The girl sat nervously at the row of chairs in the narrow hallway. She wore her favorite outfit, although her friends might remark that her clothes rarely varied from day to day. She liked the look of short skirts and the 'occasion' was welcomed with a thigh-length Navy pleated skirt over purple and black striped leggings with plain Navy flats. Her top was a very long if nondescript white tee shirt. And she wore a sad frown.
“Mommy.” The voice came softly as Mary tugged on her mother’s sleeve. Jane looked down to find her daughter pointing at the girl.
“Yes, Mary. She is pretty,” Jane stifled a gasp and knelt on both knees, pulling her daughter close. The girl had a waifilike look about her; not a surprise for a child by herself in a shelter, she thought.
“She sure is.” Jane stood up as the woman at the office doorway smiled, bidding her welcome.
“He emptied the joint account, and the house foreclosed last month. My sister is in California and she’s trying to get some money to send so we can move,” Jane sat nervously across from the kind-looking woman at the desk.
“I’m so sorry, Jane. We see this all the time. My cousin works with the state, and she’s pulled her hair out over how useless the laws are.” She leaned over the desk and displayed a welcoming if half-smile.
“You have nothing to be ashamed of, Jane. You did what you needed to do for your kids, no matter what...” Andrea paused and shook her head.
“I apologize. It’s hard not to get angry when we see this so often. Don’t get me wrong? My brothers are men and as kind as they come. Most men are not like your husband, but there's too many to count that are.
“He’s…” Jane lowered her head as her face grew dark with shame. Andrea was like so many folks who worked to help. No sixth sense but rather just seeing the same looks and gestures and posture over and over.
“He’s got someone else? What a surprise. Sorry…. Bias with a capital ‘B.’” She stood up and walked around the desk.
“You have a place as long as we’re open. We’re more fortunate than some. Quite a few shelters have had to choose between funding and principle. I don’t blame them one bit, but it leaves a lot of …well, you’ll see when you get settled. We do as much as we can, and if we have the room, we welcome anybody, you know?”
Andrea smiled, hoping that Jane’s first day would be a blessing. She had a deep-down feeling that Jane’s arrival would not be for her own benefit alone.
“Mommy?” Timmy waved to get Jane’s attention. While the place was clean, it was barer than any child might be used to. The boy waved again and pointed. A girl of about thirteen sat in a chair by a row of cots, the same girl they had seen a short while ago. She was squeezing a very worn light-brown teddy bear while holding herself and she looked like she’d been crying. Jane walked over and put her hand on the girl’s shoulder, evoking a wince.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you. I’m Jane. These are my kids. Mary is six and Timmy is seven. What’s your name?”
“Oh, what a nice surprise. My younger sister’s name is Roberta.” The girl put her head down and began to cry.”
“I’m sorry if I said anything to upset you Bobbie.” Jane sat down on the cot next to the girl and put her hand on Bobbie’s arm, evoking another wince. She glanced down at her own body, reminded of the three broken ribs she was nursing and sighed; wondering what the girl must have endured. She smiled at the girl and spoke.
“Can we be friends?” Her words were greeted with an odd half frown as the girl whimpered.
“Not….Not Roberta….Not….My name is …Robert.”
“Oh, honey?” It was all Jane could say, but the welcome in her smile and the tears welling in her own eyes brought the girl at least a bit out of her pain and fear as she nuzzled against Jane’s shoulders and cried. Mary walked over and added to the hugs, kissing Bobbie on the face. And Timmy sat on the cot opposite and smiled.
“Mommy?” He waved to get her attention. She looked up to see her son using his hand in a gesture back and forth between himself and the girl. Jane’s eyes widened in recognition as she realized that she and her family might be there for the girl’s benefit as well. And Timmy smiled and spoke; a whisper borne of all too needful caution in a family where a mother’s love and understanding was trumped by a father’s ignorance and cruelty.
“Mommy?” He repeated, this time with a growing smile as he continued to wave.
“She’s…she’s just like…like me.”
“Yes, sweetie. Exactly like you.”
For every wonderful, thankful success in the transgender community, there are all too many more stories of rejection. Painful enough for anyone to endure, but more so for transgender teens who are turned out of their homes and turned away from shelters simply for being who they are.
In this time of visibility, I am thankful immeasurably for the success of others while remembering that there are kids exactly like Bobbie. May it be that someone just like Jane comes to know and care and accept them. And that for every Timmy there is a mother or an aunt or a brother of cousin just like Jane as well.
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