by Roy Gould
“The first time one of my mom’s boyfriends raped me I was in grade one. Mom was passed out drunk. I didn’t bother to tell her; I didn’t want to worry her. I’m sixteen now, she’s dead, I’ve been on the road for a year, and I don’t believe in friends. Not even Dee, though she’s not all that demanding (for a kitten). I cut my hair so guys wouldn’t bug me. It didn’t work, but I know how to get even. I make them pay for what they want and it doesn’t even hurt anymore. They say I look cute and vulnerable. Boy, if they only knew. “
It was certainly not the first time Jay had listened to a street story, but something was different about this one. Jill could certainly find her way around and didn’t need his support; she just… seemed different.
Intelligent… streetwise…? She had spoken to him candidly about her life for about an hour and he sensed a hunger in her; a need for something more that what she could get on the street.
“Where will you sleep tonight?” he asked.
She looked away, but didn’t seem worried. “Not sure; one of the guys at the drop-in offered.”
Jay scratched the name of a shelter for transients on a post-it and handed it to her. “Jill, if you think you will be in town for a bit, I host an open therapy/coaching group for youth who think they might want to re-evaluate their lives. It’s here at the drop-in and it includes snacks.”
Jill said nothing but Jay sensed a spark of interest. He handed her a brochure outlining the intent and topics covered in the program. She stuffed it in her pocket and got up to leave. Jay knew better than to push for a commitment.
Jay was making coffee and laying out snacks as people began to arrive for the therapy group. Jill had arrived a few minutes ago and was sipping coffee and munching on a sandwich as she quietly observed the goings on. The local street cliques bantered and joked; the out-of-towners were sparse tonight.
Jay called for the group to sit at the circle of chairs and he began by explaining the process. “This time is an opportunity for talking about life; what it is to each of us. I will facilitate but I’m not the boss. You may leave at any time. There is one basic rule laid down by the drop-in center, no violence. Past and present participants have also come up with one simple rule, we do our best to respect each other; this rule has been interpreted as many ways as there have been group members and there have been lots of heated arguments. Let’s try to be open to what happens and figure it out as we go. So, who wants to start?”
There was silence, then a faint growling and scratching sound. Everyone looked as a tiny head emerged from the front of Jill’s jacket.“This is Dee”, she said as her face reddened. “I couldn’t leave her at the shelter. If she’s too noisy I’ll leave”.
One of the girls squealed, “What a cute kitten!” Nobody seemed bothered and most seemed entranced by this new addition to the group.
“Does anybody mind the kitten in the room? Does anyone have an allergy”, Jay asked.
“Cool. Kitten therapy”, said one of the boys.
“Ok, no allergies and nobody minds?” asked Jay. “It’s all good. No problem.”
“Jill would you mind introducing us to Dee?” asked Jay.
“She’s a stray I found in an alley”, said Jill. “I couldn’t just leave her there”.
“Why couldn’t you leave her?” asked Jay.
Jill was quiet for a moment, “She was so small and helpless, like a baby. I couldn’t leave her”.
“We got an instinct to care”, said Frank. “Just like you said last week Jay”.
“Too bad our parents couldn’t figure that one out”, said another boy.
“What do you think Jill?” Jay asked. “Do you have an instinct to care?”
“No” she blurted. “I don’t know… caring hurts.”
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