There Once Was a Boy

shopping carts

Usually I see him on my way home from work. I drive one of the busy East-West streets in our little city on my way home, because the lights always seemed to be synchronized to my advantage. If I time it just right, I can make it through a whole series of lights without ever stopping.   I always see him going West at that time of the day. And he doesn’t shuffle, he walks with purpose, as if he has to be somewhere at a certain time, maybe like he is on a schedule.

He always wears the same outfit, a grey hoodie, with the hood pulled up over his head, and sunglasses. Much of his face is hidden. He also sports a blond beard. He wears a watch. I find that curious. From a distance it is hard to say how old he really is, because of the beard and the large sunglasses. But he has a bounce in his step and walks with vigor, which may be why I am so fascinated by him.

I tell you all of this, because a most startling thing happened to me yesterday. Something that has really shaken me to my core. Something I can’t get out of my mind. We were coming out of Denny’s, after a late breakfast, and I saw him. denny's signHe was going through the trash can, retrieving discarded plastic bottles. He stood up, he had his glasses resting on his head, and I saw his eyes. His eyes I knew. They twinkled, like the sun on a deep glacial lake, but the tiredness of the face confused me, it scared me. I knew this man in the grey hoodie, with the watch and a walk filled with purpose.

Honestly, I think he recognized me before the cog wheels in my brain began whirring into action. Click, click, click and then the realization plunked into place. This was no middle-aged man. I knew him as a child. A troubled child, one filled with such life and spirit, but no guiding hands to direct him. He was a beautiful boy, with the brilliant blue eyes, and the blond wavy hair which became almost opalescent with a golden, sun-bleached sheen by the end of the summer. He is what one sees in their mind’s-eye when thinking of the classic, true Californian boy.

My son attended Middle School with him, and perhaps a year or two of High School until he dropped out. We heard he was living up in a park not far from where we reside. My boys sometimes go over to that park to spend time with their friends, and had mentioned in passing they had seen him. That was about a year ago.park with eucalyptus

Upon arriving home after this encounter, we found the boys with their friends sitting on the large sectional in the living room. As usual, they were all busy talking and looking at their ever present cell phones. I asked them about this teenager, the one that was in my son’s grade. A most odd thing occurred. The room became silent, the fingers on the cell phone pads typed faster. Their heads dropped even further down. No one said a word. I asked again. My oldest became angry because of my persistence on this topic and said some things that were uncharacteristically cold and callous. I was taken aback and puzzled. It was if I was making him speak of the unspeakable. I gave up and went off to take a nap.

I dreamed of this boy, this teenager, with the blue eyes and the blond beard. I awoke berating myself for not having said more than “Hey, how are you?” In retrospect that was a really stupid, crappy-assed thing to say. But he said “Hey” back and then turned away, grabbed on to his shopping cart, with the hand that had the watch on his wrist, and walked away – with purpose. I would like to tell you I had done something really great, like offered him a meal, or maybe some money, but I didn’t. If I had done something like that would it have been done in order to alleviate my guilt and confusion about his situation? I don’t know. In retrospect I don’t think he wanted me to. I think he had given up on hoping anyone really cared. His parents had failed him, the schools had failed him, and yesterday I had failed him. And in the end, society had cast him aside when he reached that magical number, and he is now on his own, legally. But really, in all actuality, he has probably been on his own for most of his life.

Photos from and

47 replies »

    • It made me sad too. I can’t get it out of my brain. I don’t know we have failed so miserably – is it people have just given up caring about anyone?

      • I know the feeling, but I still shy away from direct contact. I give to charity and hope against hope the money works. Perhaps I need to get out of my bubble?

      • I honestly don’t know what the best to approach it is. I give to charities and I volunteer sometimes, but I know it is not enough. It is all too overwhelming really.

  1. Oh, this is so sad. Beautifully written and expressed, I could feel your regret and frustration at not being able to do more. At least you spoke to him – perhaps more than he’d had for a while. Even if we can’t give money, a friendly word kindly spoken is usually well received. But I wish I could do more too.

    • Me too. But where to start? I work with kids in the Foster system, I see them in my clinic. Their stories are so sad, and the system is so broken. I want to take them all home, but I am afraid it will somehow affect my own children and then I feel really selfish and self-centered.

  2. Perhaps you can go back with a meal and bottled water for him. You were caught off guard, next time you see him you’ll be prepared. Food, water, clothing…and maybe some information about a shelter for adult teens he can go to… I know there are some shelters specifically for homeless youths. Perhaps there is one in your area.

    • Thank-you. The whole encounter has kind of knocked me off kilter. I look at my own boys, the same age, and I can’t imagine them having to fend for themselves without all the resources they have available to them.

  3. Don’t be so hard on yourself, SD. You don’t know if any of the assumptions you made about this young man are correct. This life he lives may be his choice. Maybe many people have attempted to help him, and he has refused. Maybe he’s gone into programs, and they haven’t worked for him.

    Or maybe not. Maybe you can go back to that place and find him and ask him if there’s anything he needs or wants, and respond in kind, hand him a few dollars for a meal or even suggest that you can give him a lift to a community organization office where they are set up to help in situations such as this.

    It’s not black and white yet, I don’t think.

    • You are right. Perhaps this is his choice, but are the results what he had expected. I am going to stop and see if I can offer him something, he may choose he does not want to accept it. I looked for him in the park, but I will watch for him tomorrow on my home from work. Thanks Mark!!!!

  4. Such a sad story and how many others are there out there just like him who haven’t had anyone in their lives who truly cared for them? It is hard to know the whole story of his life but as a quick glance/quick chat goes, it does leave you feeling concerned. Maybe there will be another time and the door will open to a longer conversation and possibly more information? Take care… I understand how unsettling that experience would be. Cheryl

    • Thanks. We do know some of his story, troubled family, started using drugs while still in Middle School, no one to tell him he was making bad choices. His family ignored him, letting him sink, because they themselves were mired down in troubles as well. It is truly a sad story and those around him knew what was happening, the school knew, other parents knew.

  5. Oh my heart breaks for you and this young man. Getting caught off guard is the worst. What I was wondering is why all the boys were so silent and your son said things out of his character? You are a good hearted person, SparklyPants 🙂 when monkey was young we would drive downtown and walk the canal, and I was so shocked to see the homeless there. So I made it a point to make extra pb&j and snack crackers and hand them out. It wasn’t much, but I was surprised at how appreciative, grateful and happy they were for this small gesture. And maybe, he might still be able to talk to the doc he once knew <3

    • Thanks my Sassy friend. I was taken aback. I think the boys and their friends may be feeling a bit more vulnerable. With the exception of my youngest, they have graduated from high school and I suspect they are feeling more pressure and a sense of being unsure about what needs to happen next, so they can make something of themselves, and not end up like their former schoolmate. You are a good egg too!!!!

      • You’re welcome Sparkly Pants <3 I see what you mean about the boys/young men. It's a very confusing time for everyone. I do hope that you are able to help this young man in any way. Sometimes a friendly ear is all that's needed <3 Thank you my friend. My compassion can be my downfall at times, but whether they choose to live this way or are forced to, it doesn't mean they don't deserve less humanity than anyone else. I'm sending prayers to you and the young man. Something in my heart tells me you are the only one that can reach him, that you are a much needed lifeline. I'm praying HARD, my dear dear friend <3

  6. I hope you’ll have the opportunity to cross paths again. You may not be able to do anything to change his situation, but I’m sure that someone showing they care a little will go a long ways.

  7. My heart broke for him and for you. I can feel how it threw you off kilter. Who knows what to do when presented unexpectedly with such a situation? You have described it much the way I think I would’ve reacted. I also would’ve felt the same afterward. It’s difficult to know what to do. I hope you can find something that will bring both of you some peace. It’s strange that I read another blogger about a year ago who had a similar situation with a long lost cousin. She eventually tried to help, but it turned out that he really wasn’t looking for a hand up, but rather, a hand out. Good luck, SD.

    • That’s the thing – like my son said – it is his choice (but is it completely?). He may really not want any help, but I won’t ever know if I don’t try. Thanks, Lori!!!!
      PS. How are all your feet?

      • Hi SD. My husband will always have some pain, but considering what happened, he’s doing well. My ankle is doing well. Max is still struggling with bleeding from that claw whenever he runs. He walks fine. It’s only if he runs. Thanks for asking.

  8. A very hard story which reminded me of a similar situation I once had. I did nothing at the time and I really regretted it. It involved a past boss of mine who seemed to fall from grace within a matter of a few months.

    I hope you are able to see him again and to talk to him and offer some advice. I always think how I would want someone to act should it be me in their situation.

    • I would hope someone would think to help me if I ever was in that situation. I looked for him today but it was 108 degrees, maybe he is staying in the shade. Will keep an eye out for him!!!!

  9. The harsh truth for many kids and young people. It is so sad and heartbreaking…

    I guess just the act of saying Hey and really see him was meaningful somehow. Most people probably just walk by without taking any notice.

  10. This is my first visit here. As a writer first and an RN (many years ago), I was struck by the eloquence in which you told the story and the angst it caused your soul. Our system has indeed failed those like the young man. If his mental state is questionable, or this is the choice he has made with his life (unimaginable to us) there is probably little you can do. He may accept a meal or a few dollars, but that will do nothing to change his situation. I’m certain his family has spent many a sleepless night. What we can do is push our legislators to improve the system. We can speak up for those unable to speak for themselves or simply not being heard.

    Thank you for stopping by the Cow Pasture. I’m glad you like what you saw enough to jump the fence, welcome. I look forward to conversing with you more in the future and reading more of your posts.

  11. I can imagine how you must have felt. It’s difficult to know what to do in situations like this, especially when it all happened so quickly. I feel sorry for him. I wonder what more there is to his story.

    • Thanks for coming to visit my little blog. I was just over visiting your blog. I do know a bit about his life, his family had huge issues and he was left to fend for himself. It is a really an awful situation, but the scary thing is, this discarding of children seems to be so prevalent these days.

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