Several years ago, our friends at Brains on Fire asked me a question that took my breath away. Partly because of how unexpected the question was, and partly because of how deep the chord struck, when they asked it.
“If you could say anything today, to the girl known only as 146, what would you say?”
The following is my bumbling attempt to answer that question. Words that give flight to the ache that has been inside of me ever since I first looked through the glass window of the brothel she was enslaved in.
You don’t know me, but I know you. Though I only “met” you once, I have thought about you every day for years. I see you every time I talk about you. And I talk about you often. Sometimes your face is the last thing I see at night before I fall asleep.
Photo by: Carolyn Cole
Though we never exchanged a word, I will never forget the night I first “met” you. It was the night, as my friend Desirea likes to say; “that I woke up.” For you, it was another horrific night spent in a brothel.
You didn’t know it, but on that particular night, on the other side of the glass window, scattered throughout the usual group of “customers,” were others who were not there to buy. They were not like the men you were used to seeing there. They were people not motivated by lust and greed, but by justice and compassion. And they didn’t fully realize then, how their lives would never be the same because of you.
Everything in me as a father, as a man, as a human being, wanted to get you out of there that night, but we were unable to. I am so, so sorry. The thought of you or any child having to endure and survive another night in a place like that shreds me to this day.
My hope and prayer is that maybe, soon after I saw you, someone, somehow got you out of that dreadful place. Maybe you made it back home to a Mother and Father who loved you and ached for your return. Maybe you are all grown up now. Maybe you are still out there somewhere.
I often wonder about your story. Where did you come from? Did you have brothers and sisters? How did you spend your days before the nightmare began? Did you play with friends in the dusty streets of your village, or plant vegetables with your Mom? How did you end up in that horrendous place?
What I wanted to say, shout, scream to you then, I say to you now. You are more than a number. You are precious. You are not a commodity. Please don’t give up. Don’t stop fighting. We will never forget.
Your stare still haunts us. That fierce look of strength, fight, resilience and distant hope…became our mandate.
There are children who are being protected and defended because of you. Children who will never have to know the same nightmare. And there are children, having survived the same atrocities that you experienced, who are now in a safe place, recovering their lives and childhoods.
We haven’t forgotten. There are thousands now who know your story and tell it with the hope and passion that one day, the insanity and injustice of modern day slavery will come to an end. And when it does, you will be a part of why it did.
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