From A Place Called Salvation

I had a standing appointment with a social worker once a week. Every Tuesday at 3:30 p.m., right after school, I met with her to talk about my life and how I felt about it.

Carson kept an office at the end of the hall, which had a door covered in colorful Crayon drawings that some of the little kids had made for her. Little pink bunnies, purple elephants, primary-colored rainbows, and wide-eyed, brightly painted clowns greeted me every week. The clowns, quite honestly, creeped me out. I had never liked those makeup-wearing monsters, and even the childishly distorted, odd-colored jokers collaged on that thick door made me uneasy. There were times when I felt like ripping them down, but then that would be sort of crazy.

My social worker drank her tea hot and her coffee iced, and regardless of which she was having, she sipped it from her white ceramic mug that read ‘I Love Jesus’ in bright red letters – a heart in place of the word ‘Love.’

The first time I’d walked into her office, she was scribbling something with a pencil that displayed little crescent-shaped teeth marks up and down its yellow coat, while her free hand twirled a lock of hair she’d pulled loose from her ponytail.

With her red, wavy hair, big curious eyes, and plum lipstick that was three shades too dark for her fair skin, she looked more like a babysitter working on her homework while the kids played outside than a social worker assigned to my case. Her eyes made me think of the expression my grandmother used to describe someone who looked stunned: “a deer caught in headlights.” My social worker had this innocence in her eyes. They were gentle, inviting, hopeful, but just a bit sad and startled all at once.

Her Jesus mug sat on her desk in front of her; a smeared, plum lip mark stained the rim of the white porcelain. She lifted her head from what she was doing, tucked the loose curl behind her ear, and smiled those little white teeth at me. Her face was inquisitive, the corners of her lips turning slightly up when something was on her mind.

“I’m Carson,” she said. “Unusual name for a girl. But you know all about unusual names, don’t you? Please, Stormy, have a seat.” She motioned to the thick, cushioned chair that was across from her on my side of the desk.

I sat facing her, saying nothing that very first time. I knew what the sessions were all about. She would ask me a bunch of personal questions about my life, how I was getting along in my new home, what my contact with family was like, and how things were going at my new school.

Other kids had filled me in on what the social workers did, and they’d even given me the run-down on each of the 14 that worked in that little administrative building. There was a whole crew of them, just prying into the minds of kids aged 5-17. I figured I knew going into my session as much about Carson as she’d learned about me from the manila folder that sat on her desk.

What I knew about her: She was 24, single, took kickboxing class on Friday nights, was crazy about her nondenominational church that called itself a fellowship, and was always working on fundraising events for abused children. There had been a few newspaper articles about her work for charity, and she had even been on the evening news one time.

I didn’t know what was in that file she had on me, but I was sure it summed up the events of my life in short phrases that fit into a paragraph or two: Orphan. Parents died in car accident when she was 8. Grandmother raised her until she was 13. Grandmother has Alzheimer’s and lives in nursing home. Only relatives are uncle and his family.

Maybe it even went on to say that “Uncle and his family don’t want her. Uncle’s wife already has two brats to raise. Does not need a third.”

I wasn’t sure what else could have been in the folder, but it was only about as thick as a grocery store ad paper—3 or 4 pages—and someone else’s name had been marked out with permanent marker. My name was written just above the thick, black line. It was probably formerly the folder of a short-timer, a kid who would only have a few sessions and then get to go back home to a mom, dad, grandparent, or someone who cared.

I was not a short-timer.

Our first session had been just to “get to know one another.” It was strained. After seeing her once a week for a few years, though, we eventually came to know each other pretty well.

After I’d started to open up more to her, she invited me to join her in the “Comfy Zone,” which consisted of a bright yellow rug and two red oversized bean bag chairs that took up a large chunk of her office. That’s where we had most of our talks, making her, again, seem more like a teenaged babysitter than a professional who sized up my life through a series of notes she kept in a filing cabinet.

Carson usually greeted me as I imagined an older sister no longer living at home would a younger sister when she dropped in on the weekends.

“Hey, Girl,” she’d say. “How’s the week been? Anything good going on?”

At some point a few weeks into our sessions, I decided to trust her enough to mention that I often dreamt about my dead parents, which I sort of felt like talking to someone about, anyway. I thought I might as well throw her a bone. She wanted to help me with something, and I guessed that would be as good as anything. She thought the dream was brought on by the anxiety of being separated from my grandmother and having to leave my house to go live in a children’s home. On top of losing my parents years before, now I’d lost my grandmother. The nightmares were understandable, she’d said. I never told her that I’d been having that awful dream for a couple of years before ever setting foot on the children’s home grounds.

Then there were the other dreams.