So a lot of stuff happened. C arrived on the 17th—earlier than expected. I spoke to her on the 16th. She was a few hours away at that point. I suppose she spent the night with her grandparents and came here in the morning. In the afternoon of the 17th, I got a call from VP Ma’am. C was here. C can’t seem to call me herself: she asked VP to call me and say that she is here. I called C then. “She says you are here.” “Yep.” “So I should come.” “Yep.” I came quickly, without really thinking about what I was carrying. I got to the place I thought she was and she wasn’t there. It’s not that far—probably a 7 minute walk. I went back to my house for my phone and called her again.
There ensued a confusing conversation about where she was and what she needed to buy. Midway through it, I thought she wanted a school desk, which made no sense at all. It ended up that she wanted a school uniform. This is just an example. Meanwhile, I couldn’t figure out quite where she was. By then, I think things had begun to go wrong. I was frustrated. It’s possible she was really hurt. She said something about buying her things herself. I told her to come outside because I didn’t know which house she meant she was in. She wouldn’t come outside. “My grandmother is calling me. She wants lunch.”
Apparently, a series of calls went on and someone else told her to come outside also. I can’t figure out how that happened, but apparently it did.
She wouldn’t come. I found her anyway.
She was eating when I came in. I kind of hugged her head and kissed her. I said something, but I don’t know what it was now. Her cousin asked if I wanted tea. I said no. Her cousin asked C in the local language what she should do. Tea or no tea? I understood, but didn’t intervene. C said yes. C and her grandmother ate lunch quickly. The tea eventually came, but it seemed to take much longer for me to drink it than for them to eat. When I seemed ready to go, C asked, “Did you finish?” The tone was polite. There was a different mood now. Maybe we had both calmed down.
I need to stop things somehow before they spiral like that. I need to be able to say it’s getting confusing now and we are both frustrated. Or something. It wasn’t a disaster, but it didn’t need to happen like that. I am not really sure how, but I need to be able to do that.
We went shopping for her things after that. It felt very different than when I had seen her before. I think, really, something had changed before she left, but I never processed it. An acceptance perhaps. It felt that way. A sense that I am expected and normal, rather than something she is afraid will disappear at any second. It felt really weird, and then after it registered, nice. There was also some other feeling about it. I think it was maybe that she didn’t seem scared. She was with her grandmother, and she is comfortable with her. She feels loved. I hadn’t realized the feeling of needing to protect C was coming from a feeling that C is afraid. It’s not all my own issues. My own issues are intersecting with current reality and making it all more complicated, but it’s not just me sorting out the past.
It didn’t take long to buy everything she needed and we headed back to her uncle’s house—he was approaching with his car. They loaded her things up and I left her then. She said, “Thank you for everything.” It’s hard to get across the tone of it. It was really heartfelt. I reminded her I would go up to the high school in the morning with her documents and meet her.
In the morning, I saw VP Ma’am before school. She said I needed to write a letter to the admission committee. The principal was still out of town—she had called him, which was really very nice of her to do. I hadn’t thought of that. Anyway, the decision would be handled by the committee without him. Some other stuff happened too, but anyway the main thing is I wrote the letter and then I walked up to the school. I met C’s neighbour on the way—his daughter is C’s best friend. He was going to request admission for her also. He said I was doing a good thing for C. She is having a hard time. I suppose that was nice. I didn’t take it in at all.
Later, I began to realize moments like that make me feel really angry. A lot of what motivates me with C is a sort of fury. I am not doing a nice thing for C. I am doing what someone ought to be doing. And I suppose everyone sees that her dad drinks—it seems he is drinking himself to death in a very quick fashion—and he gambles and that C has too much responsibility. You can’t do all that much about these things. There isn’t exactly AA here. You can’t tell the mother to stay home more and do a bit more of the laundry herself. You can enable, I guess, and keep giving the family money, but these other matters are more complex.
What I am doing is perhaps responding to something to issues no one else sees, although I can’t quite articulate what they are. Noticing that she needs to feel protected by someone, that she needs continuity and stability in relationships. If I weren’t responding to something of the emotional issues involved for her, the practical matter of her attending school away from her parents would never have happened. I wouldn’t take it on as a responsibility: the risk would feel too great. It’s only because I built a certain kind of relationship with her and really with her family also that I was able to get her here. So maybe I feel righteously angry over something no one else could really address.
I saw C standing by the wall around the assembly ground—I sent someone to get her, but I saw her before he reached her. There was some confusion about a form. We discussed that, but didn’t reach any conclusion about it. Or I didn’t. “Let’s go.” So we went into the conference room to meet the admission committee.
I went with her and stood before the Vice Principal. He read the letter and then asked questions the letter answered. It was odd. Then he said she should be with her parents. I said there are small kids at home. She doesn’t get time to study. He said she should stay with me. I said her parents would not feel comfortable with her walking to school every day in case something happened to her on the way.
C began to cry a little. There were no tears, but I could hear sniffling. It was horrible. He said it would be taken into consideration what I said, which sounded less with promising. He said I could go. I stood around helplessly for a minute, watching C stand in the line to see the committee. I know she can’t explain anything well in any language. She would just get shy and go silent. So I was really very worried. The Vice Principal said again that I could go. I left then. There wasn’t anything I could do.
I went back to the school and suffered through the afternoon, not knowing. But VP Ma’am said we could meet the Vice Principal in the evening. After school, we had tea at her house, bought some things to take to him (as people do), caught a taxi and went. He said right away she was admitted and accepted as boarder. I guess he had been trying to tell me that earlier, but I had no idea. We left after 5 minutes.
We stopped at the girl’s hostel on the way down. I wanted to tell C. She wouldn’t know, and I was certain she would feel very anxious until she did know. We got out of the taxi and VP Ma’am called to some girls sitting outside to tell them to get C. C came out of the hostel door in National Dress, hair wet, a towel wrapped around her neck—running. I know she was anxious to hear what must be news, but I also had the feeling she was running to meet me. There was a very strong feeling about it, of my little girl running to see me.
The strange thing about these things is they never feel the way I expect them to or the way someone else would expect it to. I mean, you might expect a sense of satisfaction about it, a kind of ego boost. But for me the strongest feeling was a sense of unreality, like this couldn’t be happening and also of sadness. None of this registered at the time. I stood there and watched her, and had no idea what I really felt or why. Just something. I had some kind of feeling inside.
When she got part of the way to me, she saw VP Ma’am and she went past me to talk to her. VP Ma’am scolded her: She said you are thanking me, but you should be thanking her. So C did. She thanked me a few times, I guess. VP Ma’am said some things in the Regional Language. I guess she was explaining I went to see the Vice Principal, that I took him biscuits and juice. Whatever. She thinks these things are important. Country X culture. Again, whatever. VP Ma’am lectured C a bit about living up to my expectations or something.
We left after that.
That’s what happened. What I felt is maybe a different thing. As it occurred, I had a dim awareness of feelings and of certain things being important in those moments. I suppose I acted on my feelings sometimes: I was rather pleading with the Vice Principal in the conference room, but I also felt angry at him and I didn’t act on my anger at all. I am certain it didn’t show. There was a degree of restraint based on common sense. I did not say anything to C after we got confirmation of her boardership. I didn’t know what to say, so then I didn’t say anything. It’s not a total disconnect between feelings and actions, but it’s also not impulsive reaction. It is somewhat that middle ground. However, it seems clear to me that something important is not happening at these times when I have a lot of strong feelings. I don’t really feel them, even if I react to them as if I do feel them. I don’t know, in the moment, anything much of what my feelings are about. I hope this will improve as time goes on. I hope I don’t always end up storing my days up to feel and process later. It’s not really all that efficient to do it in sections this way. In the moment, though, I just can’t process things. Maybe I’m regulating a little better, even if I am not processing anything. I hope so.
Later, I was thinking of that moment when C came running to me. It was so intensely evocative, and it seems to encapsulate so many elements of everything that was important that happened. There is that layer of her running to me specifically, that feeling of my little girl running to meet me—I had that feeling about it—but I almost can’t reach that level of feeling, because there are other feelings over it that seem to be so much stronger. I don’t quite know what they are. I thought I would try to unravel them. I think they are important.
One part of it really is something I felt very strongly at the end of last year: No one I would want to be here to see C is actually around to do that. It was such a long road to get her here, and it was so difficult. It was difficult for me mainly emotionally. In order to take the steps I needed to take, I had to keep things on an even keel despite so much upset and confusion and so many things it triggered. It feels like a huge accomplishment to me; in some ways the greatest accomplishment I have ever had, even though it’s only the beginning of something. Nothing much has happened yet, but she’s here. I went to all this effort to get her here, talked again and again to her parents and to different people. Maybe that says something to her about mattering. I don’t know. I hope so.
It’s enough anyway a possibility—that I did something just to get her here—that it sparks that sense of loss again. The people I wish I could see me acting in the world can’t see me. They can’t see her. It’s okay, but I feel very sad.
It seems to me when I wanted to “heal” before I assumed healing meant I wouldn’t need to feel sad anymore. I think now it doesn’t mean that. I will still feel sad, but it isn’t devastating. It might be that the sadness is not as strong, but I suspect I can manage it better. Something is going on inside that makes sadness easier to bear and also more like just normal life, where people are sad sometimes, but it isn’t life-threatening.
It makes sense to me that I would feel loss over this, but it’s not really what I would expect. I wouldn’t expect the dominant feeling I had as she came running towards me to be sadness, but that is what it was. So that feels strange to me, to have these feelings that make sense only if you know very personal things about my history. It is not what anyone who might know me somewhat, but not intimately, would say. If I tell someone she got admitted as a boarder, they will say I must be happy. They don’t ever guess I would be sad although it’s unquestionably a good thing that happened. There is a strange sense that I have the wrong feelings. I must be making it up somehow, or be sad for some other reason. But this is me. It’s my feeling.
There is a strange sense, I guess, of being disallowed because of this. I am not the only one who has that kind of feeling. Anyone who has lost a whole community will have it. It’s not part of the ether, somehow, the way feeling a fear of loss would be. I mean, it would make more sense if I felt a good thing happening made me anxious about losing it. I would be lying, though, if I said I felt that way. It would be a reasonable way to feel, but I just don’t. I am sure I will feel nervous sometimes at all the things that might go wrong, but really it seems to me that the hard part is over. What remains are the things I feel more confident about doing. How to get a child admitted to school I didn’t have a clue about. What she needs to take to hostel I didn’t have a clue about. But I have had many conversations with difficult, upset teenagers. I have talked to many, many parents about their frustrations about how to discipline their kids. It might be this should not make me feel confident at all: none of that is really preparation for being a parent. Still, I just feel so much less worried about it than I did about what to do with her transfer certificate.
Then also that moment made me realize something about my need to protect her, that it’s not just about my past and all the people I couldn’t help. It connects to that and past events made everything more confusing and overwhelming, but I had that feeling of needing to protect her because she seemed to need to be protected. I say that because I saw a change in her as she ran out of the hostel. It wasn’t just happiness, because she hoped she would be getting a positive answer, but an absence of fear. It was something different about her body, an absence of tension in it, that was very different from how she seemed at home almost all of the time and different from how she often seemed at school. And the fact is I don’t feel worried about her right now. It’s not just that I feel reassured, but that she seemed to feel safe there at school. That feeling of safety in her was there when we were shopping and more there when I saw her that evening at her hostel. I was worried all of the time that C was not safe because she herself did not feel safe, and this had not registered at all for me. I thought it was entirely my own issue, and it is somewhat. I get unnecessarily afraid, for example, when I can’t find her or don’t know where she is. That’s a huge trigger that I don’t think has anything much to do with her. That is not about her. But other things are about her. Not about real danger, but my recognition of her perception of danger.
It makes me feel differently about some of the ways I behaved with her when she was at the lower school that before I had thought were misguided. I watched her a lot, for one thing. I feel differently about that now.
I do actually watch students nearly all the time I am with them. I never relax and leave them out of my awareness. I am looking to see what they are doing—if they are safe, mainly, or doing anything too much against the rules. I especially watched C, sometimes to enjoy her play, but mostly for the same reasons I watch other students only more so. Just to see she was safe. I had been thinking that was really not the right thing. It must have made her feel paranoid, but I think now it didn’t. I think now she needed that. She needed the experience you normally have as a small child when your parent is watching you to keep you safe. You go to the playground maybe and your mom sits on a park bench and gossips with the other moms, but you know she is watching you. When you fall down and cry, she appears like magic, because she is there and because she was watching. Just as I did. C cried at school and I appeared, as if by magic, because in some way I was watching her even when she was not physically within the range of my gaze and I knew and I came.
Perhaps she had not had anyone to make sure she was safe at some important stage in her life and she needed it. But I think it made a difference. I think she felt safer within the boundaries of my gaze and I think it helped to build the relationship. I think it must have been part of what helped me to feel safe when I was small: the girls watched me at least to control who I was with and how I interacted with them, and unconsciously I imitated that with someone who also seemed to need to be kept safe. Maybe. I think that might have happened.
The other feeling I have about the whole last few days is that it is just not possible. So many things do not feel possible. I think perhaps there is the normal vague disbelief at a very hard task getting completed—I mean some things just never feel like they will ever get done—and maybe that is layered over with pain from the past at more horrifying things that seemed impossible for quite different reasons. It feels sad to me, the sense of disbelief, but it’s a different sadness than the feelings of loss. Maybe the sadness is from the past: I am so in disbelief I feel sad about it. Basically, I think I’m feeling disbelief at the impossible. In this situation, it’s a good outcome. In other situations, it was not. Disbelief need not be a bad thing. It need not make one feel sad, but it in the past, it really did.
The other thing on my mind, that connects to the disbelief, is a sense that I must be too damaged to help someone. If I am trying to help, it must be to aid my own sense of self-importance or to gain control over someone I see as being more vulnerable than myself. It can’t be that I actually care. There isn’t any way to argue with that logic though. We know about our own motivations from what we tell ourselves, and if ourselves can lie all bets are off. It might be that. Another part of me just doesn’t believe this though. At a feeling level, it just doesn’t feel true. One reason it doesn’t feel true is that I know I am trying to help, but I can’t say that I really am. The difference in her is palpable. She feels safe. I know she does. But feelings like that don’t necessarily last. She might feel safe today but not next week. She might feel safe but make other disastrous decisions. I don’t know if I am really helping her. I might be. The feelings I have are stirred up just at the idea that I could be, that I am trying to, and I succeeded in making the first step along that way. It’s hard to let go of my old assumptions, that people are basically selfish, that I am basically selfish, even though it doesn’t match my personal experience. It’s true that people try to help and then get angry that the helpee is not cooperative or appropriately grateful, but I have a different theory about it. We feel afraid, and we step up control. Then there are further problems because other people inevitably dislike that kind of control. Well, there is a solution to that. You are nice to yourself and bring the fear down. The solution isn’t to stop helping necessarily, but to pay attention to your level of fear, and to notice that the need to control is an expression of fear and to respond to fear with soothing.
Anyway, there’s more, but I’m tired now. I have a lot of catching up to do.