This column is designed to share our unique experiences of what its like to be with youth. Each month we provide an example of a theme that has emerged from our study. All of us, the contributors, are members of a research group at the Youth Work Learning Center, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Together, we are constructing and analyzing stories of our experiences. We meet every other week at a coffee shop on Milwaukeeís East Side where we read and comment on our stories while we drink coffee and sip tea, usually with music in the background. In our last column, we explored the meaning of place. This next story by Amy Evans, an experienced youth worker and member of our research group, is about another important theme in moments with youth, Fear. She worked on this story for several months, as each of us does, to get it right. While she read, we laughed, and thought about our own fear in similar situations.
I am walking into the inpatient unit of a hospital where a ten-year-old client of mine was admitted two days ago. The nurses' station is to my left, which I motion toward. I can see people out of my right peripheral vision and Iím sure they are some of the kids staying on the unit. I am feeling a bit nervous, as this client of mine is quite defiant toward me.
I tell a couple of nurses behind the desk my first name, and whom I am here to visit. They point to the table of kids I tried avoiding and say, ďLori, you have a visitor." I look in their direction and smile as I make eye contact with Lori and walk toward her.
They are playing UNO. Lori fans her cards up in front of her face and turns her head away from me and toward her peers. Iím thinking, ďOh great, here we go." I make eye contact briefly with the other girls and say ďhi" to them.
"Lori, can we go talk for a little bit together?"
"I donít know you, go away, Iím not talking to you."
"Maybe we can go talk in your room for a little bit."
The other girls are looking at Lori and looking at me. I smile a little bit at them and glance over at the nurseís desk at which point one of the nurses says, ďLori, go talk with your visitor, she is here to see you, go on." Lori stands up, throws her UNO cards down on the table and starts walking down the hallway. The nurse says, ďThank you, Lori."
Iím feeling almost invisible at this time. I follow Lori down the hallway. Upon arriving in her room she sits down on a bed. Iím feeling basically unsure of what I should do.
"Does this bed belong to someone?"
"No", so I sit across from her on the other bed.
Lori begins making comments like, ďI donít want you to come here", ďYou embarrass me."
"Why do I embarrass you?"
"Because you are white coming in here talking to me."
"Thatís okay, there are a lot of white people that work here and that is okay that I am white coming to visit you here."
Lori says she is allowed to cuss here on the unit and says some swear words. I try to make some small talk with her and she answers some things using swear words. I smile within myself knowing I need not react. Iím definitely feeling uncomfortable though.
I start asking her about what brought her into the unit.
"Because I want to fuckinĒ kill myself and kill my fuckinĒ cousin."
We discuss this for a while and she is engaging enough with short answers and utilizing swear words to express herself.
"Letís do something. Iím bored."
"Do you want to play cards, or color?"
I get out my markers and ask her if she has paper. Iím feeling glad she wants to do something, as this is consistent with our past sessions and her choice to engage with me for a longer period of time. She goes to her closet and gets out paper. She reads me a paragraph of a story she copied.
"That is a really good story and your printing looks so nice."
"No it doesn't, I write really ugly."
"No, it looks really good and nicely written."
Lori then takes the markers and starts drawing a picture. I continue talking with her about her situation and asking her things about it. She answers some things while coloring and continues swearing with her answers. I ask her if she needs to swear in order to talk, knowing in my head this would be completely unacceptable for her caregiver to allow her to swear. She says she ďcan fuckinĒ swear and I can even go tell."
I calmly say ďIím not planning to go tell Iím just wondering if you need to continue swearing for us to talk." She doesnít say anything and continues to color.
Lori then says she can draw on the wall and takes a green marker and draws a line on the wall. I am smiling inside with her rebellion/defiance.
"Okay, now you need to clean it off, you can lick your finger and it will come right off." I donít want her to worry that it wonít come right off. She does this and then stops,
"I donít have to lick my fuckin' finger, I can go get paper towel."
She gets off the bed and goes to her bathroom and brings back wet paper towel. She cleans off the green line. She then takes a black marker and writes her name on the wall.
"Now you need to clean that off too and not write on the wall anymore."
She cleans off her name and sits back on the bed and looks at me.
I bring up an issue that occurred in school the day she was admitted inpatient.
"Does it look like I am at school, you mother fucker?"
"No, I would like to talk about what happened that day at school."
"Does it look like I am at school you mother fucker?"
"No, I would like to talk about what upset you with the principal that day."
"Do you see the principal here mother fucker?"
"What made you upset with him that day?"
"Do you see the principal here mother fucker?"
"You know I want to stay here with you and talk with you and I care about you, but Iím not going to stay since it seems like you donít want to talk."
Iím feeling both confident and defeated at the same time. I put on my jacket.
"Okay, okay," (like she often says when given an ultimatum to change her behavior).
"No, Iím going to go now and I will come back and visit you a different time."
"Take it easy."
"I'll talk to you soon."
I walk out the door.
"I hate you."
I walk toward the nurses' station where I wait for approximately one minute, wishing they would hurry up and let me out, but they are busy. I canít leave until they unlock the unit door. Before any nurses notice me Lori comes out of her bedroom and states loudly ďyou forgot your marker Amy." I think to myself, oh good, she is reaching out to connect and Iím feeling somewhat nervous with her unpredictability also.
"Okay," and start walking toward her room.
"I will get them" and runs into her room.
I wonder if she wants or doesnít want me to come back down to her room. As she comes back into the hallway with the markers I am almost to her room. She reaches the markers to me.
"Do you want to talk now?"
"Okay" and we go back into her room.
Our time together which followed was not smooth and easy as it never too much is, but she did talk more about her situation and when asked if she wanted me to visit her on the unit next week if she is still here she says, ďyes". (Iím thinking she means this at least on some level, and, it will most likely be the same walls next week at least a lot of the session). I ask Lori if she would like to walk me to the door.
"Okay," and walks me back to the nurseís station before she turns back and heads off to a group that is in session.
"See you later Lori," as she walks back down the hall.