Sitting before me in my office this evening was a young, handsome Latino man. Not yet into the second decade of his life, he stared at me with a knowing, jaded expression. Beneath his wide brow, his intensely dark, coal-black eyes glittered with passion, fierce pride, and anger. I was tired, and I hoped the weariness behind my eyes didn’t filter through to him. He was my last client of the evening, and–truth be told–one of my favorite, most challenging clients. He did not frighten me with his angst, frenetic energy, and wild ways. I never backed down from his push and pull of me. Although I sometimes think he wished he could, he did not scare me with his formidable ways and words. I smiled at him, a smile that shone through my eyes, and he looked down to avoid my warm gaze. This was our game, and it had been our way, since the day I first met him. I could not help but care for him–and love him–for all that he was. He was unused to this, and through our sessions together over the last year, he waited for me to abandon him or turn from him. He was used to being left to fend for himself. Yet I waited for him each Tuesday evening. There were times he was early, but most evenings he was late; still, he always arrived. And there I was to greet him, to talk with him, and to listen to the whirlwind of his days. Over the months he had come to trust me–as much, it seemed, as he could trust anyone.
Tonight was a session I thought might not come to pass with this young man who was full of potential and promise. Working with juveniles, many of them in dire straits, I had watched young men go awry now and again. I never knew–although I sometimes could guess–which ones might not make it through. Here, before me, was a success story of sorts. He had–with much of a fight at times–successfully completed his work with me. Yet, now he was to return to full immersion in the upside-down world he had known all his life. Crime. Gangs. Violence. Drugs. Parents behaving like young ruffians. Children, confused, acting as parents. Outlaws as heroes–or no heroes at all. Sex as a tool, a poor imitation of love. And no love where love could be. Love used as a word to hold children in bondage. Children in chains of desperate hope, wanting only to be loved and seen. Youngsters growing into a world of terror. And bravado, a mask over fear. All of this, and so much more, sat in my room staring at the floor.
Together, we walked outside into the wintery chill. He was clad in a short-sleeved t-shirt, jeans, and white sneakers. In contrast, I was cloaked in a warm overcoat, scarf, and black boots. The streetlights, shining through the evening mist, cast a halo about his dark head. “Please keep in touch with me,” I said as I stared into his eyes. Not a word came in response. “You know I’ll see you–no charge–any time you need me.” Silence. I pestered him again, “Hey, how about a text now and again. Maybe once a month. Just to let me know you are doing well.” He shuffled his feet, leaves scattering about him, and he responded, “That’s too much work.” I smiled, then pressed again, “How about once every other month…or every third month. You have my number.” He stared at me and offer a crooked smiled before replying,”OK, maybe once. But don’t count on it. Gotta say, the best way to know how I’m doing is to watch the obituaries. That’s how I find out sometimes which of my friends are dead or alive. I just read the obituaries. You’ll know I’m alright if you don’t see my name there.” The words hung in the still air between us–frozen bullets of his reality. “Well, that’s not going to happen,” I countered with forced brightness. “You’ll call me, you’ll keep in touch. You’ll let me know when you start college. Just like we talked about.” I could feel tears, hopeless and stinging, forming at the corners of my eyes. Pulling my coat about me tightly, I smiled softly and asked, “Would you like a hug goodbye?” Wordlessly, he took a step toward me. I held him for a moment–too brief a moment for all the pain he had borne and would suffer still. Shoulders held high and broad, he turned and walked away. “I’ll miss you!” I called as his silhouette moved across the parking lot and away from the streetlight’s eerie glow. “Yeah, I’ll miss you, too!” came his throaty, unexpected response. I watched him fade from view, a lonely, strong figure–so sensitive and lost–headed into the murky cape of night and a life that hurts to live.