I’ve been living in these apartments for eight years. It’s about to end, and I can’t help but be sad.
I remember when the grandmom and her granddaughter and two grandsons first moved in to the tiny apartment next door. At first it was a lot of screaming and fighting. So I let ’em play with the soccer balls and basketballs I had. I wasn’t using them. I’ll never forget waking up one Saturday morning to the sound of the kids laughing while they played, it was a profound moment for me. It was the first time I truly knew what the term “peals of laughter” meant, and it was a good thing.
I cut the bottom out of a 5 gallon bucket and tied it to a pole for a basketball hoop. I hung up a swing. I taught the kid to skate, and built a couple of ramps (at a mere cost of one wrecked cellphone due to a collision). When it was too hot in the New Mexico sun, I strung up tarps for shade. I made a makeshift ladder to climb the neighbours’ flat roof when the soccer ball ended up there. We blew up balloons and made insanely annoying squeaky noises letting the air out, until the upstairs neighbour had a fit. We drew magic marker faces of ourselves on the balloons and hung ’em up and threw soccer balls at them till they popped. We danced silly jigs, sang silly songs. We put long boards across the roofs of my cars and walked back and forth, trying to scare each other into falling off. We put the boards across a boulder for a makeshift see-saw. The kid learned to climb the tree by propping the board up against it and climbing the board. The kid learned how to pick up and let down (slowly!) weight with a block and pulley, learned to tie a bowline and clove hitch, learned crane hand signals. Anything I could think of to teach, I tried to teach.
When I first met her, the kid was two years behind in school. I pulled out the whiteboard, and taught her the alphabet and counting. I made arithmetic flash cards. Her grandmom and a former neighbour worked with her on her reading exercises. When I came back into town last January, the first thing she did was come out and proudly show me her last 3 perfect test scores.
When her grandmom was having trouble with her running all over the neighbourhood, I told her that it wasn’t a joke that sometimes kids get abducted. It happened to me when I was younger than she was. I think she understood.
Many afternoons, I would be met at the curb when I would get dropped off from a job. That ranks right up there with waking up to hearing the kids laughing, as far as profound moments goes.
And through all of this, in the back of my mind, I was hoping that somehow, I was making a difference. I’ve known plenty of people who’ve gone down poorly chosen paths. I know that a kid being raised in her situation has a lot of odds stacked against her.
As I sit here and write this, within days of having to leave the place that has been my home for the last eight years, alls that I can do is hope that it was enough.