Robin and the Ghost
by Shawna Black

Robin was an interesting little girl, often saying things beyond her years. I overheard her ask her mother to tell her brother to stop bothering her because, as she put it, “He’s antagonizing me”. She was six years old when she used that big word. I don’t know where she learned it or how she knew what it meant, but I found it funny as hell that she knew how to use it in a sentence. She was, and still is, too smart for her own good.

A few years later Robin decided she didn’t want to live at home anymore and told her teacher that he father beat her. I’m fairly certain it wasn’t more than 24 hours later when Child Protective Services (CPS) walked into my brother’s house and removed all three kids. This was a devastating event in our family and left scars on some of us that will never heal. The charges were unsubstantiated but in the state of California, in cases of child abuse, one is guilty until proven innocent. All three kids were in foster homes for months to come.

The state finally decided that the boys could go back home but Robin was being transferred to the psychiatric ward of San Diego’s Children’s Hospital. She spent the next several months at the hospital. Since I was living in downtown San Diego at the time, I visited her a few times. The visits were surreal – Robin had a misunderstood intelligence about her and talking to her was like talking to an adult. She was probably eight at the time. My brother and his family had decided to move to the east coast and live with our parents until they could get back on their feet. They didn’t want to leave their daughter in San Diego, but financially, they had no choice.

My father had been worried about the kids for months. He was especially concerned for Robin and called her at the hospital at least once a week. He spent a lot of time on the phone with her, just talking. He just wanted to know she was OK.

My father died before Robin was released from the hospital and allowed to rejoin her family on the east coast. The doctors at the hospital didn’t want her to become upset so they asked her parents “not to mention” the death of her grandfather. They were afraid she wouldn’t take it so well and flip out. Fucking doctors.

Fast forward several weeks later. Robin is talking to her dad on the telephone. She’s quiet and distracted and her dad asks her what’s the matter.

Robin: “Daddy, how’s Grandpa? He hasn’t called me.”

Robin’s Dad: “Fine. He’s fine.”

Robin: “Are you sure?’ Cuz I saw him in my room yesterday.”

Robin saw my father in her room at the hospital after he had died. He was checking up on her, making sure she was OK. My father had also visited Robin’s two brothers a few months after his death. But I suppose that’s a story for another day, though.

This is Robin. I’m not sure what I did here because I simply don’t remember, but I’m thinking I borrowed a camera lens from school and that’s how I achieved the distorted view in this picture. The shot of Robin by herself is a much better exposure than the one of her with her cousin; however, I love the composition in the shot of the two kids together.

The shot of Robin by herself stands out because of the eyes. First rule of portraiture, focus on the eyes. When viewing a portrait, the first thing we tend to look at is the face; therefore, it’s imperative that the eyes are in focus.

Both of these pictures could be better. The highlights are a bit too bright and some of the detail in the girls’ faces is lost. Someday, after I invest in the equipment and set up the darkroom in my garage, I’ll print these pictures again. For now, though, I still think they’re cool shots.



Shawna lives, works and snaps photos somewhere on the east coast.



you really snagged the story and the pics perfectly together

sad story thou

but perfect


Great story. You told me this story already but in your writing the story is so much better :)


Amazing photos. You captured so much here, both in the words and pictures. My favorite article of far.


The first photo is absolutely haunting. Her eyes look like she's seen a lot of hard road at a very young age....

Very well done.


Thanks Everyone.


I like the first one better, but they're both very good. I think the shadows actually work well for you in the first one - it wouldn't have the same impact if you opened up her face very much.

It is a sad story - the system takes its toll on all kids, regardless of whether or not the original allegations were true.


The first picture is incredible. I agree, the composition of the second one is cool, but that first picture is just . . . I don't know, vaguely haunting, I guess. Definitely the eyes. She looks like a girl who knows too much, which may be true based on your story.


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