Haunted by Anna

It was a gorgeous day to canvass for my fave candidate for public office. Clear blue sky, plenty of sunshine, and a stiff breeze that took the edge off the heat. I drove to the Party HQ, pleased to have such fine weather while I walked my community.

Imagine my amusement when I ended up with a canvass packet for my own neighborhood. Once I finished with my street, I headed to the next one over. I knocked on the first door. Standing on the front stoop while waiting for someone to come to the door, I noticed a lot of yelling coming from the house across the street. An irate woman was screaming at someone inside. She came to the door, threw some household items out onto the sidewalk and lawn, and ducked back in, yelling the whole while.

I thought maybe she was kicking out her boyfriend. A minute later, the yelling woman reappeared, tossing a stuffed trash bag on the ground by the street. I had the distinct impression that it contained someone’s personal effects. The woman went back into the house, continuing to yell. Nobody was home at the house I was canvassing. I left the literature in the storm door and walked toward the street. As I approached the gate, a slight movement to my left caught my attention.

It was then I noticed the little blonde girl, sitting on a wall at the edge of the yard. Her arms were crossed in front of her, legs drawn in closely, protectively. Her little face, half hidden behind overgrown bangs, bore an expression of tension and fear.

I had to go talk to her. In order to get close to the little girl, I had to stand in the neighbor’s driveway, next to the wall where she was sitting. With me standing there, and her on the wall, we were at each other’s eye level.

But the girl didn’t turn to look at me, even when I said, “Somebody’s really mad!” as I approached. “My mom,” she said in a quiet, flat tone. “It’s scary, isn’t it?” I asked. The little blonde girl nodded.

I noticed her hair looked unkempt and in need of a trim. Still, it was beautiful: with a healthy gloss, and a lovely shade of gold with brighter highlights.

“Does this happen often?”

“Every day,” she said, again in that quiet, flat tone.

“This is not good. Do you have a quiet place you can go when this happens?” She shook her head slightly.

“Does anybody ever hurt you?” The blonde head nodded.

“Who?”

“My mom, my sister, and my brothers.”

I wanted to scoop her up and carry her away from that place, to keep her safe.

“That is very bad!” I told her.

“They shouldn’t hurt you. You don’t deserve to be hurt.” No response. I waited a moment, hoping those words would sink in deep, to the part of her that knew they were true, where they would remain with her, to help her understand the absoluteness of this truth.

“Some people used to hurt me, too, so I know what that can be like.” No response.

“What’s your name?”

“Anna.”

“That’s a pretty name. Your hair is pretty, too.” She smiled slightly, still not looking at me. Her attention was focused on the door of the house, as if she were afraid it would fly open, but her legs opened slightly, to a more relaxed position.

“How old are you, Anna?”

“Seven.”

“How old are your brothers and sister?”

“Angela is thirteen. One brother is twenty-six. He’s in Arkansas. One is sixteen, and another one is eleven.”

“Who is your mom yelling at right now?”

“My sister.”

“Do you think your sister might be getting hurt?” Anna gave a worried nod.

“Your mom should not do that. She needs help learning how to stop hurting people. I am going to go home to call some people that can help your mom stop hurting you.”

Anna’s eyes remained fixed on the door, but she nodded slightly. I hiked home as fast as possible, shoved past the gate and into the house, tossing my canvass materials onto the table and picking up the phone in one motion. The older of my daughters, alerted by my demeanor, watched and listened for clues about what was happening.

I began to pace before I even punched 911. It rang several times, then nothing. I kept pacing, hung up the phone and redialed, hoping my hang-up didn’t trigger an unnecessary response. When the dispatcher answered, I reported “suspected child abuse and domestic disturbance,” and, pacing all the while, told her what I had observed and what Anna had told me. She said they would send out an officer.

“Can you tell me how long it might be?” I asked.

“No, ma’am, I can’t. It’s gone out over the dispatch, and they’ll send someone as soon as they can.” A kid could be in danger and this is the best they can do.

“Do you think I should go back over there?” I asked the dispatcher.

“That’s up to you, ma’am,” she replied. I thanked her and hung up.

I felt frustrated at my lack of ability to do something to help little Anna, and her sister. I stopped pacing long enough to grab the phone book and look up the department of social services. I called the number provided for reporting suspected child abuse. The call-taker said she would send the information out to the county team. I hung up the phone, not knowing how long it would take before a government official responded, or whether this child was going to be taken care of properly. But what else could I do?

I started to cry in frustration and empathy. I still remember the paralyzing fear generated by witnessing one of my parents out of control, and I wanted to save Anna from that cruel experience–and who knows what else? I decided to go back over there, and picked up my canvass packet on the way out the door.

Maybe I could tell Anna a story about a little girl kind of like her, who was really a princess, but who was stolen from the castle when she was a baby, and she had to live in a dirty hut with a family of nasty trolls. Perhaps the story could be about how, no matter what the trolls did, the little girl always remembered that she was a princess, and that no bad troll, nobody, could ever take that away from her. And that, despite how the trolls treated her, and how ugly they were, the princess stayed beautiful inside, and she grew up strong and healthy. And when she was grown up, she left the trolls’ horrid hut and became a wise, kind, and happy queen, much loved by everyone.

As I came around the corner, my heart sank. Anna was not in sight. I ruffled through my papers, pretending to be busy with them while I focused my awareness on the house. It was quiet now. The trash bag, the one I saw the woman toss by the road, was gone. No sign of the police or CPS.

I finished my canvassing and went out of my way to go home by coming down the next street, past Anna’s house. Still quiet, still no sign of the little girl. Anna, the princess. I hope she knows she’s a princess.

© 2005, 2011 by  Shay Seaborne. All rights reserved.
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2 Responses to Haunted by Anna

  1. Laura says:

    Bless you for talking to Anna and for seeking help for her family. Saying “you don’t deserve to be hurt” is one of the most powerful things you could have said to her.

    I worked for a short time for Child Protective Services. Although there was very little we could do unless we could prove a child was in imminent physical danger, I know that the more people speak up to show support for the child (and yes, support for the parents in crisis) the better the child’s long-term prospects are. I spent years facilitating groups for adults who were victims of child abuse. Many of them held on to one or two instances when an adult outside the family reached out to them. An encouraging hand on the shoulder or some genuine recognition of the child’s worth was enough to sustain them in the darkest times, even many decades later.

  2. shay says:

    Laura, thank you for your thoughtful comments. It is good to know. I felt like I didn’t do enough, that I was powerless, but your comments told me that maybe the little things I did could be enough.

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