The look in their eyes speaks to you. You can see the pain and the abuse, but also the overall happiness. Those eyes of the Dallas inner-city kids took me on a journey I will never forget.
We found ourselves in the miserable heat a few miles outside of Dallas when the kids swarmed us like a pack of hungry sharks.
"Pick a partner," a man directed through a loudspeaker. The next thing I knew I felt a sweaty little palm in my hand and we were racing up to the cabins to get a bunk.
After I unpacked, (Kelly didn't have a spare set of clothes), we went to breakfast. Kelly looked at me and said, "I get to eat?"
"Of course," I said. "Eat as much as you want."
"But then we ain't gonna eat again today, right?"
"Wrong," I responded. "Then comes lunch, then dinner, with a few snacks in between." I will never forget how excited she was to find that she would get to eat three meals a day. It was then that I knew I wouldn't be the same when I went home.
The first night all I can remember was the crying. Kelly told me she cries herself to sleep every night. I wondered why, but didn't ask. Later I found out her mother beat her every night before bed and she cried out of habit.
When I heard this, I tried to shut her out. I didn't want to hear the things she has gone through because it broke my heart. No matter how hard I tried, though, I couldn't avoid the story of her life. She told me her father was in jail, and that her mother leaves for weeks at a time. Since she's the oldest, she has to care for her six siblings.
The time flew and Kelly and I had a blast, forming a strong bond. Before I knew it, the four days were over and I had to take an angel back to a hell she calls home.
The yards in her neighborhood looked more like junkyards. The houses were made of rotted wood with plywood windows. The sight was disgusting, with an equally rotten smell.
With tears in her eyes, Kelly and I walked to her door and knocked. Her mother answered. Even though I had never met her, I knew enough to passionately hate her. I wanted to take Kelly to my house where she would be loved and taken care of. Kelly's mother didn't say a word to me, just pulled her in the house.
And that was it.
I pray for Kelly every day and wonder what she is doing. The only thing that keeps me from coming undone is knowing that I will see her next year, in the camp outside Dallas.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.