It could have been me.
That was the only thought running through my head as I filled out our database. I had been at work for about three weeks, and it still hadn’t really sunk in. I mean, I had read case after case of child sexual abuse, had taken pictures of clients, had written updates to send to headquarters… but I was going on autopilot. I knew it would catch up with me at some point, but I wanted to separate the work from the emotion as much as possible.
Until I heard Yolanda’s* case. Like I said, I was filling in our database, updating the basic facts of her case. It was a case that was recently brought to the attention of our office, so I didn’t know many of the details.
I was asking one of my coworkers to read out the case facts to me so I could type them faster. Pseudonym? Yolanda. The perpetrator? Her father.
This made me pause for a moment. It was the first case I had read in which the perpetrator was so closely connected to the victim. I had read cases involving teachers, strangers, even uncles… but the fact that this girl wasn’t even safe in her own house from the man who had given her life was shocking to me. But I brushed it off and continued typing.
Next question: her birthday? “12 de diciembre.” December 12. My birthday.
I paused, and my voice caught in my throat. I turned back to the computer and robotically punched in “12 de diciembre.” The computer blurred as my eyes filled with tears, and I sat back in my seat. It could have been me, I thought. Another year, another country, another life. I suddenly felt a strong connection to a girl I had never met and maybe never would. The work and the emotion collided and left me feeling both guilty and thankful. Guilty in the sense that I so often take for granted my wonderful family. Thankful in the sense that I have a wonderful family.
December 12 is one of my favorite days of the year, and part of that is because I usually get to celebrate it with my family. My dad always gets me some thoughtful gift – I remember one time he picked all of the m&ms out of a bag of trail mix because it’s my favorite part, and he knows I like how the trail mix makes them a little salty.
And yet this girl, with whom I share a birthday, probably doesn’t look forward to December 12. Maybe December 12 to her is just another day of life in which she has to fear the man closest to her. There is just no comparison.
I knew it would hit me at some point. We were warned about this, trained for this, prepared for this as best as we knew how. I didn’t know how it would first hit me. But now I do. All it took was this one, insignificant thing Yolanda and I share for me to imagine the face behind the pseudonym, the girl behind the database who maybe isn’t that different from me after all.
I hope I get to meet Yolanda and tell her we share a cumpleaños. I hope this December 12 is a happy one for her and that she gets to celebrate not only her birthday but that the man she both fears and loves the most can no longer hurt her.
One thing for sure is that I’ll never look at my birthday the same way. Even as I celebrate another year of life, surrounded by loved ones, Yolanda will be in the back of my mind.
*Pseudonym used to protect the client*