Prayers for a stranger

The other day, Jordan and I met up here in our hometown of Santa Clarita to continue work on some new, exciting Perception Travel projects.

It was just like all of our other meetings. We meet at a coffee shop. One Americano, one chai latte (used to be two Americanos but I’m sensitive to coffee these days). We each take out our laptops. Notebooks, books. We touch base. Discuss what we want to accomplish. Chat for a bit. Then we both get in our zones and silently get lost in our work.

The cafe we worked at on this day was small, but packed with students as it was in the late afternoon. Most were also immersed in their laptops, books and notebooks strewn across their tables. Everyone quiet, everyone busy, everyone minding their own business.

But on this day, what started off as another average day at the cafe turned real emotional, real quick.

I remember the phrase that pulled me.

“I’ve been really depressed.”

I looked over without thinking, and saw a teenager at the table next to me. He was sitting alone, hunched forward in his chair, forearms resting on the table, one leg shaking anxiously, the hood of his sweatshirt pulled low over his face. One hand to his ear while he talked on the phone, and the other securing the hood over his head. No laptop or books out on the table. Just a closed backpack at his feet beside him.

I quickly turned back to my work. Quit staring, stop eavesdropping, I thought to myself. But I couldn’t help but keep at least one ear open.

He told the person on the phone that he was sexually abused as a child. He told this person that he thinks he is transgender. Whoever was on the phone must have asked about his family. He said he tried to tell his mom. His mom was “abrasive,” he said. She didn’t get it. It’s not that she doesn’t love him, he said. It’s that she doesn’t want to see him go through this struggle and face the type of opposition he was likely to face. It was a very formal conversation, like he was talking to a school counselor. I sat there, and heard this kid’s whole story.

I heard this kid bear all – every challenge, every turning point, every heartbreaking detail. I heard him spill his guts all over that tiny coffee shop table. I felt the shadow of the dark cloud that suddenly seemed to hover over entire cafe, felt the air grow thick and the mood grow unmistakably eerie. That discomfort, that feeling that something is just not right. Yet everyone around seemed unfazed and preoccupied.

I looked up every once in awhile to see if anyone else was as disturbed as I was. No one seemed to blink. I looked to Jordan, who made eye contact with me a few times, but I wasn’t sure if he could hear what I was hearing. But then I knew he was when he whispered to me very seriously, “This is intense.”

“I know,” I said quietly, “I just want to hug him.”

Then a few minutes later, still with his phone to his ear and his head down, he packed up and left. I never saw his face.

Jordan and I looked up from our work immediately and looked at each other, both acknowledging this deep sense of sorrow we felt for this complete stranger, for the unsettling desperation and heartbreak which was sitting next to to us at a mere arm’s length.

“He was right in the middle of this crowded cafe, speaking as loudly as he was. He obviously wanted someone to hear.”

Jordan’s very true statement made my eyes well up instantly.

He was right, and I didn’t even think about it when it was happening. I wanted to get up, to say hi. To very awkwardly say, “Are you OK?” To ask if he wanted to sit with us, to ask if he needed a friend. To give him a hug. But I didn’t know what was the right thing to do. Do I interrupt him on his phone call? Would it mortify him? I should just mind my own business, I thought.

Jordan went down to the front to order food or go to the bathroom or something, and I sat there feeling uneasy. When he came back up to the table, he informed me that the kid had just gotten arrested outside.

We found out afterwards that the kid tried to commit suicide. His second suicide attempt. He was on the phone with a police officer, he was calling for help.

I got the chills. Then I felt sick to my stomach. And then the tears wouldn’t stop.

Thank God the kid called for help, and thank God I saw him, sitting there in the back of that cop car, though his head was down and his arms were behind his back. But he was alive. Well? No. But last night I prayed for him, and tonight I will again.

Jordan and I decided to change locations, as we were both really shook up.

I bawled my eyes out on the car ride over. I know there are so many kids, too many kids, in his same position. It could have been another teen to add to the staggering LGBT teen suicide rates. This poor, lanky, broken kid in jeans and a hoodie sitting right next to me. Essentially screaming for help.

What could I have done differently? What could have been done? What can be done in my community? What types of resources could be in place to make kids like him feel less alone, less scared, less hopeless? More accepted? More loved?

Jordan had the same questions during his car ride over, I found out. Because when I got there, though he had left before me, I saw he hadn’t arrived yet. I called to find out where he was.

“Sorry, I had to pull over to cry.”

I allowed my own tears that were welling up again to flow freely as I told him not to worry, to take his time. Then I went back to my car to cry some more.

When we finally met back up, we felt this sudden sense of purpose. What can we do? How can we help?

We put a halt on the project we were previously working on and took quite a bit of time discussing it. We talked about what could be different. We talked about what it’s like growing up in the suburbs of (mostly conservative) Santa Clarita, what it must be like for kids now. It isn’t always easy to feel different. It isn’t always easy to try to express yourself in a place where you feel like you must fit a certain mold.

We had a really great, meaningful discussion. And even better, we brainstormed ways to take action and make a difference. I’m happy to say that I think we’re on to something.

For now, I am glad the kid is alive. I wonder if he knows I was listening. I wonder if he will come to realize that there are people out there who want to listen. That I wanted to listen, and I wished I came over to say hello.

I’m not sure if anything I would have done would have changed anything. But either way, from now on, I will not hesitate to offer free hugs right in the instant I feel the urge to. I think it would have done more good than harm.

I hope he gets the help and love he deserves.

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6 thoughts on “Prayers for a stranger

  1. My heart breaks for this teenager. It’s not easy living in a world of trying to keep it all together and to try and look the part when inwardly there’s so much more going on that we are just trying to accept within ourselves. I’ll be praying for similar stories to his, would be courageous and became enough to make that call for help like he did. That part probably tugged my heart the most. That he actually took that one really hard step to call someone. I’ll be praying for others to take that same step of help and for the hope of one more day. Thank you for your compassionate and merciful heart Evelyn.

    • Thank YOU for reading and caring! You are so right, it was extremely courageous of him to call for help. Must not have been easy to lay it all out and be vulnerable to a complete stranger. x

  2. My heart broke so much in reading this. My thoughts and prayers are with this kid, and anyone else who is feeling depressed and scared for being different. Depression is not an easy thing to over come, especially when things like sexual abuse and gender identity are thrown on top of it. I can only imagne how heavy this must have been for you to hear in person. But what you and Jordan are doing is so great. And honestly I think it would benefit the town immensely if there was some sort of safe haven that these kids could go to within this town. To feel •safe•cared for•heard•not judged•AND LOVED. I remember when I was in Highschool and my Brother worked at the Pavillion’s off Mcbean, he would always come home after work and tell the family stories about this group of runaway kids that lived down in the wash behind the store. They ranged in ages from Jr. high all the way through High school. He said a few times they were caught stealing; but it was for basic needs things, like a toothbrush, toilet paper, and mostly food. He got to talking with one of them one day outside of the store while my brother was supposed to be gatgering carts. The kid was my age at the time (a freshman while my brother was a senior) and was a runaway from somewhere in the bay area. He proceeded to tell my brother why he ran away (another case of sexual abuse) from someone in his family, and that his parents knew about it, and allowed the abuse to continue- so he ran. He had been gone at that point for two years! He got in to drinking and drugs heavily to help cope with the abuse and confusion, but of course it only made things worse. Now not only was he homeless but he was also exposed to further absuse from all typse of predators on the street. He had been beaten unconscious several times, and taken advantge of. So one day he decided to quit it all cold turkey, because he realized he wanted to live- but did not feel safe (understandably) to go back home. His plan was to make it out to Austin Texas where he had some distant relatives, but he had stopped to live here for a few months because of the group of kids that he had stumbled on that all decided to live together. All of them had similar backgrounds, cases of abuse, rape, incest, SRA (satanic ritual abuse) ect. – and in communicating their issues, found a community and new type of family within their own group, and that the older ones try to make money when they can to help feed the younger runaways. After all of this, he then apologized to my brothef for the times that they stole from the store, and said they only do it out of necessity. After hearing all of that my Brother was so shooken up, and so disturbed by what he had just heard. After his shift he had bought them a $50 gift card so that they could use it to buy whatever they needed. And even on his shifts he would always buy one of them food or whatever they needed for the day. But one day they just left the wash completely. I’m sure in this town it was due to complaints, but I always think of this story, and this kid. I wonder what might have happened to him, if he ever made it to Texas, if he’s seeking help, hoping he is okay and is somewhere safe.
    I know that whatever you and Jordan have planned, it’s going to be amazing, and so healing. I feel so honored and •privileged• to call you (both) (but eslecially you ev because we grew up together) my friend. You and Jordan and that kid were all supoosed to be in that caffe together. You were meant to hear the conversation and have it awaken something in you. You are one of the most beautiful people I have ever met. And I know something amazing is going to come from this. For now, I’m sendiing my love and healing vibes. Always here if I can help in anyway ❤

    • Alex. I’m basically crying. I love you. And that kid your brother met…wow, that’s super intense too. I hope he made it to Texas and that he’s ok, too.

  3. Sometimes you say sensitive things, personal things in crowded places hoping someone, anyone will hear and give you a reason to keep trying. Sometimes you just put yourself out there because you don’t know what else to do. I hope next time you do say something. We all need a kind stranger to talk to sometimes.

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