THE LITTLE GIRL WITH RED HAIR
This is a 100 two-bedroom units, located on 8148 Magnolia Street in North Hollywood, California, between Vine and Santa Monica Boulevard. Its facade is unpainted, with an old white off color covered with layers of dusts, overtaking shadows below the designed structures of strange faces and naked bodies, which they seem a whole of unfriendly nostril under the sun; regardless, confined by the curls of cements and encroached climbers along the roof, its construction is considered a classical drawing; but there is a sense of dying it becomes increasingly an ingrained ghost.
To its right -- the glimpse of a tree so tall and fond that gives it a mysterious quality of portraiture, and nonrepresentational nature; striking his leaves all over the sidewalk, against the wall.
To its left -- an ugly alley. It is filled of tires, boxes, broken chairs, television sets, growing smell, which it divides the building apartments from a shift pathway that the children and adults take to move to the other side of the street. After that, there are the street dogs, cats --hundred of them - centipedes, earthworks, ground beetles and hundred inserts more.
Once one steps in front of the entrance, he or she will notice the door's lock is missed, the telephone system seems that someone has rotten it out of the base; and now, like a display -- reveal a bunch of Carl's Jr.'s wrappings, Coca-Cola canes, Lottery tickets slid, and finally a thick lanes of ants.
Inside, in the lobby, all are broken, nothing seems to work properly: mail boxes --included the light a second door toward an empty parking lot. A little further, a long corridor and at the end an open door that communicate to another world of animal domestics and hasty behavior.
Before one can walk to the end of the corridor, to the right, in the same floor, toward a small converged corner, it's Apartment C13, where Nancy Dunghills lives or the Little Girl With Red Hair with her mother.
Inside the two-bedroom apartment the two windows are closed: one along the narrow corridor, with its only decoration that consists a large, lower table and top it a vase made of Coca Cola can. The other, to the right, faces the ugly alley. This window beside a secondhand drawer with pictures of models, artists -- that show none of the present-- face the street that now the afternoon commuter traffic's penetrate into the dimly room. The living room consists of a love sofa, two chairs, a nighttable and secondhand television set that still have the Goodwill ticket price.
The 7-year-old Nancy Dunghills, who has cerebral palsy, seated on an old love sofa next to her mother. The girl born in Venice Beach on November 15th. Her mother, Shelly V. Dunghills, an addict of marihuana and cocaine, didn't have any idea when her day of delivery was due. Dancing with a group of whores late in the evening in the beach, she collapsed with internal pains. Soon after she had several contractions. First she thought it was a joke; then a mixed of water began to run between her legs, and at the same moment they forced her to lay down, the new born was already out.
Turning this fun into a nightmare, while one of the group, "Christine or Terry," she said, trying to remember who was. "She had recognized that baby didn't cry. She started to revive her but it impossible. Then, for a minute they thought it was the end."
It was deeper that than. Shelly was losing too much blood and minute by minute her life was fading out of her. She was rushed to the Emergency Room because her heart was beating so fast, while the little girl the paramedical succeed to grasp some air but the condition was critical. In the hospital the heart of the little born had stopped after the doctors had given some treatments.
Her mother: "It was awful," she says, looking at the window. "Me, laying there, still affecting by the drugs, I wouldn't have clues what was going on to her."
After an intensive care under a monitoring team from Santa Monica City Hospital -- the newborn girl name Nancy Dunghills had come up from a long battle between life and death.
A week later when her child was returning to her mother for breast-feeding, there was a dilemma among the doctors and the well-being of the baby.
"I know somehow, I was messed up," Shelly says, remembering those days. "They promised me if I didn't come into a special program to kick out the drugs, they'd take my baby away and put her in a foster home."
And Shelly V. Dunghills, who never had done anything serious in her life, promised to Social Worker Yolanda Y. Mesa that she would come into the program. "This program was consisting to help me to get to my feet, finding job and a nice place for me and for her. And the most important to give cares to my little angel." After she signed more than a dozen of documents, including an affidavit allowing the Department of Social Services to take the baby from her.
That was two weeks after the born of Nancy Dunghills, and they decided to let her have the baby one hour in the morning and half hour between breast-feeding in the afternoon.
Remembering, she says: "It's the most unattractive abounds getting even, I'm telling you."
When the first time the nurse brought her, Shelly V. Dunghills could not believe it. Her eyes round, light blue, the color of her face was pink, plumy, with two holes at both sides of her face, and her feature was sharp. And there was something else, the girl would make it. But the most attention that she has brought in front of them since her birth -- like this description above-- was her hair. Long, curl, and red. Like a ponytail of cornfield, her forehead was well designed by it, and there was the stunning expression of everyone in the hospital to see this beautiful thing.
Popping into a world that only God knows what kind of future would expect her, a mother who many of the hospital employees as well as Social Worker Mesa were not sure about Shelly V. Dunghills if she would give all the need to this pretty girl -- somehow they were doubting.
And there was more.
Four weeks after examination they discovered that Nancy Dunghills was not a healthy child. The picture was still a remote construction that doctors would hope it would go away. The expectation was great, then their last examination took more than four hours. Checking up any possibilities, they found that she has cerebral palsy. It was a blow, especially for her mother.
"They told me there was a kind of balance," Ms. Dunghills says, squeezing her both hands. "And that she could lose it momentarily what it's going around her. A day after that, they said it was like a 'spastic paralysis'".
Taking a deep breath. "They never discuss it opens about this," Shelly recalls.
She paused again.
She looks at the girl, who was leaning against her right side, almost sleeping. "Nothing at all. I never said anything, and that's just the way they did. But I was sure I've a beautiful girl, healthy, and I'd do everything to be there when she needs me."
It would come a year later after Shelly V. Dunghills and her daughter had received the green light from Social Worker Ms. Meza and the decision that the doctor had made for them. When she found an apartment on Magnolia Street, after living in Aid Hotel in downtown, it was a haven for her. It was November 22nd, year and half of Nancy birth, she noticed that the little didn't moved. She panicked -- with fear of being intruded upon this -- she took her and carried her out of the room, and called for help.
There was never a moment when Shelly was saying to herself all these was just her fault. When she recognized that her daughter has paralysis and perhaps it was because her heavy drugs and liquor she drunk during her pregnancy -- but it pushed her to do it right.
Her mother Shelly: "I won't want to see what I've to look back," she says with remorse. "Now it's time that I've to make it right for her. Not for me, of course. Me, it isn't important. For Nancy. I'm sorry that I've gone on with this such a long time without knowing it. But sometime I'd like go out and then to that past and destroy what I am now. So you and anybody else can understand that I'm still the courage to do that."
Shelly V. Dunghills, a 24-year-old wide class prostitute in the City of Hollywood, has never thought she could not handle her 1 year old baby in a manner so delicate because her condition and be essential to her and to her teaching. She never made to 6th grade, living at home with her two brothers -- Carl, 22, now currying a sentence of 50 years for aggravate assault; Tommy, 25, a dead-soul schizophrenic, now hospitalized after several attempt against his life -- and her mother, a hard-worker who had given up three years ago after she had been diagnosed she had cancer. She didn't know her father -- a "sexual encounter & a drinker" that is the way she remembered him.
Fantasizing that Hollywood would give her all what she wanted and dreamed, she left the small town of Ft. Falcon, Texas, and headed to the city of the Light & the Sun, just to find a world of version: homeless, dreamers, pimps, homosexuals, prostitutes, teens & boys in demand and runaway clubs of disturbed kids who seemed to lick each other by the suggestion that they have dreamed by the same token.
"I got that feeling all what I see was extremely high," Shelly recalls. "I fondled it, until I found this girl from New Orleans who told me during 10 seconds her history. A week later, I was the best on the corner of Fairfax and Sunset Boulevard, but I've always had this silly little girl's dream that one day I will make it to the top. I've never tried to see otherwise at least one day. But it was later, after so many men, I did turn my desire for him: Richard, an unknown, a false rock star until it was too later. When I was pregnant, he just packaged and gone. For me it was like a regular moment because I kept doing what I do best."
That was two years ago.
Shelly wants to change, stay clean in front of Social Worker Ms, Mesa or in front of Director Helena Voals in G&H for abuse mothers. It is not an attachment. She does not know anything else except whoring, and she would not take a chance to call for help because the interest those people have put on her, except --of course -- the aids from the government.
When she has begun to realize that there still a sexual attract to go the street, she was desperate to get a job at A's Story Factory in downtown Los Angeles. It was then, three days after they hired her, her little girl with the red hair got another seizure.
She experienced the change: "You have to learn how to deal with this. To do that, you've to learn to know and to think away from any sexual feeling."
She adds: "But I did think of it differently. I was so confused, so damned selfish. Here you have a beautiful child who was supposed to be perfect in front of God's eyes. No! He has turned against her. Can be a way to punish me? I think this is a frightening statement but there is no another to put it."
Shelly V. Dunghills quitted her job as a factory worker and gets back to the apartment in a second 24-hour job beside the girl.
She can not agree why they have to say. She drops the one-single aid and applies for welfare. It was granted; and when Dunghills begins to see what was wrong with her, she begins to set back all hope that her girl will be a normal human being.
"When I start to notice it was more serious that I thought," she says, feeling uncomfortable. "I started to find a way out, a moment that she would have her happiness a near future. I should say I feel like an idiot. I think that I'm going to believe that she will be okay. Every Tuesdays and Fridays I've to bring her to the hospital for her injection. It's incredible!"
Then it is offering a comforting pain that sent back all coincidence to a hold; and she now sees her seizure would come two, three or five at day, with strong convulsion and it length more. It "exhausted" her; her convulsion has begun to affect her daily routine, and she fear to be alone.
When she reached 3, in a sunny Californian spring day, Nancy Dunghills is sitting pallid on a chair after several multiple convulsions as she says to her mother:
"Why? What is happening to me, Mommy? Are I going to die sooner?"
"It breaks me," she remembers. "It hit me so hard that I began to hate EVERYONE." Paused. She looks across the room, followed by a 10-minute cry.
Then, she says: "I only wish as I admitted it, I am very sorry to break the rules of survivor. I made a mistake if that someone could call it a mistake, I'll apology again to devil's soul; but to her, to this little heart of mine, oh come! I just hate whatever it is even God..."
It is still without an answering. Even though Shelly V. Dunghills' acceptability is a "concomitance" what she feels or to put it as Shelly's word, "A concatenate what I've done before."
It does not make her feel any better as she sees her daughter there -- all day inside the apartment as she tries to be something else. It is not just a mother who should be, of course, but something else that she can do to give her happiness. No matter what it is, she will stay by her side.
The girl, who has known it from herself, would soon describe it as a "pool filled of water, swimming; "Then, when you want to stand up, you got that feeling you're moving down and down and there will be no warning to tell you what it is. It happens, fast."
When she was 4, she was happy to have her first birthday. She was curious how many friends she would come.
Her mother: "I didn't think to it before. I was afraid, you know -- to let all the world to see that I've a girl isn't normal and who has problem to speak or play with them. I tried to figure out a way of the situation, keeping in mind what would happen if she has "that."
And that happened.
Nancy Dunghills saw she has a lot friends, but different the way what she has thought of them. Then she could have felt their laughing and their happiness; she was excited anyway. Even her mother tried to slight it by telling her it would not be such a good idea for her to be so excited. The Little Girl With Red Hair has said she understood such "excitement" was not good for her but it makes her to be part of that crowd.
"It is my birthday, Mommy," she said that day. "It wouldn't happen I promise you."
It was Nancy Dunghills' day and God, too, has promised it.
After she reminded her of all these; she came to understand to it as an option, not as "something" it will be so shaking.
"It's my birthday," Nancy Dunghills says, rising her eyes to the window. Then, slowly, controlling so well her speech, adds:
"I was sure God will not do anything like that to spoil it. But God did it anyway."
The girl turns her eyes toward the wall. Hanging below a bold letters: TO MY GREAT BEAUTIFUL GIRL IN THE WHOLE PLANT. Then the pictures of Nancy, smiling. A symbol moment that her mother kept it forever.
The little girl: I could not understand what happened. I did all my mother told me...Not be so excited... and be there, quiet, listening."
And her mother recalls Nancy asked her why she was the only in the party it had happened to her and the girls hadn't.
It is the same dilemma, the same questions, the same grounding emotion run into a scenario which Dunghills surely has not intention of releasing her of this or "somebody else or whatever it came first."
"I was scary. It got even scarier when she told me that evening she wanted to die. It blew me my last hope; and unconsciously I remembered about my mother and my brothers. Me, too, I told my Mother that I wanted to die. Too much pain, and there were too many things I could not them properly."
She looks at her and begins to cry. Her approach is touching, and when she takes her hand and squeezes it, Nancy Dunghills feels it was love but she recognizes it was still enough.
In the beginning of schooling years Nancy Dunghills has begun to do well. She was happy to know people and that there were more people like her mother who would love her. Her speech teacher Consuelo Ramonattes loved her very much, as Mr. Atwan, Mr. Kincard, Assistants Iva Arca, and Peter M. Novakovich. Then the gaps, the convulsion in a given moment, they would not expect to be so continuous, so painful for her; and finally the long absent that had begun to glow uneasy. Without any education background, Shelly V. Dunghills did not know what to do. Seeking for help in the school, they told her she will be right well in a special program. She refused.
"In addition to that damned "program" for an "normal" kids, they have convinced me that she will have a fair education as the other kids have. It was too hard to swallow and it had begun to take the already unhealthy-chunk of my patience. Letter on, I realize she will be find with me until she recognizes her condition."
It was hard "decision".
She continues: "But it paid off until she has 6 years and half. Teaching her at home was a challenge."
Once again Shelly has recognized the gaps, the slowness interest of Nancy and the poisonous connotation when she tried to figure what was that sentence or 3 apples from 9 and the essential building-up knowledge of her. Her mind can not comply with this nutrition wanting-you to success.
And when she was able to enroll her in 2nd grade, they discovered -- Shelly several months later-- she would not make it.
"They told me I was a stupid," the little girl remembered, funneling a smile across her swelled face. "They told me also that I was just out of everything. They laughed me."
She takes air, follow it within 30 seconds or more of wondering or two more, in a perfectly stillness that makes her mother to touches slightly her right shoulder. "I'm...okay... fine...Mom..."
She notices her speech is a kind of slowness. It allows, perhaps, her to form words with a selective way.
The girl continued: "I know I am not a stupid or a moron. With this medication I take now, I'll be better."
And although Dunghills can't see the dangerous effect of this drug all year around -- her mother knows it has begun to see the possible risk.
Her mother: "It has created like a second 'personality' in her." Paused. Thinking it. "Give me something hope, I must say. But I continue to wish to convert it to a normal life."
So she gets somehow for it. Recognizing also, yes, sometimes the drugs seemed to "extend" her seizure.
"It's not cure," Shelly says as quickly as she fingers away a single tear across her eyes. "I'd be grateful if it goes away and not be repeating itself for several hours or days. And when it comes, it comes strong, shaking her badly. As you see, her beauty has started to fade."
Her face has changed. It seems to her that she has been too long under a bridge, holding the sun against her will, and turned a shade paler across her face. She gets weight, which it is controlled by Dr. Marious Jonas.
It was the last autumn she had realized her daughter was too skinner; she didn't eat at all. The convulsion, then the seizure have struggled her. She wanted to do what the best to transport into her body the principal nutrients.
Her mother: "I'd made up my mind that it couldn't happen. She has in this transaction between 4 to 6, her convulsion was just too much."
A week after she has fainted in the classroom, then in the lunch room, being called by Principal Victoria Puiz, she explained if she has any medication.
Dunghills' mother: "Before I put my next questions to her, I must remained her that everything you say will not change me."
Principal Puiz, a Los Angeles principal, has explained she would not say anything else to upset her. Except to let her there was a new light to see what was the best of the girl.
Her Principal Puiz: "I was a kind of set back. See a waste beside a protective boundaries."
Shelly, the girl's mother: "I didn't know there were drugs to this kind of abnormalities. That was she gave me reference to go to Head Start Program and there, I reached Dr. Lee. Some drugs were applied to its effect. A period of three months or least, she stared to eat voraciously. And there was another thing: her seizures seemed has stopped for a long-three month. It's thrilled me!"
The Little Girl With Red Hair: "I did ever occur to me I could not hold anything, but I began to eat." Paused. Takes some air, smiles a little. "I like eat everything. I like pizzas."
Her mother: Now, little by little, it has excited her. But I want to her to lose a little now. By this, we go out to the park, to the Zoo. Sometimes she feels a little "human" I mean, forgetting what she has."
At the park, she feels awful happy. Playing with her only friend Vicky Cruz -- as they are running around or following the blue ball. Her hair seems a floating like silk, which it is waving against her face and shoulders.
The fear is untouched.
Her friend Vicky 5, with fast reflection and fast talking, is quicker and observer. She always crosses first the imaginary line, she always explains it fast (normal in her age) to Nancy, who can't keep up in front of Vicky's expectation. There some repetition and Vicky would halt out some hopes for a moment, but Nancy Dunghills' frustrations and her weakness and slowness and weightiness there was no improvement and forty-five seconds, she just give up and everything that could be done for her has been just gone.
This Saturday she is asking questions to her friend Vicky Cruz -- question like: Why I can't beat you? Do you think I can win this time? Do I look pretty to you?
It is not until Vicky realizes it can be important for her to know, but she wouldn't figure out how to react to it, so she lets it passes. But the reaction did come. Nancy Dunghills does not like to win like this, letting Someone for any reason -- to have pity for her.
"And I think that was the moment Nancy knew how different she was. Before or during this, she was more determinate to get there and win against any possibilities. It never went through."
Nancy Dunghills: "Never mind if that happen with my effort. And I'm quite sure she let me to win."
For this reason and others, which she has refused to say further, such as she "is in a poor health" and she "will die young anyway", she didn't want to speak with Vicky anymore. It has been now 1 year and 4 months.
Her mother: "I couldn't control it. I try to tell her that is not a big deal. She said 'It does'. And no matter if there was another avenue to attract her, I will. Then I took it for another level. Universal Studio, Disneyland, Magic Mountains were a past ground to bring her happiness up. I don't quite know what made me to decide now to be an insider, with her, always here -- in this filthy place. I don't know if I have any choice."
The girl: "I don't mind. I'm safe here." Paused. She begins to look around; then she gets up. She walks to the window and stopped. She peers through the people passing back and forth, crossing the few vehicles speeding along the street.
For her 7 years old of age she seems more elder, more mature.
"I like the tree," she says, trying to look at the tree across the yard behind these walls and alleys. "It's old but powerful. He looks like he sees everything below. And I --"
She interrupts herself. For which her mother masters several gestures. Several second passed. Her mother calls her up, "Sweetheart...!"
There is not reply. Slowly she turns, "Mom..." she says softly, looking at her with her big eyes. "I think..."
It is an explanatory respond. First she begins to move two or three steps, now hammer of calloused pins, hit her from every part of her body; the shock come quickly with a flash into her mind and collapses. More powerful go the convulsion that seems to desolate the last breath. The mouth tight, her teeth behind and upward hooking her lips and a slender of thread foam winding out. Her face grows deathly expressionless, empty eyes rolling up in mesmerized inwardness. Her body right; her hands stiff -- rebuilt out all confirmation of life, which a spasm of body and a flesh seem to continue into vibration.
Momentarily Shelly imposes upon it with anger; then, quickly, she gets up and kneels beside her. She starts to fish inside her blouse a solid wood attached with cord and tries to open successfully her mouth. She inserts it across her teeth and lips the solid wood, preventing she wouldn't bite her tongue. Then she sets back; she seems now she becomes deafening. Shelly's hand dries away her wet from her forehead.
It has been so far ten minutes for the first convulsion -- followed by one or two seconds recession. Three minutes go by. Then, slowly, merely opening her eyes, Nancy Dunghills looks around. "Mom... Mom..."
"I'm here, sweetheart. Right next to you. You can take my hand if you like..."
The Little Girl With Red Hair glances at her and takes her hand.
"I'm sorry, Mom. I'm very sorry."
She can't hold any longer as she lifts her and brings her against her chest. "Oh silly mine! You don't have to say that, my love! No! You know I love you so much!"
Slowly, she touches Shelly's face. "I'll be all right soon, Mom."
"No matter. I am right here."
Slowly, she wants to get up. Her mother takes from her shoulders as she wants to pull her up. The little Nancy refuses with a smile. Finally she gets back to her feet. And slowly, with such drunkenness, she walks back to the window and remains immobile there.
After I have this article the mother and the girl are living well in the City of Los Angeles. I have tried honestly to sell this article and to give them what it is worth. None local or national magazines were interested. But it does not matter because wirh the help of God and with some nonprofit organizations they are growing more bigger every day.
Their names have been changed.
Venice Beach, California, June 16
-October 29, 2002