What if all you’ve got just isn’t enough? What do you do when you can’t give them the life they deserve to have? When you know that if they stay, they’ll die?
You make the hardest decision of your life, that’s what you do. But you do it for them. It’s the greatest sacrifice you’ll ever make.
You were twenty-three when you lost everything. Your daughter, two. Your husband gone, dead.
Before, you both worked, combining what you had to give your baby a home and some food. It never was much, but it was all there was, all you could give.
But when disaster struck, there were no more jobs, there was no more house, no more food. There was only a torn bedsheet, some sticks, a cardboard box. Food came when it came, and her cries pierced the heavy night air.
Hunger, cold, heat, bugs, thirst. Despair.
This is what she knew, your beautiful, innocent daughter.
There was an orphanage nearby, where food, shelter, love, were in ample supply.
“We only take orphans,” they said. Children who had no family.
But it was clean. It was shelter from the rain. It was soft mattresses with real sheets and blankets, and it was food. Food for her, real meals, not scraps. No more cries of hunger.
But they only take orphans.
You know your daughter is slowly dying. There’s no denying it. No growing child can live on what she lives on.
To give her life, you might never see her again.
If you walk up to the door of the orphanage, say, “I found this child alone on the street, she’s an orphan,” they will know your face. Or suppose she cries “Mama!” as she sees you walking away. They want to reunite children with their parents – and they only take orphans.
So you take her somewhere, somewhere safe. Where she’ll be found.
So, one night, in the heavy rain, you pack up all she has in a plastic grocery bag. It all fits, with plenty of room. You take her hand for what may be the last time, as you lead her along.
“Where going, Mama?” she asks. There’s no accusation in her voice, but it hurts like a knife to the heart.
So you walk, this last time, through the pouring rain, to the hospital. If she’s lucky, they’ll get her a meal tonight, and she’ll go to the orphanage in the morning.
Inside, you lead her through the hot, sticky halls until there is somewhere she’ll be safe for the night, where she won’t try to follow you away. You put her bag under the chair where she sits. When she tries to speak, you gently put a finger to her lips. “Shhh, baby. It’s okay.”
You gaze into her beautiful eyes this last time, knowing you will never see them again. You take in every inch of her face, burn it into your memory, hope it never fades away. You hold her precious head in your hands and tell her you love her, over, and over, and over.
“Why cry, Mama?”
Maybe someday she will remember, will remember that you loved her with everything you had. Maybe she will forget that the last thing you said to her was a lie, and she will remember the truth. You can only hope.
You wipe the thin sheen of sweat from her forehead. “You stay here, baby. Mama’s gotta go.”
Fighting the urge to scoop her into your arms and carry her away from all this, you shake your head. “Don’t worry, baby.”
You can’t stop the tears any longer. “Please, baby! Stay here. Mama … will … Mama will be back.”
As you turn the corner, running as fast as your fatigued body will take you, you feel as if a part of you has been torn away, a raw, open wound on your heart. Every sobbing breath is agony as the weight of what you have done crashes down on you.
This is the end – the end of your life. Nothing can ever be the same now. The precious light that was your reason for living is gone. Gone!
Slowly, as the rain pours down around you, a flicker of hope is found. She will live. And someday, maybe, you will find her. A face in the crowd, a person on the street, a passing stranger. Maybe, maybe, it will be her.
On the long, arduous journey home, all you can hear is her cries – not her usual cries of hunger, but the soul-piercing wail of a child abandoned by the only person she had in the world. Her fear, her pain, is palpable. It is yours. You have failed her.
But this is compromise. This is love.
Author’s Note: I wrote this in 2010. It was inspired by a true story I read in the newspaper about Haiti. It’s a very emotional piece, which is rare coming from me. I felt the need to write it in second person, as well, which I hope has a good effect.