“Can I stay at your house?”

My average day volunteering with a badass project, climbing with kids in marginalized areas. See more: http://www.escalandofronteras.org

“Can I stay at your house?”
“No, you have a mom and brother.”
“I don’t live with them.”
“Where do you sleep?”
“Behind the school. Can you give me 5 pesos for some water?” the fifteen year old runaway asked me today.

Holy shit.

One of those moments when you’re not sure if they’re telling the truth, and how seriously to take them. The other day a teenage runaway texted us “I’m going to be a dad” – and our hearts skip a beat, or three.  Then they say something that really takes the wind out of you, like, “I wanna go to Harvard.” And it’s a fucking sharp kid.

Sometimes when they aren’t yanking our chain, we glimpse the real truth behind the practiced levity. That glimpse has been visiting more and more often, in that way a photographer picks up on a pattern or style. I think it comes from seeing these kids actually entering serious, dangerous, high-risk situations, while seeing their futures standing next to them – I mean, ugly situations, ugly future selves. Like, I had to drop off the kids tonight 50 feet from the school steps, where a group of 20 addicts and a dealer chill…and watch these kids run over to them.

What would a normal parent do in the States? Let me answer. Totally not what we have to do: drop them off, the same way, every day we work with them. How the hell can we do that?

For Mel’s water I up-ended the coin purse and, in the process, accidentally dropped and lost a coin. All I had was 7 pesos, not enough for papitas.

“Why are you eating a lollipop? That your dinner?” “It’s bad for the teeth.” “So why are you eating it?” Mel crunched it down, threw the stick in my van.

Here’s the ugly future I saw of Melanie, that morning. When I arrived in Lomas to pick up the boys to go to the closest climbing gym, the first stop was Cesar’s house. He’s a young dad who acts like he’s 16, and takes a shitload of hilarious selfies every time you give him a camera. Hola! I shout on the steps, walking up slowly, while listening for his wife Heidy. I get to the door, and it’s opened by an old woman. She invites me in. Me llamo mama de Cesar, she says. Heidy and Cesar left to buy groceries. So we sit at the window, waiting for the young climbers. Cesar’s mother asked me if I was the one who gave Heidy the computer, if I was the one giving her graphic design homework. I replied yes. She said her younger daughter needed to learn English. (Education is a sore need here. We focus on rock climbing, and use it to connect to the younger population, but occasionally Nadia and I tutor.)

I’d taught English in the community room months back, and wanted to do the same again, so I began talking with Cesar’s mom about the new school director, the families, how she raises kids, the drug situation…

Mira, she said suddenly, pointing. She was looking a young woman hobbling slowly past the window outside. Clearly in her second term of pregnancy. Holding paint thinner to her face.

Pregnant, Cesar’s mom said. And she has 3 kids already. She’s a prostitute.

– – – – –

Side Note: If you grew up here, you’d kick dogs. You’d huff paint thinner like skittles in broad daylight, and get pregnant at 15. You’ll end up like this drugged prostitute. And your sons will have to depend on their aging illiterate and decrepit elderly; will watch while the mom whither away; will continue the cycle of neglect.

– – – – –

“A que hora tienes escuela?” I ask the 15 year old runaway, having seen her future some hours before. “When is school for you? At 6, too?”

“No voy,” she says sheepishly. “Me aburró la escuela.” School bores me.
She’s 15. She disappeared once for a month one time. She’s basically run away from home, and not the first. When she asked me my birthday, she showed me on her phone the sex position for my birth month. Like that time, I hound her. How are you going to have a job, if you don’t learn anything? “Tortillas”, she says.

“Tortillas?!” I reply horrified. You want to walk up and down the street all day without money to pay for the hospital, for a car, for your health? You’ll be stuck in a cycle. It’s a stupid cycle. But she’s already bored. She gets in my van, and looks for coins, finds a lighter, and plays with it.

“Want to study tomorrow, 12pm? Computer lab?” I see so much potential here. She is absolutely a disaster waiting to happen, if she doesn’t study. Other girls come up to us, and ask to climb tomorrow. I say yes, Mad Complex. Two groups, 2pm and 6pm. Life is real. Let’s just go climbing.