Like so many other things we’re “not supposed to know”, we do know because someone spoke up. Someone decided he or she couldn’t abide with the cover-up and had to choose what to do about the secret.
I spent the better part of yesterday’s evening with a local school principal listening to, and sharing my own, stories of kids pulled back from the brink. Her phone buzzed all the time. Mine rang once: a call from a boy who wanted to share the good news about passing his exams. He’s now a full-fledged butcher with a full-fledged residency permit. In the near future, we’ll raise glasses of fruit juice to his success.
The ones you need to tell. The stories you can’t treat like just another filler in the media downpour. A boy smuggled out of one country in the trunk of a car, then sold as a houseboy by his father – here, in France. Saved because his teacher wouldn’t take so- he’s- missed- school-so-what for an answer at Social Services. Once he’d been found, she lost track of him when he was placed in a foster home. Years later, her phone rang. A social worker said someone who kept talking about her had kept her number all this time and wanted to speak to her. He’d just gotten his diploma, wanted her to know she’d made his life a living hell but he’d decided to follow her way and get a life. Tally up one kid with a chance at something other than violence, despair and revenge on the next generation.
Those are some of the stories that keep you going. Plus the scary ones – the ones about grownups teetering on the brink and wreaking havoc on other people’s lives. They keep you going in another way. They say: I can’t let this happen. Or if the damage has been inflicted already: what’s the way out of the mess? Not the endless replay of the tragedy or the endless repetition of a pattern – the way out and on to something else.
When the boy who was sold by his father was still in school, the principal’s superiors had insisted she “teach him” – respect, compliance, the rules of the social game. He’s lived through more than most of us can imagine, she countered, and I’m going to teach him about life? First, I’m going to teach him I won’t give up on him. I’m going to teach him I respect him and that’s the only reason I expect him to respect me.
I like her a lot. It’s too bad her house was damaged when her neighbor set fire to his own place for insurance purposes. But if this means that while they repair her place, we’re almost neighbors for a while? Fine by me.
Plus, she tells me in confidence*, the empty store below her temporary accommodations? About to open as – drum roll – a bookstore! Here in this very town!
Financial ruin and perdition await.
*In confidence, you understand. Don’t go spreading the news all over. (Scheduled opening in August, hurray hurray).