A little girl, about 4 years old, crouches in the back of a dark blue van with carpeted interior and no seats other than the two in the cab. She’s crying. Her mother, sitting in the passenger seat, looks back at her and says, “Don’t you want to be with your baby brother?” The little girl nods through tears and looks at the baby carrier that is sitting ahead of her, between the two front seats but behind the console. Her baby brother sits quietly inside. The little girl does want to be with her baby brother. But she also wants to go home.
Just a few hours earlier, she had been with her grandparents in their backyard. She was wearing a pink bathing suit with ruffles and had been playing in the pool with her aunts and uncles, all in their teens. It was a happy day. A hot and sunny day with music playing and good food to eat. Then, a knock at the door. Grandma and Grandpa went inside, and she stayed in the pool with her aunts and uncles. Things started to feel uneasy. Grandma came back outside, then her aunts took the young girl into the house and got her dressed. She didn’t want to get dressed. She wanted to get back in the pool. But she listened because she had started to feel scared.
Suddenly, she was outside in the front yard, and there was the van, parked in front of the driveway. She knows whose van it is. There were police cars parked in the road in front of the house. Grandma and Grandpa were speaking frantically to the policemen. The police wanted to help. They kept asking desperate questions, but her grandparents didn’t have the right answers. The little girl gripped onto whoever was holding her at the time. Eventually, they tell her she has to go with her mom in the van but that they will come and get her soon. She doesn’t want to go. “No, no, no!” she cried and clung to them as they pass her around to hug her, kiss her and say goodbye. Each one also crying while they tried to console her. “I don’t wanna go! Don’t make me go! Please, Grandma, don’t make me go!”
But she must go. There are no custody papers or court orders to prevent it. Only a four-year history of abuse, neglect and being tossed back and forth between her mother and her grandparents, over and over. Her mother was just a teenager when she had the little girl and her father was not in the picture. Her mother married a man who beat her. She would get fed up for a time and come back to the grandparents, or run to a battered-women’s shelter, but she always returned to the man. They took and sold drugs together and were often too involved in these things to take care of the little girl. When she was about a year old, her mother brought her to the grandparents, lethargic, burning with fever. She was hungry and had a bleeding diaper rash from her diaper not being changed for a very long time. The grandparents took her to the emergency room, where she was treated and recovered. The grandmother still tells that story sometimes. She said she had “never seen anything so pitiful.”
The little girl witnessed her mother beaten many times in her first few years. The mother would tell her to stay in her room, where she would curl up in her bed, crying, hearing the violence just outside her door. When her baby brother came, she got even more anxious when it happened, in fear of his safety, too. When home life was peaceful, she would lie under the table where her mother put powders and dead grass inside baggies and the man would clean his guns, daydreaming and singing softly to herself.
This is what the little girl will go back to after the longest stretch of stability and happiness she had ever known. The man was trying to atone for a recent bout of violence against the mother. The girl’s mother told him she missed the little girl, so he said they could go get her. He drove them in his blue van that was dark inside with only two small round tinted windows in the very back. The little girl thinks the van is scary. She thinks everything about the man is scary.
After a while, the van eventually drives away with her. She looks at her baby brother in his carrier as she lies curled up on the floor of the van, softly crying. She cries because she wants to go home. She cries because that fills her with guilt. “Don’t you want to be with your baby brother?”