Friday, December 12, 2014


He comes in swinging his arms crazily. He throws his coat on the floor. No backpack, so a notice for parents, a fund raiser form, a page of homework join his coat. They float around the hood and arms like snowy fallen leaves. His eyelashes are so long and thick and curly. He is mesmerizing to look at. Dark skin, silky curling hair close to his little head. He is eight.

He's off. Really off today. He avoids sustained eye contact and discussion. He bugs the other kids. Calls them names under his breath, sits too close when they play video games, shouts insults when they lose a player or miss a point. They are annoyed. He's on their last nerve. I call him over to me. I ask him what's going on. Nothing. Nothing. That kid called me a name. He said I'm HOMELESS!

To my shame, I respond, "Well-- ARE you?" He says, quickly, NO! So I respond, "Well-- then who cares what he says? You know what's true. Ignore him." Oh, stupid, stupid adults. As if IGNORE ever works, is even possible. As if  being called homeless by another kid is just any insult-- as if it's random or baseless.

He's even more agitated. I'm annoyed-- busy. Freshly back, emails demanding important answers and reports and statistics are weighing on me. He seems babyish to me, spoiled, demanding attention. It's because he's so beautiful, I think. He's used to women fawning over him, being easy and indulgent. I need to make him take responsibility for his actions, hold him accountable.

He's yelling again, and this time the other kids are starting to threaten him. I call him over. He immediately starts to cry. I can't stop admiring his beauty. It's ridiculous. But truly, this child is so incredibly lovely. He is crying, tears coming fast. I hunch down to him. HE SAID I'M HOMELESS! He shouts in my face. HE SAID I'M HOMELESS! I straighten up. I ask him for his Mom's phone number. "This has gone on long enough," I say. "Enough. You need to get a hold of yourself. Come on. This isn't how we behave. Not in the library. Not here." His shoulders start to heave. I remember his last name and find his number. I call Mom. I tell her he's having a bad day. It's just a bad day for him. He's usually wonderful. But today he needs to go home and calm down. Mom thanks me for calling and says somebody will come to get him.

He is LIVID. HE has to LEAVE?? THAT KID CALLED ME HOMELESS! I DIDN'T DO NOTHING!!!! I sharpen my voice, threaten him, say, "if you don't come over by the window and sit with me right now, and wait for your Mom with me, I'll have to tell her you can't come back for a couple of days. Come on, pal. Come with me. I want you to come back tomorrow when you are having a good day. You know I love you. Come on."

He flounces over to the window, tears, anger taking him over. He's almost beyond the point of control now. We sit in the window seat. I try to calm him down. "You'll come back tomorrow, bud. It's going to be okay." And that's when he tells me that they have been kicked out of their home. That dad assaulted somebody.

An adult collects him, calls me Ma'am, thanks me profusely. I'm profoundly embarrassed. I'm not Ma'am. I don't deserve thanks. But I don't say that-- I say, "Thank you so much for coming to get him. He'll have a better day tomorrow."

And then tomorrow comes and he's the first in the library. Alone, coat on the floor, papers strewn across the carpet, he says somebody called CYF and they have to go to the shelter. He is quieter, chewing his collar. He won't play the game of dreidel I play with 6 other kids. He stays on his computer, or hangs around a little girl, another agent provocateur, they like each other. He's not shouting today, his arms aren't swinging. But he's devolving just the same. He baby talks. He can't find words to respond. He's furious that I won't be at work tomorrow. Do you have a doctor's appointment? he asks. "No," I tell him. Then WHY? I explain when I work Fridays I don't work Saturdays, and the opposite. He is not absorbing that. WHY? he wants to know. WHY?

The evening wears on. Finally, we are closed and he's still here. I make another call to Mom, and this time she answers. She tells him to walk somewhere. It's dark and cold. I make him zip up his coat. I pull his hat over his ears. Pulling the hat down is the only thing I have truly done to help him in the last two days. And he's gone. Out the door, while the Pittsburgh skyline blazes red and pink and sugar orange. I lock the doors and look for him, but he's melted into the night, with his coat zipped, and his hat pulled down tight, and all of his school papers leaving a trail behind him like glowing pebbles on a forest floor.

Note: identifying details have been changed to protect the identity of the child.

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