She was so young. She sat opposite us with wide eyes that sometimes stared at us, sometimes straight through us, sometimes looked down at the floor as though abashed, but something told me this might have been a ruse. We had been told there was a possibility that, as young as she seemed, she was quite capable of manipulating our emotions, but as I took more of her in, the scraped back hair, the rosy cheeks, the demeanour of a child, I could not bring myself to believe that.
This was the first time we had met her. We had seen photographs of course but here she was in the flesh; this made her real and therefore some, though not all, of my apprehension ebbed and I began to feel unworthy. The trauma she had been through for someone so young. If you met her without knowing any of her life story, you would be incredulous that the person sitting in front of you had been through so much in such a short space of time. But we did know and therefore our hearts went out to her as she clearly struggled with this meeting.
It was awkward; there was no denying that. We did not know how to behave. We wanted to reach out and give her a hug, we wanted a photographic momento of this first meeting, just the three of us, but how did we bring these things about without seeming intrusive? We wanted to tell her things that, if the dynamics had been different, might make her smile, but we did not know how to communicate and make her understand; we were paralysed by the emotion.
So we sat in silence for a while. I was staring and conscious of it. Every time she looked down at the floor I looked at her, trying to take more of her in without being obvious, trying not to catch her eye as though if that happened a connection would be formed that would be hard to break. Her social worker was talking, trying to break the ice, but although I could hear the gentle inflections and changes in tone and tempo, I could not register any of the words; I was too focused on looking at her, at her clothes, at the way she sat, at the blushed cheeks, at her eyes and lips, trying to see resemblances.
It was a charged meeting. At times I felt overwhelmed by contradictory emotions. There was warmth and sympathy, but there was also anger; anger at a world in which innocence could be taken away so lightly, anger at a world in which a child was not cherished above all else, anger that someone could allow such such a gift to be taken away, anger with her mother, her father, her grandparents, anger with anyone who had ever come into contact with her that did not, could not or would not see she needed help, but above all, she needed love. Not just the word but the action. Security. Nurture. Protection. Who protected her when she needed it? Nobody. Who deciphered, understood and most of all acted on the subtle clues that the child in pain sent out? Nobody. She had suffered alone.
I was furious on her behalf. Our lovely, joyful little daughter.
Was her daughter.