Sunday, March 6, 2011

By Appointment Only

I've met this kid several times while out walking Sam, and he's a real cute boy in a teen idol kind of way. His approach to me has always been way too friendly for someone his age, kind of like witnessing a very precocious child star being interviewed by Barbara Walters. Engaging. Polite. Funny. Fidgety.

He doesn't appear to be old enough for high school. I'm guessing he's 13 or 14. Always a skinny guy, he hit a growth spurt last year that shot him up at least six inches and his fat stores all went toward that project. When I saw him a couple of months ago he was very, very thin. Now he's even thinner, but not much taller.

Sam and I were coming off of a dicey encounter with a pit bull and I just wanted to get home. The wind and rain, some other dog's shit on my shoe and people in general were pissing me off. As my grumpiness was reaching crescendo a backfiring, gold, 1980s sedan pulled up next to me and one of the back doors opened. Out flew my young acquaintance, buttoning his pants that were now too short and wide for him and closing his filthy, hooded coat tightly around his body. He stumbled a bit, stopped, checked his zipper and turned to the side to watch the car speed away.

He saw me, but he didn't make eye contact. Instead he headed for a dark doorway, still clutching his coat; stopping, bending over, struggling to walk. He looked sick, in pain and riddled with shame.

To have a meet and greet with a kid like that, you sometimes have to make an appointment. Child exploitation stays far underground, as it's more in line with sexual slavery than street prostitution and call-girls. You have to really want it bad to find it.

My state (Washington) is working to change the laws and send kids like him to safe havens, where they would receive proper medical care, drug rehab and counseling. Currently, the safest places for these victims are juvenile detention centers, foster families and adult mental health facilities. But none of these options can teach life skills to a child who doesn't even know he's still a child.

Further reading on this topic:

1 comment:

  1. You make this kid come kicking into life, such as it is for him. I remember this very tenuous age, when everything is yearning and not much seems possible. This piece turns on the thinest of dimes, when we see a teenage predator change before our eyes into a young victim. I see kids like him on my daily bike ride on the edge of the housing projects in west L.A. I never know, really, just what they are going to do. You capture this edginess very effectively, doubly so because you are a woman and more vulnerable.