The Child Who Had a Child Is 'Fine'?
By Helen Ubiñas
July 23, 2006
I knew we should probably try to find her: the child who gave birth to a child; the victim, police say, of repeated rape by her pastor. But I didn't want to.
What purpose would it serve? To confirm what anyone who heard the story of a minister impregnating an 11-year-old parishioner could figure out on their own: that this was a betrayal of her trust and the trust of a whole community? Just leave her alone.
But maybe there was a story that should be told. The pastor's supporters were rallying around him, vocal and visible in their support. What of the girl and her family? Who was supporting them? And part of me needed to know that she was OK, that this horrible thing that happened to her hadn't completely erased her childhood.
So I went. I'll give it an hour, I told myself. I had an appointment I couldn't miss. It was way too hot to scour the streets of Frog Hollow in search of a girl I didn't really want to find. And what were the chances of actually finding her anyway?
I started outside the Broad Street church, padlocked in the middle of the afternoon, Modesto Reyes' name on the sign. I stopped a few people; does anyone still come here? I knew 40 parishioners showed up to support Reyes at his last court appearance, but were they still coming to the house of worship this man built?
They didn't know. They didn't want to know. The woman who slipped into another nearby church quickly closed the door behind her and wouldn't answer when I knocked. People don't want to talk about it, another woman said. They don't want to hurt the girl or they don't believe he did it. They think he was framed, she said. Police say DNA shows Reyes is the father, and people think it's not true? Faith is wonderfully unencumbered by facts.
I walked over to some others. Have they seen her, the girl? How's she doing? Good, they said. And the baby is beautiful. She named him after a reggaeton singer the kids like.
Somebody heard she cried when Reyes was arrested. Because she was happy, I asked, or sad? Both, one woman guessed. He's still the father of her child. "My kid's father did some stuff to me and I still have feelings for him."
I asked if they knew her name; just a nickname they said. What about where she lived? When they told me, I realized I had parked my car right across from her home.
The door to the building was locked. Fate, I told myself. Time to go. And then someone opened the door. The little girl who answered at the girl's apartment was so helpful, I wanted to scream. She's upstairs, baby-sitting, the little girl told me before leading me up the stairs.
And then suddenly I was face to face with her; this pretty girl, now 12, her dark hair pulled back in a ponytail. I started to tell her who I was, why I was there, and realized that she had no understanding of what I was telling her. A reporter?
She just stood there, holding one of the kids she was baby-sitting, stunned.
"How did you know it was me?"
I started to tell her, but then stopped as I looked at the kids, some old enough to understand.
"It doesn't matter," she told me. "They all know."
I was almost relieved when she told me that I should talk to her uncle; her innocence had completely thrown me.
As we walked back down together, I couldn't stop looking at her. She wasn't the broken girl I'd expected to find, at least not outwardly, and I was both alarmed and comforted by that. I asked her how she was. "Good," she said, refusing to meet my gaze. "Fine."
Fine. I repeated the word in my head. How the hell can this little girl be fine?
Her uncle, unaware of who I was at first, apologized for not having a shirt on. It was hot outside, hotter inside the cramped apartment. But he immediately tensed up when I told him who I was. And then a flash of something - was that his humiliation or mine? He had nothing to say. They had nothing to say.
I apologized; I wasn't trying to make it more difficult for them. I just wanted to know how she was. And then no one spoke, they just stood in place, waiting for me to leave.
As I walked out, I noticed something I hadn't on my way in. The girl's mother was sitting in a chair, holding a baby.
"Is that the baby?" I asked the girl.
"Yes," she said, a slight smile easing across her face.
Helen Ubiñas' column appears on Thursdays and Sundays. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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