When I was heading home yesterday, I saw a familiar car coming the other way, a black Impala with tinted windows and once I saw the green track jacket, knew it was an old friend from a time that seems more and more distant, when I was singlehandedly trying to teach kids to read and help their parents adjust to a world far different than where they came from.
We both pull over and start talking and catching up. I've run into him while grocery shopping but haven't really caught up with him since I went with him, my roommate, and his mom to get his car out of the Rocky River impound lot after he got pulled over for being the wrong person in the wrong place with a loud car system, an arrest record, and all that.
In an economy that's profoundly depressed in our city, he's gotten himself a full-time job working at an auto parts shop, where he's welding and cutting, and going to night school. Despite having a small rap sheet, he's studying criminal justice and wants to be a cop.
I tell him I'm stressed and tired, and wished he could see me on a day when I wasn't like this, that life has been a bit crazy this summer with the whole probation/recent life transitions and my dad nearly dying and everything, and then he hugs me and says, "Take it from me, you'll get through, and you'll be stronger. Look at where I've come from. You'll be ok."
And I realize how petty I sound, even if my tiredness and stress is for good reason. I almost forget that I'm talking to someone who escaped a genocide committed by machete, saw people he loved die violently, nearly starved to death in a refugee camp, whose father tried to leave him behind knowing what that would mean. He still has sisters stuck in Nairobi that they send money to, and talks about going back to Africa someday just to see it, but he never wants to live there again.
He came here as a teenager speaking no English and finding out that the streets aren't paved with gold, who considers looking "ghetto" a good thing to be so that he blends in and doesn't get messed with, where he's become someone so many people in his community rely on as a translator, babysitter, and an accidental advocate having been here long enough to know what's going on and move between two worlds.
We have a strange friendship of asking questions and learning and arguing about the dynamics of men and women (his attitude toward women being much more patriarchal), and I have been someone outside his circle that he can admit to that he sometimes cries himself to sleep thinking about the past.
I don't know what it's like to deal with all that, but we put ourselves in a bad place when all we can see is our own problems and forget about how many things are simultaneously going on outside of us...