Thu 7 Nov 2013
On my way back from Chicago a few Sundays ago, I received the following text message:
Hey its Jade and i wanted to know if i could come to the dinner tomorrow if that’s okay with you. i know it’s been a long time since i’ve talked to you but if there is anything i’ve done wrong in the past i’m really sorry. also, can i come early so i can help out?
Marty laughed when I read it aloud to her. “I wonder what she wants,” said Marty, and then I laughed too. We’ve know 15-year-old Jade since she was 6, after all, and in all that time she’s never not wanted something. Then again, after openly shunning us for the past two years, and after being unquestionably the meanest, most spoiled, least grateful child in the history of the Walnut Hills Fellowship before that, I couldn’t guess what more Jade thought we might be willing to do for her. I mean, on the whole we’re a gracious bunch, but when Jade Bellamy stopped coming around, nobody shed any tears.
Jade is short and stocky, like the rest of her family but, unlike her older brother and sisters, Jade’s face was always set in an angry scowl. Really, even as a child, the only times we saw her smile were when something bad happened to someone else. Otherwise she just sat there, a sullen, solid block of negativity. Her one great pleasure in life was eating, but she even complained about that: This don’t taste right! I want more hot sauce! We had this last time! I want more ranch dressing! Why do I have to help clear the table? I want more brownies!
Over the years, different ones of us took turns trying to love Jade. Sarah tutored her in reading. Karen took her trick or treating and helped with school clothes. Marty and Anne gently corrected Jade’s bad manners over and over again at our dinners. Roman and Corbin tried to joke around with her. I hustled up a new bed for Jade when the Bellamy’s had bedbugs, and Mark hustled up a whole new house for her family to rent when their apartment building was foreclosed. None of us ever heard a thank you we didn’t ask for directly. None of us thought anything we did made a difference in Jade. And then she quit us altogether.
Two years later, however, I didn’t hesitate to invite her to join us again. I wasn’t hoping for anything, really, but I was awfully curious. So were my neighbors when I told them. Terrible as it sounds, Jade Bellamy as a full-blown teenager was a train wreck we all wanted to see in person.
She walked in the following night alone, but as soon as she got there she began greeting the rest of us with shy smiles and hugs. She’s very much a young woman now, but as she warmed up, happily reminiscing with us about moved-away friends and summer camp, we could see that she’s still a little girl too. Just not the same little girl.
Jade still has a natural scowl, but over dinner she stayed engaged in the conversation in a way none of us had ever seen before. At one point, she told me her new high school was ‘too ghetto’ for her, which made me smile because Jade is about as ghetto as they come. Afterwards, she even helped clean up and made a point of pulling me aside to thank me for letting her come. “How did I do?” she asked seriously, “Can I come back again?”. I smiled and told her of course she could. “You’re not the same little brat you used to be,” I said.
“Actually I am,” she replied in a matter of fact way. “I still have that little brat inside me. I just do a better job of keeping her under control now”.
Of course, Marty was right about Jade wanting something. Once the rest of us shared our various conversations with her, we quickly figured out that she came back mainly because she wants us to send her back to sleep-away camp next summer. Which is a perfectly fine thing for her to want, as far as we’re concerned, especially if she’s willing to hang around us for six months in order to get it. I mean, what could be wrong about a ghetto kid wanting more fresh air, new friends, and positive adult input?
What the rest of us can’t figure out, however, is why Jade wants all those things of a sudden. Or how she learned to behave herself. Or what gave her the courage to walk back into a roomful of people she mistreated for years, trusting that they wouldn’t hold that against her. As a matter of fact, all we know for certain (besides that we need to set aside some money for Jade’s summer camp registration) is that it’s a good thing all of us stayed together in this neighborhood long enough to see it happen.
Jade is back, and evidently so am I. I figure that if the meanest, most spoiled, least grateful child in the history of the Walnut Hills Fellowship is willing to humbly reconnect after a full two years, the least I could do was to dust off my keyboard and tell you the story. I’ll tell you another one next month.