She’s Still There

When was a time in your life when you felt the most hope?

That’s the question Chrystal Evans Hurst asks in her new book She’s Still There: Rescuing the Girl in You. Hurst posits that if we ask that person, the person we were who was full of hope about our future, we will find the answer to whatever we are questioning right now in our lives. Because she’s still here. We just need to go and ask her what she thinks.

I haven’t read Hurst’s book but this premise resonates with me. I’ve just moved house with my family, back to a place where I have grasped for hope and held hope and lost hope in equal measures. I’m at a career crossroads, juggling the hot potato of what it is I still want to be when I grow up. So I’m taking Hurst’s advice. I’m going to go find that girl and rescue her.

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There are a couple iterations of Kendra who had a lot of hope.

Flower girlin w/ my cousin Li’l Ry. Grandpa + Auntie Nora behind us.

The first I can remember is Young Kendra who spent a lot of time with her grandparents. They really were the most loving forces you could imagine. Doting, good-humored, and completely enamored of their family. Also, they thought a heaping bowl of Rocky Road ice cream was a totes appropriate pre-bedtime snack. I spent countless afternoons and overnights at my grandparents’ houses. I felt secure and loved and could not imagine a world that would be so cruel so as to eclipse the warmth of my grandparents. I only have one living grandparent now. I called my Granny today. She wasn’t home. But it still felt good to be able to call her. A baby step in my rescue mission.

kendrahighschoolgrad Another Hopeful Kendra can be found in Recent High School Graduate Kendra and the summer that followed. An idyll, that season. I was so glad to be done with the drudgery of high school, the negativity and sadness that had clouded my purview for the last few years prior. Also, I was still working at Dairy Queen and you CANNOT BEAT full access to a walk-in cooler with whole vats of boulders of Reese Cup goodness. When I think about visiting that Kendra, it’s honestly hard to imagine how unobstructed her view was. She wouldn’t know how she’d have her heart shattered in the coming year. She would think college would be all about studying interesting topics and taking study breaks to watch 80’s rom-coms with her roomies. And yet she’d probably still tell me something valuable, which is, to pursue that which interests me, and to try new things even if it’s uncomfortable because otherwise how will we ever grow and how will we ever figure out what we want to be when we grow up?

I usually resist notions of having to rescue ourselves because it sounds unnecessarily dramatic. However, I understand Hurst’s urgency in that for so many of us, we’ve buried that person along with our hope. We’ve become jaded. We’ve forgotten what it is to believe in our ability to THRIVE rather than merely survive.

And you? Do you have someone you need to rescue? What will he/she say to you when you find him/her? She’s still there, and so is he.

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The things they found when they were moving

Everyone always hails the purge when you move, the commendable, enviable ridding of Excess Stuff that one accumulates from living for too long in a particular place. We could all Marie Kondo our way through our domiciles on a weekly basis but sometimes you still open a door and lo! The entire Oriental Trading catalogue appears to have been deposited, in glow-in-the-dark form, where your cookie cutters should be.

I do not exaggerate that the moving out of our Tennessee rental home was a six-month liquidation of crap. I don’t know if my kids are just at that fringe age where they are still clinging to ye toys of olde whilst embracing the accoutrements of Tomorrowland but they were categorically unhelpful when it came to parting with any of their possessions. I was all, “I put this in the basement for a whole year and you never asked about it once,” and they were all, “Wait, Mom, that’s my favorite band-aid of all time!” So we sent them to my parents’ house for two weeks. Seriously. This was hard but necessary. Separate, stop, collaborate and listen. We sent them away and made 23824390234 trips to the donation bin at Goodwill and finally we only had one truckload of stuff to move into our new Boston apartment and we’re here. Yay. Somehow still unpacking boxes of stuff. Weird.

In the wake of this move, here are some interesting artifacts discovered:

UntitledExhibit A: Charlie Sunshine Lotion – The lotion itself is starting to sort of ferment but you can open the tube and catch a whiff of Summer 1999. The sense memory is fierce with this one. One sniff and I am transported to  early college years and all of the homes of my high school friends who were still working high schooly jobs for one last summer. Lifeguarding and nannying and working at the mall and whatnot. This perfume smells of being young and mostly dumb and patently irresponsible and yet I always had enough money to fill my Honda Civic’s gas tank. So basically this lotion reminds me of a time and a metabolism I will never get back.

Exhibit B: Costco Calling Card – This item is not only completely obsolete but is incredibly sentimental. This was The Calling Card that made possible the 1.5 year long-distance relationship between Loverpants and myself. Any time one of us would get paid, we’d load a hot $20 onto that ticket. For a time, Loverpants had the phone number and code memorized. It’s a hell of a thing to be able to look at a 2 x 3 sheet of plastic and think, you were indispensable. Upon you were all anecdotes about his grad school endeaCalling cardvors and my undergraduate misadventures and all the sighing and crying in between. I’ll never know how much money we logged onto that calling card, talking about everything from the ridiculous to the sublime, but kids today will never understand why one was necessary and this makes us Betty and Barney Rubbles: The Long-Distance Courtship

Exhibit C: 8th Grade Math Trophy – It may not have had my name on it (because I was part of a team! A team of mathletes!) but kids, there is now proof. Mama was once smart enough to do math and get a trophy for it. Nevermind that I was 12. Nevermind that it was on a Saturday and everyone else who could add and subtract was probably playing football or watching VH-1 Pop-Up Video. Mama got herself some heavy metal for her mad math skillz. I took a picture of it so it’d last longer, yep I sure did, Pee Wee Herman.
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The most expensive T-shirt I own

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I didn’t buy this t-shirt nor did it come with a price tag affixed. But I know that it’s the most expensive piece of clothing I own.

I don’t treat it as such. I don’t handle it gingerly, afraid that it might tear at the seams or unravel at the edges. I don’t wash it irregularly so that its painted letters don’t quickly fade. In fact, I wear it often and with pride because, as I mentioned, it is the most valuable piece of clothing I own.

When I was a youth worker for the City of Boston, I served every day at a community center in a neighborhood I had never been to before, not even driven through once. I didn’t know anyone who lived there, in the patchwork of tidy triple-deckers and eateries that ranged from Salvadorean pupusa shops to Italian eateries to Chinese restaurants to Vietnamese pho houses. The neighborhood comprised effectively an island and most of the kids who grew up there knew one another. They confessed they didn’t bother skipping school because someone would see them on the corner and call their mother.

Most of the youth I worked with lived in a housing development complex. I had never visited a housing development, never walked through the block after block of unimaginatively designed structures and marveled at how there was no green space, how there were so many children living throughout the complex and yet there was no space for them to play that was not concrete.

So the kids came to the community center where I was based, where I did a job for which I received no training, in a place I wasn’t so much as even acquainted with, with a population of kids whose lives were unfathomably different than anything I had known. In my arrogance, I thought that I was the good thing that had come their way. A college graduate, a creative program person, a self-proclaimed lover of kids.

I did everything wrong. I presumed when I should have asked. I got angry when I should have laughed. I muscled through on my own when I should have sought help. Most of the programs I ran were a bust. The boys humored me, the girls came and asked me questions about sex. I thought I had what they needed, if I could just organize a better program of activities. If only they would come every day, I could meet their needs. My bosslady was so patient with me. She would say, “The only problem with you is that yaw not from heeyah.” I laughed and only sort of knew what she meant. I started asking a music shop if they would let me take their leftover sample CDs to give away as prizes. The kids started looking at me like a prize dispenser, popping them out like Pez. I made $22,000 a year before taxes. I still thought it was about me.

During an outdoor program I organized, there were a ton of water balloons which, since these were teenagers, became a ton of water buckets filled and thrown. I didn’t have a change of clothes. Someone handed me this Mayor’s Cup t-shirt, one from a stack that were just hanging around in the closet.

By the time I was a year into the job, I knew that I would be getting married, that I would be moving on. I took the LSAT with my co-worker Kamau. We knew we couldn’t stay making the money we were making. We wanted to do the most good.

After I got back from my honeymoon, I started interviewing for other jobs. I had deferred law school but I still wanted get home earlier in the day to spend time with my hew husband. I soon found 9-5 administrative job that I could walk to from our apartment.

On my last day working at the community center, I had not wanted to make a big deal about my departure. I wasn’t sad that I was leaving, but I was sad that I wouldn’t see how the kids would grow. I wouldn’t know who went to college and who had a growth spurt over the summer. I wouldn’t hear their voices change and watch their girlfriends change and offer to drive them home when they didn’t have enough change for the bus fare.

On my last day, only one kid came back to say good-bye. He had been by far one of the hardest kids to reach. He hated school and just wanted to play basketball. He seemed to break one girl’s heart on Monday and have found a new one to break by Tuesday. I didn’t understand his goals; I didn’t understand how I could help him.

But he came back to say good-bye. He sat with me in the office, his pristine baseball hat with the manufacturer’s silver sticker still on the underside of the wide brim. He looked up from under that wide brim and asked me about my plans. I told him I thought I’d probably go back to school so that I could eventually teach. He nodded and bounced a basketball under the table. We hugged it out and he went to go shoot hoops.

Whenever I wear my Mayor’s Cup t-shirt, I think of what it represents. I think how it was handed to me when I had nothing else to wear because I was a pilgrim. I remember how hard it was to earn respect as a pilgrim. I think how I’d never had to learn how to love kids who were hard to love before. I remember how after nearly two years, they returned that love to me. At least one did. He handed it to me like it was a free t-shirt. One that I would be so grateful to receive, one that still makes me feel so privileged and proud, not only because I got to love but was loved well in the end.

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