S___ was sobbing. She stood by the phones with her long hair draping her face, and big, clear tears rolling down her cheeks, and her eyes and cheeks were rippling with clenched anguish. People were perplexed. She wouldn't talk much. I was perhaps the third or fourth staff person called to try to talk to her.
I got her to sit down with me to talk about why she was crying, and for a while, she wouldn't look me in the eyes. She couldn't speak more than half a sentence before her face would flush, and this mask of angry grief would stop her and she would quietly wail.
"I feel everything," she would say. "Why do I have to feel everything at once?" And her high forehead pinches and her fists dig into her thighs, and she bares her teeth, looking for all the world like a caged and cornered animal, a fiercely desperate thing lost in the world.
Slowly, furtively, I get her to talk about her loved ones--the ones that haven't hurt her. By talking, she detaches from the convulsing, consuming emotions. It's painfully slow. I almost have to teach her how to talk. A survivor of trauma and abuse can build the most intractable walls against all comers, no matter how genuinely honest, and the grip of her despair is far stronger than anything I can offer in a few short minutes at the end of my shift.
So it is all the more remarkable to me how the same creases of her face that define the deeply rooted and engulfing grief, can also echo the broad, bursting smile, and her glittering eyes are lost in cheekbones, laughter etched at the bridge of her nose and the dimples on the corners of her mouth.
I've already forgotten what her drug of choice was. She stayed for less than two weeks. She left and came back three times before she left for good. I have no idea where she is now, how she's doing. I'm not even sure I remember her name. But her face, and the way she went from falling-down-like-a-burning-house to glowing-like-a-newborn, especially when she talked about her fiance ("He always says the right thing. I wish you could meet him. He always knows exactly what to say"), these are things I can't forget, thankfully. Through her, I, too, feel everything.