On Friday, someone posted porn on C’s Facebook account. It happened during 2nd period, when I was free, and sitting at my laptop. So I took it down, but then I went to look for her. She was in the computer lab. I went in her empty classroom and checked the class’s schedule. So when the bell rang for recess, I went down and met her leaving the lab. I led her away from her friends a bit.

“Do you have friends on Facebook you don’t know again?”

She seemed to know exactly why I was asking. I guess it’s not rocket science. My face plus the question and it’s clear.

She said something unintelligible about it not working. I never quite figured out what she meant by that but, anyway, I let her go. She had added 50 friends the night before, but she didn’t have 700 friends she didn’t know. The odds of having more problems before she could look through her friends and unfriend them seemed lower.

I found her again at lunchtime, after she had come back from eating lunch at home. She was chasing her little sister across the assembly ground when I saw her. I called her name. I said I wanted to know how it had happened, forgetting that is how Country Xers scold. It is code for, “You ought to be ashamed of yourselves.” I suppose she took it that way, because what I got first was an indignant rush of words. Not indignant at me, but at sort of the world. I stopped her. “I need to ask you questions so I can understand.”

So I asked her if she had added the 50 friends. No, 20 or 30. Not 50. Which made sense—I do look at her page sometimes to make sure all is okay, and I look at how many friends she has to see that she is not being indiscriminate again. Usually, they tick up gradually. One here, five there. The night before, she had added a lot. I think it was 30. Then in the morning when I woke up again, it was suddenly 20 more. The first burst of friends was hers. The second was not.

“Who knows your password?”

Two friends, plus me.

But her password was incredibly easy to guess. It could have been anyone who wanted to play around with her account and knew one or two things about her. I said we had better change it. She asked me if I would do it for her. I said I would. I asked her about looking through her friends again. She had National Language homework to do. She would do it herself on her phone after school. “Do you have balance?” She said yes. So I left it.

Later, I left her a message on Facebook just saying not to trust so much. Some people want to take advantage. I just felt so scared for her. The internet is like opening a door on the world, and it’s not just that it opens up a door to a world that is sometimes evil and preys on the vulnerable and trusting, but that her world is so very, very small. Here, in Country X, she knows less about what is out there waiting to hurt her than most 7-year-olds in developed countries.

When she came online after school, she just agreed with me. And I said five words then that I hadn’t said before. I said, “I love you very much.”

“Me too madam.”

I felt relieved then, that what I had said wasn’t totally out of line, but maybe a statement of what was already evident.

I didn’t reply though. I just felt it. The relief of it, but also the warmth.

Then after a while, I asked her something else. I can’t remember what, and it disappeared out of the chat a bit later. I think somehow it never reached her.

Then, suddenly, “Why u r nt giving dam madam.”

I was beside myself. I mean, what had I done? What exactly did it seem I didn’t care about. But actually “not giving damn” means ignoring something you don’t want to hear. I had learned this indirectly from her friend, the school captain, the night before in the course of listening to a tale of failed romance. I hadn’t quite internalized this.

So I was upset. I mean, on all fronts, because it made what I said seem very different. Maybe it ought not have, but it did, as though I had accidentally asked her to be my girlfriend, she had said yes, and I had then fallen silent.

Anyway, I asked why she was angry and why she thought I wasn’t giving a damn. Oh, I was supposed to say something, but she wasn’t angry. Instead, she wanted a recharge. I don’t actually know why asks. She claims to have money to repay me, but then forgets to give it to me. I suspect she isn’t allowed to go down to the shops unless she is being sent specifically on an errand. I had actually offered to do this, indirectly, so I did that.

But in the morning when I woke up again, she hadn’t unfriended anyone. Later, she asked if we could it at school. It takes a long time on a phone.

So she came early to school and we did that. I didn’t, then, feel as though I had said something wildly inappropriate to her. There was a change, but it was subtle, and it wasn’t that kind of change. I just had a feeling of earnestness and a deep and authentic respect.

It reminded me of Nata, how I felt like glass in her hands. I don’t think I have had that feeling since. If I ever got that sense from anyone, I shut it down.

I have been working at letting that feeling just be inside me, because I think I need to. It is intimately tied to so much of the trauma I experienced. The girls I loved were hurt in front me, I had to hurt them, they had to hurt me.

It turns out that respect is an important part of love: respect for the person’s uniqueness, their feelings and what is comfortable for them, their autonomy and their dignity. Love isn’t just warmth or desire. It is also this feeling of appreciation for the person and a sense of their worth.

And that is what is completely missing from life if you have as your parents a psychopath and a narcissist. It is something I experienced in a brothel, but not anywhere else very deeply, and it seems to me when I left my friends there, I thought it could never happen again and the world I had left them to live in was not only cold but without any sense of sincere respect or appreciation for me or anyone.

I can feel it again now because of a 13-year-old girl.

Advertisements