His name is Michael. Or Ben. He is six, or seven, or five, depending on who asks and when. He’s small, and I think is closer to Willow’s five than to Soph’s seven. All afternoon and into the dusk he is outside, riding his scooter up and down the street, helmetless, barefoot, runny-nosed.
Where is your helmet? I yelled after him once as he whipped past me on his bike. I was standing on the sidewalk, watching Willow float leaves in a puddle at the foot of the driveway. He looked back over his shoulder at me, I don’t have one. I don’t have to!
I think he lives with his grandmother, but I’m not sure. Once I saw a young woman who could have maybe been his mother walking with him. He’s never called in for supper, he never has to check in before going to the junior high across the road to play tackle football with my older and much bigger boys. He’s skinny, evasive about other things besides his name and age. Questions from the other kids about school and family aren’t really answered. Sometimes he says he lives with his mother, sometimes he says he’s never met her. Once I went out late at night to take out the trash and there was a man in shorts and a white tanktop undershirt pacing and smoking and talking on a cell phone in front of my house. I am pretty sure that was his grandfather? His father?
Last night the kids wanted to talk to my brother, so we called and while they took turns talking to him, I picked up laundry off the floor and sorted through some school papers. I caught part of Nate’s conversation:
. . . his name is Michael. He’s little but he plays football with us and stuff. Tackle football, yeah. He gets kicked around a lot. You know, like, he’s abused? Like, his dad? Kicks him. Or whatever. . .
I know that he was picked up and taken home by the police at least once. He was at the grocery store around the corner, alone and barefoot, and someone called 911. I stood there with a couple of my kids’ mismatched socks in my hand, listening to Nate talk to my brother, thinking about conversations I’ve had with neighbors about how worried we are he’ll be hit by a car while on his bike or scooter. More than once he’s pulled out in front of me on our street and I’ve sworn and been so relieved that I drive slowly.
If I’d ever seen bruises on him, I’d have already put a call in to CPS, but, I need to find out much more about this kid before I do.
I know a family that was falsely accused of abuse. The children were taken out of their home for a long time and the damage done to the kids (and the grandparents who were raising them) was profound. Undoable. Placed upon them by a teacher trying to help a child.
This boy is obviously not supervised, but is that abuse? When I was his age I played outside with the neighborhood kids for hours at a time. We all did. I’ve just started to let my kids play with the neighborhood kids without me being out front. My kids, even Lex, check with me before going to the school or into someone’s house, but I’m only loosely keeping tabs on them.
Last night I wanted to talk about this more with Nate, find out why he said what he did. Whether or not he thinks bad things are happening to this kid at home. But, instead, the kids started asking (right at bedtime, actually, after it) some difficult questions about our own family, and so I answered those as best I could and tucked them in.
It could be that this little boy has a grandmother who loves him and feeds him, keeps him warm and clean, reads him bedtime stories. It could be that he’s never had it better. As an adult in his life, however removed, I owe it to him to follow up on this bad feeling I have.