Thursday, March 19, 2015

Goodbye to my Children and to T

It took me a year to get him to speak to me. He would come in, slight, well, no, slight is far too polite a word. The child was just tiny, tiny for his age, short, light, lithe. He was a master of the slip in and slip out, slip around, wait, watch, absorb. He wouldn't speak to me or to any other adult. He just came in, silent, got on the computers, played games.

In a picture book, T could be a raggedy Pirate alley cat with one eye missing and a torn ear. Every day there was a new scratch, scar, bloody mark or piece of something missing. One day he came in with a truly alarming open wound on his forehead. Probably needed stitches. No stitches happened, so it closed on its own somehow and formed a dark brown mark to join all of the others on his wide forehead. His eyes were wide set and wide open. Not much missed this boy. He was 10 when I met him.

T was like most of the other kids. He showed up as soon as the Library opened during the summer months and stayed until it closed. Hot Cheetos, bought at Ms. Wong's, the Korean store owner across the street, crinkled suspiciously under the keyboard for breakfast, lunch and dinner. He hated programs, wouldn't do art, wouldn't engage. But he did watch. He watched as I painted with A. He watched as I verbally wrastled with Z, laughing and bugging, thumb wrestling, which always made Z so mad. I have freaky double jointed thumbs and I cheat. I beat Z every time, which was a big deal. Z was tall, popular, athletic, magnificently beautiful, beloved of the community. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see T smiling as Z howled when he had to conceed thumb wrestling defeat.

After six months of hovering, begging to join programs, trying to engage him anyway I knew how, I resorted to all out frustrated mania. I began bawling out T's name every time he came into the library like he was Norm on Cheers. I told him that if he didn't say Hi to me when he came in to the Library I would give him "the treatment." Not one to take too many chances with nutsy white women, apparently, T began muttering "Hi Ms. S" when he came into the Library. I shouted out responses as if the Epoch of the Golden Alien Monkey Kings had begun and T's greeting had announced their arrival.

And then he tried it...he decided to see what "the treatment" was. He didn't say hello. And I was on that boy like white on rice. I leaped to my feet. I smooshed him. I hugged him. I swarshed him around. I washed his face with my hands and pretend soap and water. I did crazy bugs and ants with my long nails in his hair and all over his shoulders and arms. I schmongered him all over the place until his was dizzy and he yelled, "HI, MISS S.!!!" I threw professionalism and the child's right to his space and all that out the window.

And after that he talked to me sometimes. He always said Hi Ms. S. unless he wanted a treatment, which he did, at least once a week. He came to programs and watched and ran away. He let me feed him sometimes, but not often. He liked the food he liked, and he had his weekend backpack of food from school, which he asked if he ought to try to line up and sell on the cheap, marketplace style, in the Library. He matter of factly told me that he is messed up, can't read, is in a special classroom and still can't read. He never lied. EVER. T was completely honest. Always. Even when he knew it would get him in trouble.

And tomorrow I have to tell him that I have taken another job and that I very likely will never see him again. I've thought about how to say goodbye to this boy, the one I love the most, out of all the children at my Library whom I love. How to say that I wish I could have helped him be a better reader. How to say that even though I am one of many people who comes in and then disappears forever-- that he impacted me-- that he will stay with me--- that he is a Young King, an important and beautiful person, that he matters. That his life is precious. That I value him. That he is valuable to others and vital to the world. That all that time spent in making him acknowledge me wasn't about me but about him-- helping him know that he is not invisible.That he is seen and known.

I'm leaving the pubic library to go back to the Pittsburgh Public Schools to be a high school Librarian. I am going to bring the gospel of love with me-- to remember to try hard to be the adult I needed as a kid, wherever I land. And so I go on-- as always, heart full of all my children at the Hill District Library forever-- and especially with that boy-- that one-- that boy I made say hello. T. My Pirate Alley Cat, prayers for peace and blessings. For him and for all of us.

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