Friday, June 4, 2010

Hansel for Real

This may surprise you to hear: a lot of those wagon trains to the West lost their children. Not just to attacks, accidents, cholera, or smallpox. They left their children behind, or, the buckboard bounced a child out and nobody noticed. They had the prairie version of road hypnotism. Or driving oxen under the influence. Or exhaustion and anxiety.
Now that you know about my store's no-babysitting policy . . . . previous post . . .

A clerk in the children's department came to find me one evening. "I've got this kid who's been reading for hours," she told me. "Nobody comes to check on him."

"Is he causing trouble?" I ask.
"No no, he's just read a whole bunch of books," she said. "I've been watching him and sometimes he goes outside. Then he comes back in to read another book." She was totally worried. "He was here at three when I got here."

It's now nine-thirty p.m.

We go into the children's department. The clerk was really good. She'd already learned his name and so she introduced me. Rather than stand up over him, I sat down at the kid's table. He's about ten years old, a serious boy.

"So, Travis, do you know where your parents are?"
He shrugs. "No."
"Okay. What have you had to eat today?"
He shrugs again. He's not moving from the chair, I can see that. I can see he's pretty much holding onto books and his composure, and that's a lot.  I turn to the clerk.
"Get a chicken sandwich from the cafe and tell them I'll stop by there later." We don't have a lot of nutritious stuff. "What do you want to drink?"
A soda. Okay. She leaves and I turn back to Travis.

"Tell me about it."
He tells me, not in so many words, but his parents are on the lam from Florida. The whole car of family were stopped in our parking lot to sleep for awhile. Travis woke up, he went into the store because he wanted to read and not disturb anyone asleep. They took off without him.
"But I think they'll be back," he says.
I nod. "When did you notice they had left?"
He doesn't want to say. Early afternoon. Oh shit, they're not coming back.

I think about taking him home, brief fantasy, but no. All I can give him is the level.

"Travis, the store closes at eleven. There's no place for you to go after that if they don't make it back by then." I clear my throat. "I'm going to call the police. That way, your parents will be able to find you if they come back."

Neither of us say the police are the last people his parents want to talk to.

The clerk returns with the food. She agrees to watch over him a little more. My department head on duty is good, she's already got the crew rocking and rolling on clean-up. I go call the police. I pay for the sandwich. The entire cafe staff is now worried about this boy. They want to do something, do more. I kill their brief fantasy just as I squashed mine.

The police come: one male, one female. They get a description of the car, maybe even a license plate, names, circumstances. They tell Travis he has to go to juvie now. The clerk comes to get me. They need me to unlock the door.

He's leaving. I'm lost somehow. I say, "Good luck, Travis."
He doesn't know how to take it, any better than I knew how to offer it.
The police woman says, "Say thank you."  She made it right for me.
Travis says, "Thank you," right before he heads to his fate.
I lock up behind them.


Argent said...

It seems inconceivable that parents could just abandon their kid like that. You can sort of see how they could if Travis had been a baby - a baby wouldn't remember them and cry for them, but a ten-year-old? They'd have to know he'd be upset. I wonder what happened to him in the end. Thank goodness he came to your store.

Bob G. said...

I really hate to hear about "castaway kids"...

AT least Travis caught a break the moment when he entered your establishment.
(and got to read some books that no doubt took him to places he'd much rather be).

You managed to open the window to the one small person.

And that's how anything of substance always begins...with ONE person.


Have a great weekend!

Ann T. said...

Dear Argent,
It does seem inconceivable in a way, but I think it happens fairly often.
It broke my heart--he was a really, really good kid. It looked like a long line of bad decisions on the part of his parents.

Some days I can believe he found a good foster parent. other days I am just afraid he got lost in the system. I had little time with him but he remains in my memory. I hope it turned out for him.

Thanks for writing in. I'm always glad to see you!

Ann T.

Capt. Schmoe said...

I could never think of leaving my 10 year old kid like that, accidentally or otherwise.

Once he turned 17 though, that's another story. It's just that at 17, I couldn't find anyone to take him!

On a serious note, I hope it turned out OK for that kid. Though looking at the event in it's entirety, the odds are against him.

Thanks for the post.

Ann T. said...

Dear Bob,
Thank you! I don't know if I opened his soul. All I could do was not very much.

He was obviously a kid used to doing for himself and enduring. I think his decision to not "flake out" in the car with the rest showed a lot more initiative on his part. And who knows--if he got a good foster parent, that initiative may well have been rewarded.

I remain grateful to that police officer for fixing the closure for me.

Thanks for the support! have a good weekend!
Ann T.

The Bug said...

I can see it happening - especially if they didn't expect him to leave the car. The bundle of blankets WAS him, to them. BUT not coming back? Did they not stop after a couple of hours & notice that he hadn't woken up? Yikes. Glad you were there.

Ann T. said...

Dear Captain Schmoe,
Yeah, at seventeen we're all busting out with smart-ass. Plus he would have had seven more years of crook and bum training.

I agree with you. I guess I should not preach, I am not a foster parent, but truth is, kid's services is overloaded. He probably got shuffled around so much. And juvie is mean, and that parish of Louisiana is poor and corrupt.

But he had something in him. The books and the composure, I hope he made it through.

As for your seventeen-year-old, good luck with leaving him behind. I bet he gets a ride and follows you just for spite!

LOL, thanks for stopping in!
Ann T.

Ann T. said...

Dear The Bug,
Yes, I so agree! It would be possible to miss a kid, if you had so many in the car huddled up. But they did not come back. They are assholes, pardon my French.

They left behind a good kid, and to the mercy of whoever might prey on him. He ended up in the system--the very place they were trying to avoid.

Screw 'em. I hate 'em.

But I love that you came by. Thanks for stopping in!

Ann T.

The Observer said...

Ann T:
I'm so glad that you and your crew in the store were there for him. Things might not have been easy from there but at least he had a few moments of safety.

We can imagine scenarios for him, some good, many bad. We can hope for the good.

Thanks for being there for him at that time; you were an agent of God. Giving the cup of water..Matthew 25:31-46.

The Observer

Ann T. said...

Dear The Observer,
Thank you very much. I realize it is hard for me to take this compliment b/c I don't think I did so very much.

However, I do appreciate the comforting thought. Maybe it made a difference.

Have a good weekend.
Ann T.

Sandra said...

Wow, it's no wonder this little boy still lingers in your memory. To leave your ten year old like those people did and not look back? Unforgivable. If you have to leave, at least have a good reason and say good-bye.

Travis's composure speaks to his temperament and maturity so hopefully he makes it through whatever additional difficulties are facing him.

Thank goodness he came into your store that day, and thankfully your clerk came and found you. It seems like you did everything you could and to have emotion about this shows how caring a person you are. Travis was fortunate to have met you, even if only for a brief time.

Christopher said...

It was not, unfortunately, much different for the officers who responded. They spoke with him, contacted juvie or more likely child and family services, and someone came and picked him up, leaving them with the same feeling of wishing they could do more...

Ann T. said...

Dear Sandra,
Thank you for this note of encouragement. I do believe he was a great kid--extraordinary in fact.

All these voices are saying the same thing: he could have made it. This comforts me. Certainly where he had been was uncaring, so maybe we were all in on the first step up.

Thank you,
Ann T.

Ann T. said...

Dear Christopher,
I thought about your two-part post on the homeless child as I wrote this post.

One of the things I notice in the world, it is better to have some power. I was able to do things b/c I was the manager on duty. The police woman was able to give Travis and me some closure because she had authority.

As you say, all of these relationships and powers are temporary. I guess we succeed at our part, and it is supposed to be enough. But.

Thanks for responding. I think another lesson here is that evil does take a toll on us, even as we meet the challenge.

So, another thought, thanks to all the good people who accept that challenge day after day, wherever they may be.

Ann T.

Edith Bunker said...

At least he had books. Probably still does, they are a great comfort I believe you'll agree? At least you were there & gave him respect and honesty. Poor kid. I hope he is better off without his parents as crass as that sounds. Sad story.

Ann T. said...

Dear Mrs. Bunker,
You are right about the books. He was there far too long not to have made trouble unless that was a true love. It was books that kept him from panicking and acting out I think.

I don't think it's crass at all to wish his parents far away.

Thanks for writing in, and for the reassurance!

Ann T.