07 May 2006

Name changed to protect her privacy. She'll know.

Cherica, this one is about and for you. I think about you often, and pray that you are body surfing off a good beach somewhere, out there, but not up there, yet. Hey, I think you will get a kick out of this, when I hit spell check, the device tried to get me to replace your name with the word cherish...too right!

I met Cherica through my hospice work, and I saw her for the last time just before I took that aforementioned time-out.

She was an angry 14 year old when I met her, trying to pass herself off as a 17 year old. She had orange-think fluorescent-hair cut in a mohawk, and she favoured black punk/goth clothing.

She had a cancer that would go into remission, and then, just as Cherica thought things were going to get sorted out at last, would come roaring back.

We bonded over body surfing. At first she thought I was just some old biddy religious nut who was going to try to get her to accept Jesus before getting her to accept what everyone thought was inevitable-her death from the cancer. She was, therefore predisoposed to hate me, since she hated God for giving her the cancer, and she hated Jesus for being God's patsy.

It was a no-win situation. Until we got talking about surfing. The surfing came up when she told me outright that I couldn't possibly understand a cool teen aged person like her who could out skate and out surf any one she knew, and probably half the guys she didn't know but had seen on TV making mega bucks at board surfing street and wave.

I took a look at this totally pissed off, foul mouthed, anti-christ wannabe, and thought "Ya know, she does have the look of a surfer..."

As sick as she was, and trust me, she was sick, the years that kid had spent on board still showed. Real surfers start real young, she'd been surfing since 5 or 6. It's a look. Like a biker look that still shows long after the Panhead is sold to pay for dental expenses for the baby, or a runner look...dunno, guess you'd have to be there.

I turned to her and said, "I've done the Wedge. Bare" (Which means I body surfed the Wedge. OK, I'll brag. I'm sure there are rockier beaches, reefs with more coral, and far tougher surfers. But I felt like Mrs. Hercules that day.)

Her jaw dropped. She looked me over, then nodded-the look never gets all the way off a real surfer.

And the door to her heart opened up just enough for me, Jesus, and God to get a hand in.

Over the next few years, the door opened wide enough for an arm, then two, and Cherica finally told me her whole story.

She had been sexually assualted repeatedly by her father, while her mother was unable for whatever reason to stop the abuse. When Cherica was diagnosed, her dad took off, and her mother became even more ineffectual. Cherica's older sister had made it out, and had offered to take Cherica in, but Cherica's medical problems on top of her attitude made the state think more than twice about putting two survivors, one with cancer, in the same house. They dragged their feet, hoping for a miracle. During the feet dragging period, psychological studies of the older sister indicated she had some 'serious issues' to get through; Cherica saw the state's reluctance and her sister's acceptance of the reluctance and growing awareness of just how difficult it all was and would be, as a serious betrayal. She started to refuse treatment, she ran away from the foster home.

It wasn't good, but she kept getting in touch with me. She knew that I would contact her social worker, yet she called. She called. We would talk until the social worker or police got to where ever she was calling me from.

She wanted to have God in her life-she wasn't too sure about Jesus. So we focused on God, and we talked. She had a real problem with the Ten Commandments, especially the Fifth.

Can anyone blame that kid? How in the name of all that is holy do you honour a parent that rapes you, or a parent who stands by helpless, or willfully ignorant of the abuse?

So we talked about hating her rapist and his enabler. We talked about End Times. We talked about the Time of the Winnowing-for once the nuns are right, ya better live each moment in as close a state of grace as you can, because the wheat and the chaff really will be winnowed, and the chaff will be forever separated from life. We talked about her father's choices making him about the most lost sheep on the mountain, and how she almost became lost herself.

We talked about God's deep, deep grief that her father had chosen to abuse his precious gift of freedom to be so incredibly evil to another of God's beloved children-Cherica-we talked a lot about God being everyone's Father-and that her father's horrific choice must be a terrible grief for a real parent to see, which God is.

And we talked about that maybe, when you pray for someone to finally get that they had done something absolutely horrific, and in that prayer hope they will be honestly sorry (not "Oh man, I'm gonna burn for this" but "Oh God help me please, I wish I had not hurt her that way, what can I do now Lord...?"), you are honouring the hope for them that God had when He gave them life and free-will.

And in that way, she could fulfill the commandment to honour her parents.

Imperfect. I know. But over time, we went deeply into the thought, and it seemed to make a real difference for her. She started reading the Bible, she started talking to a minister of the faith she had been raised in.

And yeah, I tried to get her to accept God's comfort for her here in this life. She and her sister started going to counseling, they were working through the things that had been done to them. Together. A family. (The mother wandered off. I was too busy with Cherica to keep track of the mother. I try to remember to pray for her...)

Cherica had orange hair. Right up to the day it fell out. When it grew back, it was a darkish blond. She started surfing again while in remission-the hair bleached in gloriously cool surfer streaks. She was going through religious training at her church. She remained the bright and attitudinal Cherica, with grace.

Then the cancer came back. By this time she had a cell phone, and she called me from the beach to tell me she was going to walk into the ocean and just swim 'till she died.

Her hair was "too cool, the chemo would zap it all again. I don't want to be a croaking bald kid anymore!"

Unspoken was the totally un-cool more serious aspects of chemo. Of cancer burning it's way through a teen aged body that had just begun to feel like a real teen ager's body and that only chemo can keep it at bay, but that came with a bigger and heavier toll than lost hair; we knew that she would have a tougher time getting through it again this time. Healing isn't healed-there is a difference, and Cherica knew it.

All I can tell you is that she let me call her social worker. I don't know why. She just did.

I have this mental picture of the social worker coming across the sand to Cherica, sitting down next to her, and wrapping her arms around Cherica. The camera in my mind pulls back over the water, and they fade to a pin dot-a sobbing teen ager and her social worker holding her, sitting there on the sand before the ocean.

We talked until the social worker got there; then I heard Cherica start to cry, and I heard the social worker saying "It's gonna be OK, baby, it's gonna be OK. I don't know how, but it's gonna be OK."

I think one of them must have closed the flip phone, because I heard nothing more. After a while, I hung up too.

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