“Young One” by Deepthy Koshy – WAMSS Writes

Oh young one, where did we fail you?

I first meet you, in a rural emergency department.
I see your unkempt hair, your brilliant dark eyes, your scruffy clothes.
I study you. I see how your story was written before you were born.
I observe your thin upper lip, your smooth philtrim. The way your cheeks are flat moons that frame your face.
I see the stain of fetal alcohol syndrome on your features.
You grew in womb that was flooded with poison And this poison has written its code into your genes.
This is where we failed you first.

As I talk to you, I realise that you're here.
Alone, at the age of 13, in an emergency department.
I ask why no one came with you.
You say, "where I live, there are no parents"
This is where we have failed you twice.

I ask you why you've come in.
You tell me your tummy hurts, as clutch your lower abdomen.
I ask if it hurts when you pee.
You nod furiously. It stings like knives.
I read your medical file.
I see that you've been admitted for pelvic inflammatory disease, testing positive for chlamydia, gonorrhoea and trichomoniasis.
Last year. At the age of 12.
This is where we have failed your three times.

As we talk, each word brings us closer together.
I see that you begin to trust me and my heart is about to burst for all that I feel.
You do not deserve this.
I ask you if you've had any discharge from 'down below'. You ask me what I mean.
I say, "have you had any funny smells or discharge from your vagina".
You ask me what a vagina is.
I point to a diagram. I show you where your urethra is, I show you your anus. I point to the vagina.
I finally say, "you know, it is where the penis goes inside during sex"
As I say this, you stare at me. I see the vacancy behind your eyes.
This is where we have failed you four times.

I tell you that we think you have a serious infection down below.
We need you to stay over night, put a drip in, give you strong medications to help you feel better.
I tell you that we need an adult to stay with you because you are a minor. You say, "I don't know who to call."
This is where we have failed you five times.

I come back to see you the next day.
You ask me about what you have.
I explain you have a serious infection that comes from having unprotected sex.
You say, "what's that."
I feel scared for you, because no one has taken the time to make sure you understood.
I pull up a chair and walk you through your mysterious infection down below.
I walk you through the anatomy of sex.
I walk you through periods. I walk you through pregnancy.
I walk you through condoms. I walk you through consent.
This is where we have failed you on six, seven, eight, nine, ten accounts.