Pretty sure it was divine.
Haley just wanted to see the kids who go to public school one last time before she headed to the airport. Since I get up early for coffeeshop time anyway, I volunteered to go with her at 6:30. The kids strolled in and Roger wouldn’t look me in the eye (odd) but did give me a hug in front of ALLLLLLL his friends. (Also odd.) I’m working on not reading too much into things, so I went back to the table and let him turn the corner and disappear. Moments later Bessy walks over to me looking like her feathers had been ruffled and said “Roger and Elder left. They said they are with you.” Hmm, seeing as how I’m here… we quickly realize what’s actually happening.
I leave, nonchalantly strolling/speed walking, ok, it may have more of a controlled sprint… Rounded the corner outside the school to see Roger taking off his uniform while pulling street clothes out of his backpack.
“Hey! Where are you going?”
“What do you mean, you’re leaving?”
“We’ve made a decision and this is what we’re doing.”
You know what I’ve learned in four years with the kids? I really have zero control over them. I mean, I could have grabbed some earlobes and dragged them back to the school but I try to avoid a) causing a scene and b) traumatizing children whenever possible. Instead, I called upon my hidden linebacker skillz and body blocked any progress forward while interchangeably saying ‘no, no, no’ and ‘please, no, no, no’. While scrambling for words that would potentially be a bit more powerful, Roger sighs and asks if I would take them to a school downtown so he can say goodbye to one of his friends. Hmm, this would buy me some time….um, sure. As they jump in the back of the truck, Haley walks out of the school.
“We’re gonna go to Ever’s school so Roger can say goodbye before they run away.”
(Haley: blink, blink)
As I drive we call every person we can think of who could do more than simply beg them to stay. Of course, no one answers. Upon arriving at the school we discover that they’ve already went in to class. So our two prodigal sons turn to say goodbye.
Haley and I do the only logical thing we could do.
We have no idea where they’re going. No idea what our plan is. All we know is that at this moment, we are with them, and we’re not going to be the first to give up. So, block after block we trail them through downtown Progreso. Some of us may have been weeping a bit (and don’t make the assumption that the Catrachos were the ones with the dry eyes.) Once or twice we get them to stop and talk. They had gotten caught stealing and were absolutely convinced that they were going to get sent to the juvenile detention center. (100% not true.) Roger tells me he made a promise to Elder and must follow through with it. (Yes, I’m a fan of following through with commitments and being a man of your word, but not when your promise is detrimental to BOTH of you.) I talk to Roger about his future, about his plans, about how much I love him, about how sad I’ll be, how worried I’ll be, how I’m not ready for him to not be in my life, how important school is, how he plans on supporting himself once the 150 lempiras in his pocket have been spent.
A block from the bus station he says:
I have no future.
I am marked.
I have been ruined by the things I did before Proniño.
They board a bus and after hastily scribbling my number on the back a photo from Roger’s backpack, the bus pulls away.
Haley and I start back towards the car, no longer trying to hold back the tears as the bus monkeys shout “Don’t cry Mami! They’ll be back.” So much for not making a scene.
The thing is, I’ve heard Roger’s words too many times.
So many children who I see as people of great character, strength and who have the world at their fingertips talk about being ruined.
“My brother was in the gang and so are my cousins. That life is in my soul.”
“I’ve always been so badly behaved that my family couldn’t handle me.” (He was kicked out of his house when he was five.)
And now we have Roger. Ruined by what he did before Proniño. He came to Proniño when he was nine.
My tears as we walked through the gauntlet of catcalls back to the car were partially because they had left and because I was worried, but were also because of just how helpless I felt. Boggles my mind that a kid I love so much finds himself so worthy of reproach. Drives me crazy that a kid in whom I see so much good can find himself unforgivable.
Convincing a child who has been through so much that he is, in fact, the apple of someone’s eye takes a significant amount of time. Countering the constant negative messages he has received from the very people who were supposed to nurture, guide and protect him is even harder than getting a wine stain out of that dress. When I allow myself to get wrapped up in one day’s happenings, in one disheartening conversation, I get overwhelmed and this little voice says “I don’t think I can keep doing this.” But when I accept the fact that it took years and years to instill so much shame and desperation into a child’s mind, therefore it will take a significant amount of time and attention to unwind that deceitful snake wrapped tightly around their thoughts about themselves, I’m buoyed. The memory of this day will remain hard and sad, but it was also progress. I had no idea that this amazing child finds himself to be utterly ruined. Now I know. Now I have a starting point. I have gained his trust to the point where he has allowed me to glimpse how he sees himself. And now we have some work to do.
From Tattoes on the Heart:
“The poet Shelley writes, ‘To love and bear, to hope till hope creates from its own wreck the thing it contemplates.’ How does one hang in there with folks, patiently taking from the wreck of a lifetime of internalized shame, a sense that God finds them (us) wholly acceptable?“
Some days my hope tank is overflowing and other times it experiences a severe drought. But hanging in there is what I will do. I’ll keep polishing and buffing that mirror until finally, they can see what I see.
Next time I’ll tell you the story of how Roger came back….