Tuesday, December 15, 2009

moments in the woods

1. i’ll be where it’s lonely

Other than the occasional texting dialogue, I don’t blog much about my 16-year-old mentee, whom I’ll call Liana. Partly because, even though our official mentor/mentee relationship ended when she left her group home and reunited with her mom, it seems like bad protocol. Partly because her life is hers. Partly because the world is full of do-gooder writers working with “troubled teens” and then writing about them.

But our unofficial mentor/mentee relationship is now becoming even more unofficial, because in a couple of weeks, she’ll be moving to the mountains in the northern reaches of L.A. County. “If you Google ‘Indian Museum,’ you can see the town we’re near and how lonely it looks,” she said. “And then if you follow the map like twenty or thirty more minutes up into the mountains, it gets really lonely. That’s where I’ll be.”

Suddenly it felt wrong to let a year and a half of weekly-ish drinks as Coffee Bean and McDonalds—and the occasional movie, library visit and immigration rally—come to a close without any record of it. I’ve mentored three other girls through various programs, and even though each kid has been awesome in her own way, Liana is hands-down my favorite, for the fact that she never left me sitting on the Subway Sandwiches patio because her aunt planned a last-minute shopping trip (for the third week in a row), among other reasons.

I have no doubt that Liana is a lot of people’s favorite kid. It’s not like I’ve spotted a diamond in the rough—Liana is fully polished bling, as sparkly as her MySpace page. She’s relentlessly charming, funny and loyal, and such an empath that she’s frequently cast as a liaison between kids and teachers. These are the qualities that make me hopeful about her future, even though there’s a Precious-esque litany of shitty circumstances stacked against her.

2. beans: don’t leave home without ‘em

Last night at Coffee Bean, I got misty-eyed every time she said something funny, which was a lot, like when she recounted her plan for not getting lost in the woods: “I’ma carry some beans with me when I go jogging and make a trail so I can find my way back.”

On the car ride home, I played sad songs because I had more tears to get out of my system. Then I wondered if I was trying to prove to myself that I was sadder than I was, because didn’t I frequently arrive to pick her up feeling exhausted from a long day of work, half wishing I could be at home eating dinner? If I’d been a full-throttle mentor, wouldn’t I have somehow helped her get a green card or at least taken her to more museums? Wasn’t it true that one of the characters in my circus novel had taken on suspiciously Liana-like qualities, and even though it was a circus novel, was I so different from one of those I-taught-at-an-inner-city-high-school-for-five-mintues-and-now-I-have-a-book-deal writers? (But, like, without the book deal?)

I’m not wracked with guilt or anything—in mentor training, the first thing they tell you is that it’s not your job to save anybody, and if you think it is, you’re probably not going to be a good mentor. So in some ways my laziness worked for me: I just wanted to hang out and get to know someone interesting, and I did. And I’m going to miss her so much.


Claire said...

Well, she got to meet someone interesting too. And you can't be that lazy since you went to the trouble of getting a mentee in the first place.

I hope things turn out well for her.

Cheryl said...

Liana has enough interesting people in her life. I filled the "reliable" void.

El Changuito said...

Awww. Cheryl, this is so moving. It sounds like you guys had a great connection going. I totally just revisited my times as a mentor. :D

Cheryl said...

When mentoring is not a like a bad blind date, it's a magical thing.