Ghostwood Farm


Jasmine.
February 4, 2016, 8:15 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

“You’re a little far from the water to catch a duck.” I turned, saw her, and smiled.

“How are you? You okay?” I could see she had tears in her eyes.

“Well, you know how I told you I have four daughters? The oldest is 18, and my baby will be one on St. Patrick’s Day. I just signed some papers. I won’t ever have them again.” She paused. “It’s hard. It’s hard to get established in this town.”

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I was walking back to the hotel Monday night when a voice asked, “Are you with the Naval Academy?” I turned and saw, sitting on the steps of a church, a woman of African descent.

“No Ma’am,” I replied, “I’m not. Why do you ask?”

I imagine that anyone with my coat on, a military-style field jacket with flags on both shoulders, would be thought of as having a Naval Academy attachment on a regular basis in Annapolis. It happened a few times this week.

She asked me if I had anything I could spare. I handed her $5. She smiled and stood. We walked and talked.

Her name, I would find out at the end of our conversation, is Jasmine. She is 39 (nearly five years younger than I am) and has been homeless for a year, since she left her childrens’ abusive father. “I got tired of the beatings,” she said.

She asked where I was from, why I was in town. We talked of northwest Indiana. She knew Gary as Michael Jackson’s hometown and said she’d like to see it. I tried to impress upon her that it is not worth the trip.

Our discussion was personal and our discussion was big-picture. We discussed race relations, white flight, and drug dealers. She told me about the white people who had spit on her about half an hour before we met. I told her how unreasonably angry I became in New Orleans last summer, watching old white guys with fashion-accessory canes, strutting down the street in seersucker suit like they owned the fucking place (which, of course, they do). We differentiated between White People and a white person. She is bright and well-spoken. And angry.

I told her I was in town for a meeting about ducks. She laughed. We talked about hunting and management (a little), but mostly we talked about her experiences. She said that a lot of the time, black passersby treat her worse than whites. She told me that she thought that black people don’t want equality, that’s why they don’t have it. I disagreed strongly and we talked about the history of systemic racism, of the inability of the white establishment to consider black people equals, and a great deal about the inequality of opportunity. I don’t know if I changed her mind.

She has four daughters: 18, 16, 8, and almost 1. The two youngest were in foster care. The others, it wasn’t clear to me.

I was cold, shivering, and half-drunk. I asked her, point blank: “I am a 43 year old white guy. I can get whatever I want. The world is made for me. How can I, and people like me, help? What can we do? What is your perspective?”

I don’t know what I expected her to say. She thought, a long time, and said, “There’s so much that has to change, I don’t think there’s anything you CAN do.”

Our conversation struck me hard and touched me to my core. I don’t know if I would have asked her such frank questions had I been sober, and I know I could have been more clear in that case. I think we each had something to offer the other.

As we parted, she told me that there was a nearby pizza place that would sell her two pizzas for $9, and did I have a few more dollars to help her get to nine? I handed her the two singles in my wallet, wrapped around a twenty.

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The next night I went to dinner with a good friend, Pam. As we walked toward the water, we passed Jasmine coming up. I high-fived her as we walked by. Pam said, “Who was that?” “That was Jasmine.”

At dinner, we talked about Pam’s experiences as an adoptee (among myriad other things). It was an eye-opening and to some extent heartbreaking conversation, one that I am glad we had.

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When I saw Jasmine tonight, with tears in her eyes, she had just signed the papers to put her kids up for adoption. It broke my heart. What could I say?

“I’m so sorry.” That’s what I said. Wholly inadequate.

“You’re here in this town to fight for ducks? There’s so much more. So much more that is needed, Adam. Pray for me?”

With that, she gave me a strong hug. She promised she will take care of herself.

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I went on to dinner. I ate at a place called The Boatyard, where I spent $40 on dinner, including $12 on a half dozen oysters. They’re not even food. They’re a luxury. An indulgence. I am filled with self-loathing at the moment that I cannot begin to quantify.

Jasmine said I’m here to fight for ducks. That’s not right, but I didn’t correct her. I’m here to learn about ducks. But fighting for ducks? That’s not what I do. I made my peace a few years ago with the fact that my job is a job. I love my job, but it’s not a passion. And it’s not really about conservation.

So what? I sat down by the waterfront for a while, before dinner, watching some skater kids ignore the “No Skateboarding” sign. “You can’t help everyone,” I thought. But then, this: “God damn it, am I helping ANYONE?”

Am I? What am I doing to make this world a better place? I grow food. I am raising two kids. Is that enough? What do I have, what skillset, what resources, that I can parley into helping someone?

My skill at growing food is marginal. It costs me more than I can get out of it. Can I help the world by teaching people to grow food? No. I can’t even teach myself, apparently.

I am trying to raise my kids to be good people. I think I am succeeding. That’s great. But if every middle class white guy raises two decent kids, the world will be a better place in approximately never.

I don’t know the answer. I’m crushed because I don’t know the answer. But I can’t quit trying to think of it. I can’t.

What can I do?

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