasure. Atleast make it safe. But it wasn’t about pleasure; it was about how some kinds of pain make fine antidotes to others. So when they gave me their numbers and they were old and I’d seen them with hookers, I said yes. And so on. There was the night with Casey and Florida John.” I want to highlight and underline this entire page, rip it out and give it to the German girl but it’s a library book.
We get off at 207th and its chaotic and there are no trains, only bus shuttles speeding down Broadway, because the City is working on the tracks. She is heading downtown and I’m heading uptown. I tell her to wait while I ask the bus driver for directions for her. This time she doesn’t wait, she disappears without a goodbye, a hug or a thank you. She isn’t lost anymore. She is the first one in two years who didn’t say thank you, who didn’t say sorry for making you get out of bed Miss. I look through my purse for my phone. Shit. She’s taken my phone. I search my jacket pockets, and search my bag again. I’m calm, it’s just a shitty phone, she can have it. But there it is, one more rummage, an old iPhone with a cracked face in my palm. Shit. That would have made a really good story.