When I am 12, I sit on a beach burned by the sun.
When I am 12 I stand up from that beach and go back to my dorm. I have an email from my mother. She is working with an anti-trafficking group that helps girls rescued from sex trafficking. I do not know what sex trafficking is. My mom and dad are in India.
When I am 13 I go home for Christmas. It’s not really home, but it’s where my parents are. The house in India is nice, if nothing else. I spend a lot of time at the aftercare home with my mother. She tries to teach the girls English, I smile shyly at them before and after the class and communicate in what little way I can. This home tries to teach them skills so when they turn 18 they will not fall back into prostitution. I meet a 16-year-old who proudly announces she is now in 2nd grade. I talk to a girl my age who supports her two-year-old child on her hip.
My mother tells me in the car ride home that pimps hope their girls will become pregnant and have baby girls, so they can raise them as if this is all they are good for. To be raped for the duration of their life until they are broken and shriveled up and husks of the women they once were. My mom did not say that, but my mom meant that.
I meet a girl who is HIV positive and dutifully takes the medicine she will never be able to afford when she turns 18.
I learn that not all the aftercare homes in India are like the one my mom works at. The government home locks girls in their rooms, serves them meals with maggots, and tells them they deserve what happened to them as if it is their fault simply because they have a vagina.
My mom finds a job at the International Justice Mission in India. They save 8 girls in a year and treat it like a victory. The night I hear that statistic I throw up.
Sometimes girls are kidnapped and families are duped. But often girls are sold by their parents.
I feel shadows creeping up on me.
My mom shows the girls Disney movies, but not ones with scary male villains.
My mom tells my brother to be careful when meeting the girls.
My mom keeps teaching them English. Some learn faster than others. I think some of them review between lessons and others don’t. Some of the girls are happy, some are angry, I don’t like looking in their eyes. My mom makes the mistake of teaching about dates and asking the girls when their birthday is.
There are 12 girls.
One of them thinks her birthday might have been in January.
A girl tries to speak to me. But what can I do, what can I say? What am I ever supposed to say to a girl who has been sold, tortured, beaten, starved, and raped over and over and over?
When I am 15 I move back to America and we leave behind India and we leave behind Malaysia. I enter a neighborhood with a pretentious bubble community and hosts of first world problems. They haunt me in America too. The runaway statistics, the Super Bowl statistics, the feminist movement.
I was 12 when I stopped breathing.
I am 19.
And still, I cannot breathe.
-Grace T, November 2017
*This post was originally written several years ago in response to a lot of grief I was struggling to overcome. This piece has been modified and utilized multiple times over the years, including submission as a college essay, a scholarship application, and an application to creative writing camp.