the kid in me

When the morning sun breaks over the mountain, the air seems to magnify everything. Standing on the rock at the edge of the lake, the tree-pocked…

When the morning sun breaks over the mountain, the air seems to magnify everything.

Standing on the rock at the edge of the lake, the tree-pocked flank of the far peak seems close enough to touch.

The reeds that lay 50 metres out are thick with birds and the clarity allows me to see the detail of them. Beside me, the dog seems transfixed by the wonder of the planet too.

It’s peace that brings me here. Every day, rain or snow or shine, I’m here in the early hours. The walk to the shore winds along a gravel road and I breathe the untainted air of my mountain home and feel it fill me. The land, my people say, is a feeling — and the feeling is peace.

When I was younger, I never felt that peace. There’s a violence to being plucked from a life, and when they took me from my family and placed me in the foster care system, they paid no attention to its effects. Instead, they concentrated on shaping me to their ends. There’s a brutality to that too. Every square peg splinters some when forced into a round hole.

But that’s not the story here. I’ve had the opportunity to heal, to reclaim the lost parts of myself, to reconnect to my tribal life, to become myself, to find the peace I choose to fill me.

No, the story that comes to me on this brilliant morning is the story of a boy I met yesterday. He’s 14. A white kid, tall, skinny, the heft of the man he’ll become evident in the stretch of him. He was all languid and loose like kids are, but there was a cautionary edge to him that spoke to me when I saw him.

He sat on the edge of his chair, leaned forward some, keenly watching the adults in the room. His eyes flicked back and forth at the three of us speaking with his dad.

I could see the muscles twitch at his thighs and I could feel his readiness to bolt if the signs came. When the conversation turned to talk of safety, security and helping I could almost hear him relax.

He was a kid like any other you see. There was nothing that would declare itself as radical or different, no tattoos, no gang apparel, no posturing, no piercings.

No, this was a boy who’d learned the delicate art of becoming invisible, of shrinking back into the background of rooms and waiting, patient as a wolf cub, for the sign that peace would reign.

His dad’s a drunk. When we spoke to him, he’d come from a recovery program that he’d left early to pick up the pieces of his family life. He and the boy were camped out in a low-end hotel until they could find suitable housing.

He came to us to scope out a room. But as he sat and answered our questions I could see the street on him.

See, it wasn’t all that long ago that I wore it too. It wasn’t all that long ago that I roamed about looking for a peg to hang my life on, to get past the ache that booze leaves on your spirit and in your gut.

Street drunks and closet drinkers know one another when they meet. It’s how you survive out there. You find someone who drinks the same as you, or worse. It’s also how you heal when you quit. You find someone who drank the same way you did and walk beside them sober.

The kid had seen everything. You could tell that. The fragments of the story that we got in that brief time were all about being plucked from a life and plunked down with strangers.

It was all about never feeling at home wherever you landed. It was all about never knowing from one day to the next when the next sweeping change was going to come, when the next hurt would hurtle out of the darkness.

He spoke quietly. His voice was low and even, and there were no signs in it of feeling or attachment. Instead, there was resignation and it made me want to cry.

We made plans for them to take a room when one became available in a month’s time. We made the choice for the kid. Both of us felt ourselves reach out to him. Both of us felt his pain. Both of us wanted the future to represent something more than it had and both of us could see ourselves in him because both of us had been through the pain of a dislocated life.

For me, it brought back the kid that I had been. At 14, my life was a bombardment of pain and there was no resolution anywhere. I was trapped and alone.

There was no one I could tell because I thought that there was no one who’d ever lived that same way — and I learned to live with unspoken pain. I felt all of that in that 14-year-old boy and it called to me.

And that’s the thing of it, really. That’s how we grant peace. We need to come to recognize that it’s our brokenness that allows us to heal each other, not the fronts of stoic capability we display.

Life is difficult. It leaves scratches and cuts and bruises on all of us. Sometimes it leaves fractures. Sometimes a paraplegia of the soul.

Sometimes, like the kid I met yesterday, and the kid in me, it leaves confusion that requires listening to help sort out, hearing, and an earnest sharing of the similar.

So he’ll come and he’ll stay. He’ll have a place to set his feet down, a place to rest. It won’t be perfect, but it’s a beginning, a fresh start, and hope has thrust down roots in lesser soil. We give what we can and stand beside people. That’s how it works.


Richard Wagamese is Ojibway and the author of Keeper’n Me. He recently won the Canadian Author’s Award for Dream Wheels.

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