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I am a babysitter.
It is somewhat embarrassing for a woman in her mid twenties to declare as my vocation, but “times are hard” as they say.
Seeing the downward shift in the economy, I went to school to get my master’s in childhood special education. In addition to economic foresight, I always had an affinity toward working with children who have disabilities. With the firm belief that there would never be any shortage of teaching positions in a large urban area such as NYC, I graduated with solid grades and made some amazing connections at the schools I student taught at. However, a hiring freeze was instituted, and I was left out in the cold.
Desperate for work, I began to peruse classifieds looking for a job related to my field. I searched fruitlessly for anything involving work with special needs children. All I could find were babysitting gigs here and there. With my pride at an all time low, I began babysitting around my neighborhood.
After a month of sporadic work, I came across an ad for a gig that would pay twice as much as the usual sum. I perked up when I saw that the ad called for a person who had experience with special needs children. I gave the number a call and set up an interview.
I was greeted at the door by a haggard looking woman. I pegged her to be in her mid thirties, but as I scanned her slender form, I surmised that she may in fact be much younger. As she attempted to give me a warm greeting from her pale and gaunt face, I could tell immediately that this was one stressed out woman. The weight of the world was upon her shoulders with no end in sight to the onus she was bearing. I was completely understanding of her downtrodden demeanor. It was a look that many parents had as I saw them pick up their children from school. A look of love and warmth tempered by regret and exhaustion.
I sat down in the sparse living room of the apartment. I couldn’t help but notice the empty bottles of alcohol strewn about the home. She began to ask about my credentials which I happily provided. I explained to her that I had experience with children with various disabilities. I spoke very truthfully about how passionate I was about working with disabled children.
The mother began to explain what the job would entail. She needed a babysitter on Fridays to watch her daughter, Amanda. She divulged that she was on the autism spectrum. Like a veteran recounting the woes of war, she went through a checklist of her behaviors. She has a piece of string that she twirls constantly. She said that she is a screamer. She grabbed my arm softly, and looked deeply into my eyes, as she said that she is also a biter.
She explained that she is very self-injurious. Oftentimes, she will bite herself when left alone. My job would be intensive. I would need to keep my eyes on her at all times.
I told her that this would be no problem. I added that in school I studied ABA (applied behavioral analysis) and would be happy to throw in my, albeit limited, expertise free of charge. She seemed satisfied. With a sigh of resignation and relief, she informed me that I had the job.
Then, I saw a small figure begin to descend the stairs. I looked up to see two bright eyes staring at me intensely. The mother said, “Amanda, would you come here a minute?” As she stepped into the light of the living room, I saw the cutest little child I had ever seen. As she approached where we were seated, I could see that she was twirling a piece of string and rocking side to side with every step. I extended my hand and introduced myself. She replied with a very flat and monotonous affect:
“Poor little girl is sad.”
Her mother quickly interjected that she starts most of her sentences with the prefix “poor little” and that she is definitely very nervous right now. Having studied the symptoms of the autism spectrum, I wasn’t surprised, that she should have stereotyped speech.
I assured her that she had no reason to be sad. I asked her age attempting to give the warmest countenance I could muster up.
“Poor little girl is nine,” she flatly said.
The mother seemed immediately impressed. With a smile cracking from her pallid face, she said that she has never warmed up to a stranger so quickly. She usually ignores all questions thrown her way. The mother told Amanda to go upstairs to bed.
“Poor little girl is scaaaaaared,” Amanda said with rising emotion.
After some cajoling, the mother coerced her up the stairs. She turned to me and said that I could start that Friday at eight. I returned home excited about the prospect of the pay and infinitely intrigued by my new charge. However, I couldn’t help but be unsettled, as I remembered seeing the indelible teeth marks up and down the girl’s tiny arms when she stepped into the light of the dingy living room.
I showed up to the apartment promptly at eight. As the mother answered the door, I caught the faint aroma of whiskey and coke. She seemed like a different person from when I first met her, jubilant and drunk. In a hurry to get out the door and into the vague promise of the evening, she quickly ushered me in, almost stumbling over a shoe by the door. She nearly pushed me into the room where her daughter was watching TV. As a million questions floated around my brain, the mother was already reaching for the door. The only one that was able to exit my mouth was:
“When should I send her to bed?”
She slurred the number eleven before the door shut behind her.
I decided to not be too aggressive in my approach to Amanda. I sat on the couch opposite of where she was seated. I subtly studied her movements as she clutched a piece of string in her hand. She was intently watching a cartoon on the TV. Before I could posit a greeting, she said to me:
“Poor little anchor is big.”
Looking on the screen, I could see a large anchor in the depths of an ocean. That is how the conversation continued that first evening. The girl, tiny and adorable, describing the things happening on screen as I sat in wonder marveling at this beautiful, little person as she simultaneously existed in her own world and mine.
When the clock struck eleven, I told her she needed to go to bed. With a fright and dread I wasn’t expecting she said:
“Poor little girl is scaaaaaaaaared.”
I assured her that there was nothing to be afraid of. I stood in the doorway of her bedroom (remarking how empty it was save for her tiny bed) and watched as sleep finally found her an hour later. The mother did not show up until after three. She stumbled into the house barely able to stand on her own two feet with a man just as wasted as she was. She handed over a wad of money and sent me packing.
So, it continued for a month. I babysat this little wonder on Fridays. Her mother, like clockwork, would head out to get drunk, and I would watch TV with her, slowly but surely building her trust and comfort with me. Everything was going swimmingly, too swimmingly in fact, since I never heard her scream or bite herself in any way. What I saw before me on those Friday nights was a quiet little angel trying to make sense of a world that she desperately wanted to connect to, but was incapable. The only thing that gave me pause was the switch in her demeanor when I sent her to bed. When I told her that it was time for bed, she would always declare:
“Poor little girl is scaaaaaaared!”
The horror written on her face was palpable. Her declarations of being scared were only tempered by my assurance that I would stand in the doorway until she fell asleep.
One Friday, I showed up. The mother, looking rougher than normal informed me that my services weren’t needed that night. She asked if I could instead come by Saturday. I had already made plans but needed the money. I accepted. I asked if it was okay if I informed Amanda I wouldn’t be babysitting that night, as I know children with autism can react badly to changes in routine.
Amanda was upset at first but perked up when I assured her I would be coming tomorrow instead. An uncharacteristic smile beamed from her face. She said to me, “Poor little girl is happy.”
My heart melted. I was so ecstatic about how I had endeared myself to her, that it took me until I got home to remember the bite marks all over her body. The most troubling of all was the one I saw on her neck.
I came to the conclusion that she must have deeply scratched her own neck. This had to be the case. Her mother rarely clipped her nails and they were long and sharp. However, I was still troubled that I had never seen her self-injurious behavior first hand. That night I was barely able to sleep due to my concern for sweet, little Amanda.
I showed up to the apartment on time. The mother explained to me that she didn’t know when she would return that evening. Already reeking of booze, she asked if I could stay the night, to which I would be paid handsomely. I gleefully accepted.
After she left, I found Amanda up to her usual routine of watching cartoons. Everything went as normal. Eventually, it came time to put her to bed. As I ushered her up the creaky stairs into the darkness of her bedroom, she began to get upset. I asked her what was wrong. To which she replied:
“Poor little girl is scaaaaared.”
“Poor little man is back.”
I didn’t know what to make of her second statement, sometimes she would say things that made little sense, but I calmed her down and got her into bed saying I would watch over her as she slept. An hour later, she was fast asleep.
Being tired myself, I curled up on the couch as sleep washed over me. I awoke to the sound of the loudest most piercing scream I have ever heard. I quickly shot off the couch as the bloodcurdling screams continued. As I climbed up the stairs, horror encumbered me as the shrieks continued from inside Amanda’s bedroom. I steeled myself for a brief moment before opening the door.
The room was dark with the only light coming from the open window. I attempted to turn on the light but remembered that the bulb was dead. My eyes adjusted, and I could see Amanda cowering in the corner. She was shivering so hard that she was literally shaking. I came over to her and asked what was wrong. She said with her lips quivering:
“Poor little man lives under my bed.”
“Poor little man has fangs.”
I looked at her arm to see blood pouring from a fresh bite wound. Still believing it to be self-inflicted, I took out my phone for light and told her I would look under the bed. With mild trepidation, I pulled up the sheet and shined the light under the bed. I got down on my knees to take a peek. Before I could look, the nails dug deeply into my arm.
I screeched and dropped the phone before I could realize it was just Amanda’s unkempt hand grasping onto me for dear life. With my blood pumping fast as my heart threatened to beat out of my chest, I lifted the sheet and looked. Two red eyes cut through the blackness under the bed.
Frozen in absolute terror, I could see the twisted smile of the “man” baring his bleach white fangs, as blood dripped from them. It hissed something incomprehensible and began to roar. The sound escaping the maw of this creature so loud and high pitched that it snapped me out of my momentary petrified state. As the creature lunged at my hand, I grabbed Amanda as well as my phone and ran.
As I ran down the stairs and out of the apartment, the roaring of the creature grew louder and louder. I shut the door and ran a half-mile, too terrified to look back.
I called the police and called the mother. As I waited for them to show up standing in the middle of the street, I stroked Amanda’s head and weakly reassured her that everything would be okay. She just repeated the same thing over and over again adding to my horror.
The police thoroughly searched the apartment and found nothing. The mother returned drunk and surly. She was furious about all the unwanted attention. I tried to explain what happened, but she refused to listen. She told me that she never wanted to see me again. I tried contacting her the next day to follow up, but she was still just as livid with me, obstinate when I kept trying to explain to her the danger Amanda is in.
This was last week. Now, as I lay in my bed with the lights on, I can’t help but think about precious Amanda and pray that she is okay. But whenever my thoughts turn to her, I inevitably go back to what she said as we both waited for the police to show up scared beyond our wits, and I am horrified anew.
“Poor little girl is dead.”
“Poor little babysitter is next.”