Wednesday, September 06, 2006

one of our own

Danielle has been a fixture in our lives now for probably 11 years. She is a friend of my daughter, Becky, who is 16. Danielle is 18, but seems like the younger of the two. I'll admit I didn't like her when they began spending time together. She was older, at a time when it mattered that she was, boy-crazy and too worldly-wise for my taste. I was not unhappy when the girls would argue, or Danielle would blow Becky off for some more attractive thing to do and leave her crying. I told Beck, "You don't want friends that do things like that to you". And it's true. But for some reason, like the proverbial bad penny in my eyes, she kept turning up in our lives. As the kids got older, it became clear that there was a pattern in this girl's life, and not one of her own choosing-her father was in federal prison, and so she and her younger sister lived with her basically single mother, who had no problem uprooting her girls whenever a new male prospect appeared on her horizon, or when one went riding off into the sunset. She would appear at the door asking for Becky, and then there would be the request to spend the night or have a meal. I learned from my daughter as they got older that once again she was thrown out of the house by a drunk and oblivious mother.

While she didn't have much in worldly goods or position, Danielle always conducted herself with pride. She often refused the things we tried to give her, or would not eat unless everyone was sitting at the table. She's a beautiful girl with obviously Irish roots, pale white skin and a mop of curly red-blonde hair, and blue-green eyes. While hanging out with friends and goofing around as teens do, she fell from a table and knocked her upper eye teeth almost completely out. It seems her mother had no money or inclination to get them fixed, because they remain broken in her mouth. Slowly but surely it is becoming a matter of how far does one go to help an obviously helpless person, gracefully and lovingly? Yet she is not helpless, not broken, not crushed by a home life that could destroy someone twice her age, nor put off by the hardness of her mother's heart. Gradually she has become one of our own, a sort of adopted daughter who finally, after years, feels very comfortable plopping down on our couch and watching tv with "mom and dad" minus Becky. I can't help but feel, watching her, that I have learned as much from her as she may have from us. The other day Becky told her, "You need to have a house key in case I die"! It was funny, but telling, that my daughter has become her protector and advocate in a way that does not wound her friend or make her feel any less a person. I should do as well.

The three of us went clothes shopping for Beck the other day, and we had fun. Danielle knew what looked good on her and and what didn't, and the two of them found Audrey Hepburn sunglasses and two-for-one cords, which I didn't feel bad about offering to Danielle and she readily accepted. I think it stops being about "reaching out" to the "lowly" and becomes a willingness to be a puzzle piece, one life fit into another with equal purpose and value.


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