We all have something of the orphan in us. Rejection, loneliness and the bleak reality that we die alone color some of our darker imaginings. I’ve a soft spot for fictional orphans. As a writer I collect broken people. I give them homes in MY BOOKS. They tend to wreak havoc. The same is true for real orphans.
Watching the first episode in the new series about the red-headed orphan girl Anne of Green Gables with my own orphan girl last week offered striking contrasts and similarities. I applaud the new edgier Anne. She comes far closer to the reality of orphans.
Here’s what orphans do (well, my orphan in particular):
THEY TALK. Non-stop. Anne talks about poetry and at times is quite insightful. Our orphan girl was so brutalized at a young age we may never fully understand how much of her potential was lost. Entire blocks of learning do not exist. The level of trauma was so severe in her early school years that while she was there, she really wasn’t there at school. Her last IQ test score was a 57.
But talk she does. When not talking about earrings or insane arguments that make no sense she sings gibberish songs. A rink-dink-dink-dink-dinky-doo is one of her favorites. My teenage son whispered to me in the kitchen the other day, “Oh my god, I’ve got a rink-dink-dink-dinky-doo stuck in my head. Please kill me now.”
Kids with reactive-attachment disorder (RAD) never shut up. They rob the air from the room. They MUST be in CONTROL of all time, all space and all people. Anne makes it look kind of cute but in reality it can be “nerve-grinding” (a new phrase I’ve learned from books on RAD).
This winter the incessant talking and stalking caused me to question my sanity many times. Not cute. According to the books, people who take in RAD kids have a higher suicide rate. (Don’t worry. I’m not there yet)
ORPHANS CHARM: When I first met our orphan she told me I was the most beautiful woman she’d ever seen. After ten awkward minutes of playing a board game she didn’t understand our orphan announced that she loved me and wanted to live with me forever. The director of the children’s shelter told me not to feel too bad if it didn’t work out because no one thought it would. I remember how eagerly the shelter workers hustled the orphan into my waiting car and how relieved they all looked when the girl was strapped in.
I like how in the new Anne series Anne manipulates RACHEL LYNDE into forgiving her. Our orphan has many people in the system and at her school convinced that she is the sweetest kid on the planet. At home she writes sexually explicit stories in her notebooks and calls me a lot of names (on papers she leaves around her room) that paint another picture of me.
ORPHANS STARE: They just sit there and stare. The occasional weird grown-up will actually get offended and ask our orphan why she’s staring at them. She often doesn’t know. Sometimes a face or color, the tone of a voice or the feel of a fabric will bring something back to her that she can’t put a finger on. The terror it taps into is so profound it causes all rational thought to cease. And then it’s gone and she wants ice-cream.
ORPHANS DO THE DISHES: And then they break the dishes. Anne, trying to prove her worth, jumps from the table to wash dishes. She drops them in nervous haste. In that moment we see the terror rise up. Mistakes made by orphans remind them of other mistakes–and punishments: the belt, the switch, the name-calling and the being tied to a chair for days with the help of duct tape.
Our orphan always wants to help out and do dishes. It always ends badly. We say, “You’re still loved, but, really, stay away from washing the dishes.”
ORPHANS HAVE WEIRD DIETS: Anne gets into trouble when she serves her friend wine by mistake. She’s never had wine or fruit drinks and doesn’t know the difference. Our orphan eats goat food right out of the dirty feeders. The feeders that little shitty goat hooves have trampled in. Our orphan ate green beans off of the floor of a public bathroom at the beach last summer.
“Safe” is just another word that makes her stare.
ORPHANS HURT SMALLER CREATURES: Anne is kind to animals. Our orphan girl pretends to be kind to animals. She is not to be left alone with our dogs. She’s broken hard things over the soft belly of our retriever. We didn’t even believe it at first, but it’s true. Her moods and tempers must be harnessed. Her brain retrained, but it’s a hard road (especially when she laughs at an animal’s suffering).
Being an orphan is a life sentence. We all end life alone, but we’re drawn to the redemption stories of orphans. The homecomings, the healing and the forgiveness of great sins.
I believe in destiny, God and his command to take care of the orphans. Loving the unlovable looks so nice in period costume.
As spring comes on strong here at the farm I see some growth in the orphan (and maybe a little in me). The girl didn’t know how to read last year. It was painful to hear her butcher Dr. Seuss. Now she reads chapter books and understands some of the jokes. She sucks at math but her teacher raves about her blossoming storytelling on paper.
Our orphan wants to dress like Anne and is now able to take long walks in the country by herself without fearing death. Sometimes she tells us things that are coherent and interesting. She tries using big words. No one really believes her true IQ is so low. Tests scare her.
Anne’s adoptive parents initially think Anne is a big mistake. They wanted a boy, but Anne was their destiny.
Our orphan is not what we thought we wanted. She’s just as cute as Anne of Green Gables, but she’s real. Broken things in real life don’t often mend with beautiful music in the background.
Yet there is a reason orphans are mentioned so often in the Bible. It’s easy to love a beautiful little girl on the big screen, but we are commanded to love the beaten, the neglected and the people everyone else has kicked to the curb. yes, sometimes it sucks. But I live for the signs of spring, new growth and happy endings.
***Not all orphans come with the same problems, skills or attitudes.