She came for an interview today. Arrived a proper 5 minutes early, waiting in the car until just the right moment. She was young. Very young and slightly awkward socially. Care had been taken with her outfit; she had done a lot with the little she had, dressing up inexpensive, worn pieces with a scarf, intricately woven and tied neatly around her neck. Her gratitude over being considered for our open position was obviously heart-felt. She didn’t have any of the required experience and she knew it. Nothing to offer but willing hands. And her hands were shaking.
As we began to talk, it quickly became obvious she was not a typical carefree young person. Clearly, she was not like her average peers. I could feel her fear and struggle over what to share. Over how to share it while still being honest. How to phrase her thoughts without causing a potential employer to immediately reject her. Her voice trembled slightly. Hands held in her lap remained tightly clasp. Her back, ram-rod straight. Her feet were placed tightly together and were positioned side-by-side flat on the floor. Though she tried to make steady eye contact, she faltered. She would look at me for a moment, after which her expressive eyes fell quickly back to the table sitting between us.
Her only job experience had been accumulated while working for her parents in a string of unrelated business ventures that evidently failed with some degree of regularity. She had worked hard at those jobs. Cleaning stadiums. Cutting down trees with a chainsaw. Securing the trees by ropes placed to ensure they fell in the right direction. I found it difficult to imagine her even lifting a chainsaw, much less using one, especially considering her slight build and tiny arms. But she spoke with knowledge hard won. The knowledge of someone who had been there, had done the work and survived to tell the tale.
Her family formed a band, a musical group, playing in a small geographic region, disbanding at the point when they were finally being recognized. She wrote songs for the group and sang them from her heart. Her dream was to reach someone. To touch them deeply. I thought of all the songs I wrote when I was younger. How we shared the same dream. Exactly the same dream, her words an echo of my own.
She was unlike me. So unlike me in many ways. Yet so very much like me in other glaring and significant ways.
Her father viewed her as his property. She was not permitted to do anything outside his authority and he didn’t respect her as an individual. As a person. She had to obey. He demanded it. Demanded she do as she was told. Work hard. Contribute. Submit. The only time she was heard was when she had an idea that would ultimately save him money. These kinds of ideas were permissible. Ideas about what constituted right and wrong or what was fair were not permissible. She was his to use.
So unlike me. So unlike me in some ways. But so very like me in many profound aspects.
She doesn’t know “being loved.” She doesn’t know what it feels like to be protected. Cherished. Simply for who she is; not what she does. She doesn’t know she matters.
Two months ago, she broke free, flew away, and is now trying to get a foothold so she can begin to work her way forward to the starting line. The place where “normal” people begin their journey in life. She’s clawing for something to grab hold of. Trying to sort through the mess she sees in her mind when she looks inside herself. She’s trying to understand. To figure out what to keep and what to toss away. Trying to put all the pieces together, in hopes her soul will miraculously have prevailed.
Oh, God. So like me in so many of the terrible details.
As we talked, I felt my eyes growing moist. I fought the urge, staying focused on business. The job we were filling. The requirements. Her ability to fulfill those requirements. But, as I walked her to the door, I did something I have never done in my 30-year career. I encouraged her to seek help and support. Now, while she is young. Now. Because it can change the course of her life. Because no one can rebuild themselves alone. No one can do it without love. Without finding a place and a person of safety.
And then, I gave her the precious words my grandmother gave me when I was a child of six, sharing my very first poem with her. I told her to never stop writing. I told her I had also had a rough start. That writing had saved my life so many times when it was all I had…and I found it to be enough. Writing pulled me through. So, I told her to never, never, never stop writing. To never let that go.
She began to cry quietly, fighting it, as was I. With tears in our eyes, we hugged, holding each other for a long time. And as I held her, she repeated over and over again, “You understand. You know.”
Yes, little bird, you who finally found your wings. Who survived and now has flown away at last. I know. I do know. With every fiber of my being, I know. And I will do whatever I can to lift you up so you can eventually fly further and higher than I have ever been able to soar.