Kitchen Duty

He is running.

If I had a speed radar gun I could probably clock him at 10 miles per hour. But I don’t so I’m only guessing. I just know that he’s running and in the next 15 seconds he’s going to hit me at full speed. A smarter woman would move. At least sideways in order to not be hit by the 10 mph 195 pound 5’11” rocket coming at her. My intelligence, however, doesn’t work that way.

Bracing myself for impact, I stretch out my arms and move my feet hip distance apart. I’m ready.

“Move out the way Ms. Turner!” He’s shouting at me. “MOVE OUT THE WAY!”

I am in front of the door. It is the only exit. The only way out is through me. He knows it. I know it. At 5’4″ I know on the street its a no win situation for me. In 10 seconds I’d be on my back flat with his size 12 shoe print on my face. Thank God this ain’t the street.

He knows me. Knows I ain’t moving. I see it in his eyes as he gets closer. He tries to slow down in order to do less damage but still he hits me and we are both slammed against the steel door my back cracks against its bar, my knees buckle but I am still standing and holding on. I caught him.

“I got you,” I tell him. “I got you Kev. I ain’t letting you go either.”

He is shaking. His body temperature must have risen 15 degrees in the last 45 minutes. I can feel his heart palpitating. He cannot steady his breath. Exhaustion takes over and Kevin Love slumps to the floor dragging me with him.

Eddie comes around the corner huffing and puffing. He’s sweating more than Kevin Love. I have got to hire more fit staff. “You got him Mrs. T?” Smarter too.

“Help me get him in my office Eddie.” Eddie may be a slow runner and learner but he’s big and strong. He picks up Kevin Love with ease and moves him like a sack of potatoes down the hallway to my open door. It takes a minute but I am able to stand up. My back hurts like hell and I know my chiropractor is going to have a field day with my knees. “I’d say I’m too old for this shit, but that’d be a lie,” I mumble to no one in particular.

Entering my office I see that Eddie has Kevin on the big chair reserved only for the kids. I grab a blanket and hand it to Kevin. Eddie looks at me questioning, “What you need me to do Mrs. T?”

“I need you to not let these babies run over you. You ain’t road kill Eddie. Stop acting scared. Ok?”

He looks at me, there’s shame on his face. Eddie’s got a record and he didn’t finish 10th grade. His mother showed up at my door 3 months ago crying and telling me if I didn’t help her son he was going to jail. I took one look at him and decided if mercy wasn’t calling on me to extend grace with this big baby I didn’t know who was, he’s been by my side ever since. And I do believe he knows I love him.

He nods, “Ok Mrs. T. I’m sorry. It just happened-”

“So fast.” I regain my patience and move closer to him. Reaching up I put my hand on his shoulder and give it a squeeze. “Fast is the only way things happen around here Eddie. I believe you can keep up. So keep up baby.”

He nods again.

“Get back to the rec room. Make sure every thing is put back in place. I’ll see you at dinner.”

Eddie slumps out of the room. I turn my attention to Kevin Love who is shaking under the wool blanket, sweats pores down his face. His perspiration smells like moldy hay and I’m sure he’s wet himself in the midst of all the excitement. I go to open a window.

“Mrs. T. I didn’t want to hurt you.” Kevin Love explains himself. “I just need to get out of here.”

“Where the hell you going Kevin?” I’m exasperated. He knows it too. We’ve had this conversation about one thousand times.

Shaking his head, he repeats, “I just need to get out of here.”

I collapse into my chair. Yeah my back is going to be killing me for at least the next week. I start searching through my draws for some kind of pain relief.

“I cain’t be stayin’ in here like dis, Mrs. T. You know I got to get outta here.”

“Kevin this ain’t jail, baby,” I stop searching long enough to look him in the eye. “Hell, you ain’t even gotta spend the night. You only here from 7 to 7. What is the problem?”

He holds up his ankle to show his tether. “Dis the problem.”

I sigh and my shoulders relax. They put me over this damn program cause they was tired of me cussing out city hall for locking our kids up. They did this to shut me up and I knew it then but I was thinking if I could reach one…I’m a fool.

“Kevin Love. Kevin Love. Kevin Love.” I start to hum, its a tune he knows well. “Kevin Love. Kevin Love. What were you thinking of?”

He finishes the song, “Rice and greens and many things all while praising God up above. They call me Kevin Love.” He laughs his mean laugh and tears well up in his eyes.

I close my drawer and lean in. “Baby, how many times I got to tell you we can’t change the past? Ain’t nothing we can do about yesterday but learn from it. All you have right now is right now.”

“Mrs. T. I can’t take this shit! I’m so sick of being here! I’m so sick of my mama! I’m sick of all this bullshit!” He’s screaming and crying and his nose is running. They got him for curfew violation. They knew he was on the street. His worker knew his mama had put him out at 13 because he told her man to stop hitting her and that he had been on the streets for the last 2 years eating whatever whenever. His worker recommended him for this shit because he thought Kevin needed to be somewhere “more stable.” Nobody thought to ask Kevin what he needed. At 16 he should be able to have some say, just my opinion not that anybody’s listening, but he should have a voice. The stupid tether is just an insult to show him he don’t have a voice.

“You been thinking about it again, haven’t you?” I push the kleenex toward him.

“No.”

“Don’t lie to me Kevin.”

“Only once.” He doesn’t look at me. He’s stopped shaking and he uses the tissue to wipe the sweat from his forehead. I’m happy to see his body temperature get back on track. Kevin’s diabetic, the last thing we need is an emergency room visit.

“What did you think ‘only once’?” My agitation is breaking though. It’s hard to be patient with this processing shit after you’ve been hit full force by a 195 pound linebacker.

“Its always the same Mrs. T…” he’s hesitant. He knows I don’t play this self-pity shit. “I get my belt and I tie it up and I hang myself.” He looks at me sheepishly. “I ain’t gon do it-”

“Again, you mean?”

“I ain’t gon do it, again.”

I put my head between my hands and squeeze my temples asking God to please not let the pain in my back travel up to the base of my neck. I can’t think and hurt at the same time and right now I need to think.

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep darling.” I say. “I don’t want you disappointing yourself.”

He looks at me and nods.

“Let’s talk about what’s happening right before you start planning.”

“I start thinking about my mama and how she wasn’t never there for me. I start thinking about how I ain’t never gon be nothing cause I don’t have nothing. I start crying and feeling like shit and then I just want to die.” His nose starts running again but he doesn’t use the tissue in his hand, instead he blows it into his shirt. He no longer resembles the manchild he is, he looks like a toddler right now scared and waiting.

“Which one of those is true?” I ask. He looks at me confused, so I repeat myself. “Which one of those ‘thoughts’ is true, Kevin? Is it that your mother never was there for you? Or is it that you ain’t nothing? Or is it that you feel like shit? Or is it that you just want to die?”

Kevin starts thinking. While the wheels turn in his head, I reach in my drawer and pull out a probably expired bottle of Motrin. I open the bottle hoping it’s actually Motrin and not some stash I took off a kid. It’s the real deal, only expired by 1 month. I pop one in my mouth and count the minutes for it to kick in.

“My mama wasn’t never there for me.” He answers.

“Is that what makes you nothing? Or is that what makes you feel like shit? Or is that what makes you want to die?” I ask these questions in complete seriousness. I want a ‘fo real’ answer.

“It makes me nothing. How can you be something when the person who’s suppose to love you the most don’t give a shit about you? I ain’t nothing because she don’t love me!”

I leave that statement where it is for a moment, say a small prayer for guidance and I ask him, “So loving you is the same as being there for you?”

He doesn’t hesitate, “Yeah.”

“You love your sisters, right?”

“Yeah, Mrs. T you know that.”

“Are you ‘there’ for them?”

“I can’t be…I got put out.”

“But you love them.”

“Yeah. I love my sisters. No doubt.”

“You love them but something is in the way of you being able to be there for them, right?”

“Yeah.”

“So it’s possible to love somebody but not be there for them?”

“Yeah but it ain’t like that with her.”

“No. No. I just want you to consider what is possible. Just for a minute consider that your mother loves you but is not able to be there for you. Can you for one minute consider the possibility of that scenario?” I am hopeful he will follow me.

“For a minute,” he huffs.

“Ok, that’s all I ask. If its possible that your mother loves you but could not be there for you then its possible that you are not nothing. And if you are not nothing then that makes you something,” I have his attention. “If you’re something than you have something – you. And if you have something then you don’t have to feel like shit. You follow me.”

“Yeah.”

“So opening yourself up to the possibility frees you from feeling like shit and wanting to die.”

“Yeah. It does.” He pulls the blanket off of him and sits up. “Its not about her.”

“No baby. It’s not.” I look him in the eye and he returns my gaze.

“It can’t be about her. If I don’t want to feel like shit it can’t be about her.”

I wait.

“She just can’t do it. So I have to…I have to do it.” He takes a deep breath and puts his head down. When he speaks he’s whispering, “I don’t know how.”

“That’s why I’m here, Kev. That’s why Ms. Mary and Eddie and Mr. Roscoe are here. It’s our job to show you how.”

“But I don’t wat to be here,” he says, barely audible but he does say it.

“I know.”

“But I ain’t got nowhere else to be either.”

“I know.”

He looks at me and he’s not a toddler anymore. The baby in his face is gone. His jaw is set and his eyes are penetrating. He stands up and puts his hands in his pockets. “What kitchen duty do I have?”

“Dishes.”

He shrugs and walks out of my office headed toward the kitchen. Over his shoulder, he calls out, “Mrs. T one day this shit ain’t gon work on me.”

“Baby, that will mean the work is done.” I call back and I hear him laughing.

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