Gemini arrives for the long-awaited dentist’s appointment an hour late, with a guy in tow who looks as confused as the receptionist looks startled. She called 30 minutes ago, already late, long after the receptionist, the nurse, and I had run out of small talk. “I knew today was going to go bad,” she said. “Maybe I should just go back home.” But now she’s here and is rushed in for the X-rays needed to size the tooth implant. Her friend remains with the receptionist and me.
The receptionist is trying to catch my eye so I can explain this young man’s presence. I’m trying to engage him in conversation to determine exactly that, but he’s ignoring us while texting a multitude of friends. Then he tugs at his hair awhile and stretches his legs halfway across the waiting room. Finally, he chooses to wait outside.
As we walk out of the dentists’ office, Gemini shrugs off his presence. “He was carrying my bag. I couldn’t carry it alone. How was I supposed to get him to leave?” As for why she’s come late to this long-awaited appointment, the first of three needed to give her the tooth, she tells me nothing’s gone her way that morning. I wait for more of an answer. This is, after all, the only one of the ECC kids holding a high-school diploma, despite having been in and out of correctional facilities for four years. She’s also the only one already in college. But she tells me again that this just isn’t her day, and jumps in the taxi that will rush her to work and get her back on schedule.
When we next meet, we take over the small Navy Yard Subway sandwich shop. Gemini has brought her two sons, 1 and 5 years old. Little D has brought her 3-year-old sister. Gemini arrives a little late and struggles to focus. In a rare reversal, Little D talks enough for them both. She’s days away from a court appearance at which she may be let off papers for a past charge. She’s still looking for a post-ECC job. She’d still like to move out or at least have her own room, away from the two much younger sisters with whom she’s currently sharing a bedroom.
Little D’s 3-year-old roommate is trying to grab Gemini’s older son’s crayons so she can trace his Thomas the Tank Engine drawings. The 1-year-old son is bumping into tables and customers, but no one seems to mind. And Gemini finally, in the middle of this noise, addresses the subject of the long-legged friend. He’s actually a closer friend of her housemate, and living conditions have grown challenging.
“I need to get out of that house. There’s people I don’t like there every day.”
“Not the boy who came to the dentists’?” I ask.
“Yeah, him and others. He was supposed to drop my bag and roll out. I didn’t know he was going to stay.”
“He stayed?” Little D asks, looking from Gemini to me.
“You’ve got to tell him to leave,” I say.
“Yeah, that’s true. But he wasn’t my boyfriend or nothing.” Her 1-year-old son’s father will come home within the month, and Gemini is waiting to see what happens upon his return, even if others are willing to carry her bags.
The 5-year-old begins calling Little D “Yellow.” Her 3-year-old sister chimes in. They continue singsonging “Yellow” until the 1-year-old’s head crashes into a door, screaming erupts, and we make fast for the door. They light up cigarettes first thing once we’re outside. After Gemini and her boys board the bus, Little D, her sister, and I ride the metro together. When we reach their stop, Little D helps her sister stand. The drink cup she’s left on the seat overturns. At least five separate streams of soda begin running down the car. People step out of their path. A few look our way. Little D says in a low voice that this must be why they tell people not to bring drinks on trains. I tell her it happens sometimes.
After they disembark, the soda branches into more streams that people lift their feet to avoid. They stare at me. I just shrug the way Little D might if she weren’t headed home to watch her other little sister.
The next week, Gemini and Little D meet Elaya. Gemini and Elaya are now attending the same college, and Elaya approached them after seeing their green ECC bracelets, identical to the one she wore until giving up on the program. Elaya asked if they were the girls I wrote about in this dispatch column. Turns out, in the last few months of near silence, Elaya has made the same jump Little D made, the jump outside her own story to seeing how hers fits in with the others chronicled here. She gave Gemini her number, and Gemini promises to find it and give it to me later.
Little D e-mails me about a trip she, Gemini, and another ECC member took to Metro TeenAIDS that same week. "We talked about safe sex and, if one of your friends has HIV or AIDS, what to do and how to try your best not to treat them differently … I read this story about this girl who started having sex at the age of 15, not really knowing the situations that put you at risk of getting HIV/AIDS. She became pregnant … Luckily, her mom was able to afford an abortion. When she told her boyfriend that she was having a baby, his reply was, “It ain’t mine.” She said that she told him he was the only person she was having sex with, and not using condoms, at that … I look at things like this and start to cry … I just got tested and my test came back good, but what about the next boy or girl? I say that us young people just have to look at life from another person’s eyes and see what they have to go through every day of their life."
Earth Day, and we’re on Kingman Island, across from RFK Stadium. A chance for the ECC members to shine as the river stewards they’ve become. Each is given perhaps a dozen volunteers to lead through a morning of trash pickup along the riverbank. Gemini leads her team to their site, cheering as she goes. I’m placed in Little D’s Team 8. She leads us without many words. “Everyone ready?” may have been the extent of it. But she has much to cheer about this weekend.
Little D’s court appearance and months of monitoring have gone well and she is now off papers. She has also been offered scholarship dollars and a stipend to go to nursing school. This recent news keeps a smile on her face. Gemini comes over to hug her and announce her accomplishment to the group, and Little D’s smile spreads even wider.
We spend the morning bent over scraps of Styrofoam and piles of leaves that hold more Styrofoam and worse. Gemini, Little D, and I don’t talk much until after cleanup ends and the volunteers go home. We sit on the curb at the parking lot’s edge while Little D and Gemini dig into barbeque they’ve bought from a vendor’s stand. We’re watching a man lead a group of boys in an off-river cleanup. The group arrived too late for the official Anacostia River cleanup and, rather than go home without helping, they’re cleaning another patch of equally polluted ground. Some people just have to clean, the girls tell me.
It’s a warm day by the RFK Stadium and Gemini almost falls asleep while talking. “I’ve got to move out of that house. You know I found out that woman [her housemate] isn’t even my cousin?” She squints down at her Styrofoam plate and the picked-over green beans and barbeque. “Too many bad things going on there. It’s not good for me.”
If and when Gemini moves, it will be the second move for her and her 5-year-old son since October, and probably not the last in 2008. Little D is also preparing to move, but is excited. Her family is moving to a larger home, where Little D will have her own room. She knows her younger sisters will be in her space all the time, but at least it will be her space. She can study there once nursing school starts.
By the time I drop Gemini and Little D off on the east side of the Anacostia, Gemini’s midday slump has passed and she’s making weekend plans for herself and her kids. I remind her I won’t be at the dentists’ with her for this next appointment and she tells me not to worry. Little D promises to e-mail again soon. The next note arrives within two days. She’s on a roll in every way right now.
Elaya checks in at the end of the month. Her voicemail runs over a minute and is filled with only the best of news. She’s living in her own apartment. She’s started her second quarter of college. She’s held the same job for over two months. Her college counselor confirms all is well with her schoolwork. Gemini still hasn’t given me Elaya’s new number, but she’s made good on another promise: to make it to the second dentist appointment on time. In fact, she arrived early.