I sat on a pile of concrete fence posts across from her. She juggles her baby, almost a year old now, she says. She doesn't really know because the baby's father has taken all of her birth records.
I ask her to tell me how she came to be "married".
"I was 12," she says, "I had only had my period 3 times. He called me to come in and lay down with him. I thought he just meant to lay together like children do. But he had sex with me. I bled a lot, it really hurt. The next day I couldn't even sit down. But didn't take me to the doctor or anything."
Her parents didn't know at first, because this happened far away at a cousin's house. But then they sent her to live with him because sex equals marriage around here, or at least, an obligation on the part of the man to care for the girl.
This is how she ended up married to a man twice her age and living at his house. His mother called her a prostitute when first she met her. He beat her, didn't feed her, and eventually she ended up pregnant. When he threatened to hurt the baby she left. Now she lives with her parents, who welcomed her back.
I go from this conversation, next to a row of one room wooden shacks near a construction yard, to the shopping mall to pay some bills, and pick up a few last minute gifts for my oldest daughter. I buy her a dress, reflecting that this may be my last year shopping for her in the girls section. I saw a hint of a developing waist and hips when she was in the bath the other day.
I go home, and my husband and I cook a birthday feast for this girl who is now 11. We visit with our guests, celebrate our daughter, and go to bed.
My heart feels like it lives in separate pieces. One piece is laying on the floor weeping for the girl who was raped when she was still a child, and then endured living with and being beaten by her rapist, giving birth to a child, becoming a mother, when she was way too young. I try to resist the urge to insulate myself against this tragedy, to keep it at a distance.
Another piece is celebrating my lovely daughter growing older. She's a wonderful, clever, inventive, brave child.
While watching her laugh and eat cake, part of my brain is busy thinking of all the ways that I would exact justice, or at least revenge, from the body of a man who dared to touch her, the way I want to do for the the girl I sat with that morning. That's the part that's fighting back the fear caused by the inescapable knowledge of what a vulnerable thing it is to be a girl, a young woman, here, there, anywhere.
I don't want her to become a woman. I know girlhood doesn't stop some men, but it feels like a defense to me nonetheless.
I've watched men leer at her already, as she rides shotgun in the car with me. She's obliviously telling me some story about her cat, and I have to swallow down the rage I feel to answer her lightly, to listen to her story.
My heart is keeping all these pieces separate. I'm trying to hold them all together.
I'm afraid, and sad, and angry, and joyful and even thankful. These feelings, they don't fit together. They bang against each other and make me uneasy. And yet, my heart has room for them all.
I wrote this 2 months ago. I didn't publish it, as I don't publish many things these days. I wasn't sure if I should. Ijust had to write it down to get it out of my heart. But here it is. This was a hard day, and a happy day, all at once and jumbled up together. Somehow, I live with that tension.