Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Verónica's mom.

"That's Verónica's mom," they murmur to me, as we pull up to a small, garbage-filled park by a traffic circle. They nod at a tiny woman sitting on a bench with a group of men. She is dirty, tired-looking. I know her to be in her early thirties, but her size suggests she could be one of our girls; yet her drug-aged face suggests she has lived through decades more.

Verónica's mom?? Stories flood back to me...


"Why is Verónica here? She's younger than the other girls we normally have."

"She doesn't have anywhere else to go." Gladys explained to me about Verónica's mom: a street girl herself, Verónica born when she was just fourteen. Verónica, as a baby and toddler, sleeping on the sidewalk on the street corners, as traffic screeched by and drunk men called out terrifying things, laughing.

"Verónica was referred to us at ten, and we keep her longer than most... she just doesn't have anywhere else to go."

"Do they have contact?"

"Yes. Sometimes. She's visited."

"Does she love her?"

Gladys paused. Her composure fell a bit.

"Yes. Yes, she loves her." She nodded. "She loves her... but... she doesn't know how to be a mom."


"Hermano, why aren't the girls allowed to get phone calls at the house anymore?"

"We can't screen them all, to make sure they're good for them. Verónica, for instance. Her mom calls, sometimes. We used to let Verónica talk to her. But her mom would be drunk, or on drugs... or, often, she'd have just been beaten up by a boyfriend. And Verónica would cry and cry and want to go to her. She'd say she needed to go take care of her." 

It's our job to protect you, hija. We can't let you go to her. We know you love her, we know you want her to be okay. But it's not your job to protect her. It's our job to protect you. It's our job to keep you safe. Because we love you. We're sorry, hija. We can't let you go to her right now. We're so sorry.


"Verónica, it's your turn to go on a date with me. Just you and me! We can go anywhere in the city you want. Where do you want to go?"

The other girls, on their turns, wanted ice cream, or the park nearby with swings and slides. They were giggly and chatty, excited to be out alone with a worker, excited for attention and a treat.

Verónica was quiet. We got in a taxi and she explained to the driver exactly where to go, in fast Spanish I couldn't follow. We got out in la Cancha, the open air market. Without hesitation, she led me through the stalls, past the stores, to a dark, less populated section I'd never been to before. She pointed to a small, faded sign advertising fried chicken, and we entered the restaurant. "My mom used to take me here when I was little."

It was dim and dank inside. The food was cheap, just pennies for our meal, really, and when it came it was stale and the worker didn't smile, just tossed it on the soiled table and walked away.

I tried to make conversation with her, ask her about school and friends, but, uncharacteristically, she was almost silent, giving me one-word answers. Eventually I gave up, and we just sat together. She ate slowly, staring around her at the surroundings. Drinking them in, I realized suddenly. Given anywhere in the city, she wanted to come back here. Where she used to come often, with her mom.


Verónica, squeezing her eyes shut as she earnestly prayed out loud before a meal, thanking Papito Dios for how He provides for us. Verónica, begging to choose music to play as we did chores in the morning, always campaigning for reggaetón; Verónica, exlaiming, "Hermana! I have red hair dye! Can we streak your hair?".

Verónica, the girl who had been there the longest and who, though they'd never admit it, I think the staff think of most as their real daughter. Verónica, in Albergue the whole time I was on HNGR, and still there last summer when I came to visit. Eleven months ago, the day I flew away from Bolivia for the second time, she pressed a note into my hand at the airport. "Thank you Hermana Emily for spending time with us... I love you so much."

Verónica, now out of the house, working, finishing school. Verónica, living on her own in her very own apartment, but she comes back to visit every Sunday afternoon. Verónica, Gonzalo told me on this visit: "She broke the cycle. She used to want to go back to the streets. Now, when she has time to go 'home', she doesn't go to the streets anymore. When she needs something, she wants to come to Albergue."


"That's Verónica's mom," they murmur to me, as we pull up to a small, dirty park by a traffic circle...

Verónica's mom... and though at our last stop on the streets, interacting with people unbathed and visibly drugged, I had felt uncomfortable and out of place, suddenly I am pushing out of the car, walking up to her, needing to see her face, to connect... Verónica's mom, and  I am suddenly reaching for her, introducing myself, looking deep into her eyes, somehow feeling like I owe her something, like I need to apologize. Most of all... I just want to know her. This woman... Verónica's mom.

I reach her, and then I stumble, falter. "Hola... me llamo Emily... yo conozco tu hija." I know your daughter.

She looks at me, nods. A slight, hazy smile, through a face I know to be aged by drugs, by street life, by more pain and less connection than probably I could imagine.

"Mi hija, conoces? Verónica es."

"Sí... Verónica... ella es muy preciosa a mi." Your daughter is precious to me.

I grab Asharae. "Ash. Can you take a photo of us? I want a photo with Verónica's mom."

Why? I don't know. This woman is the mother of someone I love. Someone I have gotten to have a tiny part in getting to care for. This woman standing in front of me, loves this girl we love... she loves her so much more than my twenty-three-year-old, childless heart can fathom. And yet we were the ones who got to raise her. I, a twenty-one-year-old American college student, got to feed her dinner and laugh with her and hear about her school day. I got to watch her pray before meals and see the results of her experiments with hair dye, got to hear her dancing to pop songs with her friends and giggling as she played tricks on Hermano Gonzalo.

I put my arm around Verónica's mom's shoulders. She grins at the camera, a gap-toothed, stoned smile.

"Gracias," I say to her, "Gracias,"... and I think I am thanking her for her daughter.

I'm sorry, I want to say, though I don't know why.

Because Albergue gets her now, and you don't. Not in the same way.
Because your life is this dirty park and these men who hit you;
because of the opportunities I've had, the life I was born into... someday when I have my babies I will get to raise them myself, but you didn't have anyone to teach you how to do that.

"Ella es muy preciosa a mi..." what else can I say to her? Why should she care what some young, American girl has to say about her child? "...I pray for your daughter."

She looks at me. Then looks away. "Sí... sí. Pray she will get off the streets. Not like me."


"Does she love her?"

"...Yes. Yes, she loves her."

"Pray she will get off the streets. Not like me."


tony sheng said...


mpm said...

Gripping stuff, Em.

Praying for you.

Anonymous said...

.thanks for sharing

Remer said...

Love you, Em

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing, em. so powerful.

Human Needs Global Resources Covenant, 2009

As fellow travelers on this journey, we commit to this covenant before God. Lord, in Your mercy, hear these our prayers:

When confronted with scarcity, need, and inadequacy, may we be nourished by the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation. Abundance overflows from Your table, sustaining all who come in faith. Father, help us.

When monotony blurs our vision and dulls our senses, may we encounter others as Christ did, through intentional presence in daily life, submitting as clay to be formed into vessels filled with the Spirit. Christ, guide us.

When wounded by the fractured condition of Your people, may we be united by Your Lordship in faith, hope, and love; seeing, as through the facets of a diamond, the beautiful spectrum of Your light reflected onto Your holy Church joined in praise. Spirit, empower us.

When all Creation groans, afflicted by injustice and driven to despair, may the promise of redemption root us in the hope of Your Kingdom: "Behold, I am making all things new!"

Holy Trinity, send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve You with gladness and singleness of heart.