This is a picture that I wanted to write for some time. I had a very hard time deciding where to post this. It isn't poetry, it isn't news, it doesn't strike me as spiritual. It more has the feel of a fantasy/drama. If I could meet myself as a young boy, this is how it would go in my mind....
October 21, 2006
I sat in the living room, going about my daily routine. This consisted of tapping out communication to another on my laptop, while my new flat television blared rock videos. I was trying to decide what next to do with my day. Hard to decide, since it was a Saturday. I was just in an auto accident last Wednesday morning, an accident which cost me a car, a day’s work and many of my nerves. Snow had fallen for the first time this season, signaling that winter was back to remind me that spending time outside was not near as desirable as it was only one month ago.
As I sat typing, a strange stillness was overtaking me, in spite of the blaring TV. I typed, but felt doubt. Doubt about life’s value. Doubt about my value. Doubt about the direction my life was headed, since I still lived alone in my settling home.
I typed some more, and I heard a faint whimper. Surely I was hearing things, I thought, so I went back to my communication with a friend across the nation. I felt helpless as he spilled his guts over what he perceived as his latest transgression against himself.
Again, I heard a sound. A faint sobbing. And it slowly got louder.
The sobbing came from behind the shoji screen separating the living and dining rooms. But how? I lived alone! I froze as I was unsure what I would see if I got up to go and look.
“Who’s there?” I asked sharply, barely in belief I was asking a real person.
“I am,” the little voice sobbed back.
“Come over here,” was the only phrase that came to mind. I was scared, and yet felt a sense of authoritative comfort as I waited to see who or what would emerge from behind the screen.
My eyes were glued to the edge of the screen as a young boy emerged. He looked about 11 years old. His hair was light brown, combed in part to the right as other parts rebelled in various directions. He wore brown plastic-frame glasses, a short-sleeved dress shirt with brown and green stripes half tucked in, blue pants and black tennis shoes. For whatever reason, tears were streaming down his face. I was sitting low on the floor and yet he would barely look up to me, fearing even the slightest eye contact. He seemed very nervous, rather unsure whether to place his hands behind himself, in front, or just in his pockets. He stayed close to the edge of the screen, as if deriving some security by staying near a hiding place.
I studied him for a moment, trying to figure out how this sad, oddly-dressed and familiar boy got into my house unseen. That concern seemed to be overshadowed with another, more pressing concern: what was he so sad about? I forgot about the person I was communicating with online, and realized his calls for my attention had piled up on my screen. I quickly let him know I would get back to him later. After all, it wasn’t everyday that a young child appeared from behind my furniture.
“What’s wrong?” I asked in a soft tone. All I got for a reply was a soft shrug of his shoulders as he sniffed back tears, keeping his eyes aimed at the floor between us.
“Wait here,” I said as I ran upstairs to grab my favorite tissues for such moments – toilet paper, also known as kleenex-on-a-roll – and a small trash can. I ran back down the stairs, two steps at a time, and found him sitting on the floor in front of the television, still sniffling but now distracted. Handing him the wad of toilet paper, I turned off the television and sat down in front of him. I really wasn’t sure what to say next. It seemed best to let him clear his nose and settle down before proceeding with any questions. I gestured towards the small trash can as he searched for a place to dispose of his handful of tissues.
“Can you tell me what’s wrong?” I asked as gently as possible. The boy paused, as if hoping that if he ignored the question, his responsibility to answer it would simply go away. I gently persisted, repeating the question. His face took on a more distressed look as fresh tears started coming forth. His eyes still would not meet mine, but remained fixed on his shoes as he sat Indian-style. I wanted so much to just take him in my arms and hold him, but this wasn’t quite the moment for such a bold move. It would have taken the focus off of my question and delayed us from getting to the heart of the matter.
“….nobody….likes me. Nobody.” He worked hard to get these words out, almost as if saying them would condemn him to some kind of torment.
“No one? No one at school, or at home? No one at church?” I asked in amazement. He nodded as he wiped his eyes with his hands, forgetting the tissues were in immediate reach. I pushed the tissues a bit closer to show him it was okay to use more.
“What about your mom and dad? Surely they like you.” I was hoping to find some way to reassure this boy he wasn’t as alone as he described, but he was not moved.
“Dad is not even in the country, and mom….she ignores me when I’m in trouble with other kids. She thinks I’m stupid!” I was sensing an angry tone in his voice as he spoke between sobs. I was also sensing something else…something familiar about what he was sharing.
“What about church?” I asked again.
“I don’t go to church. None of us do. I have friends that go, but I don’t.”
“I have met some good people at church. I’ve also met some not-so-good people there. But I do have some friends at church. Maybe you can find a friend there?” I asked this hoping I had offered him something possibly good to consider.”
“I tried. The kids there were mean to me. They said all kinds of rotten things to me. I didn’t know what to say back.”
My heart started to sink. Here is this boy, sitting in front of me, feeling no hope of any kind for any possibility of acceptance. All I could do was listen to him sob away between words. I felt powerless to help him. My heart was starting to give way to feeling sad for him as we sat together in the quiet of the room. My eyes began to well up as I watched him, and I found myself looking down at the floor for both of us. I could no longer contain myself as I reached for the tissues, and I cried with him. He looked up at me, and we made solid eye contact for the first time since he arrived. I had nothing left but to affirm his sorrow with my own.
As the boy watched me, the look on his face had changed. With his focus on me now, he stood up and moved over to me, sitting in my lap. My arms went around him with a gentle warmth as he laid his head against me, and we both cried for each other for some uncounted number of minutes. I slowly rocked him back and forth, reassuring him how precious he truly is. He kept his face turned away during this time, feeling too ashamed to look at my face as I spoke to him in gentle affirmation. His glasses started pressing into both of us, so I asked him if we could set them aside just for a little while.
“I’m pretty blind without them, but it’s okay for a few minutes.”
He looked up at me as I laid the glasses on the coffee table. Reaching for the last of the tissues, I wiped his face as dry as I could, managing a slight but warm smile for him. He continued looking up at me, not quite knowing what to think. I did not want to let go of him, knowing how empty his heart is. He laid his head back against me for a short time, and I rocked him back and forth some more. He seemed to calm down during this time, finally feeling a sense of peace…and acceptance.
I have no idea how long we just sat there. Eventually, he looked up at me and made a simple declaration.
“It’s almost time for me to go.”
What? Time to go? I had so many questions, and yet so little time to ask them. Who was he? Where did he come from? Considering his style of dress, when did he come from? His familiarity gnawed at me more than ever. The boy put on his glasses as he stood up. I slowly took them back, and wiped them off with the edge of my shirt.
“There. That should be better,” I said as I placed them back on his face. He managed a slight smile as he looked around the room, marveling objects without the usual obstruction of his fingerprints. As I stood up, he gave me a fast hug, a hug that said he was grateful to have this short time with someone who cared for him.
When he let go of me, he walked slowly away, his young hands curiously making brief contact with furniture and appliances as he stepped towards the shoji screen. The flat television was a glory to his wide eyes, as if he had never seen one.
“Wait! Please tell me your name,” I implored.
When he reached the shoji screen, he looked up at me once more and gave me a smile I would not forget. With a short wave of his hand, he stepped behind the screen.
Then it hit me! I quickly walked over and looked behind the screen, and – nobody. He was gone. Where did he go? I checked deeper, thinking somehow he could be hiding behind one of the panels. Nothing. He was gone.
It finally dawned on me who this boy was. His clothes, his glasses, the unkempt hair.…he was me. I don’t think I’ll ever know how he came into my world for this short visit. I suppose what was important about this visit was that he felt accepted, even for a short time, so he could have the will to continue on.
I went to bed that night with a sense of calm for him. He’ll be okay, I thought to myself. I knew his name all along. It’s Andrew.
Money talks ... but all it tells me is 'goodbye.'