Yesterday Michigan authorities found the body of a nine-year-old quadriplegic in a garbage bag stuffed in a garbage bin, covered with mothballs and locked away in a storage space. Until she died, Shylea Thomas lived with a guardian who was possibly also her aunt in a run-down house in Flint, along with seven other children ranging in age from three months to fifteen years. No one seems to know what happened to her mother. She had been taken out of school in January; police began to look into her whereabouts this week when relatives alerted them to her disappearance.
Yeah. I know.
Not very much will be known about this case, I guess, for some time, if we ever hear about it again. There isn’t much reason to expect we will. Shylea isn’t blonde or from an affluent community, there is no prurient sexual element to her death that can keep us titillated as in the Sandra Cantu murder in California,. Moreover, Shylea seems to have had very little by way of advocates and allies in her small universe. Apparently one can stop appearing in public in the middle of January and no one will raise an eyebrow before April. No one wants to meddle in the affairs of others, no one wants to invade privacy, and beyond shaking their heads at the television when “these things happen,” no one does much of anything. And so it goes, when you are a Shylea.
She isn’t the first and she won’t be the last of these stories of actual human beings just falling through the cracks, of course, and there’s a hypocrisy that goes along with my writing this at all, which is to say: what have I done for the marginalized and poor children of colour (the bottom of the pyramid, as far as patriarchy goes) lately? I got PhDork’s point a few weeks ago that small acts can nonetheless be called activism, and I do agree with that for the most part, but on days where I check my Harpy feeds and find stories like Shylea’s, I am reminded of how very small my acts are.
There is an element here of what I might call sheer exhaustion, of course, among the kind of people who might have been able to help Shylea out. I have known social workers, and from them I know that very few people ever deliberately ignore cases like Shylea’s. But there is little time to spare for a speculative social worker visit and even less energy to keep track of people who seemed fine, last you saw them, and who you just plumb forgot to ask about again.
And as for me, well, I don’t do well with children, or, really, people frankly. I prefer books and cats. And so I have not really spent as much time in the trenches actually helping the marginalized as I probably should have. My being bothered by this fact comes and goes – hell, I think, looking around my peers at my place of employment, I’m not doing too shabby – but I have been feeling it heavily lately.
What I do best is write, and advocate for people, but as with the Angie Zapata case, there’s always a sense of being too late to the party, of being able to talk about horrifying things only after they happen. And today, just today, because of Shylea, I’m not sure it’s enough.