What sustains the human spirit? What is it that pushes up through the dirt and inspires a message to the whole world, written in reverse, all except for that pesky "S"? I wanted to know that child, take her for a walk, have her teach me something about contentment and joy.
He walks out of the building and over to my van, all swagger and falling-off pants. He might fool them, but I wouldn't know how, because when he smiles you see clean through the tattoos and the put-on scowl, or at least I do. I see the boy, the Abraham, the one who might have scrawled his own Ode to Joy on a window a few years ago.
We drive to a house a few blocks down, where cops creep through at intervals, where people smoke on front stoops and babies toddle down the sidewalk in droopy pampers.
They scream at him from the porch, each insult more toxic than the last. He loads the van, loads the van. He doesn't say a word, won't play along, and their hatred grows. So they amp it up. He splits down the middle, his protective shell falling away at both sides. He screams back, hurls the ugly over the heads of smudge-cheeked children and right back at them.
I might have done the same, if the whole world was just a tiny bit different.
So I commend him for his self-control. I'm impressed. I mean it. You're better than that. You have skills they don't have. We believe you can do anything. And there he is again, that beautiful child that maybe only I see. He laughs and jokes. We pass the defunct pie shop and I swoon all over again about the signage, so perfectly blue and chippy. "You're so white", he laughs. I shrug.
His apartment is a sitcom waiting to be filmed. It's full of so much crazy, so much reckless emoting, so much masked pain. I love them. Each one of them. They're beautiful and wild and tender and frail and I want to keep them forever as my friends.
I drive home a few hours later, brim-full of the life he shows me. I find more of God every time I'm with him. Isn't that strange? He doesn't even know God. Doesn't want to. But God is there. He's right there in that crappy apartment with all the people who believe they're nothing. He's there in their arbitrary rage. He's with the ones with the dull eyes, the yellow teeth. He's with the ones who shine in spite of it all. They are His people, and I see Him in their midst.
I sit two rows behind him, boring holes through his shoulders, his neck, his growing-out afro. It's two weeks later. I listen, but only half-way. I've heard it all before. I know what those papers say and to be honest, I just don't care that much.
He tries to raise his right hand, but it's chained to his left. He won't turn around. He won't look my way.
But I've got all day, I've got forever, so I just keep looking. I won't miss my chance. And so, he looks. We lock eyes and I wink, because it's all I can do. I wink and I smile my smallest smile and he watches me, takes it in.
His lips twist to the side and he shrugs his shoulders. I'll spend the rest of the week deciphering the gesture. I don't know what it meant, but I have my ideas.
They lead him out in pants six inches too short, his slippered-feet barely able to shuffle. His shame is the cinder block of the walls, the concrete of the floors, the drab of the polyester, the bite of the shackles. It trails behind him, emanates from him. It's something real, something I could reach out and shove. It's the thing that killed his light.
So I'm the mom in the courtroom, the one who doesn't care so much about what was said, the one not dumb enough to believe it's not bad, because it's awful. But that's my "son" heading back to jail. He's only eighteen. They'll keep him for a very long time.
I don't know who he'll be when he comes back out. This boy was never a criminal. He was the one I would nudge, through the sheer force of my will, to prove everyone wrong. He was the one who would write the book someday, the one who would show all the other Abrahams that it didn't have to be that way.
One mistake changed all of that and now I'll talk to him through a video screen. I'll show up for his hearings, because no one else will. No one. I'll write letters and I'll pray that the light comes back. I'll miss him and I'll mourn his tonight, his tomorrow, and all of his future. My heart will break in shock-waves.
And I'll hope.