I'VE NEVER BEEN SO DISGUSTED BY THE AMOUNT OF IMMATURITY IN ONE PLACE IN MY LIFE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Every day that I spent living on unit 4B felt like some crazy social experiment that just kept going wrong. The girls I lived with consisted of mostly inner city kids with behavioral problems who had been juggled around the system for most of their lives. Unlike myself they weren’t admitted by their own free will. Just like every other place they had been in before this, they had no other choice; a judge said go and so they went.
Some of them had been residents of Chestnut for years and being they were only thirteen or fourteen, life inside those walls was all they knew. They were frustrated and young and angry and hurt. They had experienced horrible traumatic things beyond anything I could ever imagine anyone, especially someone that young, go through. And on top of it all those poor girls were forced to go through all the crap that came along with being a teenage girl cooped up in a hospital. Hormones were intensified, cliques were formed and broken and reformed, horrible sometimes violent fights broke out about petty bullshit, and every week or so there would be a different trend they all followed. They had been defined by their past and current environments and they had no sense of themselves beyond it. One week they were homophobic, the next lesbians, and the week after that bulimic. They grabbed whatever identity they could find and wore it until they were bored.
I was an outsider in their world, but at the same time I was smack dab in the middle of it. Mostly I just played the role of innocent bystander and hid behind a book or played Scrabble while everything went down around me. Nurses would joke that girls would be throwing couches and I would just be sitting there reading until we were forced to go into our rooms. I once even got into trouble for reading too much instead of socializing with my “peers” -- which blew my mind.
Thankfully, no one ever had a problem with me so it was easy to disappear into the background; but even in the background I was affected by the choices these girls would make. I'd stay out of trouble, but still get sent to my room for the night if one of them decided to act out. I earned my ability to go on outings, but still had to fight for my right to be exempt from a weekend unit lockdown, when the girls who didn’t earn their outings staged an actual riot during snack time. I went from being terrified to being annoyed to being angry, but beyond my therapist's office I never said a word, because truthfully I never felt safe enough to do so. I watched people end up in unexpected fights about nothing on a daily basis and the last thing I wanted was to be a part of any of that.
A few weeks before I was discharged, one of the most troubled girls got herself banned from rooming with almost half of the unit's population. Staying out of trouble and keeping my mouth shut kept me in good standing with even the toughest of the girls and at a certain point a few of them started to look up to me. Christina was one of them. I was the oldest person on the unit by a few years and it became obvious that I was beginning to get placed into the mom role. A role I did not want to be in. I was knee deep in figuring out my own shit and getting ready to head out into the real world. I needed the time and space to focus on myself and how I was going to be able to keep from relapsing again when I got home. These facts made no difference to the powers that be and when my current roommate, a quiet, well behaved oversexed bulimic cheerleader from Arizona got discharged, they decided the only way to keep Christina in check was to make her my roommate. I was livid.
I genuinely cared about this girl. Her past was one of the saddest I had ever heard, and when she wasn’t doing horrible things for attention, she was a really smart really sweet person. I was lucky to be one of the few people she responded to and for some reason, respected. But it wasn’t my responsibility to keep an eye on her. I was a patient, too! This was just as much my time to be selfish and take care of myself as it was hers. I wasn’t here to be a caretaker for anyone else but me. This wasn’t a commune, this was a hospital and the last thing I needed was to feel uncomfortable in the only place I felt safe. At this point after living on edge for nearly six months I had had enough. I demanded to speak to my therapist and as soon as I got to her office broke down and made a big scene. She agreed with me, it wasn’t fair, but there was nothing she could do. This girl was moving in and I was just going to have to deal.
Like most things that I freak out about it ended up being fine. We only lived together for a couple of weeks and during that time the only rule breaking I was witness to involved her stealing food. Which made me disappointed and sad for her, but at the same time relieved at how small of an offense it was. She opened up to me a bit, but mostly we just listened to music and talked about Harry Potter. Living with her only confirmed my heartbreaking notion that she was just a scared little girl who never got love or attention and acted out in the only way she knew how to gain it. I wanted so badly for her to stay strong and realize she was better and smarter than the future she was currently creating for herself. I wanted so badly for her to grow up and be the person we all knew she was capable of being. But I knew that at this point Christina was almost, and I hate to say this, hopeless. She needed more help than even long term treatment could give her. She needed Love.
A couple of years ago I had the urge to look up Christina. I was shocked that I remembered her full name and even more shocked when a line of photos of her face flashed back at me on my computer screen. My heart sank as I read the cascade of links, each one with a video attached. “Watch Homeless teen Christina”, “Homeless teen Christina shares her stories..” I hesitated to click play. I didn’t know if I wanted to see what had happened to her, what she looked like now, hear her horror stories. I stared at the opening shot of her black and white tear streaked face and remembered how she had told me about having to run away from the disgusting conditions of her home -- the abuse, the drugs, the death of her crack addict AIDS carrying mother. She had been a homeless child, forced into an abusive foster home, kicked around the system until she ended up with me in Chestnut, and now she was back on the streets. After about ten minutes I started the video. I watched her standing against a brick wall talking about the hardships of being homeless. Her voice was so familiar and strong. She spoke so eloquently about her life and her situation and I could tell that somehow despite all odds she had grown.
The news story ended up helping her get accepted into a woman’s shelter and I hope to God that she somehow thrived there. Maybe this time she was old enough, had been through enough, had had enough. Maybe this time she would see a future for herself and maybe this time she would be granted it. Both the original and follow up interview were from 2008 and 2009 and it is the last and only information I can find about her. I truly hope that getting into that shelter saved and changed her life and that the next time I get the urge to google my past I discover that she found some way to break the mold she was born into and is teaching others to do the same.