Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Who Will Save Sasuke?

Usually when I write a post, there are elements of humor among the serious topics I discuss. In this post, I cannot inject a bit of humor. It is deadly serious. I mean that: there is in fact a life at stake here.

Sasuke is a freshman student at this college. She is a rather plain girl: oval face, unremarkable eyes, a somewhat narrow mouth and a straight nose. She wears her hair pulled back to expose smallish ears; unfortunately that hairstyle serves to highlight what must have been a terrible case of acne in her younger years. With her face so exposed, one cannot help but notice the pitting and scars on her cheeks. She is rather tall for a Chinese girl, nearly as tall as I am and painfully thin. She is decidedly different from all of the girls on campus.

Last semester she was in my class, and she proved to be a wonderful student, well versed in English. She is very intelligent and very deep. Her emotions are intense; they burn and radiate out from her. I think she scares the other students away from her with her intensity. I know she frightens me with her intensity.

I am not scared that she will harm me in any way. Quite the contrary: I fear she has formed an unnatural bond with me and now looks to me for constant affirmation and acceptance. What I am scared of is that she will harm herself.

Sasuke has some serious issues going on. I don’t know what trauma there is in her past but I recognize her for what she is: a victim of child abuse. I know that because I see in her some of the behaviors, mannerisms and emotions I exhibited due to my own traumatic past.

I often use music in the classroom to help the kids with their listening skills, as well as spoken English. Amazingly, when singing, these kids sound more like native English speakers than when they try to speak English. I will explore that phenomenon in another post. I only brought the topic up to introduce this one:

Girls and boys all over China love the song “Because of You” by Kelly Clarkson. As a result of that, and in an effort to reach my students at their level, we explored the lyrics of this song in class, and sang it together. Beautiful song!

Do you know it? If you don’t it is well worth the listen. Simply go to YouTube and search for the song and artist by that name (Not the Reba McEntyre version). Take a close look at the video and you will see what it is about: a girl dealing with the anger and sadness of having been neglected by her parents while they struggled through their marital problems, and ultimately the dissolution of their relationship. The poor little girl ended up neglected and forgotten, and it impacted her emotionally. The song is about the consequences of abuse and neglect.

Although this is a fairly common phenomenon in America, it is not quite the norm in China. The way families are structured here, if the parents are unavailable, for whatever reason, there are always grandparents, aunts, uncles… someone to look out for the child.

Sasuke apparently did not have the benefit of extended family, and she was certainly treated to adult behaviors not fit for a child. When we explored this song in class, she was the only one who ‘got’ the true meaning of the lyrics, right off the bat. When I pointed out the cultural differences between the States and China with regard to child rearing – my alluding to the fact that there is a protective emotional bubble constructed around the child, she shook her head and said ‘It is not always so’. That was not my first clue that not all was right with Sasuke.

The first clue was her mode of dress: whereas every other girl on campus comes equipped with a fashionable wardrobe, Sasuke wears no embellishments whatsoever. No jewelry, makeup or fancy clothing. Just jeans and Plain-Jane shirts. The next was offering me a gift upon first meeting me at English corner; this gift signified her attachment. She had actually left the meeting and come back to present me with a gift. Immediately my instincts shouted: “Danger! Emotional attachment forming!”

Not that I mind emotional attachments. It is just that I am not qualified to deal with attachments of this caliber. Once, in my past was a young girl named Deana who formed such an attachment and was devastated when I did not handle it properly. I didn’t know how to handle it properly and, arrogantly I believed I could help Deana all by myself. With Sasuke I see the same scenario playing out as with Deana.

I am now not so arrogant as to believe I can single-handedly help this young girl through her troubles. With age comes wisdom, and I now know that I cannot become emotional where she is concerned, as I did with Deana. I must maintain distance, even though distance is the last thing that Sasuke (and Deana before her) want from me. But that is what they need. Forming unnatural attachments is dangerous for people with issues such as Sasuke’s, Deana’s and mine of yore.

Sasuke now has Victor for a teacher. I do not see her regularly anymore but we do stay in touch. It was her birthday that we celebrated a few weeks back (see the entry “KTV, Now and Then”). We send text messages back and forth – usually me responding to her overtures. I am always careful to not engage her, and to remain neutral in my dealings with her. It is the safest way to handle this type of situation.

Recently, Sasuke visited my class as a guest student – she had actually cut a class to do so. While in class I noticed recent scars on her hands, so I accepted her invitation to dinner so that I could find out why she was cutting herself. Self-mutilation is a cry for help for people with deep emotional problems. To have rejected her could have meant her doing more serious harm to herself.

During this dinner, I took a ‘tough love’ approach. I pointed to her hand and asked her what she was doing. She hid her hand, embarrassed, but I forged on. I talked with her about harming herself being a sign that she needed more help than I could offer her. I told her I recognized where she was heading because I had been where she is now. I told her about some of the things I went through as an abused child, and how it took professional help and a lot of time and faith in myself and those who love me to overcome the trauma of what I had endured at the hands of my parents. I kept going back to the idea that professional help was the only way out of her suffering.

I also told her that she is different from other girls, and that it is OK to be different. I comforted her by saying that she will feel OK being different once she gets out from the monstrous wall of pain she lives behind. Again, I used myself and that song by Kelly Clarkson as examples of how one can overcome such pain and grief at unfairly being robbed of your childhood.

She confided that my eyes scare her sometimes. She feels that my eyes see right through to her deepest, darkest secrets. I replied that they do, and with good reason. Because she is me, thirty years ago. The situations may have been different, but the end result is the same: a tortured soul, trying to decide whether the agony of living is worth it. Again I told her that it took me several years of professional help to battle all of my demons.

I am not a trained clinician. I am not qualified to help the Sasukes or the Deanas of the world. I could barely help myself out of my own, dark thoughts. I am well aware of that. But… if I go talk to the Mental Health professionals on campus to seek help for her, I am in fact betraying her confidence. That is the last thing this broken girl needs. What to do? In America I would have the liberty of telling her that, for her own good and by law, I must report her behavior and her issues to the professionals. It doesn’t work that way here. All I know to do is remain detached, and keep hammering away at her and encouraging her to seek professional help, before the cuts on her hands become gashes across her carotid artery.

Incidentally: that dinner was actually a misnomer. Sasuke did not eat anything, and wouldn’t even sample my fried rice. So, knowing I am no knight on a white horse riding to the rescue, the question remains: who will save Sasuke?

Answer: Only Sasuke can save Sasuke by seeking professional help for her pain.

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