Yesterday was a warm day and a sweet reminder that better days are on their way. Seagulls dipped down low over the playground where my children played. The air carried the ocean smell, and the sounds of laughter despite a Pandemic. The best sound is children laughing. I pushed my neighbor’s child on a tire swing and I had my eyes on my son. I knew my daughter was across the playground with a friend and her mother. The sun was warm against my face and I felt happy. I let go of that stress and anxiety sitting on my shoulders and I breathed. The laughter behind me grew louder. I smiled at the kids on the playground with my back to the boys. It went on for a while (It went on for awhile) and I kept my eyes on my son. “What happened,” asked one of the little girls that I was pushing. Her eyes were incredibly dark and her little eyebrows shot down in concern. She pointed past me toward the boys laughing. “What happened,” she said again and aimed her finger past the boys and into a sea of trees.
I turned around at the boys who were swinging sticks and pointing laughing. They laughed so hard they almost fell over. A group of seven boys ages nine and up. Strong boys, healthy boys who had control over their bodies, control over the fluctuation of their tongues and words. I looked past their sticks and pointing fingers, past the parents who were staring in shock, and there, far off in the field standing on top of some shrubs was a little girl. She was stark naked this girl in the shrubs with her pants down to her ankles. Her face was distorted, mouth wide open screaming. She was tripping over, tumbling on the shrubs. She was crying hysterically in panic throwing her arms in the air while the boys pointed at her screaming and laughing. For a moment I didn’t recognize this little girl. She looked so frail out in that field. It was so shocking a scene that it reminded me of some type of war photo I’d seen. I was trying to recall where I had seen this picture before. Her little bare legs looked weak and tiny and her face was so intense that it took a hard second for it to hit me.
The laughter of the boys and their sticks.
I exploded into a full sprint with the roar of laughing caving in on me and the tire swing coming to a halt. The black, dark eyes of the girl on the swing piercing down on me. From the bird’s eye view I could see a shadow of myself small and running. I ran and ran and ran across the mud field, past the pine tree to the shrubs and I climbed them and I flung that little girl up and curled her into my arms and onto the ground. I breathed into her neck. I unzipped my jacket and wrapped it around her.
This moment reminded me of when she was born. She was always this fragile.
Now she was sobbing.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” I said to that little girl.
“My pants!” She screamed. “My pants are wet! Mommy, pants! No!”
We sat forever. I was afraid to turn my head to all that was behind me. I helped talk her through the little bit of water that got on her knee. I used every tool and strategy I know to bring her back to a place of calm. When we got up the boys had dispersed and mother’s looked awkwardly away. With all the skills she’s taught me from moments like these I managed to diffuse her meltdown: we switched clothes and with dried streaks of tears on her face she somehow found her way back to a friend. I wanted to leave but as always I refused. This playground visit would be saved and I was not going to give up. With legs weak I heard the similar nauseating laughter again.
“Oh my god, did you see that?” They said, “It was so nasty. She was just standing there. Oh my god, dude. It was crazy! That was so nasty, dude! She was just standing there, screaming.” They could not stop laughing as they told their older brother about what had happened. I felt my fists clench and sour in my throat when I spit the words out one-after-the-other: “Next time you see someone having a hard time and crying you should approach them and ask them if they are okay,” I said it loud and awkward and the playground became quiet.
The wind slapped my face and hair stuck to my lips: “I’m not sure why you would point at a little girl who is crying. You laughed at her. They laughed at her!” I yelled this looking frantically around as if someone would nod their head in agreement that it was disgusting and wrong.
“Why would you laugh at a little girl? What made you think it’s okay to laugh at someone who is crying?” I was trembling and did not realize I was still holding her wet pants in my clenched hand.
“We didn’t know she was crying–we didn’t point–we thought the kid…” one of the boys mumbled.
The girl in the shrubs. The brown eyed curly hair girl in the shrubs she’s my daughter. Every now and then I let my guard down and I think it’s okay. I can take my eyes off of her for a moment, it’s okay but it’s not okay. The girl in the shrubs she’s autistic and among the dozens of other things she’s worked on she is also working on tolerating her clothes getting wet and not taking them off in public. For my daughter it is a terrifying, horrible experience to have just a drop of fluid on her clothes. I should’ve paid more attention and I should not have let it happen. The girl in the shrubs is the sweetest most caring little five year old. The butterfly loving flapping singing dancing little girl she is a gem-one-of-a-kind girl. My little girl would offer you her seat and give you a compliment when she met you. She loves birds and bees and she is always listening. She would be your friend and smile at you. Her heart is so kind and full. The girl in the shrubs she’s my girl, my Willow.