"I'm gonna get a tattoo when I turn 18", she said, "since mom won't let me get one now". "Oh, yeah?", I asked flippantly, "What are you gonna get?". "I'm gonna get my name tattooed on me." "Really, your name? Why?" "That way when I turn up dead, they'll know who I am and how to get my body back to my mom."
I laughed awkwardly at her and tried to make light of what she'd said. "No, really. I mean, what other kind of end could I meet?". It wasn't a question she expected me to answer. She already knew the answer.
I stared at her for a minute. A very long minute. Her eyes, normally flashing - with laughter, anger, love, intelligence - looked dead. This beautiful 17 year old girl. Smart. So damn smart. Funny. Compassionate. Quick to defend those she loved. So loyal to those who were loyal to her. Amazing mother, not even with the qualifier "for a teenager". Just amazing, regardless of her age. Perhaps, though, even more so because of her age. Champion breastfeeder. Somehow practicing attachment parenting, before I even knew what it was.
I couldn't imagine why she would even think something so macabre. I shook my head and didn't know what to say. So I didn't say anything. I asked how the baby was. Her face lit back up. She told me all the new things he'd learned in the past week. I tried to forget what she'd said. But 11 years later, I still hear her. I still see her eyes.
And I wonder.
I wonder if she ever got that tattoo. I wonder if that's how they knew who she was when they found her in the car this morning. I wonder if the police already knew her on sight and didn't need that tattoo.
And I wonder if they know who she was. Before the drugs took hold. Before the men beat her. Before she had so many babies. Before she forgot how to dream. Before she forgot the possibilities. Before she forgot her own worth.
When she was just a girl. The girl I sat with. The girl I was supposed to be teaching how to parent. The girl who taught me so much about parenting. The girl who taught me about ignoring obstacles. The girl who taught me how naïve I was. The girl I've thought about often. The girl who was stronger than anyone I've ever met.
Or if all they saw was the girl with the dead eyes.
Today's Lesson: There are some people in our lives who attach a piece of themselves to our hearts. And when those people leave us, we want an explanation. And sometimes there is none. We must still find a way to find peace. And hope that they have as well.