Just a Girl

I had forgotten about her until I was scrolling through our vacation photos on the computer. And, there it was: a photo of my oldest daughter and another girl, big smiles on both faces, her arm around Belly’s shoulder.That should have been it: a nice photo to capture a nice memory.

Unfortunately, there is an asterisk next to that memory that I cannot erase.

I met her on our first night at the campground. It was after 9, dark, and I was walking to the bathhouse to brush my teeth. She walked into the girls’ room with me and, after using the toilet, talked to me while I brushed.

And talked, and talked and talked.

In a few short minutes, I learned that they had been living at the campground. They had just found an apartment in town. She had several siblings, one of which was with her grandmother and was either a foster child or was about to be a foster child (she talked fast). Her mother was pregnant with another baby, due soon (pregnant and camping? oy, her poor back!). She was 7.

I told her I had a daughter her age who would love to have a playmate while we were here.

And so the next morning, they played together. While we were on the playground, a loud, rumbling pickup pulled up to the playground. A couple sat in the front: the woman was large, and I thought I recognized her as the woman with few teeth I had seen in the camping store. The man was even larger and unsmiling. He yelled her name and beckoned her to crawl into the backseat.

“That’s my stepfather!”, she said brightly as she ran toward the truck. I smiled, waved at her parents and was ignored. The truck left a cloud of dust behind it as I brought my foolish arm down.

The truck returned at 12:30am that night, slowly passing our tent, its muffler-less presence echoing in the quiet dark.

Why was I worried about this girl? Why did I think so much about her and what her life was like? Was this unsmiling man, her stepfather, kind to her? Where were all the siblings she had mentioned that first night? How long had she been living in a tent?

Did her mother take her to a dentist for goodness sake?

It really was none of my business, was it? After all, she hadn’t asked for help, she seemed as bright as the sunshine and, if there was anything wrong, I hadn’t seen it.

The only thing wrong was that it seemed that her family was poor, very poor. But should I even call that a “wrong”? My family had lived just north of “no money” for much of my adolescence, and I turned out fine.

I would have liked to ask her if she was ok. But a grown woman coming at a just-met 7 year old with those questions would have been over the top.

By our last morning, she was gone. I’ve decided that they got to their new apartment, and she danced around the empty rooms, talking all the while. Her siblings returned and her mother had a baby which she held at every chance. She is now warm in her bed, not in a sleeping bag on the cold, hard ground.

She is fine.


  1. I’m convinced that sometimes these people come into your life for a reason.

    Your kids are very lucky.

  2. Oh, that poor child. I hope now that she’s in a clean, sunny apartment, that she has bubble baths in the evening and a cozy bed at night and cartoons after school.

  3. Sure puts things in perspective, doesn’t it…

    I hope her new reality is even brighter than your vision.

  4. Subspace Beacon says

    Poor lil’ kid. What a start to life. My son had a classmate like this last year. It broke my heart.

  5. Mason's Mom says

    Sad and intense, thanks for sharing.

  6. This surely does put it all into perspective. That girl sounds like a survivor to me.

  7. Every year I have a few students who I remember in this same way…like my 14-year-old student who had a baby (with a 19-year-old guy) that her foster mom refused to support because the state wasn’t paying for the additional child.

    We can only hope for the best for them.

  8. Issas Crazy World says

    My daughter once had a friend that i so wondered about; wondered if she got enough to eat, had a warm bed to sleep in or got kissed goodnight. Just when I considered looking into it, they left the state.

    I hope both little girls are somewhere being taken care of.

  9. You are such an amazing writer. This makes me realize how lucky we are.

  10. AnotherMomCreation says

    Its so sad that this is what we wonder about people, and wish we could do more to help.

    Thank you for making me appreciate my own life just a little bit more today.

  11. She will remember that nice lady and her daughter who played with her at the campground and find inspiration from those fleeting moements as she gets older – I’m sure of it.

  12. creative-type dad says

    Hopefully she’s living a happy, well-adjusted life

  13. What a great way to write about such a sad/touching story. Loved it.

  14. ever read The Glass Castle? I can’t think of anything else when I read this post. 5 enthusiastic stars. And the author comes out of unbelievable abject poverty to write about it.

  15. springtreeroad says

    i hope you’re right. 🙁

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