Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Kids Aren't Alright

Publishing the Cauliflower Chronicles was the culmination of five years of work, a plan that began when I was 18.  The steps in between the start and the finish changed as I grew up, adjusting for an ever-changing outlook, but the finish line remained the same: publish a book.  Make it.  Succeed where so many fail.

And I did, and it would have been a sweet victory, but the fights that I wrote about in the Cauliflower Chronicles were long over.  The cuts and bruises had faded, and I found myself writing about a version of me that was far away, that no longer existed.  Immaturity oozed from the pages, and pettiness punctuated too many of my sentences.  I was young, and I thought about life the way a young person does.

Young isn't the right word.  Untested may be more appropriate.  I think that we often count young people out because we subconsciously believe that they haven't been tested, that they haven't seen what we've seen, that they just don't know how things really are.

My test came on July 6, two months after I received word that the Cauliflower Chronicles would be published. Caris, a girl whom I had been dating for a year, suddenly found herself without a home.  At the time, she was working full time and going to school full time.  

Caris is the daughter that parents dream of having.  At 6 years old, she began helping her mother and sister raise foster children.  She bottle-fed drug addicted infants.  She paced the streets of Claysville, flashlight in hand, searching for runaways.  And she fought off the advances of disturbed teens.  Caris started her first job at 13.  She competed in beauty pageants.  She won fair princess.  She went to church.

Her parents kicked her out without warning.  She had no clothes, no money, no shelter, not even her medicines.  She had a pair of work clothes and her car.  It took us 3 months to find a lawyer that would take our case, and even after recovering most of her belongings, the damage is still not repaired, financially and emotionally.  We moved to Vegas when my publisher promised me work.  We arrived, I wrote two books in four months (working feverishly from wake to sleep), and Borders Group filed bankruptcy.  So we limped back to Pennsylvania, filling our gas tank with Caris's tip money [Caris's note: from waitressing, not other things].

I never really celebrated the victory that was the Cauliflower Chronicles because my attention focused on a new fight, a fight that still wages.  The cracks linger, and the longer they go unrepaired, the greater they grow.  Caris's ordeal has taken its toll on us--emotionally, physically, and financially.  Hospital bills are expensive, and so is tuition, and so are textbooks, and so are car repairs.  A stray right hook caught us by surprise, and we're still wobbled, back against the cage, covering up.  We bob.  We weave.  The bell feels like it should ring soon, like it will save us at any moment, but it hasn't.

Our story is twisted and weird.  We have stopped telling it because even we feel like it must be fake.  Perhaps some day the entire tale will become the subject of a memoir, but it's difficult to put pen to paper when the waves of a plot are still beating you against the rocks.

The saddest thing, to me, about our strange story is that Caris will never get to experience beautiful immaturity like I did.  She will never have a Cauliflower Chronicles adventure because her chance to live untested was ripped from her.

We should not overlook or discount the young because they are untested.  We should envy them, and we should help them make the most of it.  At the same time, we should not assume that the young are untested.  We should not assume that because they smile and because their eyes seem bright that they have not had to endure.  Our youth have seen more than we realize.

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