This past week was pretty hard for me. Even after sixteen years of working with vulnerable kids, kids beaten up by poverty, cultural genocide and addiction, it is still hard to know that a kid who is talking about suicide can’t get a bed in a hospital for a night. To know that when you call for help for a kid what you’re going to get is cops with guns questioning them. Some cops are nice and some are not but everything about them: their handcuffs, their tazers, tell a kid they’re in trouble. And after they talk to the kid they will more than likely leave them behind because they know when they get to the hospital they won’t admit them. “I’m happy to sit in a hospital waiting room for five hours until they send her home,” the cop tells me. “But my boss is not going to like it.” Sometimes even if the hospital takes them they release them a few hours later in a taxi alone.
It’s like a kid coming to you with a broken arm and having to tell them: It’s not broken enough.
That year my room-mate Francois was a med school drop out who was studying pharmacology, both academically and personally. He had drugs for waking up, falling asleep, calming down and perking up. Still it never occurred to me that he was depressed until a week before Christmas when he shut down the Champlain bridge by threatening to jump. The next day his dad came to pack up his things and within a few hours it seemed like every trace of my room-mate and his marvelous medicine supply were gone.
I don’t know why Francois was sad but I knew why I was. I was twenty-three and newly divorced, publicly humiliated both by my unfounded belief in happy endings and my unfaithful husband. My friends and family had sympathy in small amounts, equivalent I realized, to their initial enthusiasm when I’d gotten married three years before.
I said when I started writing my memoir about my radical childhood that I would decide at the end of it if I wanted to be a writer or not. All I knew at the start was that I needed to write that book. But as I discovered I had to become a writer to write a book.
It has been a long and interesting journey as I’ve learned to write better stories, give a reading, take criticism. As I’ve both toughened up and opened up to all the things that writing brings into my life.