It takes a village

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via robertrazrblog on Flickr

He was born with a proverbial dark cloud hanging over his head. His mother held a grudge against him since the day she found out she was pregnant, a scared teenager who would have aborted him if she’d had the wherewithal and resources to do so. Devon hadn’t been able to please her since, as if it were his fault his biological father shirked responsibility for having knocked up his mother. As a little kid, he often heard her claim, “That damn baby ruined my life.” What a harrowing memory for a son to carry through his life.

At least he hadn’t been locked up like some of his grade school teachers imagined would be his fate. He got past his “angry” phase and quit getting in trouble by the time he entered high school. The negative attention did him no good, because teachers were less likely to help a bad kid, and school was his only refuge by then.

Devon started caring about his grades when he realized doing well on assignments put him in the good graces of his teachers, who recommend he see the nurse with his latest set of bruises and consult the school counselor when he dozed in class or his stomach growled loudly from the third row back in the room. Getting himself dismissed from the naughty list in the class secured the counselor’s helping in getting the free lunch and backpack of canned goods sent home on the weekend. He hid the bulky bag from his mother so he could avoid her admonishments for accepting welfare. Its contents were too precious to let her throw them away in disgust, even if he had to hide in his room and scoop the cold contents out of the cans in secret.

The kindness of those virtual strangers was how he narrowly evaded malnutrition. Mom didn’t have the money to keep the electricity or phone in service, much less feed him a decent meal each weeknight. Only the people at school – his safe haven – made sure he was there each day and had something to eat at least for breakfast and lunch. His mom was absent to him when her mind was addled with the toxic chemical combinations she used to escape her diminished existence.

His aunt took him in when her sister was finally arrested for drug possession. They were trying to pin her for distribution, which would mean much more time on her inevitable sentence, and Devon would’ve been sent to the State’s custody. Eventually Devon’s sallow appearance began to change. He’d always been slight, but teen years meant his appetite increased, and he eventually outgrew his aunt’s ability to provide for him. She said he ‘ate her out of house and home,’ so she couldn’t do it anymore.

A custodian soon found him staying in the parking lot overnight in the old junker his aunt had passed along at his mother’s incarceration. Nobody grows up aspiring to become homeless and live in their car. Temperatures were dropping, but a sleeping bag and a stiff wool Army blanket kept him as warm as it was when last winter when the heat got disconnected at home. After the discovery of his squatter status behind the school, Mr. Washington let him into the boy’s locker room before officially opening the building each morning so Devon could shower and brush his teeth there. He was graciously allowed to wash his clothes in the athletic department’s laundry facilities. Living in a small town sometimes had its perks.

While the grapevine could sometimes hurt, other times it could help, too. Word spread from the janitor to the school counselor and moved along to a local citizen known for her altruism. A surprise call to the counselor’s office brought the young man face-to-face with a woman who was at least 80 years old, had curly gray hair sticking out from under a faded Fedora, and wore an over-sized trench coat on an almost six-foot tall frame. Surely someone’s oddball grandmother. There must be some mistake.

The receptionist introduced him to Ms. Carolina, an eccentric old lady, who offered him an opportunity. A former colleague of hers, one of his teachers, had recommended him to work for her. She heard he was sharp and picked up on things quickly. Her proposition was that Devon help maintain one of the apartment complexes she owned in exchange for board in a one-room apartment above her garage.

He was dumbstruck, and a torrent of emotions overcame him. Rational behavior was, however, his strong suit. He’d had to survive practically on his own all these years. So the thought dawned on him that he had no skill at electronics or repairs to offer. How could he ever meet these expectations?

Carolina proclaimed, in an aged but strong and deep-pitched voice, “I’m not one to give out charity. You must earn your keep, which means you’ll need to learn what you don’t already know.” She paused for effect and studied his face speculatively, causing Devon to shift back and forth in anticipation. The boy looked down at his legs, mentally reminding his knees to bend. He thought, “Don’t lock out and make me faceplant in this makeshift interview.”

She gave him a once-over and continued, “You also have to drive me to appointments, the grocery store and Bunko every week.” The nodule of his Adam’s apple moved up and down as Devon took a gulp of air and nodded in agreement, surprise apparent on his rosy-cheeked face.

She told him, “You start today. My house is the brick one at the corner of Main and Grand. You’ll know it when you see it, so report there after you leave school today.” With that, she turned on the heel of her Jack boots with dark trousers tucked in the tops and left the office. Devon shook his head to make sense of what just happened and turned to look at the receptionist, who simply shrugged her shoulders and turned back to the ringing phone.

He’d never had religion, minus the televangelists he begrudgingly watched when the cable was shut off, so the thought of divine intervention never entered Devon’s mind. But there was a passing notion of a guardian angel. She came disguised as an aged brusquerie who’d just stomped into his life in steel-toed boots to whisk away the dark mass that was no longer looming over him. Devon’s future had just gotten much brighter.

*I used both prompts, locked and please, for this week’s writing prompt at Studio 30+.  s30p

8 Comments

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8 responses to “It takes a village

  1. A modern-day Horatio Alger story… heartbreaking and life affirming at the same time.

  2. This story has a movie in it. Meryl Streep could play the older woman so with makeup we could also glance into her past. I’m not sure of who I’d cast as Devon yet. :)

  3. Very nice, heartfelt, made me want to help him too!

  4. Loved this Katy — makes you want to help all of those children who are struggling to survive. Something our children have been fortunately to not have to endure. xoxo

    • The sleeping in the car part was based on a kid I heard about at one of the school I used to visit for my job. Unfortunately, it’s probably a more common scenario than we realize. And you’re right — we’re lucky we can provide for our own.

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