SideWalk Ghosts / Interview 174: Young Survivors

Two nights ago you were with me at Cloud 9 Hookah Lounge as we spent a short time with Karnnitha, a young woman with a true purpose in life. She shared with us her insights and desire to reach out in helping the women of the world, enlightening us to the troubles facing the many unfortunate young women.

We talked of the greatness in all of us and today we will pick that discussion back up in meeting our new friends of day 174.

But before I tell you about them, I have a confession; I did not meet them today. I actually met them as I was leaving Cloud 9 after my interview of Karnnitha.

Picture me as a 365 billboard, everywhere I go handing out cards in promoting its purpose to all I pass by. So as I leave Cloud 9, I take a second to say hello to a group enjoying an evening of Hookah chill.

Well… a second turns into twenty minutes. Fascinating conversation and by the glow in faces of my unknown, and young acquaintances, is a proclamation of their great depth and experience. I cannot pass on extending them an offer to contribute to 365. They light up and we arrange a meeting place, Rite Aid in the Calabasas commons shopping center. A strange place to meet, but it is there call… so I go with it.

Two days pass and I find myself standing outside of our agreed upon Rite Aid. Its cold, and waiting in the parking lot, I stand in expectation of my friend’s arrival. When from behind me I hear, “Richard.” I turn and there they are, two unique and caring young adults, both obviously committed to their special friendship, readers please give welcome to survivors, Taylor and Ben.

You will understand what I mean by survivors as you read on.

I have to ask, “Why Rite Aid?”

“It’s our office, we have a place to sit in the back,” They laugh.

“The managers and everyone who works here knows us, its warm and they let us hang out. Sometimes they even feed us.”

That place to sit they talk of… the waiting area of the pharmacy. We even have a screen for privacy. At one point during beginning introductions the manager walks over, places his hand on the screen and firmly commands, “Why is this here!”

Ben fly’s off, “Because we need privacy!”

I’m caught a little off guard, and trying to lessen the uncomfortable situation, I try to diffuse, “Do you want me to take them outside?” I joke with what looks like a very annoyed store manager.

They all crack up. The joke is on me. These kids are special and the manager knows it. Seems I’ve been set up. Our manager friend replaces the screen and we begin a deeper conversation.

Taylor goes first in encouraging all, “Don’t give up, only the strong survive.”

Only the strong survive? A very bold opening statement from a very young mind.

I quickly discover that Taylor has earned the badges to own such a sentence.

“I was very rebellious, ran away at fourteen, I lied about my age, told them I was sixteen and got a job at a restaurant that paid under the table. From there I couched it at friends houses until one day I moved in at the house of a guy that I really liked. That was a big mistake. The police came and arrested everyone. I got sent to one of those places in Utah for a year and a half. I hated it, but it saved me. While I was there I wrote letters to my father, he was in too.”

I have to interrupt, “He was in too? Was you father incarcerated?”

“Yes,” Taylor tells me, “But our letters helped bring us together and motivated both of us to rebuild our lives.”

Under sixteen and rebuilding her life? Think about that for a moment…

Taylor is a unique young woman, she is a blend of radical independence mixed with a charming and heart-felt attachment to the importance of family.

“Man! It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, if you have family, they will always be there. You have to have good family values.”

Even though Taylor and her father have lived, and learned, via the school of hard knocks, they both have a special connection, one that is apparent in Taylor’s words.

So what is core to Taylor’s rebellion? Believe it or not it is a medical condition, ADHD. In telling me of it Taylor speaks with the maturity of a women twice her age and has a regard for its influence on her life. Yet she looks at life with optimism and vigor, “You only have one life to live, if you are given the opportunity to do it, take it, and you have to be yourself.”

With the inclusion of Ben, we talk about being yourself. Taylor talks of life and what she sees in other kids her age, “People need to find happiness from within, not from the world around them. So many kids are unhappy. That’s why they go to school with guns or overdose, because they are unhappy.”

Ben opens up, “I’d love to see us all get alone. I see too many people hating and fighting because of religion and skin color. And I believe in second chances. If someone messes us, we have to give them a second chance.”

“Easy for a kid to say…” the pessimistic may shout. But I tell you, of all the people I know, Ben is the one who has the right to make this claim.

“When I was five I was shot because I am Jewish. I got hit by two bullets, one in the leg and the other in the abdomen. I lost fifty percent of my blood and almost died.

The guy who shot me was a member of the Arian Nation Movement and came here from Idaho to make his point. He walked into our Jewish Center and opened up… shot five of us. Then he left and shot and killed a Filipino man at another location. It was a big deal and in the national news. I remember meeting President Clinton, my mom speaking to Ted Kennedy, and a lot of other famous people stood by us. But that was a while ago. I’m past it and hold no hatred for what happened to me.”

By the way, Ben is also diagnosed with ADHD, part of the reason for the special bond of friendship he and Taylor share.

Ben has been brutally attacked by the hate of the world and Taylor has walked the paths of the lost, but both together prove the wonderment of the healing power of friendship.

A gentle giant, Ben speaks optimistically of the world, “I’d like to see a future where more people are sharing. People are selfish and greedy and that gets them in a lot of trouble.

And also, I’d like to see more real friendships.”

Taylor has this infections smile, and with it she praises Ben’s view of friendships with a loving, “Amen!”

These two young adults have seen life through dark forests, and even now they are not fully clear of the thistles.

Taylor talks of young womanhood and charges the new generating to shape up, “’The next generation of guys need to treat their women better. It’s not just the way they act, that Cholo thing; it’s the media too. They are messed up and trained to look at women as less than. They look at us as ‘Ho’s’ and ‘Bitches.’ What’s even sadder is the women are buying into it too. I know this first hand, I used to live that way and know how it feels. Girls need to step up and the guys need to respect them.’”

It is remarkable to meet two young people with the depth of life perspective, and experience, as both Ben and Taylor possess. In listening to them, I am acutely aware of the conditions the youth of America endure. Both of these special kids show astonishing stamina, and show powerful desire to overcome their obstacles.

Ben is in the fight for focus, and Taylor is battling to find her way through a history of vice and rebellion. But in both of these outstanding emerging individuals I see one common voice. A voice standing strong in a unified call to action.

As I mentioned, “There is greatness in all of us,” and Ben and Taylor are seeking theirs.

Ben, Taylor, you are of a noble generation, may you grow to be all that you can, and be able to do your part in making the planet a better place, we are counting on you.

Now go live your greatest dreams, my young friend!