I stood there searching in the dim light of Wednesday amongst the transient souls where kids remained lost in a world of narrow expectations. My daughter had gone missing having disappeared out her window one night and into the streets where the lost children play like the kids of Evermore or Pan.
“Ya dropped your badge, asshole!”
My back was turned as I was about to wander back to my car out of frustration and the sad nature of the park scene where drunk men taunted young girls with groping alcohol and embellished truths of their circumstance. Girls spun with naiveté prance around or huddle in packs on the grassy slope as if grazing on stoned philosophy.
I turned just as all heads did look away taunting my tolerance. I took about 5 steps back and then back toward my car ignoring the bullshit and focusing on finding my daughter, which drove more anxiety than anything a few transient shitheads could ever imagine. I pushed down the panic and urge to strike my frustration against them.
My hand touched the latch handle of my car door.
“Ya dropped your badge, asshole!” came the raspy voice dried up with methamphetamines.
Music pounded into the night air from a hip little jazz bar in the breezeway of the back alley. The Circle caught most of it where adults danced and co-habitated with the homeless who piggy-backed to the beat drifting in and out of the river park where they would eventually return for the night. I was parked and stood just at the bottom of the steps leading from the Circle and into the park. There were probably about 30 people hanging out here drunk and stoned riding high on the vibe filtering in from the downtown scene.
I could feel my adrenaline starting to twitch. It felt like I could burst into green muscle at any moment. I turned back to the crowd and walked directly into the middle of the lowest of them, scanning. It was everything I had to keep from calling out my daughter’s name. In any reasonable mind the act would have been completely reasonable, but somehow I wanted to protect her from the social pitfalls that can come from an overbearing father. At the same time, I could only ‘sense’ she was here and could not say in that moment that she was safe or at least in a good frame of mind to avoid bullshit. I paced for about ten minutes before I went back toward my car for an American Spirit and a moment of calm.
“Ya dropped your badge, asshole!” This time I had barely walked three steps from where I stood and could tell it had come from somewhere almost directly behind me. I whirled around and became focused on a knapsack hanging from the back of some kid that looked identical to that of my daughters bag.
A drunk staggering fool marched up behind me loudly proclaiming he was heading to the bar because he felt f….g shit up and pounding somebody. Fists clenched and mouth flapped in the stench air of foul teeth and tongue, he started up on me.
Without thinking, legs slipped past to anchor from the heel as shoulder and forearm popped the chest of the fool. When he took to the ground, I turned and grabbed the kid with my daughter’s bag by the throat and starting pushing him backwards asking him about the bag.
The vibe turned aggressive and all around me were suddenly older transient men and a definite alpha presence meant only to dominate me and take advantage of my single presence that did not fit in and carried with it its own vibe of concern and worry that certainly stood out.
A man of about 32 and looking like a washed up carnie from a sideshow skipped around. He was the one groping on the girl that later turned out to be only 14. He starts rushing up the hill pulling out knives and commotion ensues as herds of kids from the hillside start to stand. The boy between my fingers is on the verge of tears. I feel sorry for him and then firmly ask him about the bag on his back.
“It’s mine, sir.” He says. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I let go.
Just as knife boy is jumping around flocking his feathers, people flood in all around creating a wall between myself and dumbass who is feeding on it as if it is meant to protect ‘me’. I calmly tell one of the girls I am looking for my daughter. Faces look up at me with some bewilderment and disbelief. “I am her dad.”
By this time, it is after midnight and I still have to get to bed and up for work in the morning. But I manage to keep my senses and push back the adrenaline wanting to surge on the dumbass who continues to threaten with his knives like he is some ninja secret agent gonna take me out.
All of a sudden, a girl pops up from one of the huddles and runs towards me. This is not a moment like two long lost family members reunited from afar and casting their arms around each other. No. I am pissed in a major way but relieved as well. But the words leapt from me to get into the f…ing car. I gave dumbass circus man a
look to let him know that he was fortunate and I believe he knew he was.
The drive home was volatile and emotional. Eventually we talked and talked some more and overcame the night.
Things have changed since and I have had to inject myself into the park culture and take a different approach, grow as a dad, forgive, take time to understand.
I have come to realize that not all of these kids are bad. It is a dangerous place as most places are, but there is a core group that do help each other. I have come to realize that some of these kids have parents that I knew from many years ago and are actually friends on Facebook. The elements like those I confronted did move on with their meth push and illicit presence of evil influence… and I realize they will cycle through again.
With all the realizations, I took a group of kids camping out into the Ochocos and have had some stay at my house to be kids and have a bed and hot shower and laundry and home cooked food for a night. I have discovered that sometimes if you can’t beat them – you can join them and be a positive influence from within. This has helped me personally also in that ‘giving’ is an important human thing to do but also knowing the importance of space.
It is not always easy, I know – but it is a saner approach to resolving some of the pain in the world and an opportunity to share with my daughter and look through a lens of empathy and compassion. At the same time, trying to teach the value of knowing who we are and not getting lost along the way. Each of us does have our path and sometimes the distractions of salvation can become our own demise if we are not careful. Its the white noise that takes us out of ourselves and so needs to be instead a guiding light with the integrity of love and trust and balanced judgment.
This experience brought me closer to knowing you and you are beautiful and I believe in all my heart that you will do great things on whatever level you choose. I will always admire you and love you to the moon and back for your courage and passion and the empathy that you continue to teach. Thank you.