The first thing I noticed as I entered the room was a tattered Bible on her pillowcase. She was napping, so I quietly laid my brown paper bag with my belongings on the nightstand and left. Her name was Ashlea and we would be roommates for the next three days.
Turns out we were the same age. She looked way younger. I joked with her about aging dramatically from having a rambunctious toddler boy. She wanted what I had. She wanted a husband who loved her and crazy kids running around. Right now, she didn’t even have parents that wanted her. She was told to get it together and then she could return home to Orlando.
Ashlea was quite intelligent and fun to be around. She started walking the halls with me. Our tennis shoes made a flopping sound as they hit the floor. They take your shoelaces and you’d be surprised at how quickly you get shin splints. We learned a lot about each other in the hallway. She had been in and out of treatment facilities, group homes and shelters for years.
“Don’t do drugs. Drugs are bad,” she would say. I wholeheartedly agreed, thanking God that I never suffered with addition. I told her that my brain just misfires on its own, no need for drugs. “I’m just special,” I said. Cue the eye roll.
For three days, we hung out like we had been best friends our whole life. We ate in the cafeteria together, watched TV, and listened to music. We’d sneak into the snack room to eat late at night. There was another lady that would meet us there and we’d down cereal like college students trying to curb a hangover.
We walked the halls, chatted with the other ladies, and then we’d stay up talking in our room. She didn’t talk about her past much. She talked more about what she wanted. I thought that was a great plan, but I knew she fought the demons from her past every night.
When she’d lay her head on the pillow, her mind would spin. She said it was like a tape on replay. Over and over again she would relive the nightmares of her life. That’s why the worn out Bible stayed on her pillow. She would give it all over to God, so she could sleep.
I told her I sing and listen to music a lot. It helps me take control of my thoughts. We didn’t have our phones, so we started belting out tunes. “Fight Song,” I said. “That is your song. I’ve heard it on the radio a lot lately!”
She immediately started singing the chorus, “This is my fight song, take back my life song….” The girl could sing. I just listened as she sang. We ended the day on a high note.
One afternoon, we both plopped down on our twin beds. Mine made a rather loud cracking noise and the air in the mattress sunk in.
“I think I just broke mine,” I said laughing through my nose. “Wonder how much this is going to cost me. A band-aid is ten dollars. Do you think insurance will cover it?” The laughing broke the tension from the group session we just came from.
The group session consisted of a dozen ladies around this conference style table sharing their stories. Heart wrenching stories. I didn’t say much and neither did Ashlea. The majority of the women had life-altering abuse starting at a young age. Physical abuse, mental abuse, and sexual abuse. There were uncles, foster parents, fathers, and momma’s boyfriends. There were the nightmares of living on the streets, loneliness, fear and betrayal.
They were tattooed with a life of hard knocks.
It wasn’t fair. None of it. They never deserved the hand they were dealt.
After each lady’s story, the therapist would talk them through some things and give them coping skills. She was such a lovely lady. You could tell she really loved the women and took her job seriously.
Ashlea shared a bit of her struggle with drugs. But nothing more.
I honestly was embarrassed to share any part of my story, because my life wasn’t traumatic and scarred with abuse. I just won the genetic lottery pool, so I made them laugh with a quick witted story. Then I told the ladies about “ten fingers”, because that helped me through an incredibly dark night.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” I said out loud counting on both hands. “See, ten fingers.” (Philippians 4:13)
I’m not sure how many times I said the verse during one awful night. But I remembered counting on my hands pressed against the cold concrete floor and then I would get back up. Over and over again.
So laughing, stomach hurting – tears streaming laughing was needed after the session.
We finally caught our breath again. She was hyperventilating from laughter as I tried to tighten it back together with my hands. I gave up and slowly sat back down.
“What do you want to do?” I asked.
“You sure nap a lot,” I said.
“I didn’t sleep much last night. Someone was snoring,” she replied.
“Oops, sorry about that. But not really sorry. I have to sleep in order to go home. Lack of sleep is the only thing the doctors think may trigger my misfire. I’m kind of skeptical,” I said.
“But I will get out of here, so you can get some sleep.”
I stood up and stopped at the foot of her bed. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Yes,” she replied.
“How old were you?” I asked
“Five. I was five and it lasted until I was eight. And then again when I was older. And again when I was using drugs.”
“I’m sorry,” I softly said.
“You take a nap. Sing the Fight Song and take a nap,” I said.
“Your recompense is coming.”
Fight Song by Rachel Platten