Monday, January 13, 2014

She Stole My Heart

I stared out the window, watching the dry landscape go past. I did not want to do this. Every time we went back, it became increasingly difficult to step out of the bus and into the orphanage. I moved my gaze from the passing scenery and looked around at the people in the sparsely populated bus. It was taken up mainly by my group, a mixture of French, American, Swiss, Chilean, and British students, with a scattering of Ankara residents. When the bus stopped, only my group moved to get off, though Juan waited for me so that we disembarked together. He understood how hard this was for me.

We slowly walked into the orphanage. It was clean, but dingy. The atmosphere was close and stifling, despite the large size of the building. The orphanage was for Turkish children that had disabilities. The culture viewed mental and physical disabilities as proof of sin, so many special needs children were abandoned. This particular orphanage had several children that had very minor, and in one case, fixable impairments. There was even one little girl there that had no disability, but because of the atmosphere of the orphanage and the treatment of the staff, she was growing up mentally stunted. Most children, however, had disabilities, ranging from autism to cerebral palsy. One young lady in particular painfully stole my heart.

When I first met Y-----, I thought she was a young boy, for she was slender and had a boy's haircut, not a young girl in her early teens. I was immediately incensed at the condition I found her in. Y----- was on her bed, which was right next to the radiator, in a black straight jacket. Her hair was plastered to her face and sweat dampened the straight jacket because she was so hot. When I asked why she was in a straight jacket, I was informed that she used to have maggots in her ears. While the maggots were no longer there, Y----- thought they remained, so she would hit her ears in an effort to get rid of them. She would also hit people. Y----- had no speaking vocabulary. She could talk, but had not learned how to, and hitting became her form of communication. She became the child that I worked the most frequently with.

When I came in, I would immediately free Y------ of the straight jacket and hold her. I would also take her for walks in the empty, blue and white hallways, either to the playroom or just walk, dance, and talk. I would always have to watch for flying fists, feet, and head, but the difference became increasingly noticeable. The day she finally gave me a honest laugh is a day I will always remember. I was told by other care workers (not the regular orphanage employees) that they saw a drastic change for the better in Y----- since I had taken her under my wing. Leaving her was one of the hardest things I had to do, despite the relief at being freed from my responsibility of going to the orphanage. I was worried that all the progress that Y----- had made was disappear underneath the lack of care and abuse by the general orphanage employees.

Y----- impacted me in ways that I am still discovering, and it is over ten years later. She made me aware of how to love a stranger unconditionally. She also unknowingly broadened my knowledge base regarding autism. It was not until five years ago that I realized that she was most likely autistic. While working with her, I knew that she could be more functional if the staff just took the time to work with her, but I did not know how or why. I now understand why many of my instinctual reactions and techniques worked with her they way they did. Most importantly, though, Y------ taught me to keep my heart open, even when I knew the end result would be pain. It is a lesson I have carried with me into my relationships. If you cannot invest your heart into your relationships with your family and friends, the relationship cannot grow and you close yourself off to personal growth. If the fear of pain prevents you from fully committing to a relationship, you lose great opportunities to learn and grow.

This story is worth a creative writing effort because Y-----'s story is unfortunately not unique. Whether it is about autism, the treatment of children in orphanages around the world, or the principal of loving others, it is a story how people impact each other and the importance every individual has in other people's lives. None of our interactions with others are one-sided, and the smallest of things can have larger consequences than you could ever expect.