Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Extraordinary Girls

I think I just got a taste of what it feels like to have kids, and it was heartwrenching. It's one thing to deal with your own heartache. It's quite another thing to deal with the effects of that heartache on a child, or in my case, on two teenagers. How do you parents out there do it?

I've spoken before a little bit about the two extraordinary young women that I've become close with while working on their asylum case over the last 9 months. For purposes of this blog, I'll refer to them as Leila and Zahra, which of course are aliases, as are all of the names I use on my blog. Several months ago, the girls made the decision to leave their family in order to protect themselves from further abuse and probable death in their home country. Since that time, they have been living in a confidential domestic violence shelter, cut off from everyone except for me, my co-counsel, and a team of counselors and social workers trying to help them transition from a life of hopelessness, isolation, and abuse into one of empowerment, independence, and self-sufficiency. These girls are two of the strongest, most amazing people I have ever met, and it has been incredible to watch them grow over the last several months.

I see them about once a week, and always try to do something special with them. We go out into the city, spend time in the park, see a movie, go out to dinner, or just laze around my apartment chatting and watching movies. I love spending time with them. Two weekends ago, I took them for haircuts - their first professional haircuts ever! It was so much fun, and thank goodness they were both happy with their cuts. Having survived many a traumatic haircut, I had told them they could do whatever they wanted (short of a perm), as long as there were no tears. Of course I had nothing to worry about. They came armed with pictures and single-minded determination. It was so cool.

The day we went for haircuts was about a week and a half after Raj and I had broken up. I was very sad at the time, but hid it away because I didn't want to bring any additional stress or sadness to the girls. They've been through far too much already. During the last several months, while spending time with me, they had also spent time with Raj and gotten to know him a little. I was worried that they may have grown attached, or that they might be affected in some other negative way from having someone close to them (me) go through what I knew they would see as a traumatic situation. They know what it means to lose people.

I finally had to tell them tonight because, with all of the time I've had to spend on the moving process, I haven't been able to see them for about two weeks and they were starting to wonder. Though strong, they are also sensitive and fragile, and the last thing I wanted to do was to allow them to think I didn't want to spend time with them this week. So, I had to come clean. I told them that Raj and I had broken up, and that I had been very busy dealing with looking for apartments and packing.

They were shocked and both of them started to cry. They told me that they had thought Raj and I were going to get married, that we seemed so close. They remarked that Raj had spent time with my family, that I had spent time with his, and that I knew "everything" about Indian culture (*smile*). They wanted to know what had happened, why we weren't together, and what problems we had had. Delilah asked, "Is it because of us?," which was horribly gut-wrenching and made me feel terribly guilty. She (erroneously) thought Raj might have been upset at the amount of time I had spent with them, and I did my best to reassure her that my break-up had absolutely nothing to do with her and her sister. Both of them wanted to know if I was okay.

It took about an hour, but I finally convinced them that I was totally fine, that I was excited about the future, that the loss of Raj and our relationship was sad but that I believed that it was for the best. It was an Oscar-winning performance, that though genuine, hid the sadness that I of course still feel. Even when Delilah said through her tears, "But you're going to be alone at night. You're going to remember and you're going to be sad," I did not waver. I admitted that parts of it were going to be hard and sad, but I convinced her that I was absolutely 100% certain that I was going to be happy being on my own, focusing on myself for a while, having tons of girl-time, and surrounding myself with positive people and things. By the end of our conversation, I had them laughing about the silliness of boys and picturing the three of us having tea on my new balcony. I was laughing too.

I feel terrible that I allowed a situation to develop in which they experienced hurt. I allowed them to spend time with Raj, to see us together as a couple, to get used to me being with him. I imagine this is a bit of what a single parent would feel like after allowing her children to get close to her boyfriend, and then having to tell them that they were never going to see the boyfriend again because the relationship had ended. Children need to be treated with care, and I wonder if I treated them with enough care in allowing them so far into my life that they could be affected by the end of my relationship?

Hopefully, they'll take more positives than negatives away from this. I want them to know that they do not need a relationship to be happy, and that they can be completely fulfilled and happy on their own. This is incredibly important for them to believe, because they do not have anyone except for each other. It's also incredibly important for all girls to believe (fine, boys too, but boys generally have no problem internalizing this lesson). Happiness starts from within. That's what I've always believed, even in the times when it's been hard to find.

I know, that despite my recent heartache, ultimately I'm going to be completely fine. That's what I'm going to try to show them; that you can go through loss, allow yourself to experience the sadness of that loss, and then come out the other side even stronger and more extraordinary than you were before.


Anonymous said...

You are such a blessing to those two girls. You've been a vital part of helping them have a bright future.

gravelly said...

I agree totally with star shine! You are amazing, Buttercup!

Ally Bean said...

Such an unexpected turn of events that your break-up would affect those two girls! I'm sure that they'll take the positive away from this as you explained it so thoroughly to them. They may be young in age, but are very wise in experience.

Gypsy said...

I think you handled things with the girls (heck, and with Raj, too!) with remarkable aplomb.

And you really will be fine. You already are extraordinary.

InterstellarLass said...

I think it's a true testament to the person you are that they had so much concern for you. I think you've handled it all very well, and you're an excellent role model for them. Kudos to you. You rock.