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Driving Lessons


By: Kailyne Waters

During the spring and summer months, Ohio is fondly referred to as the orange barrel state. Driving late in the evenings can feel like taxiing down a runway, florescent beams guiding your narrow path between oncoming road jets on one side and dangerous slabs of concrete on the other.

The winter months typically bring relief from the navigational headache of barrels and their subsequent detours. I guess the powers that be; in this case, the Ohio Department of Transportation figures that survinving snow, ice, sleet and hail is payment enough for the joys of living in this state. It isn't long after the first thaw that you will happen upon an orange vested road crew surveying some unpaved land for the next chapter of "Better Living through Better Roads." I opt to be less adventuresome, and take it as a clue, noting which areas to avoid in a few short months.

To find a detour in the winter months is more odd than troublesome. It actually gives me something to do, as each of my days is filled with cruising the vastness of farmland. I came across one such detour on this particular day. A few months had passed since the good weather had gone south for the winter, and my navigational skills were a little rusty. I found myself concentrating more heavily than usual as I steered my way around the barrels lining the streets. Once in the clear, I was led through a series of scratched and worn out tin, detour signs, guiding me around a town I had never seen. I once read that there is really no way to get lost in a place if you had actually never been there. So, I took my time, trusting whose ever-kind hands thoughtfully posted the signs.

Traveling slowly through the detour also gave me ample time to think about what I had just experienced in the stop before. It was close to Christmas, and Leslie had just been discharged from the hospital. She was facing the uncertainty of dementia. The doctors weren't sure if her recent dizzy spells were resulting from the flu or from the onset of one of the most debilitating effects of AIDS.

Entering into someone's home as stranger and leaving knowing their life history is unsettling (more for the patient, I'm sure). Especially in the light of the reality that we will a.) probably never see each other again, and b.) would not have met otherwise. I often enter into the most devastating of circumstances. I imagine it feels like sifting through the rubble of an earthquake or tornado searching for and collecting what pieces of life remains. Pieces of life that can only be strung together to bridge the time before the devastation with what was left behind.

It is stressful enough to be in a medical crisis. The issue is compounded when most of the calls you receive in a day are from bill collectors. I'm not sure if I am a welcome or unwelcome sight. With me come the service offers. Financial assistance, possibly hope for a seemingly eternal medication bottle, but does little to alleviate the burden's source. My job is simply to focus on completing the application for assistance, and many times I am not aware of the circumstances surrounding the hospital admission. Sometimes there is what is known as a patient card attached - offering name, age, admit and discharge date, and diagnosis. Sometimes not. I have learned to read between the lines with people in order to follow along. I don't ask unless it is offered.

I'm sorry was all that I could offer Leslie. We sat in her living room, pictures of her children providing the backdrop. It was Christmas and she was dying. She expressed wanting to get her story down in writing somehow. Mainly for her daughter, I imagine who understood less and less the changes in her mom.

I flipped back over my case notes to the patient card. Her name, birth date, admit and discharge information were typed out. On the bottom, the word AIDS had been scratched out in pen. I flipped the card over searching for something else. I don't know what exactly - maybe a place where I could follow the logic of this 23 year old life. I searched for the proverbial fork in the road, where abundant life was guaranteed one way and debilitating death the other. I searched for the place where she had gotten off track, avoiding the signs, and headed on despite the carefully laid warnings. It wasn't there of course. She had lived her life the way we all live, devoid of detour signs and orange barrells. And now she was dying.

My work has taught me a few things. Mainly how to clear through the wreckage and string together what the past offered a child, and what the adult gathered and made from it. After sharing some time with Leslie, it was hard to ignore the link between the wreckage of child sexual abuse and the bridge to teen "promiscuity" and pregnancy. A significant number of pregnant teens report being sexually abused prior to their pregnancy. And it is reported the average age of a pregnant teen is around twelve, while the average age of her male partner is twenty-five. Is this truly promiscuity or further abuse? This only represents the indirect result of sexual abuse. The overt, direct result of abuse is pregnancy itself. Perpetrators don't participate in consensual sex, what do you think the percentage is of those who practice it safely? I guess the hands that construct detours are not always so kind, as was the case for Leslie and myself.

I closed the case file. Snow began to fall as I steered clear of the detours, heading back onto my road of origin. Her case would be approved. She was poor and disabled enough for state assistance.

Leslie's Words

"I was born June 4th, 1972, but at the young age of three months, my mother, Julie, left me in a restroom, lying on the floor with a note saying what kind of formula I drank and a blanket. From there, I went into Department of Human Services Child Custody. I was placed with a wonderful foster family, Lucille and Veryl Schrader. For the first four years of my life, I went to the Schrader's and then to Julie's, only to be taken away again from neglect and abuse. Life with my foster parents was the total opposite of life with Julie, I knew I was loved and wanted and that I mattered. When I was about two or three years old, Julie had told Lucille that she did not love me or want me, but that if she would allow Lucille and Veryl to adopt me, her father would never talk to her again.

Even after Julie regained full custody, the abuse continued. There was physical, emotional and sexual abuse going on, but I was so afraid of not being loved if I told that I could never say a word about it. The sexual abuse happened so often that I began believing that it was how life was supposed to be. To this day only a very few people know about the things that went on. There was times that if the dishes were not clean, they were broken over my head, or skillets were thrown at me. If I left the cupboard doors open, my head would be slammed into them. I was always told I was stupid and that I would never amount to anything. Or instead of being called by my name, I was called bitch.

On the night before I left for good, Julie had found some letter that a friend had wrote me, and she went off the wall. She began hitting me with a board, and all I can remember is seeing this look in her eyes that scared me to death. As the beating continued, I thought for sure she was going to kill me. That was the night that I decided one way or the other I was going to get out of there. That night I called my boyfriend Karl and told him I was leaving. We decided I could go to Florida with him and his friend Jim. We made plans to meet the next evening. Before school I packed my duffel bag with a few things and left never to return again.

I met Karl and Jim at the local pizza shop and we left. I knew this trip would not be an easy one, but I never knew the reality of a poorly planned trip. By the time we arrived in Georgia, we were broke, tired, hungry and in need of gas. We found a Salvation Army, and were able to get food, gas and clothing vouchers to continue on our way.

The next evening we had arrived in Tampa, Florida. We had made it, but where would we go from there? We found a little place along side Tampa Bay to set up camp, and had fake ID's made so that I could go to work. We continued to camp until we had saved enough money to rent an apartment. We rented a two-room apartment. A place where you had to share a bathroom with everyone else in a run-down, bug infested building. We had a roof over our heads, food in our stomachs, and I had finally broken free from the abuse and torment of knowing that I was not wanted or loved. I continued working through the temporary service and eventually was put on a permanent work ticket cleaning hotel rooms near the beach. Life was going pretty good, until Karl started hanging around a "bad" crowd and using cocaine. He came home one night high trying to start a fight. Well, he succeeded and proceeded to beat me around the apartment. To say the least, that was the end of Karl and I.

As I would be walking to work every morning and home every night, a local pimp had started casing me, telling me how much money I could be making if I would just let him take care of me. Well, I knew what he wanted me for, and I tried to stay as far away from him as I possibly could. But, every day it was the same thing over and over. I was doing pretty good until one day I was picked up for being a run away. They took me to the police station and called Julie. When they asked her what she wanted them to do with me, she said she didn't care what they did with me. So, I was taken to a runaway shelter, but I didn't stay. But, after this life started getting rougher, because everyone now knew I was only 15 and not 18 as they had thought. I had lost my apartment, and now had to find somewhere else to sleep. There were many nights of sleeping under bridges and on benches or wherever I could lay my head. About two weeks later, as I was walking home from work, I was jumped, beaten and raped by two unknown men. After filing a police report, and being told that finding these two men was unlikely, I tried to put it behind me. But, Florida was not turning out to be the place I thought it would be. i was a mess after this, and now I was afraid to go anywhere by myself. I was alone and scared.

In December of 1988, Julie and my stepfather John were in Clearwater on vacation. They told me I could go back home with them. I decided I could no longer do this on my own, so once again, I was going back to Ohio. I didn't know when I left Florida; I was already three months pregnant. I was 16.

I went to work as a waitress and tried to save money for my baby and me. Julie had talked my Aunt Jane into letting me move in with her and her husband and four daughters.

It was on June 15th, 1989 just nine days after turning seventeen that I gave birth by c-section to my 7 pound, 14 ounce son Michael. He seemed to me to be the most beautiful baby in the world."

Micheal's birth was followed by the birth of his sister, Andrea. Now both children will become wards of the State of Ohio, as their mother had been.

About the Author

Kailyne is a writer and member of Cleveland Filmmakers. Her past work has included the creation of a non profit agency focusing on the arts as an expression of healing for adult survivors of childhood trauma; advocacy for the housing rights of the homeless, single parent families, and persons with disabilities; and most recently, support to persons in the process of receiving affordable health care through Medicaid.Medicaid is the name used for government funded free health care in the United States.

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