little big girl

She pokes her head around the corner of my office. Jen? I look up. It's a girl I've known since she was 11 and I haven't seen her in a year or so and she's probably 16 by now. Her long hair falls around her face. Oh my god, honey. Hi! I jump up and walk over to the door and open my arms to embrace her.

She walks around the door and I can see her fully. Holy shit, she's enormously pregnant. I look at her belly and look in her eyes. She looks at me and then away and I give her an awkward strong hug.

So, babe, holy shit. You look absolutely beautiful but wow, this is a surprise. I know, she says. I had to come and see you. I'm so fat. Honey, you aren't fat, you're pregnant. And exhausted too, right? She nods her beautiful head.

She came to us five or so years ago, her mom had left a horrible abuser and was attempting to raise her and her little brothers on her own for the first time. Mom was terrific but overwhelmed, a lifetime of abuse and poverty had dictated her reality, she had babies too soon and struggled ever since. Ami was the oldest and adorable, a young girl who'd seen too much and wanted the love of her father above all else, something she'd never get to have.

She quickly took to some of us and over the course of a couple of years we became surrogate older sisters. I remember her coming to talk about sex when she was 13, a terrifying conversation of peer pressure and boys, of risks and loneliness and confusion. I tried then to dissuade her, to remind her of her beauty and strength and value. She listened and yet took some the condoms from the dish on my desk and I knew then and in the year to come, by the make up on her face and the clothes she wore, I knew we were going to lose her. I've seen it too many times, this desperate searching for love.

They moved out and on and at the time I told her what I tell all the kids, that they can always call and I am always here. I can imagine the courage it took to finally show up today as pregnant as she was.

She looks so small to me now, her gigantic belly covered by a t-shirt with bunnies on it, the irony is almost too much. Are you okay? How can I help?

I'm so scared to have this baby, I know it's going to hurt so much. Well, babe, it probably will. But you'll get through it because you are one of the strongest girls I know.

Are you mad at me? She looks down at her belly. Honey, of course not. But I'm sad for you because you are still so young to be going through this and to be honest, I am somewhat in a state of shock. What happened to the condoms? She smiles. I knew you'd say something like this. And yet she came anyway.

It's a boy, she says. I'm naming him Alex after his dad. I smile while simultaneously wanting to find this little fucker and strangle him. That's a good strong name, babe. A perfect name. She lifts her little Hello Kitty backpack onto her lap and starts looking for something. Stickers and a stuffed animal and gum and a bunch of papers are piled onto my desk. She finds what she's looking for and hands it to me. It's a sonogram picture. He's gorgeous, I say. I can't wait to meet him.

We talk a bit more and she asks some birthing related questions and all of a sudden her mom walks into the room. She looks at me and comes over and hugs me and I look at her too and I want to cry. So what do you think? She says. I think you're going to have your hands full grandma. She smiles. I know. She's so young and I wanted her life to be different than mine.

And I don't have the words because I believe her and yet it's so obvious this was where Ami was headed, it was all the life she knew. It's the intergenerational poverty and a broken family and the repeating the past that slays me the most, this beautiful girl never really had a chance.

It's time for them to go and we all hug again. I hold Ami tight and remind me that I am here to help. I just wanted to see you, she says. I'll call you after the baby comes so you can come see him.

And I will. And we'll help her if she needs us, the mother passes to the daughter and the daughter becomes a mother, babies having babies and the drum beats on.