Friday, March 23, 2012

retreat to lancaster

It was one of those weeks. Yeah, AGAIN. But I had the day off today, and I had a gently used laptop with my former mentee Daniela’s name on it. She mentioned that she was in the market for one, and my amazing friend Craig donated his. So I drove out to Lancaster to deliver it. Not a drive I was looking forward to, but the trip plus Daniela worked their magic.

There have been times when I’ve wondered if I find hanging out with Daniela healing because her problems have often been bigger than mine. I’m not at all comfortable with this possibility, but that might be a piece of it. Mostly, though, it’s about who Daniela is: this hilarious kid who’s faced down her demons at times, chased after them at others, but never given up—and who, now, is not really a kid at all.

In the past six months, she’s become a mother, gotten her papers, gotten a grownup job with benefits and everything, and become the primary breadwinner in her household of six. That’s a hell of a lot for a 19-year-old to take on, and whereas I used to be like, Daniela, don’t drop out of school! (she didn’t), now my concerns are more like, Daniela, make sure you find time to have a little fun (she does).

She got paid today, so our Starbucks visit was her treat. I was like, My baby is all grown up! She would have paid for my gas too if I let her. I think this must be what it feels like—or, well, a lite version of it—to see your kid through the tumultuous teenage years only to marvel at how she emerges on the other side of it, mature and brilliant and as funny as ever.

I’m not saying Daniela’s problems are over. Maybe she’ll hit 35 and wonder if everything she believed was completely wrong (not that I’m projecting or anything). But she’s a fully formed person.

I told her today, “You know, when I found out you were pregnant, I wasn’t sure it was the best idea. I mean, I knew it was your choice and I respected that, but I was really worried for you. But you were right—you knew what was best for you all along.”

I drove her back to her house, which was so far from Starbucks that there was an actual tumbleweed in the yard. There were chickens across the street and small craggy mountains on the horizon. The sun was setting and the Joshua trees were black against the orange sky. Daniela says it’s lonely out there, but it keeps her out of trouble. I knew what she meant. Things melted away, the way that they do.