The plane was delayed for more than an hour before it was cancelled due to a mechanical problem. I was all set to fly down to North Carolina with hopes of reaching my destination by dinnertime. The main objective was to make my way over to a behavioral facility where a 16 year-old girl was undergoing treatment. My plans were to be there for dinner, and then again for breakfast the next morning. However, my plans were about to be changed.
The airline sent me from LaGuardia to JFK Airport in a hurry to make another flight. Unfortunately, a heavy rainstorm came in to alter my plans even more.
There was no kindness from the young man behind the counter. All he would say is, “The airline doesn’t control the weather, sir.”
I explained that my previous flight was cancelled and that I was sent from one airport to another. It was clear that there were problems but somehow, I needed to catch a flight.
I spent most of the day inside of an airport watching planes take off and land. I sat for a while. I kept checking in until I found someone who could help me. I have to admit, there was something about this experience. I can’t say what it was. I’ve never been much of a world traveler yet, there were times when I would wonder if this could be me.
Could it be me?
Could I be flown across the country to help others who could not help themselves?
I wondered what it would be like to fly from one side of the country to the other. I wondered what the airports looked like in Montana. I wondered what the air smelled like in the state of Idaho. I wondered where the airplanes were taking off to. And who was coming in? Were they coming home, or were they only visiting?
Since there was nothing else to do but read or write, I decided to partake in the oldest sport in the world: people watching. I watched the different families gather at the gates. I saw girls with hooded sweatshirts on, their hoods pulled up over their heads, music wired in their ears, eyes rolling at their little brothers or sisters. I saw boyfriends and girlfriends, married couples, and business people dressed in business attire, looking important and waiting for their flights.
Eventually, my case was heard by an understanding employee of the airline, who was young yet old enough to understand the urgency of my meeting. Maybe he understood because he had a family member who was in trouble. Maybe he had his own problems. I explained that I was flying down to speak with a young girl in a hospital. I told him about what I do and tried to appeal to his heart. But the young man stopped me quickly and said, “Say no more, sir.” And next, I was on my way.
I have been to different treatment facilities. I’ve seen these kids before. In fact, I used to be one of them. I’ve seen them during my hospital deployments and intervention programs I’ve seen them, young and wild. So much to live through and yet, their lives have just begun. Somewhere in there is still the child who recently played with toys and watched Saturday morning cartoons while eating cereal. It wasn’t so long ago that they believed in Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, or the Man on the Moon. Yet, somewhere, somehow, their innocence was lost. They saw something. They felt something or maybe they went through something traumatizing or life changing. Maybe there was a struggle at home. Either way, somehow they found themselves feeding into a lifestyle yet, life had yet to start for them or become meaningful.
Sometimes, too many boundaries are crossed or broken. Sometimes the child gives way and then they become something unchildlike or almost inhuman. I’ve seen kids with guns. I’ve met 12 year-old stickup kids, running around in the streets of East New York, Brooklyn. In fact, the first pistol that was ever drawn on me was drawn and held in the baby-like hands of some kid who was probably no older than 10 or 11. They called him Junior. He was a kid brother to a dealer at one of the spots near Liberty.
But he was just a kid, right? How could a kid do something like this, right?
It’s just the twitch of a finger to pull a trigger, and what comes next is nothing short of unalterable.
I can remember this as clear as the words I am writing to you. I can see the eyes of this young boy, so deep and black. I can see the silver on the small caliber pistol. This was the first time that I realized how easy it is to have my card punched. Like I said, it’s just a pull of a trigger; it’s a split-second of nothing. And that’s it. No light. No noise. No sound. And no heartbeat to carry me through the next step.
I can say that I have seen things at a young age. At the same time, I can say that what I saw was minimal. I grant you that maybe I was lucky. In fact, I know I was. I know that somehow, I got off light. I made a left when others made a right, and that made all the difference. I understand that some people never find recovery. And worse, some people find early graves.
I can say that if anyone reached out to me to say that someday I would be an advocate, I’d have shook my head and said, “You’re crazy.”
First, I never knew how to advocate for myself, let alone become a voice of understanding for someone else. I would never believe that I had the ability to help someone else, which in fact, the truth is we all do. We can all relate. We can all understand what crisis means. We can all understand what pain is or what it means to be hurt or experience something so life-altering that we react or respond. In some cases, we have all seen something that hurts us enough to self-destruct. Even if we see things differently, still, we all see. We all have a heart. We all have fears. We were all kids once too. Yet, when we were kids, there was a piece of us who swore that no adult could possibly understand. No one knew. We were just crazy kids – or so we thought.
I made my flight and was fortunate to have a good seat with some room. I suppose it pays to be nice. Then again, I suppose it was the kindness of someone else who sought to be sure that I made my trip. He wasn’t so much of an airline employee. He was a young man who perhaps had an understanding.
“You go down there and you take care of that girl,” he told me.
“Enjoy your flight, Mr. Kimmel. We set up lodging for you tonight. Sorry you weren’t able to get there on time, but please have breakfast on us.”
The whites of his eyes shone through the young man’s dark skin. There was a true heart beating in this person. A man, him, someone who belonged to this race we call human. And me, I was lucky enough to have him remind me that there are good people in this world.
My body was already shutting down by the time we took off. I have to admit, first class doesn’t feel so bad. I closed my eyes to rest for a while, and by the time my flight landed, the hour was late and there was nothing left for me to do until the next morning. The car rental was awaiting my arrival. The representative pointed me in the direction of the hotel and smiled kindly. “Drive safely,” said the man behind the counter.
Now, just to be clear, I don’t sleep very much. Strange places and strange beds do not help. I was tired though and fortunately, I found myself fast asleep in a puffy white blanket and soft covered sheets.
The hotel was bright and white, and if anything were to fit the quintessential description of southern hospitality, this would be the place they meant. Everyone was friendly. I mentioned the friendly nature to one of the women at the concierge. “You’re down south,” she said with a smile.
“This is the way people are supposed to be treated.”
I thought to myself, “A guy could get used to this.”
But there was more to this trip than the kindness of others. There was more to this than the Southern Baptist Church members who gathered in the lobby for a convention and greeted me with a friendly “Good morning.” There was more to my trip than the blue sky and the peaceful drive. More than anything, there was a young girl who was awaiting my visit.
I am no one better than the next person, which is something that I have found to make me perfect at what I do. I am not a therapist by any means. I am not a clinician, psychiatrist or psychologist. I am not someone with a masters or bachelors, or even an associates degree. I have different certifications in the recovery field. I am state recognized as a specialist and advocate, but more, I am an ear. I am someone that comes to listen. I am someone here to offer an explanation, to help explain both sides. Also, I am someone who went left instead of right. In some way or somehow, I am someone with different experiences who survived them and learned how to change my life. I am a coach.
No one is to say who has it easier or harder, or as it was told to me, “The last person to walk on water died a long time ago, and since I wasn’t around to see it, as far as I know nobody walks on water.”
I was underway after my breakfast and heading out to see the young girl. She was only 16. Her eyes were absolutely youthful. Her actions did not match her beauty or her smile. She was a kid. She was just a kid and yet, this young girl found herself with blue-colored bandannas, waving guns in the air, and living so fast that her life would have burned out quickly.
There was a nurse who accompanied me to a special meeting room. She was present the entire time of our discussion, which was fine. When I saw the girl, I thought to myself, how is any of this possible? How does life go so crazy that a young girl as perfectly special as her would find herself in a life like this?
The answer. This can happen in any home, and to any child.
The young girl and I talked for a while. We talked about the episode before her placement in treatment. We talked about her life as opposed to the life she wanted. Moreover, we talked the way two people would. No judgment. No authority. Just two people being honest with one another.
There are people who are quick to pass judgment. There are those in the world who believe there is no such thing as behavioral rehabilitation. I can say that they are wrong. There was a bumpy road ahead. The girl had her ups and downs. She had a brush with death that took the life of her best friend. She had all of this and more: a jail cell, a place in the database of the legal system, and case workers by the truckload.
So, where is she now?
She’s about to graduate college. She’s going to be a nurse. She’s going to help people who can’t help themselves. She is going to pay her lessons forward and to be honest, nothing could make me more proud.
For my girl
You’ve made your Daddy proud.