'What I saw'

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By Christie Elkins

Unwashed faces, cold embraces, empty looks of sleepless nights. Tubs filled with trash, no place to bathe, toilets overflowing. 

This is what I saw. 

Drugs hidden in microwaves, meth labs where kids used to play, sleeping on the floor since someone took the bed away. 

This is what I saw. 

Wearing pajamas to school — since that was the only thing clean. Relying on free lunch — since they hadn’t eaten in days. 

Washing up in the public restroom — since the water billed was not paid. 

This is what I saw. 

Bruises from uncle, dad and mom. Not sure when the lights will come back on. The bugs are festering, the music is blaring, strangers that come in and out. The bags of trash are piling high, when will someone notice what they are trying to hide? 

She’s there—how much more time will pass by? 

This is what I saw. 

Finally, an angel gets the guts. To call and report the neighbors that are driving them nuts. The unmowed yard, the domestic disputes. Lives that are unraveling, hope coming loose. A policeman arrives and a young woman in tow, who just finished her degree and wants to save the home. 

Nothing could have prepared her for a vision such as this, where children watch where they step and pray for a kiss. For someone to see them, someone to care. For a dad who listens and a mom who brushes their hair. For clean laundry and toys without jagged edges. The need for quiet and calm and salve for their rashes. For love and smiles and couches without roaches, for clean air to breathe and mom to stop smoking. 

And one may imagine such happens in a faraway country, where children are left alone or sold for little money. 

No, children live like this here every day. 

They live and breathe in your hometown this way. They attend your churches, they learn at your schools. They are beat beyond measure if they ignore the rules. 

And as for that young woman so loved and sheltered in life, those faces still keep her awake every night.  She did what she could, she tried her best.

But they are still out there—the children that need us. 

They need help, they need love, but most of all? 

They need a family that loves them. 

This is what I saw. 

Editor’s note: Christie Elkins is a writer from Campbell County whose columns are published weekly on the Lifestyles page of the LaFollette Press. She is a former Department of Children’s Services worker and wrote this column to reflect on Child Abuse Awareness Month, which is April