As an adolescent I liked Saint-Exupery’s Little prince, but never quite got it. This summer, it suddenly hit me, the meaning of that conversation with the fox in the desert. “But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world….”
For a while I just watched her. Then we played more and more and my amazement grew at her resilience, as I got to know this wonderful little person. We did all the things you can do on a warm summer: rode a boat, went swimming, picked berries, and lay in the sun.
Her father still drove like a madman and forgot to feed her on the few days he had her. His house was an unimaginable mess and the neighbours reported drinking parties going on while she was around. Her eczema was not treated and she was left to clean her bottom herself with a resulting rash. Yet, she never complained.
When the number of days left of our holiday could be counted on only one hand, the realisation in me was physical: we now needed each other. To me, she became ‘unique in all the world’, not just a little girl, but my little princess friend. Knowing she would not be safe and happy had become unbearable.
The call to the social services was, thus, no longer optional. She needed me and I was not going to let her down.
Later on, I was surprised to hear that my written report had been read out loud to every single person involved. I didn’t know that was practice and no one had told me. Not that it was a secret, I had told the family I would make that call, because help was needed for both father and child. But I was pretty relieved that I had put so many hours in compiling that report, pointing out the few positives, and strictly defining what was first-hand information and what was not.
Photo: Fanni Sarkadi
Two weeks later, the longing for her was physical. My little princess, how was she doing? I started writing letters to her, well, not to her now, but to her 16-year-old self. I though that in the midst of her teenage chaos she might want a witness, someone who could give her another version of her story than she might have herself. That it was not her fault, had never been.
I keep writing these letters when the longing for her becomes strong. I tell her I am hanging in there, letting the social services know I am watching from a distance. I also send her postcards and yesterday I posted a sweet little watch with flowers for her. I figured, she might as well get some tools to take command over her life. As long as the social services follow their philosophy that children fare best with their parents, she will have to use her amazing adaptive skills to survive. Before next summer she will know when it is time to leave for preschool or going to bed.
When I stood in the window of that jeweler in Stockholm, I realized another depth of Saint-Exupery’s fox story. To need and to be needed is the secret of truly being alive.