Justin The Artist

Marshfield, VT: 31yrs

Living in Luna in a campground.

Spacious, with woods and trails and a river through it.

Constant traffic. Distant Arguments.

Feral children. Always hungry, curious.

They often follow me like ducklings.

SLEEPING! I’m Fucking Sleeping!

I’d grumble out when they’d knock and tap my aluminum walls just after sunrise.

Is this really the first time they’d been treated like whole people?

They are quenched for attention, guidance, recognition, learning.

I teach them how to open cans, sew holes in clothing, put air in tires. Etc. Whatever comes up.

I am working some days at a homeless shelter an hour away. I leave the tables set with supplies. I come home to ducklings often. Productive and curious, they always have something new to show.

I am teaching music production at the shelter, my equipment locked safely away there is a plus, though the structure of the job and toughness of the families difficult on my tender heart.

Each lesson quantified, reports filed. Americorps. Stress. Protocols I inevitably will fail to follow.

But.

The campground work was dirty, muddy, freestyle.

My gruff style don’t phase these kids.

They knew I am only love.

Makeshift tables outside my camper with paints, paper, Food-shelf snacks.

They make dozens of beautiful pictures.

I teach them art tricks. Perspective. Color Wheels.

My camper’s exterior becomes a growing kids art gallery.

Justin made marvelous cats and trees.

I told him he was an excellent artist.

This made him feel good.

The next day he came over and said he wasn’t going to paint.

He was upset with me

You shouldn’t tell me I could be an artist. My mom says that’s not a man’s job.

The most famous and powerful artists have been men, I argue.

Look at Picasso. I say.

He says Picasso sucks. He could do better.

But there are lots of jobs out there. Most artists need to work a job anyway, I say. It’s good to have a trade that pays. Learn everything you can, I advise.

He decides to make art in secret, inside my camper

No one ever checks on him.

 

Every day, a crew of four or five kids. More when families visit their campground-ed kin.

Ride bikes, hike through the woods, swim in the river. Justin and Josh are excellent swimmers.

At the end of summer Justin’s mom left with the kids, Justin and Josh. Warrants mentioned. Drug Charges. DWI. Running from a man. Sketchy stuff.

Stories surfaced of jail time and foster homes somewhere down south.

I try to find out how to get in touch with the kids. I say I can take care of the kids, I’m ready to get in the car right away and rescue them. I feel a sense of urgency and danger, that it’s now or never to help these kids.

But the campground junkies say that’s all they know. They can’t recall how they got their information, or where I could begin to find the kid.

That’s all family matters, they say. None of your business.

My camper is broken into repeatedly.

No one’s talking though it happens in the middle of the field.

In the middle of the day.

The campground owner’s son is part of the junkie crew.

They want me out.

I don’t do crack and I don’t fuck around.

I treat children as human beings.

I am dangerous to the status quo.

I am officially banished due to excessive use of styrofoam.

Two years later.

Getting oil changed.

Jip-C obsesses over the iguana in the waiting room.

I glance at the newspaper.

Justin and his brother are on the front page, toothless school photo grins.

Drowned, along with their little girl friend.

Ages 8, 9 and 12.

I am unable to stand.

I suspect foul play.

That night I meditate.

Ask for Justin.

Eldest brother.

Ringleader.

Artist.

What happened? My energy inquires as gently as possible.

He emerges from the dark, but still in shadows.

He is stunned, shocked. Shaking, rushed, confused. Excited.

A foot slips. No control.

Exposed tree root. Dark. Sloping rock, jagged rock.

Deep water.

Underwater. Terror.

Holding hands. Pulling hands. Losing grip.

He is distracted by something I can’t see.

He has to go.

Resolution never came, and he never returned to me.

Times people talked about it, well, everyone said their mom was no good. That they’d be fuck ups anyway. And it hurt so deeply. I don’t know how to resolve it, when I ache for answers myself. For why some of us children are discarded, destroyed, disappeared.

Some of us remain.

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