When I was younger, I did things... I courted trouble. I was the brash girl with the great rack who wasn't afraid to use words or breasts to my advantage. Back in the day, I faked my Driver's License with green liquid paper, a fine-tipped pen and a steady hand. I shop-lifted bad romance novels and inhaled Clove cigarettes. I made bad choices, I took a walk, if not on the wild side, definitely adjacent to it. But I never got caught. 'Cause I was a girl and I was sneaky.
Boys? Aren't generally as sneaky. And adolescent boys? Aren't really forward thinkers. Which is why David and I pretty much caught the kid red-handed. Actually white handed - because he still had the white spray paint on his hands, even though he tried to hide it. We also had him trapped inside the skateboard park. Kids? If you're going to deface public property? Probably best not to do it in an enclosed space with one gate and a high chain link fence around it where two adults can block your only exit.
We could have let him be. Could have turned that blind eye. We started to walk past, then my head fell when my social conscience kicked in. I could see the word that he'd scrawled on the ramp...
'Fucked' - not terribly original - the 'd' started out as a 'b' - poor kid was probably dyslexic. If this were a park where everyone tagged the ramps - where there were broken bottles and drug dealers, or I guess, more accurately, if it wasn't part of a park that lots of little kids walked through, where they didn't watch the older kids doing their tricks on their skateboards, I probably wouldn't have called him on it. I could've easily gone the "not my problem" route.
The kid, an awkward guy, probably 11 years old, a little extra weight around his middle, wearing a baseball cap and a jersey from a sports team, was still at the edge of fence, behind the half pipe, disposing of his spray can when we approached the park. He panicked as he saw me walking towards the fence, reaching for his bike which had been left inside the fence. David imposingly blocked the gate, all six feet of him true adult menace. The kid looked like he was going to crap his pants.
"Dude. Is that the best you can do?" I said.
"What? No, that wasn't me. I didn't..."
"Aw hon. We saw you do it. We saw you from the road and then we watched you ditch the can to the side there. Why don't you go pick it up?"
Red-faced, this Campbell's-Soup kid trundled to the side and picked up the spray can.
"It wasn't me..." He wiped at his hands, probably still feeling the paint on them.
"Yeah... it was. Let me ask you. Was 'Fucked' the best you could do? Seriously? 'Fucked?' This is what you chose to leave behind? Dude. Kids come here. Little kids. Learning to read little kids who like to watch the big kids skate. What about when they ask their parents, "What does that spell?" What about when they try to sound it out?"
"I'm sorry," he mumbled.
"Don't be sorry, " I said. "Make better choices."
"I just wanted..." he began.
"Just wanted what?"
"I just wanted to know what it felt like to..."
"To do it."
My heart broke a little right then. God, I could see this kid at 12 just wanting to know what smoking felt like and at 14 wanting to know what beer felt like... Trying to be the bad kid so that he could have something to brag about. He was nearly in tears.
"How 'bout this? How about the next time you get this urge - instead of defacing something - instead of writing 'fucked,' instead of that..." I grasped for a concept - what could I say to this kid? "How 'bout... you make art? I swear to God, if you had been spray painting a mural here, something that had artistic worth, I would have given you props for doing it. I would have come up and told you how great your graffiti was." He hung his head.
David and I left the fenced area.
"Are you going to... to tell anyone?" He called out to us.
We turned around. The kid was holding onto his bike handlebars like they were the only thing keeping him upright. Who would I tell? What was I going to do? Have David lock the kid in the skateboard park while I ran downtown to grab the police? I figured the terror from having strangers call him on it might be enough for today. "Nope. We're not going to tell anyone." We took a few steps away. Then I yelled back at him, over my shoulder. "MAKE BETTER CHOICES!"