Bleak frozen landscape of a northern U.S. state along the Canadian border, flat and poor, my first job in a county mental health clinic, where teenage mothers sat in the waiting room feeding babies from bottles filled with Coca-Cola and Group 13 was filled with the unluckiest women in the world. I sustained myself by thinking of myself as an artist first and therapist second, but I couldn’t help giving my patients my best self, with little left for anything else. They had so little. The children seemed lost entirely, but the teenagers were hungry and a little attention went a long way in changing the course of a life or so I thought. I wanted to believe I had that kind of power against the elements of the weather and all the other oppression these young women had faced.
It was Amy who grabbed my heart. To this day I think of her. As a child she testified against her pedophile father who had raped her and her friends. He was sentenced to ten years in the state prison. But like many abused children, she still loved him and through our work together, decided that once she turned sixteen, she wanted to visit him in the state prison in the next town. We arranged it with her father’s counselor, only under the condition that he would apologize to his daughter.
The sun was blinding off the icy snow and sparkling razor wire surrounding the prison. I accompanied this frail girl down corridor after corridor, deeper into darkness, doors locking behind us, trying not to panic, I was the therapist after all, until we came to a large room with a long wide wooden table. We were to sit on one side. Her father, a tiny man, was brought handcuffed with leg chains to the other. There were no apologies. They both just cried. They each said I love you.
He said, “It was done to me.”
I started to say, “But that’s no excuse.”
But she just interrupted and said, “I know.”
She’d already forgiven him. She sobbed all the way home.