I told you to be patient
I told you to be fine
I told you to be balanced
I told you to be kind
– “Skinny Love” by Bon Iver
Dear Young Lady,
Here we are. It’s June. And you’re in 8th grade. This is the bottom of the 9th inning. The 18th hole. Fourth quarter with two minutes on the clock. The last horrah. Farewell is Tuesday and there will be music and laughter and words and hugs and tears and final remarks. And we’ll say bye for now and maybe you’ll say, “Thanksss” like you do with more than one S and it’ll bother me because I will want you to say so much more. But I will take it and I might watch you walk away just to torture myself a little because I’m extra like that.
Yesterday when I overheard that mean thing you said about me, it felt you’d taken a sword through my chest. And then I cried the whole way back in from the fire drill and after that too even. You apologized but I still don’t know if I believe you. I think it hurt so much more because this is it. This is really it. I’ve had my chance to lift you up and to teach you not to say mean things about people, especially not when they can hear you and especially not when they care about you. I’ve had three years to show you how to be and how to act and how to get to school on time. I’ve been able to model forgiveness for you and also how to apologize because I do it all the time. And with all of this time, it’s not enough. But I don’t know if it ever would be enough.
Part of me wonders if you wanted me to hear, “Fuck, Ms. Eby,” because then you get to push me away and maybe get me to back off, get me to care less, get me to ask less questions, expect less answers. Deep down, though, I don’t think you want that at all. What a piece of work is a [young lady], how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals– and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? (Don’t worry, you’ll learn that play someday and you’ll probably hate it.)
Today when I watched you leave the school building and you left crying after the conversation we had, I wanted to rip my heart out of my chest and toss it to you and say “Here take this one, it’s much more whole, and you need it more than I do.” I wanted to run after you and keep giving you advice, keep telling you it would be okay, even though I don’t know if it will. I wanted to remind you of everything you’ve been through and we’ve been through in three years and assure you of your resilience and your support system and your inner light. But instead I just watched you walk to the bus stop and it felt like you were walking away from me for always.
The other day when we talked about your sister’s boyfriend and how he’s in the Rollin’ 60s Crips, I said like a privileged idiot, “Aren’t there other things he can do? And his mom knows? Can’t he find something better that would help the world?”
Then so quickly, I knew we both realized it. So I beat you to the punchline, “I know, that’s not fair to say because I was born with opportunities.”
“Right,” you said. Like you were being interviewed on 60 Minutes and I’d fed you an answer you already had and you knew absolutely everything but you didn’t want to make me feel bad. Because in just 14 years, you’ve lived 100. But at the same time, you’ve lived maybe four or five of the life you’ve actually deserved.
So when I ask you if you’re worried he could get shot or she could or something could happen to the baby, you answer like a 100 year old and tell me, “Of course.”
But I stop there. I don’t tell you that I’m so worried about that for you, too.
It was crushing to watch you be sad today because your future is so uncertain. And I can’t help pointing a finger at myself, even when I don’t know what else I could have done. When I saw your tears, I thought, this is what it must feel like to be a mother and to watch your baby hurt. Because although you’ve got 9 inches on me and the equivalent of 70 years, I can’t help but feel maternal.
So I will just hope you know in your head all the things I’ve been saying for three years–I hope my annoying voice is your inner broken record. I will hope you know I’m here even if I’m not there. I will hope you still call me, even if it’s just because you need a ride from one place to another. I will hope that it all clicks and that you “get it” one day soon. I will hope with my whole heart that you keep holding your head up and stay out of the mess our city tends to pull people into. I will hope you get through high school with your degree and college credits to boot, and your intact dignity and an empty uterus, with a smile, and with a “look what I just fucking did” attitude. And I really hope you invite me to see it. I really hope you invite me to see you bloom fully as that rose that grew from concrete. Because even if you don’t see yourself as that yet, that’s who you’ve always been to me. The rose that grew from concrete.