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By Danielli MarzoucaImageWE build towers atop islands. They come barren, a mound of sand in the midst of a hurricane. Four hours a week, I meet them in the eye of the storm and help lay bricks at the Community Based Acute Treatment (CBAT) unit of Franciscan Children’s Hospital. Okay, they’re metaphorical bricks on metaphorical islands. More like teaching behavior coping skills to emotionally and behaviorally unstable children aged four to fourteen. Still, they’re freaking mounds of sand. No one has sculpted them into anything. No one is on their side.

Most often their parents are neglectful or have a history of mental illness or are the ones that physically, sexually or emotionally traumatized them to self-destruct. The writers of their stories were sloppy and careless.  Many were genetically written: bipolarism, schizophrenia, mood disorders, all NOS (Not Otherwise Specified) of course. The power of even labeling them with a hard diagnosis could change the way their illness develops.

They arrive desperate to control the pen that writes their stories. They grasp at it vis a vis eating disorders, suicidal ideations or self harm. Five year olds molesting their younger brothers. Tiny bird-like adorable six year olds literally breaking their mother’s jaw in one punch. Carmen arrived a twelve-year-old taking pregnancy tests after attempted suicide. Thirteen year olds with histories of prostitution to fund heroine addiction. Tornado islands spinning at 200 mph, coming together, to form a community of controlled tornado islands. It feels hopeless at times.

But they’re special, inspiring, wonderful, lovable, perfect tornado islands. CBAT is the eye of the storm, a refuge for them while Child Protective Services puts their families through therapy or finds them new foster families. The eye is everything. It’s where Carmen’s meds were stabilized, where she’s not “the weird one” like at school. They’re all struggling with unimaginable truths stemming from the darker side of life. They didn’t come with the fortress of good parenting. They weren’t even born in the burbs. They’re freakin mounds of sand. In the middle of the ocean, fending for themselves. I teach Carmen to make bricks, to learn to share, to not get violent, that middle school really does suck she’s not crazy, that life gets so much better and that she is a truly amazing individual.

CBAT unfortunately can’t prevent the force of nature that is child abuse, puberty, or chemical imbalances. We’re not pretending the storm isn’t waiting for them once they leave. But we sure as hell aren’t going to let them leave without preparation. They have witnessed horrific, valid life truths. At CBAT, they face them head on, play SkipBo for a couple hours with me and then approach it again tomorrow. More than anything, I feel my role is to help Carmen realize that the ugly truth that brought her to this place and help her let it go. It will not become her truth. She is a tower among towers. The storm will pass. She can let it go.

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