“Ma, I’m trying to get myself together. But these people don’t give a fuck. No one gives a fuck. I don’t care if they take my money, and spend my food stamps. They don’t have to give me anything, but why won’t they at least take care of my son? That’s why they get the money! For me and him!”
I know, is all I can say at times like this, when La’s is frustrated and angry, and justifiably so.
What am I supposed to say?
How to I encourage her to keep herself as sane, safe, and out of trouble as she can and to abide by rules that only work on paper for people that aren’t her for one reason or another?
I’m ahead of myself.
So I’ll back track to fill you in on how we got to right here, right now.
My daughter has spent a considerable amount of time in juvenile detention. Landing in such a place is quite easy for children who aren’t White, and whose parents aren’t attorneys and doctors. Though you can find the lawyers retained by their well off parents sitting on the rows of wooden benches, you won’t find a White child shackled and in an orange jumpsuit often.
White children with parents who have money are able to remain in school, ‘for the betterment of the child’, because the plan is to keep the chosen ones on track to success regardless of the fact that you are also a potential criminal.
But when your child is black, and they walk out the door, you never know when society will rip them from you temporarily or forever. My daughter was walking home from school with kids walking in her direction home, and then she was in juvenile hall for a week.
But this isn’t about my daughter, she has a mother, and though I’m far from perfect, and no where near ideal, I did what I could as her parent. La on the other hand wasn’t so lucky.
“I made a friend in there. Her name’s La, I felt so bad for her because her mother died and she’s got problems”, I listened to my daughter’s tone. Fully aware that she had met someone of interest. She inherited her mother’s habit of concerning herself with other people’s problems and her father’s unique aptitude for butting heads with the police.
It wasn’t too long after that when my daughter didn’t come home for the night for the first time. Nearly two days later, she walks into our home. To say that I was sick and livid would be an understatement. I had filled out a missing person’s report with the police, a time consuming excersize that seemed to distract the officers from doing nothing much. I was told to go home and not to worry. Where do kids go when they go missing?
With friends, of course.
In walked a tiny high yellow girl, hair tied up in a scarf. She stood by the front door to make an easy exit should this exchange between my daughter and I not go right. I wasn’t in the mood for introductions, and instead asked this girl where her parents were. I was certain she belonged to someone, somewhere, who must be as worried about her as I was about my own daughter.
My offspring kept in touch with La, and they were in contact once she was released from Juvenile hall. There is a communication system in place that conveys messages from the free world to the people on the inside. I thought she would have forgotten about her new friend, but apparently not.
Loyalty can be a bitch, and when my daughter went with her friend to ‘protect’ her while she searched for a place to stay among random family members all over town, she didn’t want to leave her until she knew she had a place to stay. I didn’t hear this part until I was done screaming from the top of my lungs. One part rage and two parts hysterical gratitude that my child came home safe.
It had been an eventful previous few weeks, to say the least.
“She has no place to go. Can we adopt her?”
I heard that question several times in various forms. The kid had been updating me with more and more details of her new friend. And from what I learned, she was on her own, but she wasn’t because 13 year old children aren’t independent, so where was her parent(s)?
La came to the house nearly every day.
I tried to not treat her so indifferently, and cold, she was a child and whatever criticism I felt for her had nothing to do with her and everything to do with the people she came from. I offered her food anytime she came to the house. We didn’t have much to spare, but if I have extra I will feed a hungry person at my door, especially a child.
Her and my daughter would busy themselves cooking and laughing. I would walk past them in the living room, laying on the floor watching television.
Just two normal kids. La’s laugh is second only to my daughter’s loud giggle. I learned to know them well.
Outgrown coats, clothes and anything else extra or spare was offered to La.
Her light waist length jacket was no match in the chilling Fall weather. She stole pads out of our bathroom stash, enough to last, and I felt guilty about moving my spare toiletries into my bedroom for safe keeping.
I wouldn’t let her spend the night, I had no parental permission and didn’t know her that well to have her in my house for any duration of time.
My experience didn’t trust her, a street person, a vagrant, one of ‘those types’ with no ‘home training’. There was no number to call when I asked and she never seemed to be in a hurry to get to a home, or family, or normal young teen obligation like showing up elsewhere to be accounted for.
I got to meet her father one day, purely by accident, as I sat in court spending money I didn’t have to defend my daughter on charges that were fictitious, expensive and recklessly handed out by the local police to the little Black kids like Halloween candy.
The girls hugged each other, as girls are apt to do when excited. The father stepped around the two of them to introduce himself. He extended his hand. I looked into his face, to his swollen lips, and down his dingy clothes, and to his hand, outstretched and also swollen and scabbed.
I offer my typical polite stuck up classist handshake, which only comes out when I’m absolutely disgusted by the man (always a man) offering unwanted accolades and introduction. I try to adjust my facial expression, I offer a half smile and turn my attention back to the girls, to cover my disdain.
He mentioned something about her always being in trouble and acting out.
I now know why she’s left to her own devices to eat, travel and find shelter. Though I know plenty of working drug addicts who take care of their kids and maintain homes in spite of their substance abuse problems. My issue was in the obvious child neglect that I was coming to recognize.
“Is Alex home?” was the greeting when I open my front door to the knock on the outside. My daughter hadn’t been in since after school, it was now dark, and I had been calling her cell phone with no response. Seeing La at my door worried me, I had gotten accustomed to them always being together in case something did happen, there were two of them.
I stepped outside my door to get a better look at her and pulled her into the light of my apartment. She had a baseball cap pulled down over her eyes, her arms folded around herself. I could swear she was shaking. I could have just shut the door and went back to my life.
“Is everything okay with you?” It was then that she tipped her head up to the light and I could see her black eye, busted lip and chipped tooth.
“Who did this to you?” Expecting to hear about how some of the neighborhood animals had jumped her or some other daily random act of violence what I didn’t expect to hear was that her father had punched her in the face and threw her into a wall. He was frustrated that she had been picked up by the police again, resulting in more charges for him to have to answer to. He told her he was sick of her, and for her not to come back.
“I’m sorry that happened to you” My blood boiled at the thought that this girl had to live like this so I did all I could do when I said, “keep looking for Alex, and if you can’t find her, you come back here, no matter what”, she nodded, thanked me and walked back out into the world.
I returned to my apartment, and shut the door, realizing that there is no door big enough to shut out what had just come into my life.
*to be continued…………………….