Social Distancing Rules as a Reflection on Isolation

My first experience with isolation happened twelve years ago, when a three-year-old strawberry blonde with two pigtails that sprang out of the back of her head was left at our home.  Having adopted her eight months earlier, the family said they couldn't keep her anymore.  The father's actual words were "We don't care if you keep her or who keeps her, but we're not taking her home."  

Our education on isolation began.

Within a few weeks, we observed things that made no sense to us.  The first: She never cried, ever.  Within a month, she ran into the edge of the kitchen bar, knocking her off her feet.  I ran to her, and she was laughing.  Tears never fell. 

She rocked back and forth all the time — in the car, while she ate, standing, never still.  She never fell asleep in the warm sun of a car ride, ever.

Rage.  Attempting to hold and calm her, she would stare up at me, through gritted teeth: "I kill you.  I kill you."  She didn't want us to touch her, ever.  When we made her hold our hand for safety, she would hold our pinky finger with two fingers, but no more. 

I could write a book, but who'd want to read it?

Professionals said, "You've got to find out what happened to her."

We would discover she had been severely neglected.  Few records prior to two — about a two-month period documented her seeing a doctor, therapist, and early education professional.  I called them all, and even though it had been years, they all remembered her, and their description was all the same.  I've never seen a child so un-socialized.  

The digging revealed that she had spent her first three years isolated and ignored.  Left in her baby seat so much that she didn't crawl or walk at one.  Given away, the next mother cut her door in half to keep her in.  "She would scream until she vomited if you tried to hold her."

When she was three, I was her fifth mom, and for twelve years we've tried to reverse the damage caused by isolation.  As she aged, it became more apparent that mixed with all the abuse and neglect, there were the effects of fetal alcohol and physical damage to her frontal lobe.  When we would give her a doll to play with, she would throw it against the wall.  Children imitate what they see and experience.  Her abuse has caused significant learning issues; reasoning and logic remain at a single-digit age. 

Our second education on isolation started finals week of our oldest's sophomore year in college.  Diagnosed with a rare aggressive cancer, he survived cancer one, only to be diagnosed with cancer two a year later, requiring a stem cell transplant.  They changed his blood type!  Cancer is an education in survival and isolation, and you count yourself blessed if you graduate.  He did.

Why tell our story?  Before that special delivery, I didn't know you could leave a child alone so much that the brain quits telling the body to cry because no one is coming and normal pain sensors stop working as they should.  

Recent articles document the rise in child abuse, especially sexual abuse.  A friend of mine whose abuse took place over 60 years ago shared how her abuser would have taken advantage of this time of isolation.  Sixty years later, the memories bring so much pain that she can't think of what the children are going through now. 

Some of you aren't able to believe what I am telling you.  I can relate.  I once would have had the same response, before I knew what isolation does.  Some are fighting a political fight, forming all kinds of arguments for why this has nothing to do with what we are doing now in response to the virus. 

After twelve years, my biggest question about her past remains.  "Where was everyone?"  This is the short version, the long more unimaginable.  Think of her story, and let me ask you, where was the neighbor?  A relative?  Anyone?  Why didn't anyone see her?

As the weeks have gone by, I'm sick to death of stretch pants and cleaning closets, but what haunts me is that I see those kids.  You see, she isn't an isolated case.  There are lots more like her when we aren't in quarantine.  Those kids didn't go away; now we just see them even less.  Our society has gone through a lot of hard times, but we have never locked ourselves inside.  It is a false assumption made by many to believe that home is always safe, because it is not.  Some homes that once were safe are for the first time very unsafe. 

Whenever the school calls to check on my daughter, the people there ask, "What can we do to help you while she is not in school?"  My answer is always the same.  "Nothing for her, but in the next meeting, talk about the kids you haven't had contact with.  I'm begging you to talk about the kids we don't see."      

As I write, in my head, I hear, "Look, lady, I'm really sorry to hear about your daughter and your son, for that matter, but we are saving lives.  Just stay inside where it is safe.  Don't you care about the elderly and the immuno-compromised?"  Or maybe something a little softer: "I hear your concern, but it's just a few more weeks.  It's all going to be OK."

I haven't seen my son since March 15.  The social distancing protocols are painful reminders of how hard life once was.  He will always be at greater risk, but the healthy person staying inside doesn't make his immunity stronger.  I don't know when I will see him, mask or no mask.  It will be his choice.  It is his risk to calculate.

My youngest and my oldest have one thing in common.  They both fight for life every single day.  The youngest can't stop the fight, because her brain remains in fight or flight every minute of every day — the effects of abuse and neglect over a decade old.  The oldest fights for life because he knows that it isn't promised, but it is worth fighting for even if you have to make sacrifices to keep yourself safe and healthy.

If you question the quarantine, the implication is you must want people to die, and those words are strong enough that most just stay home and stay quiet.  The unintended consequences of this quarantine will come to light as we all start to walk out our front door and exchange stories about what it was like inside.  If we are brave enough to allow each other to speak and to listen, we may all be shocked at what we learn. 

Consider this.  Remember the question I still can't answer: "Where was everyone?"  If you were to ask that today, your answer might be, they were all safe inside.   As we prepare for the next pandemic, I hope we take our masks off long enough to evaluate whether that is really true. 

My first experience with isolation happened twelve years ago, when a three-year-old strawberry blonde with two pigtails that sprang out of the back of her head was left at our home.  Having adopted her eight months earlier, the family said they couldn't keep her anymore.  The father's actual words were "We don't care if you keep her or who keeps her, but we're not taking her home."  

Our education on isolation began.

Within a few weeks, we observed things that made no sense to us.  The first: She never cried, ever.  Within a month, she ran into the edge of the kitchen bar, knocking her off her feet.  I ran to her, and she was laughing.  Tears never fell. 

She rocked back and forth all the time — in the car, while she ate, standing, never still.  She never fell asleep in the warm sun of a car ride, ever.

Rage.  Attempting to hold and calm her, she would stare up at me, through gritted teeth: "I kill you.  I kill you."  She didn't want us to touch her, ever.  When we made her hold our hand for safety, she would hold our pinky finger with two fingers, but no more. 

I could write a book, but who'd want to read it?

Professionals said, "You've got to find out what happened to her."

We would discover she had been severely neglected.  Few records prior to two — about a two-month period documented her seeing a doctor, therapist, and early education professional.  I called them all, and even though it had been years, they all remembered her, and their description was all the same.  I've never seen a child so un-socialized.  

The digging revealed that she had spent her first three years isolated and ignored.  Left in her baby seat so much that she didn't crawl or walk at one.  Given away, the next mother cut her door in half to keep her in.  "She would scream until she vomited if you tried to hold her."

When she was three, I was her fifth mom, and for twelve years we've tried to reverse the damage caused by isolation.  As she aged, it became more apparent that mixed with all the abuse and neglect, there were the effects of fetal alcohol and physical damage to her frontal lobe.  When we would give her a doll to play with, she would throw it against the wall.  Children imitate what they see and experience.  Her abuse has caused significant learning issues; reasoning and logic remain at a single-digit age. 

Our second education on isolation started finals week of our oldest's sophomore year in college.  Diagnosed with a rare aggressive cancer, he survived cancer one, only to be diagnosed with cancer two a year later, requiring a stem cell transplant.  They changed his blood type!  Cancer is an education in survival and isolation, and you count yourself blessed if you graduate.  He did.

Why tell our story?  Before that special delivery, I didn't know you could leave a child alone so much that the brain quits telling the body to cry because no one is coming and normal pain sensors stop working as they should.  

Recent articles document the rise in child abuse, especially sexual abuse.  A friend of mine whose abuse took place over 60 years ago shared how her abuser would have taken advantage of this time of isolation.  Sixty years later, the memories bring so much pain that she can't think of what the children are going through now. 

Some of you aren't able to believe what I am telling you.  I can relate.  I once would have had the same response, before I knew what isolation does.  Some are fighting a political fight, forming all kinds of arguments for why this has nothing to do with what we are doing now in response to the virus. 

After twelve years, my biggest question about her past remains.  "Where was everyone?"  This is the short version, the long more unimaginable.  Think of her story, and let me ask you, where was the neighbor?  A relative?  Anyone?  Why didn't anyone see her?

As the weeks have gone by, I'm sick to death of stretch pants and cleaning closets, but what haunts me is that I see those kids.  You see, she isn't an isolated case.  There are lots more like her when we aren't in quarantine.  Those kids didn't go away; now we just see them even less.  Our society has gone through a lot of hard times, but we have never locked ourselves inside.  It is a false assumption made by many to believe that home is always safe, because it is not.  Some homes that once were safe are for the first time very unsafe. 

Whenever the school calls to check on my daughter, the people there ask, "What can we do to help you while she is not in school?"  My answer is always the same.  "Nothing for her, but in the next meeting, talk about the kids you haven't had contact with.  I'm begging you to talk about the kids we don't see."      

As I write, in my head, I hear, "Look, lady, I'm really sorry to hear about your daughter and your son, for that matter, but we are saving lives.  Just stay inside where it is safe.  Don't you care about the elderly and the immuno-compromised?"  Or maybe something a little softer: "I hear your concern, but it's just a few more weeks.  It's all going to be OK."

I haven't seen my son since March 15.  The social distancing protocols are painful reminders of how hard life once was.  He will always be at greater risk, but the healthy person staying inside doesn't make his immunity stronger.  I don't know when I will see him, mask or no mask.  It will be his choice.  It is his risk to calculate.

My youngest and my oldest have one thing in common.  They both fight for life every single day.  The youngest can't stop the fight, because her brain remains in fight or flight every minute of every day — the effects of abuse and neglect over a decade old.  The oldest fights for life because he knows that it isn't promised, but it is worth fighting for even if you have to make sacrifices to keep yourself safe and healthy.

If you question the quarantine, the implication is you must want people to die, and those words are strong enough that most just stay home and stay quiet.  The unintended consequences of this quarantine will come to light as we all start to walk out our front door and exchange stories about what it was like inside.  If we are brave enough to allow each other to speak and to listen, we may all be shocked at what we learn. 

Consider this.  Remember the question I still can't answer: "Where was everyone?"  If you were to ask that today, your answer might be, they were all safe inside.   As we prepare for the next pandemic, I hope we take our masks off long enough to evaluate whether that is really true.