Curb drop off: 1949
I ran out of gas. It’s really that simple. I headed toward the desert. The kid was in the backseat. I don’t know where we were going. I no longer remember the motivation. We were on the move and then we weren’t. I didn’t have any money. The kid was hungry. I didn’t have anything for him. I had nothing left.
I remember leaving Harry in the car and walking into the bar. There was a man. He bought me a drink. And then another. The morning light shifted to that harsh afternoon glare. A plan was born. I walked back to the car. The kid was asleep in the back seat, his body dripping with sweat.
The man told me of a place that would feed him. I remember driving down the street, pulling Harry by the arm, opening a door, and then closing it with him on the other side.
I never saw him again.
Curb drop off: 2022
I dropped her off at the curb. Another rainy day. “I really don’t want to go.” she says as she gathers her backpack, water, and lunch bag. So much stuff for a mere half day at school. How do you respond with warmth and encouragement to that? It’s a daily struggle. She lingers, holding up the line of other harried drop off parents. I glance at the frowned forehead in the car behind us. Their impatience annoys me; I feel justified and punk rock by pausing longer. Most parents are actually much younger than me by at least a decade, but it seems that the litany of shoulda’s have aged them prematurely---stuffy with little of interest to say, yet they take up so much space. I don’t blame her for not wanting to spend time with their offspring.
I attempt to shower her in my silent love from the driver’s seat. Silent so not to disturb her angst that fuels her forward so that she can navigate the day.
The door slams and she takes off into her secret world of anguish, hope, gossip, and cloudiness. Until this afternoon, my love. I understand more than you think I do.
Drop off and return: 2021
“You left me.”
A guard stands outside his door, listening for an uptick in mood.
I sit back in the metal chair. This cold inhumane chair in the corner. With the exception of running out to get a very bad chicken sandwich from Burger King, I have been in this chair around the clock, holding vigil, waiting for whatever is supposed to be next. I keep him safe, translating the doctor’s complex questions; fighting when he cannot.. He looks tiny in his hospital gown, electric blue eyes. Unblinking.
“I want to go home.”
“I want to go home.”
“I want to go home.”
The first sounds strong.
The second, a wail, followed by hysteria.
“I just wanted help.” he cries.
I know. I wanted that, too. I see now that “help” is not an agreed upon principle. He is 18 years old now and the past has officially caught up to him. He is no longer the tiny 13-year old boy who came to live with us after his mother died. Five years of stability had provided a cushion between him and the sadness: a childhood of disappointment, interspersed neglect, fetal alcohol syndrome, and of course, the death of his mother. The onset of adulthood was enough to shake it all loose and taunt the voices that had lay dormant. And now the voices visit him. Shadows lurk in every room watching. They push and prod at him guiding him toward windows and bridges. “Jump” they say. “You do not belong here.”
“J, I always come back. Always. We’ve got to figure this out.”
And so begins our journey through systems well intentioned, but fatally flawed.
“Stay. You belong here.” I whisper.
Drop off and return: the daily
“Oh Peyton, they are about to lose their shit.”
She looks up from her side of the car and nods in agreement. Two huge obstacles for the parent drop off: 1) a TENT(!) and 2) a TRASH TRUCK. In the cars sandwiched between, we could feel it: the volcano of early morning parent fear, anger, and impatience waiting to blow. Heads shake, bodies shift in seats, drumming intensifies on the steering wheel–this 90 second interlude feels like eternity, I can’t help but start to giggle as I wait my turn for curb drop off.
The trash truck is part of every Tuesday drop off, but the tent, inches away from the school parking lot, is new. A lone BMX bike stands guard outside this tiny abode. Unlike other camps around town, this is a solo venture. The bike looks familiar to me. I suspect this is the temporary home of a young man I’ve brushed up against before. I wait to see how the school and parent community will react and sure enough, I don’t have to wait for long. The message reads, “We know…it’s not really on our property…police can’t…we’ll keep you posted.” Followed by the parent messages of “This is what we get when we defund the police…he has an inappropriate shirt…he’s too close to our kids…if we all call the police, something will happen…”
I wonder about him during the day. I wonder where he went to middle school. I wonder who his friends are. Has he eaten? What is he sleeping off? If he is sleeping it off, how dangerous could that be to a crew of apathetic middle schoolers? I know that the police will come eventually. Just as I decide to go visit him, the message comes in. The police have arrived and are working toward a resolution. Don’t worry, everyone. The sidewalk is safe again.
I wonder about all the little actions and words we adults display during the day. I wonder about the “mental health crisis” that makes the headlines and resides in my home. I wonder about all the ways we bump up against each other, subconsciously sharing our past experiences, and the past experiences of our parents, and their parents, and their parents, and on and on.
And then I stop wondering.
No need to wonder when I am living it.
No need to wonder when I know that I need to remain ever vigilant of what I bring into the world.
No need to wonder what they see, because they see everything.
No need to wonder when there is so much work to be done.