Pongo Project Journal

Sharing stories of our work with teens
Apr 24
Loss, Love, & Ambivalence

Recently a friend told me that her father had sexually abused her as a child, and later she said, “But of course I still love him.”

And it was hard for me to appreciate the inevitability of that love.

Many victims of childhood abuse maintain relationships with their abusers, as well as with the enablers of that abuse. Personally, I want to be angry at the people who have hurt me, though I can’t always. And when I don’t reject the people who have hurt me, I don’t like myself. There is a certain limbo in which some of us find ourselves, where we need connection but don’t trust, where we push away but don’t reject. And we can maintain relationships in that way, though not without a cost.

I think many of us, in addition to Pongo’s authors, get caught up in that bind.

Like Pongo’s authors, maybe we all struggle unconsciously with losses and desires that make us guarded and ambivalent. (And maybe we all struggle in a way that can make us guarded and ambivalent toward Pongo’s authors themselves.)

The thought I have is this: Even if we don’t have the extremes of suffering of Pongo authors, we still have our kernel of human sorrow that needs to be recognized. As adults, without thinking about it, don’t we yearn for the child-like ideal of support, comfort, and specialness? As adults, life challenges us to survive, develop, and assume responsibility, in obscurity. Honestly, if we relax and contemplate, isn’t it natural to feel some alienation in our adult roles? And aren’t most of us alienated by our own mortality?

On the other hand, as poetry shows us, the recognition of our shared vulnerability offers us relief, if we bravely accept our own vulnerable state.

So, Pongo’s authors are terribly important companions. Their deep suffering makes them forerunners on profound philosophical issues. They help everyone to understand essential struggles of loss, love, and ambivalence in life. Our empathy for them, and for one another, is our opportunity for healing.

I just put some poems on this web site from Pongo’s recent project in juvenile detention. Here is one of them…

Ice Cream Man
by a young woman in juvenile detention, age 16

I just thought you should know
that sometimes I’m afraid of you
I don’t mind you rep’ing the gangs
but sometimes when I look into your eyes
I see violence against me
I see violence against your grandma
and it hurts me inside

I just thought you should know
I want to work in here someday
helping kids that went through what I went through
help them understand why I ran away from home
because my parents beat me
because the stress in my life made me do something stupid
I was the girl who stopped going to school
I was the girl who stopped listening to her parents
who started drinking and smoking

I just thought you should know
that one side of me wants to be with you
                                       and one side of me does not
and the side that does not is confused
feels like a lost sheep

I just thought you should know
I see myself with a happy family
in a park, Oakland, CA, eating barbecued lamb
next to the swimming pool while dads play tennis
and moms talk and serve food
and all the Tongan people speak to the ice cream man

I just thought you should know
I’m tired of seeing what people do on the streets
and I’m tired of being a part of it

I just thought you should know
I want to say hello again to the ice cream man