“Hey Ella! Nice to meet you! Where are you from, what do you do?”
Where is easy. What is hard.
What do I do?
I hold her hand when she says “Ella my stomach hurts”
She’s 14, and she’s four months
I look him in the eye and try to find a way to say “sorry, your mom’s not coming”
To a 16 year old sitting in a hospital bed by himself
I come to celebrate a boy who just turned 18
And see him tearing up in the corner because he’s never had a birthday party before
But I also get my ass kicked in Mario Kart, and get glitter manicures from 15 year old boys figuring out if it’s ok for them to shine
I practice my twelve words of Spanish on kids who speak more languages than I do.
Como estas? How are you?
And then I listen
while they tell me how their AA meetings are going, and that they’re only 6 credits away from graduating, and that they want to be a social worker when they grow up
I see a kid come in,
tattoos her friend’s cousin did in the basement when she was 16,
dressing like she’s 26 with 26 pounds of makeup, and 26 scars marching up her thighs
because 2Chainz told her if she has sex she’ll be wanted and Disney told her they’ll only love you if you’re beautiful and Cosmo told her you gotta please your man no matter what and that dude on the bus told her she needed to smile more
and she’s tearing her body into pieces trying to be good enough, not knowing there’s no such thing.
And I wonder –
At the heat of an anger so close to the surface that telling him it’s bedtime makes him boil over into death threats,
at the coldness of a heart frozen by ice-crystal meth or cold Bud Lites that makes a mother say,
“no I don’t want to come pick her up can’t you guys keep her?”
How can I shore up the damage that broken homes and broken hearts have flooded into these young men and women until their whole lives feel like a breached levy?
And usually the answer is – I can’t.
But maybe I can dry out a corner or two
Repair some shattered windows with a high five and a bad joke and a how’s your day?
Fix a few leaks on the roof with I believe you for nails and it’s not your fault for a hammer and you don’t deserve that for shingles
If I can make a kid whose 19 year old brother just got shot in a drive-by smile, I deserve a goddamn medal
(in my opinion).
So what do I do?
I lift them up, when their wings are broken and they can’t remember how to fly
I put a few pieces back together, when they feel like damaged goods being returned for a refund
I make them laugh, and try to keep the rage of a shattered life from oozing out like an oil spill
And I let my heart break just a little, when I’m alone, at the strength and courage it takes these children to smile
Hi, I’m Ella. I save lives.