There is an exercise we play – there is a situation, something happens, and the next day everyone is talking about it. I discuss with the girls that although we all speak English, people speak differently; people have different perspectives and different ways to talk.
For instance, let’s say there was a party last night. The next day, two girls would talk to each other about the party very differently than two boys, or two moms, or two cops that raided the party.
I have two huge phones. We act out all the different phone calls between the different people, and then we discuss the different points of view.
“Let’s do someone and their best friend,” one girl suggests.
“OK,” I say.
Two girls take the big phones.
“Hi best friend.”
“Hi best friend.”
I laugh out loud, “Why are you calling each other best friend? Don’t you have names?” I ask.“I call her best friend because she’s my best friend. Ms., don’t you call your best friend, best friend?”
“No,” I laugh again, “I call her by her name.”
“Well, how does she know that she’s your best friend?” she asks.
“I don’t know,” I answer. “I think she just knows.”
“She ain’t gonna know if you don’t tell her!”
It’s funny what I have learned about honesty and lying from these girls. They hide nothing and everything at the same time. They are so tough, but if I don’t give the same attention to all, one might be offended like a preschooler. They are fifteen years older, and fifteen years younger at the same time.
Amazing what growing up in the street, what lack of love and attention, not to mention drugs and alcohol, can do to you. They call each other derogatory names and don’t bat an eyelash. Nigger, fool, bitch.
I tell them they shouldn’t do that. They cannot understand why.
“You call it as it is,” they say. “She’s black, why can’t I call her nigger?”
They are so used to hearing bad words, it means nothing to be called that or to call someone that. I am a woman of words. Words are important to me. (I can’t spell to save my life). When they catch that, they are flabbergasted, amused and a little shocked at the same time.
I try to teach them. I use big-ish words and nonchalantly say for instance, “Do you know what the word ‘articulate’ means?” They guess, they make up stuff, and I tell them. We move forward together.
But then there are the words that they know, but never hear. You are beautiful. You are amazing. You are talented. You have a future. I love you.
And when I say these words, they stop. I love that moment. They stop because they are not sure I said what they heard, and I usually have to say it again. I grew up in Israel, so I too, am direct, honest, and do not say things I don’t mean. I also do not say I love you quickly, or nonchalantly. Inevitably, I fall in love with these girls and at some point it will pop out of my mouth, and that, well that is THE best moment of all.
Today it came out. There was a moment we all laughed one of the girls was sweet and funny and I said, “Oh my God, I love you.”
She stopped in her tracks; she looked at me. I know this moment, she looks at me and I know she is thinking how could you love me? I am horrible.
I choose not to know the girls’ crimes, they know that because I tell them, “I don’t care what you did. I care what you do.”
Now and then I am challenged. For some reason, I find out the crime. Sometimes they are horrible and terribly violent and I ask myself, do you really not care? Does it really NOT matter? Can I honestly not judge? And then I think of this moment. I see a girl who is sweet and funny. I have spent eight weeks with her. I have walked into her soul. I have seen her pain. I have heard her cry. I understand, or at least, I try too.
But most of all, I have fallen in love.
“You love me?” she laughs,“I don’t love me.”
“You should” I say.
“Why? I’m no good.”
I look at her, I’m not even sure why, but I am getting teary. “We are all good,” I say. “Just for some people, sometimes, the good is hiding.”
“My good just plain ran away,” she says.
“Well,” I said,“I think today you caught it. Why don’t you invite it to stay?”
She looks at me a little bewildered, and then she laughs out loud and says, “Ms. that is some crazy shit you are saying, but I think I understand.”
“Good,” I say and I walk over and give her a kiss on the head.
“You actually fucking love me huh?”
“Yep,” I say.
She smiles a big smile and sits back down in her chair. I can actually see her good, and it is glowing.