P wondered aloud the other day if I’ve called the police more in the past few months than in the past few years combined. The truth is, before she moved in, I’d never called the police before.
But, as of today, I’ve called 911 twice and the non-emergency number about a dozen times. I sat outside the police station for over an hour one day, waiting to file a report. I’ve fed case number after case number to lawyers and social workers. My dining room table has a growing pile of business cards from our local officers. On Monday, I watched as my neighborhood Facebook group blew up with pictures of navy-blue cruisers circling the block. I read the comments from a sea of strangers who were speculating about what was going on—hazarding guesses about my reality—about my life and home and kids.
I, of course, knew why the police were there. It was because I called them. I called them as I ran down the stairs of my office and sprinted to my car, mentally calculating how quickly I could get home and desperately hoping they could get there before me—terrified about what would happen if they didn’t. I called them to try to protect the kids I love. But the consequence of that call was that they arrested another kid. A wounded kid who never got help and happened to turn 18.
So despite all of the fear and anxiety I’ve experienced over the past several weeks; amid the intensity and sorrow of watching a child I care about fumble through heartbreak and pain; and even in the face of all the anger I’ve felt at being threatened and coerced—there was no solace in the outcome of that call.
The kids in my care were safe. Another kid was locked up and alone.
And all I feel is the compounding sadness of generational traumas that are rooted in systemic injustices I can hardly begin to wrap my mind around. Every single day I see the roots become more entrenched as people look the other way, refusing to engage with the fact that the structures that make their lives easier simultaneously hold other people down. Every single day I watch as the branches grow—stretching into the lives of kids who have no real voice, weaving into their worlds and threatening to choke their potential.
And I can’t help but think about a conversation P and I had a couple months ago. She was standing in the doorway of my bedroom, and we were arguing about school. At one point, she raised her voice.
The sound of my name coming out of her mouth with that much force snapped me out of my win-at-all-costs mentality. I stared back at her.
“I’m not like you!” she continued. “I don’t hang out with people who are successful. That’s just not my life.”
The depth of her awareness stung.
Because she wasn’t saying that’s what she wants for herself. She wasn’t for a second implying she would have picked it if she had a choice. She was simply acknowledging that her past circumstances are going to be a defining part of her future, and, even if it’s not fair, there’s often not a lot she can do.
That a 15-year-old kid could name that haunts me.
That there’s truth in it enrages me.
And I can fight like hell to prove to this one kid that her life can be so much more. That there’s hope even on the days it feels like the past has already staked a claim on her future.
But after weeks like the past several I’ve had, it’s hard to not look over her shoulder and see the long line of kids behind her who have no one in their corner. No one who is willing to stand in the gap again and again and again when generations of pain cripple their imaginations and cloud their visions of what could be.