I just listened to one of the most heart-wrenching stories I've ever heard on NPR. It involved the interview of two fourteen-year old kids living in a group home in 1994. The kids were full of optimism, humor and hope. The interviewer tracked them down this year, to find that one had died of AIDS (and he and his HIV+ girlfriend had had two kids with the knowledge that they had the virus) in March, while the other was in jail. Both were dropouts and neither had jobs. To hear two optimistic 14-year old kids in one moment and then hear the adult versions of the same people eleven years later was utterly depressing.
It reminded me of Arturo Nelson. About a week ago, I was in line at 7-11 getting my usual cup of coffee> I was loading up my wallet with my change, when the kid behind me came up to the counter and ordered two vanilla dutchies. The way he said it - needlessly loud, a little addled - made me turn my head, and I noticed something familiar about the kid. I couldn't place him, so I left out the store, thinking hard about who it could be. At that moment I heard someone shout out my name.
I turned around, and there was Arturo. I didn't remember his name until the next day, but I remembered the face. His cheeks weren't chubby anymore, and his mouth had grown into his teeth, but the oval shape and dark frame of his skin encicled his wide grin the same as when I had known him.
I had Arturo as a 9th grader. He was a funny, naive little kid who always sat next to Jarrod (my baseball captain last year) and worked hard on writing despite struggling through a lot of it. I remember his frustrations when he didn't get something and his joys when his epiphanies erupted to the surface. Arturo passed my course through his hard work, but in keeping tabs on him the next year, I found out that he failed most of his classes his sophomore year. He also got a girl pregnant and she had a baby towards the end of his 10th grade, which effectively put an end to his schooling. He never looked back, as far as I know.
I'd tried to keep some tabs on him the first year he was gone, but it didn't stick. He sort of lives near me, I think - and being in that 7-11 confirms it, as does my meeting him once on a run - but I hadn't seen him around in a long time.
When I saw him at 7-11, I tried to think of his name, and called him "Mike." I don't think he heard, because he didn't correct me, and instead told me he was working on going to trade school, that he wanted to learn a trade. I hadn't asked, as I was afraid his answer would have been sad. We talked for about ninety seconds. His stained beater hung low around his neck, and his friend in a long white tee and braids shouted from across the street. Arturo said goodbye, smiled, and ran over to him. Across the stree, ht waved back at me. At that moment, he looked like the friendly, gangly 14-year old I used to know back then, and not the 19-year old unemployed dropout and absentee father that he is now.
Quick Hits: Francona, Indians, Mattingly, Dodgers - Here's tonight's look around baseball as Wednesday turns to Thursday.. With Terry Francona returning to Fenway Park later this week as the Indians' manager, ...
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