C didn’t read my texts all day. She didn’t read them in the morning before school, and she didn’t read them in that little window after school when she has in the past, and she hadn’t read them by the time I went to bed. So I decided in my head it must have gotten too painful to even look at them, and I will need to be patient until the pain subsides. Then in the night—I went to bed at 8, and this was still only around 9 or 10—I checked again and she had read them.

Revise. Maybe she had a busy day. Or maybe, since I had said, “Be good and study,” she actually was trying to be good and study and detach herself from her phone a little more. I don’t know. But I saw the message had been delivered and I felt all warm and safe. The little voice in my head said, “My baby is safe.” I couldn’t sleep for a long time, because I was happy. I had this energy all through my body and it seemed stupid to shut it down just so I could sleep, because I hardly ever get to have that feeling.

I think it’s really difficult and painful to feel that the people I love now can be safe. It’s possible for them to be safe, and it brings up a lot of the same kinds of grief as the feeling I am safe now brings up. If it is possible for people to be safe now, then it points out how wrong it was that the girls I grew up with were not safe. It makes it so clearly not inevitable and not just what happens in life, but the result of individual and societal malevolence and neglect.

What happened to all of them was the result of individual sociopathy, societal xenophobia and societal attitudes about sex trafficking that blame the victim. Someone else trafficked under different circumstances will have different reasons for their victimization to make sense of, but that is what happened to my friends and to some extent me, because as soon as I was with Russian child prostitutes, I was assumed to be one. There was no reason to think I wasn’t. We ought to have been safe and protected, but factors converged into our not being safe, and that happens. One form of victimization—like parental abuse of children—creates a vulnerability to other forms of victimization—like trafficking. Children who are not protected by their parents are often less protected by society at large.

I am sure that is why I intervened with C. Parental abuse was making her vulnerable to other kinds of victimization. It wasn’t happening yet, but it began to emerge as something likely. Traffickers had found her online: that was really clear. Sociopathic boyfriends were on the horizon. Nothing had happened, but it was going to, and it was going to add to her burden. She was going to have many kinds of victimization to heal from and not just childhood abuse. Most of us do have that, because our parents who did not protect us from themselves and their destructive impulses don’t protect us from other people’s either, and they don’t teach us how to protect ourselves. They teach us we are powerless and can, at best, grit our teeth and wait for the abuser to stop. They don’t teach us how to form relationships so that our social support gives us insulation against life’s bumps and bruises. There is so much more they do than hurt us themselves.

I don’t think I had any idea how attached to her I would become, but I saw that window of opportunity, before her pain had really become compounded, and I stepped in. Because it doesn’t really have to be like that. We can actually intervene in children’s lives to protect them, even when they have shitty parents. We cannot do everything, but we can do some things. And that brings up a lot of grief. It’s possible, but it didn’t happen for the people I loved. It didn’t happen for me, and it didn’t happen for them either. No one, essentially, gave a shit about them. I got a little bit more support. I had school and teachers to help me. But it really did not happen for them at all.

So there is just a lot of grief. I was happy last night, feeling C was safe, but it brought up a lot of grief. I didn’t feel the grief, but I knew it was there, because I was dissociating. I could feel the dissociation. I knew I was feeling only one feeling of several feelings. I was shutting the other feelings down to have that one.

It’s not that easy for me to be happy. Coping with happiness and not being scared it will bring disaster down on my head is enough.

Another student had posted they had a “marathon” today (a cross-country race). Actually, C cannot run. She is good at sports, but she has no endurance. Her cardiovascular system is not in good shape, although she is very strong and she has good coordination. So a race is not going to be her best event, and it might be she won’t be running. Anyway, I just sent her a text: Remember whatever you do, I am thinking of you and cheering you on. I love you. Have a good day.

It made me think there is this difference between kind of checking boxes in how you relate to someone, like this is how to be a good person. I am going to do these things or say these things because I am a good person or would like to see myself that way. There is a difference between that and thinking about the way someone really feels and what might actually have meaning for them. In some ways, we are all the same, at least within our own culture. We call that manners. For example, no American wants you to take their things without asking (in Country X, it is frequently just fine. People take my stuff without asking and I take theirs.) It helps us get along with strangers, to have these general rules about things. But if you extend that thinking to your personal life, it treats everyone basically like a widget, as though we are all paper cutouts or something, and not individuals with our own thoughts and feelings. When I first began to take on a parental role with C, I was very widget with her. I kept thinking about what was expected of me, what I ought to expect of her. I didn’t have empathy to rely on as much, because empathy takes feelings, and I was dissociating mine. It takes imagining how the other person feels or might feel if you do a particular thing.

I thought of this in the morning, because I had a very tender feeling for C at that moment of writing the text and I wanted to tack on an endearment. Sometimes I call her baby, because she is my baby, but I thought in that moment it’s going to raise feelings of vulnerability for her, and it might be too much for her to handle right now. I won’t do that. She is getting the tenderness I feel in the fact of the text. I am expressing it. It is okay to hold back in expressing some of that feeling to her in consideration of her feelings.

I think there is a difference between that kind of consideration of someone’s individual feelings and pretzelling yourself. Maybe it’s just a matter of degree. I don’t know. But things don’t feel good when the care you are getting is not really care, when it is just someone ticking boxes on how to be a good person, because that is not responding to you. It is only responding to themselves, and I think that was the only kind of care I got as a child, was my parents ticking boxes on how to be a good person. None of what they did was responsiveness to me.