the travails of children.
9 February 2010 § 2 Comments
It is early in the morning, and we will soon walk our friend’s daughter to the bus stop. It will be her first day of school here. She will confide in me alone, while he is off retrieving a hat to cover her ears, that she does not like living here. She will have been crying for some time, although quietly, and convenient circumstances will make me the only one to notice. She will brush off my expectant inquiries. She will not wipe her tears, and she will be silent. The only thing I will think of is her indomitable show of strength. She is six years old.
She and I are at the bus stop talking when he arrives, announcing that it will be another few minutes before the bus will be there. She is silent again. He lights a cigarette, wraps his long coat around her to block the wind. I stand nearby, wearing a sweater that is ineffective against the negative wind chill. I am unprepared to stand at a bus stop. But I will endure, because she showed me her strength. He leaves to get the hat. She tells me quickly how she came to be here. Her story is filled with the name of her mother, rather than Mom, articulate and concise phrases of thought I doubt I was capable of at that age, and a matter-of-fact account of her dad being in jail for beating up her mother, and her living with Grandma. I hear truth, and I tell her so. I tell her that I’ve been there, I’ve lived in places I’ve hated – a thought crosses my mind that she did not use that word – and I’ll do what I can to get her out of it. To make things better. Her tears had melted me, and I was angry and sad and frustrated with her.
I wonder why adults find it prudent to think they know a child’s best interests – that before the age of eighteen, a human being is incapable of reason, of logic, of knowing what is good and bad for them. I pull her hood up over her long, dark hair to keep the gusts out. She arranges her hair underneath it with ease, finesse. Of course there are a few years in which kids are teenagers and prove that they cannot be trusted with butterflies or plastic knives, but before that, it is a matter of logistics, not logic, that rules their lives. Custody battles and assault charges and trashed houses serving as new homes. Foster homes and therapists. Eating cereal out of measuring cups. Smell the milk first.
He arrives with the hat. Putting it on her head, he says that This is Daddy’s hat. I look at her, knowing that our mutual friend is not her Daddy, wanting to see some reaction. So do we want to Lose it? She shakes her head. There is not sign yet of the sun or the bus. She is a warrior, this little girl. She will survive, whether she stays here or goes back – she will grow up a stable element in shattered homes: when her parents and elders of all sorts will have lost their minds, she will have hers, and she will make an extraordinary escape with it, never to return to this cold and icy world. She will refuse her mother’s fate. Her ambition will topple buildings in their stead. Her spirit will not be broken. For that will be in her control. I will do what I can for her. I will hate myself for not being able to do more. For not doing more.
The bus approaches. Memories of the smoke-filled house drift away with the exhaust of the diesel engine in the cold, flourescent air. There is snow under our feet. Stained carpet no longer. Things Bought no longer matter here. Her tears insure that her Love cannot be Bought. I want to get on the bus with her, to tell her stories, to take her away from this, to have my first bus ride again. But I do not, for the bus will do that job. She will sit and think about how to get out of this place, and at school she will Focus. Her mind will not be here. And in the afternoon, while riding bus 37 again, she will dream of getting off at a different spot, wishing that it somehow, miraculously, went by her Grandma’s house, so that everything would be okay again. And soon she will be back here. Everyone will be awake then, and she will not cry.