Still no sign of Michael?
Ever since he had hopped out of the back of our truck in September of last year, I had asked this question so often and heard this answer so many times that I only did it out of habit…half-hearted. I first met him a few years ago in the government home. From the second story I saw him walking out the doors with the Director and two women. “Where’s Michael going?” I asked. “That’s his mom and his aunt. He’s going home today.”
How wonderful!! This is exactly what kids long for!
Until…. a few months later….I spotted him on the street.
He disappeared before I could turn the truck around to talk to him. Then he resurfaced in the government home and I was wishing, wishing, wishing that he had a sibling in Proniño. That would nearly guarantee a quick transfer. And theeeeeeen, he was on the street again.
Which led to him being in the back of my truck. On our way to Proniño. We just had one little errand on our way. Said errand ended up being an hour. An hour to sit and wonder if this place was going to be like the government home. An hour to think of every possible reason why he shouldn’t go. An hour that ended with it all being too much for him and at a stoplight that stayed red a little too long he said goodbye, snatched a soccer ball and took off down the street.
Then nothing. Absolutely nothing. For over a year. This trip, Jilli and I were pulled over on the side of the road talking to one of the boys when we hear “Hola, Jennifer” come from Jilli’s window.
Precious, wonderful, long lost Michael.
(No joke, this is the first thing he said to me. I’ve been worried about you for over a year, child. I couldn’t care less about that ball. Also, technically, the ball was Jilli’s.)
“I forgive you. I’ve just been worried about you. Do you still want to go to Proniño? Yes? Great. Let’s get in the car and I’ll call the Director on the way.”
(Forget that Jilli and I had planning sessions all day. This clearly takes precedence…and is why we need to have planning sessions at least an hour away from any child we might know.)
(With big eyes.) “Oh no, I can’t go today. I’m so high right now. Is there another day we can go? Once I’ve had time to prepare myself?”
And the balloon that is my happy spirit deflates. I’ve heard this before. This means that “I’m going to leave the street” is always going to be tomorrow. There’s always a holiday coming up. Always an errand. Always that one last chance to get high. But he was adamant. And excited when I said that I was heading back on Thursday. “Today’s Tuesday. That gives me Wednesday and Thursday morning to get ready. I can go with you on Thursday?” Hmm, he even knows what day it is. He may actually be serious.
We return on Wednesday evening to remind him what time I’ll be there on Thursday. Remind him why he wants to leave the street. Remind him he deserves a better life. It’s fairly freezing (for Honduras) and it kills me a little to see him with his arms inside his t-shirt as he tries to get warm. The night has barely started. Want to go now? No. Tomorrow is the plan. Ok, I’ll be here tomorrow.
There’s almost ALWAYS a last minute battle. Suddenly they can’t leave until they’ve eaten fried rice one more time. Or we must have one more long conversation about what their future will look like if drugs and the street continue to reign. Find him in 9:30. Ready? Yep. Hops in the car. Well, that sure was easy.
As we pull away, one of the other boys asks him about ‘the blanket’. “It’s around the corner.” I ask him if the blanket is his and if we need to go get it. “No, Emerson lent it to me last night. It was so cold and I wanted to be ready for today.” At first I just nod, but then it hits me. Kids who live on the street don’t get high simply because drugs are fun. When you’re high, you don’t feel your hunger and you don’t feel that your cold.
Michael needed that blanket because he hadn’t gotten high the night before.
It was so cold he easily could have justified it. It was his ‘last time’ which would have been an a-ok excuse. I looked at him and realized how badly he wants this. It’s always scary to hope too much when a child first leaves the street because typically he’ll be in and out and in and out a few times before he’s able to stabilize. But gosh, this desire that he has is so true and so real. And I wish that it alone could always be enough. That all a child has to do is reach that point of being willing to sacrifice in order to attain what is so much better, once, and that alone guarantees it’s attainment. Sadly, that is not the case. But I’ve witnessed this desire in him. I’ve witnessed his heroic determination to overcome. And I pray that he’ll continue to find little pockets of strength that he can pull out and drink in when he needs them over the next few weeks, months, years?
He also knows how much I want him to stay in Proniño. And used it to his advantage….”Jenny, if you don’t bring me a bag of chips today, I’m going to run away. Next time you see me, I’ll be on the street sooooooooo high.” Internal argument ensues. “Don’t let yourself be manipulated. You cannot set this precedent and let him bully you into bribing him to stay. BUT his whole world has been turned upside. One bad day, one bad moment, really, could lead to him making a very bad decision. I don’t want to be even a fraction of the cause.” What to do, what to do? Buy chips for all the boys in Nueva Vida. Clearly.
It was with this in mind that I went to Proniño on my last day. I really had no idea how he as feeling. I couldn’t gauge how much of his initial resolve he still had.
Then I found this picture on my camera at the end of the day. He has a battle ahead of him. This will not be easy. But there’s just something about the carefree silliness of this picture… Yep, he’s got a good amount of fight left.