a week in the life of a stranger

The summer before my senior year of high school I spent a week in Dayton, OH, with my youth group. On this mission trip we helped repair homes for a couple families. At one of the homes I met a girl close to my age. Her name was Kim. Her dark, straight hair hung in her face against her brown skin. She wore faded sweatpants in the middle of summer. A rain barrel with rusty straps sat under the corner of the roof we were there to replace.

Though in my memory I see her smile, she had sad eyes. She lived with her boyfriend and his family. And she was pregnant.

As we spent time together, she began to ask questions about my life, my faith. She opened up to me about her situation, her lack of support, lack of options. She had nothing, wasn’t able to care for a baby. She had no job, and no means of getting, let alone keeping, one. Her boyfriend’s parents, according to her, didn’t like her or treat her well. I spent countless hours that week listening, praying, crying, and very little time roofing and tarring.

In this time before cell phones I used a pay phone to call my parents and asked them if I could bring this girl home with me, though I knew it wasn’t realistic. But if I shared my room, gave her half of what I had, she would be rich. I couldn’t think past her current situation to when her baby came, beyond that.

In their infinite wisdom, my parents said no.

At the end of the week we said our goodbyes. I gave her my Bible, the one full of notes, passages highlighted and underlined. The one personalized over many years. I hoped and prayed the word of God would bring her comfort.

She gave me her four leaf clover, the only thing she knew to give. I wrote to her, but I don’t know if she ever received my letters, don’t know if they were intercepted. Over the years I have wondered what happened to her, her baby, her life. I want to know if she’s okay. I want to know if she took her aunt and uncle up on their offer to move in with them, even though they stipulated that they would then adopt her baby.

I cannot imagine being faced with the choice to live in poverty, in a house full of verbal abuse, and raise my child in those conditions, or to move away from the father of my child, live with relatives I barely know, and hand my baby over to them to raise.

Kim is the reason my mother convinced me not to major in psychology, become a therapist, because my mother knew I would take those patients and their situations home with me, even if only in my mind.

Sometimes there are people we can’t forget. People we will never know how their lives have played out. People who have made an impact, whose stories stick with us. For me, Kim is one of those people.

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