Lost Girls

Randi was a “red-headed stepchild” Big and fat with zits, her body matured too soon. She had “female issues” before we had “the class” to explain them. She was a maverick and spoke her mind to the nuns at school, to the boys in the class and to me.

I adored her. I followed her everywhere, stayed at her house, found some way to get the nuns to let us sit together; the bad girl with the quiet, studious one. I was small, skinny, boyish and awkward. I never spoke my mind and I almost always did what I was told.

Maybe my wimpiness irritated Randi. Maybe she was lashing out because her parents were really hard on her and the nuns blamed her (usually correctly) for any misbehavior. Nonetheless, Randi beat the heck out of me regularly. She pulled my hair, punched me in the shoulder, she knuckled me in the thigh to give me a charley-horse. Her favorite trick was to grab my wrist during the quiet part of mass and start pulling. As soon as I tugged back she let go causing my pointy little elbow to hit the wood pews and make a terrible loud BANG. I was mortified every time.

I was Randi’s constant companion for three years. From age 9 to about 11 we were inseparable. Other girls would ask me why I put up with her being so mean to me and I didn’t know how to answer. Finally, about age 11 I’d had enough and started to hang around another crowd. She befriended the new girl in school who was even smaller and sweeter than I was and we drifted apart.

I remember when we were 13 years old and everybody knew that Randi was into all kinds of trouble. We were all stretching our limits, but as usual, Randi was audacious. Everybody knew that Randi’s parents were strict and that there were all kinds of terrible consequences to her actions. Her house was right across the street from the school. When the nuns would call her mom we winced to see her angry face as she strode across the street, over the playground and up to the office where Randi was waiting.

I can’t remember if Randi and I went to the same high school. I think we did. We had grown completely apart by then. I didn’t think about , except fleetingly for a long time. I saw her parents around town from time to time and when I would ask, her mother would just roll her eyes and say “you know .” And leave it at that.

Probably 5 years after high school, I got a letter, sent to my parents’ house, from Randi. She wrote me from the women’s penitentiary. She was doing time for passing bad checks. She was passing bad checks to fund her heroin addiction. She was humble and sweet and her handwriting still looked like I remembered it in grade school. I was shaken and shocked. We were girls in a white, California suburb in Catholic School. You aren’t supposed to know anyone in prison.

Three weeks after getting the letter, I made arrangements to go and visit . She made no attempt to hide the tracks on her arms and I couldn’t help but stare at them. She didn’t make any excuses about what she had made with her life nor did she seem very surprised. She was resigned, tired (at 23!) and hardened. We chatted, she giggled. We talked about our shared passion for horses. We had nothing else in common. We hugged, I left and drove silently the 2 hours home.

I never heard from again. No letters, no more invites to visit her in prison. She’s not the kind of old acquaintance that you can Google and find out what Alumni Assn. she’s part of or what PTA’s she might be running. You won’t see her at a class reunion.

I, like anyone at the battering end of an abusive relationship, remember as generous, funny and bold. I remember how badly I felt about the way her parents treated her compared to her younger brother and sister. I remember thinking that the nuns blamed her for all kinds of things until she just didn’t care anymore.

I don’t’ remember Randi being good at anything. She wasn’t a good student or a good athlete or talented at sewing or art. She was good at shocking people and she developed a taste for that as we grew to adolescence. Randi was a girl who had no control over her life and no feeling of accomplishment. What could have helped ? What kind of adult mentor would have helped flesh out Randi’s talents and given her something to be proud of? Who made Randi feel special? Who loved her?

Would Square Pegs have been able to help ? Or would her behaviors frustrated the instructors, her weight make us unlikely to put her on a horse? I’d like to think that we could have given her a space to be helpful, to reward her generosity and her outspokenness.

Funny that Randi wouldn’t have qualified for any special classes. She didn’t have a learning disability, she wasn’t poor, wouldn’t have been considered “at risk” until after her second arrest. Nobody would write us a grant to help the Randi’s of the world. But she had a heart that was unloved and unappreciated. And society got what it had coming from her.

While it is too late for Randi, Square Pegs is loving our way toward changing the way people see themselves. This one’s for you Randi.

One Reply to “Lost Girls”

  1. Joell,
    Even though she was "lost" she wrote to you. You were abused by her but you admired her beyond the physical until you couldn't rationally do that to yourself. She learned that lesson even if she couldn't live it and you reinforced yourself to her when you saw her. Keep your own heart open and only good can come to other people in due time. Maybe she is the reason you have Square Peg, the injustice, the misery, and despair of her young life which you witnessed first-hand when you were helpless to help. You will never be helpless to help again in your life. Some angels in our lives, we can't do a thing for them but they change our lives forever.
    Love you,

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