Last week, while we were driving to run some errands, we had left the loft and took our usual route through neighboring streets. We live in a gritty part of New Bedford, with triple deckers, and houses in disrepair, in need of painting. There’s little beauty, little green, to break up the neglected facades of the buildings. It was a bright, sunny afternoon. I shielded my eyes and reached up to bring the visor down. I glanced out my window and saw a face from the second floor of a yellow sided building,looking down. It was a little boy’s face looking through the screen. He was staring out. We drove past. His face somehow was etched in my mind.
He might have been five or six. He had his hand pressed on the screen. He was expressionless. Maybe that is why it lives in my head. It was two in the afternoon. I thought he should be outside in the fresh air. I thought, who is watching him, and who would watch him on the street to keep him safe. I wondered what his surroundings look like and is he hungry. Does he have a bed and does he have blankets and covers. I worried about him. Does he have toys. Is the window his view of the world, his world and his life.
All week, as I looked at the faces of the students I talk to, I wondered if they had a younger sibling. I looked at their faces and saw sadness, struggle and frustration. I felt tired and a little burnt out. I never mind hard work but sometimes the work is especially hard. This morning I was reading an email at work and getting ready to respond when I was startled by a girl’s voice saying hi. I turned and she smiled and said “did I scare you?” and I said that I was just deep in thought reading and invited her in. I asked her what was going on and she said “I just wanted to see my best person” and invited herself in and took a seat. I shut the door and smiled. We had met within the first weeks of school. She had been a reluctant visitor to my office since her sister, and another friend, had brought me some texts she had written the night before, or maybe it was early morning, that said she was planning on killing herself and that they shouldn’t tell anyone. Gratefully, they told, she and I talked, and somehow, from an angry demeanor and initial emotional barricade, she began to stop in weekly, and talk a bit. We talk of families and disappointments and trust and nail salons. We talk about banana splits and boyfriends and falling in love. From sullen and disengaged, comes eye contact and laughter.
I drove home tonight in the darkness. I don’t like the darkness. The little boy’s face is still in my head. Once kid at a time. One face at a time.