It was my last day on the street and I was feeling thankful that there were so many kids around. As we chatted about all the normal things – when I was coming back, what homes they still had an opportunity to live in, why one had just left one of those homes – a woman came around the corner two or three times.
“He’s back. And he’s bothering me.”
Angel (not his real name) would grab the large stick of wood next to him and disappear around the corner. Always returning and rejoining the conversation a few minutes later.
I had been there for about an hour when she popped her head around for the fourth time and in exasperation said “He’s here AGAIN!” Angel grabbed his stick as he and the five others got to their feet and headed down the sidewalk, muttering something about this being war. When Angel noticed that I was also climbing to my feet with the intention of following, he told my payaso (clown) to stay behind and prevent me from seeing this. My payaso tugged on my hand as he sat back down and asked me what else I wanted to talk about. I waited a minute for him to be distracted and then stealthily (like the ninja I am) got to my feet and headed towards ‘the war’.
This is the part of the story where Jilli chimed in that when the kids tell her to stay put, she usually listens, followed by a disapproving look. I’m including this piece of information because I want her mom to see what good decisions she’s making. =) But also to clarify that we were in front of some stores in the parking lot of a highly trafficked gas station. Seeing this ‘war’ involved us walking to end of the building and peaking around the corner. I hope my mom also agrees that this was an ok decision.
Around the corner I saw my five kids wielding sticks and surrounding one man in a semi circle. It was a lot of posturing and yelling, but a few times, the man tried to break through the semi-circle (instead of simply turning around and leaving) and we’d hear a piercing ‘crack’ from a stick hitting flesh. The man finally ran across the street, but continuously turned around to say that he was coming back and would head to where the boys were once again. More posturing, more yelling, more running away from the semi-circle of boys with sticks. This went on for some time and the boys were slowly able to chase him farther and farther away.
The whole time, my payaso was trying desperately to do his job. He’d tug on my hand trying to get me to come back to where we were sitting. Hop up and down a little to get my attention off of the others. And then he put his hands on either side of my face and turned it so that he was all I could see.
“Don’t look at that. It’s so ugly. Just focus on me.”
You want me to focus on you, my little clown? You think that this will make me feel better? Focus on your dirty face? Your hair that should’ve been cut months ago? Your drug induced sway as you hold on to my face? Your non-existant front tooth that you lost in a fight, perhaps much like the one you’re distracting me from? Your tired eyes that used to be so bright? Focus on you? A child who lives this war every day and is trying to protect me, an adult, from being saddened by it?
I met him four years ago when he was in the government run home for the umpteenth time. Then spent more time with him as he was in and out and in and out of Proniño. He was one of the cutest and most charming little ones on the street. Those ones always get lots of money. I vividly remember what table we were sitting at in Proniño as I talked to him about why he wanted to run away once again. Freedom, no rules, lots of candy – you know, all the important stuff that can be found on the street. I had tried to explain once again that he’s not ALWAYS going to be this cute and little and one day people will stop giving him money. He looked me straight in the eye and said that this will never happen.
Oh the ignorance of childhood.
A few years later and his list of options are getting so much shorter. He has gone from spending his money on candy to spending it on drugs. I’ve watched him go from being an adorable, adventure seeking boy to a rough and suffering teenager. He wants to protect me from this five minute war when I’ve been watching him lose his own for years. And let me tell you, watching his has been much more painful than the one playing out in front of us.
What is the answer to preventing this from happening over and over again? What do we need to do to get to the point where we can sit around and talk about war stories that are safely in the past instead of continuously hanging out on the front lines? His options are few, but they do exist.
We return again and again, waiting and hoping for the day that he decides to protect himself from this war as much as he tries to protect me.