I found them at the bus station, all of their belongings stuffed into five backpacks, the seams strained, worn, cheap things, filled with cheap clothes and all the little treasures that they could fit, and there wasn’t much room for those. Their lives were in those packs, dirt covered, plastic containers holding the remnants of their old lives as they embarked on a new journey. But that journey would have to wait, at least for another day.
A woman sat near the kids, slouched on a bench, complaining of a severe headache that radiated to her chest. She had to go to the hospital, she explained, couldn’t go through with their plans until she was sure she was okay. The young girl sobbed uncontrollably, twelve years of life and all the frustration that comes with it packed into some sacks, ready to start fresh. Her brother, ten years old, not yet defeated like his sister sat next to her, not crying but visibly upset. He asked me what was wrong with his mom, and would she be okay. I told him she seemed fine, nothing serious, and they would be able to go on tomorrow.
“The police officer said there’s another bus leaving at 9:30,” he said, hope in his eyes.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“Florida,” he said.
“Are you visiting, or going for good?”
“For good!” his sister chimed in between sobs.
We gathered their things, the backpacks and three plastic bags full of snacks, and put them in the ambulance. Florida would have to wait.
The ride to the ER was quiet, the kids reserved, the girl still teary and her brother lost. Their mother sat on the stretcher, lost in her own world. When we backed into the parking spot at the Emergency Room the two little ones packed up their bags and carried them into the ER. I carried the grocery bags, their mom laid on the stretcher. My partner John got the kids some drinks and peanut butter crackers, and we set them up in a little alcove, away from the chaos that takes the ER over several times a day. They stayed there, seemingly content but far from it while their mother went through the process of delaying the trip, and the beginning of their new lives for another day.
I found out later that these were not three travelers embarking on a new life at all. The kids were getting on the bus to go to Florida to live with their dad and his new girlfriend, the mother was to stay here with the boyfriend that the kids couldn’t stand. I can’t shake the thought of those two brave little souls and the journey before them, stalled for now because their mother doesn’t really want to let them go. How many meals did they eat together, just the two of them, left on their own? What waited for them in Florida? Would her tears continue to flow, or is there a chance for that new life that they so desperately want to begin? Or will they continue to be held captive, bit players in the drama of their parentâ€™s lives.
The frustration I felt bearing witness to this little drama paled in comparison to what those kids live every day. And their chance to get away from it all is on hold for now. I hope they make it to Florida, and their situation improves. They deserve that and a lot more. I wish I could give it to them, instead of just a ride to the hospital.