"Poverty doesn't give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor."
Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
In my mind, I've written at least ten posts about L. I am surprised to come back here and find that I haven't transposed any of those words to this place, when I can read them so clearly in my mind.
The first post dedicated to him was when I first met him and he had no identification at all. "Your mom doesn't have a copy of your birth certificate? Your social security card?" He shook his head. "I got nothing."
He couldn't get his school records without identification. He couldn't get identification without two forms of photo identification. He couldn't get photo identification without some verification of his identity.
I carefully watched the employees behind the counter at the Secretary of State the day that I went there with him, a copy of a birth certificate in hand when we technically needed an original. "Please," I said and then later made jokes about what a good pair of hooker boots will do for you when really I knew to the core of my being that it was what someone with a good heart would do for you.
I have to make jokes, you know, because if I don't I feel overwhelmed sometimes with the emotion of it all.
"All of this," L said that day as I drove him home, "All of this just to prove that I exist?" I made some remark that made him laugh as my hands gripped the wheel as tight as they could and I choked on the sob rising in my throat.
About a month later, L. had an interview scheduled. The employer called me to tell me that they had filled the position the day before he was to go in; the day that I had left a message for her explaining that I was working with him. When L. called to check in about the interview, I had to tell him that the position was no longer open.
He didn't respond. "L?" I asked. And at the other end, I heard him weeping. There are not words to explain what that did to me, and still I urged him to hold on; that hope was right around the corner. And it was. That day.
L. has been working for nearly six weeks now. It took him all this time to save up $510 to pay off two tickets that he'd gotten in 2008. Before you make a judgment, let me tell you about the tickets. He was pulled over for a muffler that was too loud. A muffler that he knew was too loud, but that he couldn't afford to fix. He was ticketed for that muffler and for not having his proof of insurance on him. He couldn't afford to pay for them; if he could have afforded that, he would have fixed his muffler.
Again, with they cycles, the circles.
In Michigan, if your license is suspended, you have to pay your fines, a reinstatement fee ($150) and a "driver responsibility fee" ($600-minimum) to get your license back.
The bus doesn't go near where L. works, so he has to get off the bus a mile and a half from there and walk the rest of the way. He still goes. He believes that this is the way out from where he is from. I am not sure anymore if there is a way out, but I'm going to keep acting like I do. I don't know anything else.
When I found out about the additional fees today, I was struggling to compose myself when my phone rang. It was him. I delivered the news in fragments, in a way that wouldn't allow him to fully process it, and I knew it, but I don't feel like he can process it right now.
His counselor and I sat later today as she wracked her brain with ways to help and I mostly sat there watching her, nodding my head, running circles in my brain. There are a couple of possible leads, but they are small and unlikely. Probably as small and unlikely as the possibility of a kid who was raised in "the system", who knows nothing but poverty, who bears the demons of his father in the long and jagged scar that rises angrily across cheek getting up every day, hours before he has to be to work, to get to work.
He doesn't have someone in his life that has given him the example of holding a steady job. He doesn't have someone in his life that taught him to keep his social security card or who kept his birth certificate or who made sure he went to school. He doesn't have someone in his life who can even be relied upon to pick him up on time on Sunday morning when the bus doesn't run to help him get to work.
"Do you have a hero, L.?" The manager asked during his interview. "I'd have to say God," he answered. "Do you have anyone, like a person in your life that you look up to or that has helped you?" He looked at his hands and then said, "Just Jenn. She's about the only person that's ever helped me in my life, ma'am." And I made a joke about that not being a good thing, and we all laughed and the manager readjusted papers that didn't need readjusting and I shifted in my chair and I smiled at L. and we walked out and I told him that it would all be O.K., that this was the beginning of things changing.
I believed that when I said it.
I hope, with all that I have left in me, that I will believe that again tomorrow morning.
I hope that somehow his counselor (one of those evil, vastly overpaid civil servants that went into public service to become rich and live the high life off of our tax dollars--you know the ones--working extra hours, trying to make a difference on a smaller and smaller budget with a larger and larger caseload) finds an answer that has been overlooked; placed in a corner somewhere and forgotten; a ten dollar bill in the pocket of a coat that hasn't been worn in a couple of years.
I hope that tomorrow when I talk to L. that I will be able to tell him that things have been figured out and that all of his efforts haven't been for nothing; that he can finally quit waiting on hope and instead bask in the light of its' arrival.
"Hope is necessary in every condition. The miseries of poverty, sickness, of captivity, would, without this comfort, be insupportable." Samuel Johnson