ONE – Two

“In my life so far…”

Now we’re moving on to discussing differences I’ve made in someone else’s life starting with someone I’ve taught or mentored.  Again I find these questions almost impossible to answer because you could be teaching someone something without realizing it.  This book is basically asking what impact have you made on the people you’ve come into contact with (literally thousands, right?) and the impact you’ve made on the world.

About ten years ago when I naively believed I could make a difference in someone’s life through actual time and effort, I volunteered to mentor a teenage girl through a program set up with the juvenile justice system.  In fact, she ended up living with me for a year and a half.  I’ll call her Darby.  I loved Darby.  I saw a lot of me in her.  At her age (13 when we met) I’d have loved to have an adult take an interest in me, encourage me, talk to me.  I don’t think Darby cared one way or another.  She lived in a trailer park with a single mother who’d never been married to her father.  A father who was married to someone else and who she had no contact with and who lived hundreds of miles away.  I can’t recall now why Darby was in trouble to begin with.  Shoplifting, maybe.

Every week I picked her up and took her out.  To lunch.  To a movie.  I can’t say she ever really opened up to me.  Maybe she found me too bullying or aggressive or inquisitive when I tried to reach her.

Then I didn’t hear from her and I found out she was in juvenile detention for domestic violence against her mother.  When her mother refused to appear in court and take custody of her, Darby was sent to a homeless shelter a few days before Christmas.

Saying this situation appalled me would be an understatement.  What kind of parent allows their child to spend Christmas in a homeless shelter when it isn’t necessary?  In fact, her mother wanted to relinquish her parental rights and give Darby to the state.  Darby was 15 at the time.

With her mother’s permission, I got Darby out of the shelter and brought her home with me.  I had only one goal: that Darby wouldn’t spend Christmas in a shelter surrounded by strangers thinking no one cared and no one wanted her.  She ended up staying for a year and a half.  I spent hours on the phone with the various powers that be and in court with her.  I turned my family upside down for her, rearranged my household, bent over backwards to give her what I thought she needed.

Did it make a difference?  I don’t think so.  Eventually, she and I played out a version of the same scenario she had with her mother.  Pushed to my limit, I sent her back to her mom.  I did what I could and so did the rest of my family, especially my husband, and I don’t think it made a damn bit of difference in her life.

Darby used to say “everyone gives up on me.”  My belief is, if that is so, it’s because Darby gave up on herself.  If I’d seen any significant change in Darby’s behavior or attitude in all that time our experience might have ended differently.

I’ve seen Darby a couple of times since then.  Once when she stopped by maybe a year later to tell me that for her 18th birthday her mother kicked her out.  Darby had moved in with a boyfriend and his mother.  Through the grapevine I later heard Darby was pregnant and the boyfriend was in jail.  I got an invitation to a baby shower which I did not attend and I heard she lost that baby.

About a year ago, completely out of the blue, she walked into the Starbucks where I work.  She’d been laid off her job at a restaurant and was collecting unemployment.  She was still living with the boyfriend and his mother and she had a little blond, blue-eyed boy.  She introduced me as her mentor to the boyfriend’s mother.

Frankly, you’d want to think of a mentor as someone whose example you’d want to follow, someone who can help you be all that you can be.  Darby introducing me as such when I failed miserably in that role, is not something I find at all flattering.

Darby had/has so much potential.  I wanted her to use it, to see what she could do and be.  Instead I think she chose the example set for her by her mother long before I met her.

But who knows?  I didn’t stay in touch with Darby so perhaps she’s accomplished great things in her life by now or one day will.

My husband always says we got Darby too late.  Maybe he’s right.

I comfort myself with the thought that my original goal was that she not spend Christmas in a homeless shelter.  In that, at least, I succeeded.