There are moments from my childhood that always live with me, and sometimes, when my mind starts to wander while I am brushing my teeth or driving on the interstate, those memories come back to me, and I start to wonder about people I lost touch with and places I probably won’t return to.
Recently, my mind drifted to seventh grade when my family lived in Groton, Connecticut. Our neighborhood was situated on a giant hill, and to catch the bus to school each morning, we walked to the bottom of the hill. I stopped by Lillian’s* house on the way. She was my walking buddy.
I liked walking with Lillian because we were very similar. She was quiet like me, and she had strict parents just like I did. She was a good listener and thought deep thoughts that I understood.
But I remember in my twelve- or thirteen-year-old mind that something was wrong. Lillian was sad. One day on the way to the bus stop, we discussed a book she was reading called Go Ask Alice, which is about a depressed teen who was addicted to drugs. I knew deep down that Lillian could relate, not to drug addiction, but to the intense sadness and confusion that Alice felt.
Sometimes, Lillian was ready to leave seconds after I knocked on the door, her backpack slung over her shoulder and her hand grasping the doorknob as she closed the door quickly behind her. But there were also times when Lillian was not ready for school, and the door would crack open, and Lillian or one of her brothers would tell me that she was not ready before quickly closing the door. I would wait for what felt like a long time. Twice, Lillian was crying as she closed the door behind her.
The first time, I asked Lillian why she was crying, but she shook her head and did not tell me. The second time, she did. She said that her father had let her use a binder she found in the house because no one was using it. She needed the binder for school. Her step mom found her with the binder, went into a rage, took it from her, and hit her with it several times.
I cannot remember what I said to Lillian anymore, but I am not sure what you say to console a young girl whose stepmother beat her with a binder first thing in the morning.
I have thought about that morning when Lillian cried on the way to the bus stop off and on for the last fifteen years or so. My family moved to Virginia in 2001, and I never knew what happened to Lillian. I worried about her home life and if she would make it through. I had written her letters, but after a while, I didn’t hear from her. I assumed that in the best-case scenario, the Navy stationed Lillian’s father somewhere else, and they had moved. I didn’t want to think about the worst-case scenario.
About a year later, I asked my friend from Groton if she knew Lillian and knew what had happened to her.
“I heard she ran away and that they couldn’t find her,” my friend told me. That was all she knew.
I looked for news articles to see if there were local reports on her, but I couldn’t find anything. In high school, I looked for Lillian on Facebook. Nothing. I prayed for Lillian then, and I still pray for her. I pray that she is liberated from her childhood, that she is happy and free, and that she knows Jesus.
Lillian reminds me that I never know what people are going through, and her story reminds me to shed more grace in my relationships and in my interactions with strangers. Maybe the person who yells at me on the phone at work is really yelling about her husband who is threatening to divorce her. Maybe the loud child in the grocery story is sad, lonely, and bullied at school. I may never know what goes on behind the front door of someone’s home, and I may never know about the troubled thoughts that plague someone’s mind, but I can control how I treat that person.
Lillian reminds me to listen, to be kind, and to pray.
*My friend’s name has been changed.