We’ll call him Ronnie and he first came to my attention a couple weeks ago.
A Spring Valley copper called me and said he’d found this kid walking across the bridge over the Illinois River. Seems the kid was walking home from Illinois Valley Community College, which is in a town called Oglesby. Ronnie had walked from IVCC to the bridge and the southern edge of Spring Valley.
That’s nine miles.
We’re not done yet.
Ronnie was headed out toward Seatonville, fully prepared to walk that entire distance…another seven miles. So the Spring Valley officer gave him a ride.
We’re not done yet.
The copper called me and said Ronnie was headed west on Route 6, did I have time to give him a ride further down the line? Yeah, that was no problem. It was dark, it was starting to get cold, and I’m not wild about people walking on the road in those conditions.
Ronnie told me he lived in the High Rise. In Princeton. That’s thirty one miles from IVCC.
Thirty one fucking miles.
And he was walking.
The next morning, one of the deputies got a call about a man on the road at 2:30. Five days a week, Ronnie leaves home at 2:00 a.m., walks to school, then walks home. He’s done it since the semester started. He needs to go to school, he has no license and no one to give him a ride. So he walks ’cause he wants to get to school.
Truth in advertising: Ronnie isn’t quite all there. He’s not stupid and he’s not mentally ill, he just has a touch retardation to him. The kind of degree that leaves people wildly uncomfortable. If someone is more retarded, then they can be talked down to and forgotten beneath a sheen of guilt and pronouncements about supporting social programs and donating to Special Olympics.
This kid is mostly there, just off a few degrees.
But this son of a bitch wants his education. Regardless of whatever wires in his head are misconnected, he knows education is the silver bullet, that education can solve every single problem – EVERY SINGLE PROBLEM – America has, and he wants it so badly he’s willing to walk 31 miles to school every damned day to get it.
We’ll call her Jessie and she first came to my attention a couple of weeks ago.
My wife has a second job and works with Jessie at that job.
Jessie is pregnant.
Not as an accident. Not as, “Hey, the car ran out of gas and it’s getting cold so we’ll have to hold each other in the back seat…oh, don’t worry about that.”
But as in, “I chose to have a baby. I chose to complicate my life in ways that I can’t even begin to imagine.”
Jessie is excited about her baby. She should be. While I’m not into kids, I do believe that if you’re having one, you should probably be excited about it. Jessie is aglow with excitement and is reveling in the attention.
Jessie is 17. Jessie’s no longer in school. And Jessie is excited about filing papers to participate in WIC: Women, Infants, and Children.
It’s a social program, a form of welfare from the USDA.
Understand, I have no problem with the concept of welfare. I do believe there are times when people need help. Decades ago, it was churches that often tried to help but anymore, churches are – mostly – houses of judgment rather than compassion. So now we have government programs and I generally support them.
But to make that your life plan. To, with flushed cheeks and a hitch in your voice, inquire about WIC because you have no other plan, is a nightmare. Jessie’s short-sightedness has left me breathless and speechless.
Maybe Jessie will make it. Maybe, at some point, she will realize she’s got to have an education. Maybe, regardless of one or two or more kids, she’ll try and get her silver bullet.
I have my doubts.
I have my doubts that Jessie will ever come close to being Ronnie. Ronnie, who is self-aware enough to realize he’s not that smart, is doing everything he can to make a life for himself. Jessie, who seems bright enough, is doing everything she can to make sure her life is over.
And no, I’m not saying motherhood is the end of your life. I’m saying motherhood at 17 with no diploma, no supportive family (which, if we looked closely enough, is probably the psychological underpinning of the entire baby motivation), and a plan that involves government handouts, is probably the end of her life.
The dichotomy makes me crazy and there’s nothing I can do about it. One kid walking 62 miles a day to get educated and one kid walking to the local federal office to fill out paperwork. One has nothing and is working to get something. Another has – not everything, but quite a bit more than nothing – and is working to toss it all on the garbage heap.
I have no idea here, I have no thoughts to fix this for either party. This is just something that’s been on my mind lately.
And the last bit of information? The nugget I’ve been holding back? Ronnie was kicked out of school a few days ago. He’s having trouble paying for school and getting to school regularly and staying awake when he’s there. Seems he’s not getting enough sleep.