Sunday, October 10, 2010

Other lives

I went to visit Big Guy this evening. His new "home" is in another part of the city, a very different neighborhood. I got off the train a stop early (there was a gobbledegook message about skipping some stops, and it was easier to disembark than to translate) and walked for a while. Might as well have been in a foreign country -- or four. A few people were speaking English, many Spanish, some Chinese, and apparently some Tamil, because the movie marquee boasted a Tamil-language show during the month of October.

I like walking along wondering at lives so massively different than mine. I follow a woman with my eye, trying to decipher from her appearance what kind of home she lives in, where she's from, what her last argument was about. I look at the produce in the street-side markets, eyes zeroing in on the vegetable I've never seen, debating whether my Spanish is good enough to ask the greengrocer how it's cooked. A group of southeast Asian women come by wearing a curious apron of horizontal stripes, and I have no idea from which country they have emigrated. I stop in an empanada shop and buy savory treats for the ridiculous price of a dollar apiece.

I stop to see Big Guy, who flings himself into my arms shouting, "Mom!" We stand there embracing hard for a bit; some of his fellow-residents looking on with curiosity, and a trace of envy. Big Guy is a bit sad, quite lonely, but holding up. He has much to tell me. The staff are good and supportive -- which we know from experience is not a given -- and that is a huge relief. The other kids, well, they're not such great companions, a bit on the rough side. Whenever Big Guy makes a smart-alek remark, someone is likely to throw a punch at him. But for the time being, it remains manageable. And I assume he'll learn to keep his mouth shut, eventually.

I am allowed to take Big Guy out for a walk. We stop to buy a small notebook so he can log whenever he gets punched or hit by someone else. It makes a difference, if you ever suspect there's a possibility that you may eventually have to intervene, to be able to point to a piece of paper and say, "He's been punched by this person nine times in two weeks." I am a big believer in paper trails.

I bring Big Guy back to his room, and give him a hug goodbye. There will be chicken and mashed potatoes for supper, and Big Guy tells me he is pleased they will be real mashed potatoes.

I walk away, in a mix of feelings as complex as the babble of languages on the street, and head back to the train. As the light fades, a man calls out from a doorway, "Massage? Massage?" I am mildly confused until I realize the man behind me is the target of the inquiry.

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