While I was in San Francisco last night, teaching a class in personal essay for Writing Salon, C was cruising around the streets of West Oakland, looking for the father of a kid he's grown close to in Juvenile Hall, a kid who is about to be shipped off to a group home in LA tomorrow.
He had tried calling--repeatedly. The father is a wiry man who talks as if he's just downed twelve lattes, C said, and doesn't answer his phone. C finally got through via the sister. The boy wanted to see his father and say good-bye. For his whole time in the Hall, this kid had been pining for a visit from his dad, who doesn't have a working car, who is a single father of four or five other children and is overwhelmed, who has a job scraping metal against metal, and has constructed a six-point plan to save the world, which he's had privately published via Kinko's.
C listened to all this as he drove the man to the Hall, then waited outside while the father got to go in and say good-bye to his son. C was not allowed in because he's not a direct relative. He doesn't get paid to do this. In fact, he's been reprimanded for caring too much, not spending enough time on his paperwork. But this is the real work, this is where the rubber meets the road. No matter how neglectful or abusive, kids mostly yearn for their parents.
And he's a young-looking small kid. What's going to happen to him down in LA? This kid who's not a fighter, not a criminal mastermind, just an ordinary kid with some bad associations, no mother, low reading skills, and no place to be? C said last night, "Anything could happen. He could pull it together, get his skills up, do well. He could run away. He could end up getting killed or in adult prison. There's no way to know."
These kid's lives are like leaves getting blown along the street. There's no anchor, no ballast. It makes our argument over whether to rent out the in-law right away after our current tenant leaves, or wait a month and repaint and replace the sink seem very petty and unimportant. But after we argued and made up, I went out to my car to drive to class and found a perfect pink rose, stripped of thorns, on the dashboard.