20 October 2013

Kira from San Jacinto, CA  


In Shakespeare's Richard II, the title character exhorts, "For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground / And tell sad stories of the death of kings."

Gone are the days of the monarchy, with the king or the queen as the sole focus of power and concern. Today, in our federal republic, the people exercise the government's power.

Except that no one has bothered, as Shakespeare did, to say, "For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground / And tell sad stories of the death of dreams."

Kira is a decidedly petite 19-year old Latina. At just a smidge over 5-feet tall, with dark brown hair and a perky smile, she could pass for someone much younger than even 19.

If you haven't guessed yet, this is a sad story.

Do you remember those "claw" games at the arcade? The ones where you had to steer the claw around using a diminutive joystick in the (usually) futile attempt to snag a plush toy at the bottom of the machine and bring the claw back in time to have it drop into the winner's chute to take home with you? 

Walking out of Wal Mart after a quick bathroom break during a road trip, I spotted Kira near the exit of the store. She was playing anxiously on the claw game, which didn't strike me as odd at first. Then, as a small boy rushed up to her shouting "Mommy Mommy!" I realized that next to her were two carts packed higher than she was tall, full of kid's toys and other staples.

Kira, looking defeated, turned away from the game that had given her so much joyous anticipation just a few seconds earlier and warily eyed her two carts. I'm fairly confident she thought I was a creep when I offered to help her to her car, but I wanted to find out who she was.

Kira lives in the shadows of American life. She works two jobs, as a waitress and a babysitter, in order to provide for her son, Julio. Nobody writes stories about Kira because her life is "really not that interesting," in her words.

I didn't have to ask if she was a single mother. "We are lucky to be here today, aren't we Julio? Our check came in the mail today, and those don't ever hardly come around."

I asked Kira if she played any sports in high school. "No, no. Well, soccer for a while. I studied too much. But I was on the honor roll!" She says the last line proudly, almost defiantly, and I can see a person inside who is much different, with much more potential, than her exterior belies.

Sensing my thoughts, she says, "When I had Julio, things changed. They have to, you know? When he grows up, he'll be on the honor roll,too."

I closed the trunk with a slam, wished her a nice night and good luck, and that was it.

I don't know if it's called "guilt of the fortunate," but since that day I have not been able to shake off the feeling that I could have done more--should have done more--for Kira. In this country full of plenty, there are still too many with so little. But the type of incremental good that those of us with marginal means can do is maddeningly inadequate when measured against the harsh reality of the world.

Langston Hughes once asked, "What happens to a dream deferred?"

As I think about his famous poem, I think about Kira:  the too-young embodiment of a dream deferred.

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