Lying in bed that night, I couldn’t stop thinking about that young man. I was in a comfortable bed with soft, warm blankets. He was likely sleeping in the tunnel of a slide to protect himself from the wind.
I tried to remember what he’d been wearing – ripped blue jeans, a tee-shirt (wait… was it sleeveless?), a ball cap, beat up tennis shoes… Did he have a sweatshirt? I couldn’t remember but in my mind, I saw him hunched up, shivering in a place offering cold, hard, silent plastic instead of the happiness and joy it usually offered to children.
Was he a child?
He was definitely older than my son but… by how much? Was he older than my daughter? Was he the same age? Did it matter?
He told B. that he’d been living on his own since he was 16. He must be at least a few years older than that otherwise, he would have been counting this time in months, or limited it to ‘for a year’ or ‘a year and a half.’ But 16? He’d been on his own since 16? That is definitely a baby.
Was he on drugs?
Was he a juvenile delinquent?
Did he have anger issues? Was he mentally ill? Was it even my business? Why was I thinking about this?!?! This kid was not my responsibility. He was not my problem. (God only knew I had enough of those in my marriage. I didn’t need any more.) …
What had he done that made his parents kick him out? Did he have Oppositional Defiant Disorder? Attachment Disorder?
Wrapping myself into my safe cocoon of blankets, I eventually fell asleep.
Now, I would like to tell you that I woke up in the middle of the night, rushed to the park and brought that boy home. But that is not what happened. That is not what I did.
We woke up in the morning and we had things to do. We had places to go. Our lives this next morning were a little bit more… well, uncomfortable, but it wasn’t that difficult to push it out our minds.
It is easy to make yourself forget, to tell yourself that you wouldn’t really make a difference, that you are just a stranger, that someone else will help. It is easy to pretend it never happened, that you didn’t see what you saw or hear what you heard. It is easy to argue with yourself about whether or not you should try to help ‘that homeless kid’ and forget that you are thinking about M. – a living breathing person with feelings and potential, talent and personality.
And so, we went about our business as if we had not met ‘that homeless kid’ who had been thrown away and relegated to sleeping in a park.