Some of the most vivid memories I have are the times I've really, really flunked in the kindness department in my life. I mean, everybody's unkind, petty and ungenerous - sometimes all three on a bad day, right? We ache, ask forgiveness, forgive ourselves and move it on down the road. I'm talking about memories of the times I've been a real low-down sonofabitch - really grindingly shitty
behavior. I made my mother cry. I made Ramon cry. I made a dorm mother cry. I hurt my friend and roommate with one snide remark - hurt her bad, about something in her life that was already a source of torment. I fucked a musical rival over like I can't even tell you over how many solos each of us got for a concert. Etc. Etc.
This last Christmas was one of those times. Not on a par with some of the cruel things I've said, but an act of neglect and callousness that shocked me, both by how I handled it and how easy it would have been to do right, or quickly undo the wrong.
Ramon and I took a ferry over to Bremerton for Christmas with his parents. The ferry was sparsely populated, as usual. Wired kids; the kind that race around and clearly think they seem awfully cute to those of us watching them back and forth, back and forth. FYI, munchkins, not so much. A couple of girls got up in "Santa Baby" outfits that strengthened our belief that THE fashion lesson of 2010 - don't wear tights if you're not going to cover your bum - is a scientific oddity in that it's been proven to be a lesson that ISN'T SINKING IN to many females' minds. But I digress. I didn't wrong the girl who had a runner traveling up her left cheek.
Okay, so I had already transgressed in trying to strike up a conversation with Ramon about a conversation I had with Carmen (therapist) regarding our arguing style. Christmas morning, foggy brains, chilly ferry travel, family gathering ahead and I bring up our FIGHTING tactics? It ended poorly - shit, it STARTED poorly - and I got off the ferry feeling sulky and hard-done-by. Since my excellent Mother-in-law hadn't checked her email or texts for 24 hours no one was waiting to meet us at the ferry. Chilly. Sulky. Now planning to be chilly and sulky for at least 20 minutes, IF we could get hold of any Deslauriers within driving distance. No one was answering their phones. So we're standing in the passenger pickup space with a couple of other random, some disreputable-looking, strangers. Ramon was on his phone leaving "if you get this come get us" messages. A boy - maybe 16 or 17 - came up to us and asked, "can I borrow your phone to call my Mom?" He was in full-cut (I'd say saggy baggy, but I'm cool like that and not one of those stuffy grown-ups who tut at teenage menswear) jeans and a big damned hoodie, with light brown skin and curly black hair. Oy, I was SO not having it.
I'd already refused to give a guy bus fare on the way to the ferry terminal. We were late, thinking we'd miss the boat and not wanting to wait the hour it would take to get another. I had the change, and he looked like he really did just need a couple of quarters to make fare (unlike the usual run of "I'm trying to get to my Aunt in Tacoma who has a job waiting for me" spiels I get downtown). I felt bad about that one, especially since we made it onto the ferry with the seconds to spare that I could have used pulling some sodding quarters out of my pocket and handing them over.
OK, back to the kid wanting to call his Mom. I was finishing up my share of leaving family messages - still talking shortly to Ramon and feeling kind of wearily hostile toward the strangers around me, the gray cold rain and the fact that we were going to be looking around at a really crappy (and deserted) part of Bremerton for a good while. He made his request to Ramon and me. I glanced sideways at Ramon - sometimes I hope he'll deal with the solicitations - but he was still trying to reach our family. All of those goddamned Yahoo articles about "Never let ANYONE borrow your phone - they'll just take it and RUN" were screaming in my head. I wanted to just hand the phone over, but jeez, he was a teenager from Bremerton and what if he DID just run? My iPhone! I looked down at my phone, then finally up at the dude hovering about 15 feet away and said in my no nonsense but not unkind city voice, "I'm not going to let you use my phone, man."
"You're not?" "No."
By then I was looking back down at the technology in question, but I could still see him turn away slowly and shuffle down to the sidewalk and then up the street. Shit, CERISE, what the hell?! For about 2 minutes I could have caught up to him and apologized (please take me back there, back in time, right now, please? Please?). He clearly wasn't a thief. I walked two or three steps toward him, back to Ramon, back toward him, back to Ramon. The kid was making deceptively fast time up that hill. Eventually he was out of my reach and I waited, saying little to Ramon, tears in my eyes, until Dad pulled up.
I waited all day - through presents, visiting, The Meal, the ride back, a blessed quiet moment with Abram and Christa back at our flat before they pushed off home - until we were alone in our home to grab a completely flabbergasted Ramon and bawl. I sobbed into his shirt that I hadn't given my phone to that poor boy who just wanted to talk to his Mom! On CHRISTMAS.
Why wasn't his Mom there waiting for him? Was he surprising her? Does he have a good Mom? Is he loved enough in his life? How much did my nasty little refusal hurt him? How long did it take him to walk to where he was going? Did he get any presents? Does he have friends? Why doesn't he have even a crappy old cell phone? Most kids have phones nicer than mine.
[wipes more tears]
Ramon's been sweet, telling me that I hurt myself much worse than I'd hurt him. My beautiful friends have offered rich absolution on Facebook and praised me for even worrying about it.
If only this were about me. If only my feeling better were what I wanted.
But that child asked for something - such a small thing - from me, and had a long, cold walk ahead of him when I refused him. He didn't even have the heart to ask the other two or three people standing around.
Nothing like that should have happened to him, and the person that made it happen was me. On Christmas. Because I got shirty with my husband and felt peevish afterward.
Fuck the phone. I'd give the bloody thing up twice over to have that one moment back. Child, wherever you are, I am so sorry. I hope you had a splendid, fat, gorgeous, hilarious Christmas. I hope someone does something richly loving for you every day of your life. I wish you could know that I'd give you the phone if I could, including the pink and purple cover and awesome Cut the Rope game and EVERYTHING.
I'll never forget. I know these nasty little memories and they never stop hurting, even when I can ask and be granted forgiveness from the people I've wronged. I'll never find this guy. And this is just the sort of thing I feel in my bones is wrong with this planet: we don't TRUST each other! Bugger the Yahoo articles advising caution. I can afford another effing phone. I can't afford to live the way I did that day. This city is killing me in some ways. I tell people - a lot of times the same people over and over - no when they ask for handouts every single day. I'm not going to say I no longer see or hear them, or that it doesn't hurt a little tiny bit every time I say "No, sorry." (Some city dwellers marvel that I even apologize.) I don't refuse every time, either. But my reflexive "no" is coming a little too easy these days, I think. I could have done right by that boy.
And the real hell of it? There's nobody to say sorry to. If I believed in god I could raise my hands to the sky and cry out my shame and beg forgiveness of The One who would hear and weep with me, and I would know that Someone would reach down and touch the boy's life and my sin would be washed away. And I would feel relief, and that a wrong had been righted.
I no longer believe that it works that way. This one, and other memories, I live with and remember alone, and grieve over for the rest of my days. (And smile at the fact that I get to live inside a Drama Queen who absolutely refuses to forget, or let the memories fade as they surely could.)