Monday, July 28, 2008

Questions without answers

When I was in high school, our newspaper had a weekly column of questions that were basically inside jokes about what happened with people over the weekend, or what was going on between the couples that were dating. Most people, myself included, couldn't wait to see if we'd made it into the latest issue because it validated what we all needed most: to feel like somebody cared about our lives.

When it came time to write this entry, that entire crazy column that once meant so much to me (because if your name was mentioned in it, it meant you were awesomely cool) came back to my mind. This time it isn't for a fun reason, it's because my oldest son, who is 11, has been faced with a lot of questions without answers. As his mom, it's difficult to see.

I have a really sensitive son. He's not a mama's boy, a wuss, a pansy, or any of the other terms that society likes to label sensitive males, but he really wears his heart on his sleeve. He's been like this since he was very little. When we see a homeless person, he worries about what led up to that person living on the street and how he or she will survive. He has a soft heart for animals--even the annoying raccoons that are trying to take over our backyard. Unfortunately, over the past year, it seems his little heart has just been overwhelmed by the injustices in the world.

One of his best friends has a sister who disappeared after leaving home for a party. She was 20 years old. Nobody has seen or heard from her since. The FBI can't even seem to find a trail that leads to her. J has watched his friend's family struggle with the grief and he often asks me, "They'll find her, right? She just probably ran away, right?" He wants so desperately to believe she's o.k.

About a week and a half ago, another friend of his was on his way home from vacation with his mom, dad and sister. They'd taken a family trip to Alaska and as they were driving home from the airport, they were hit by a drunk driver. The mom and dad were fine, but B, and his sister were both seriously injured. They thought B was even going to die and although he's still in intensive care, he is improving slowly. However, the doctors aren't sure he'll ever be 100% again.

Everything that has been bothering J, seemed to come to a head the other evening. I need to preface this with a little background. In second grade, J became friends with a boy named Amos. I can't say what drew him to Amos except maybe Amos' stuttering problem. J used to stutter and had to get some speech intervention for it, but, thank God, he grew out of it. As a result, he's always very sensitive to those who stutter and he felt sorry for Amos. Amos has a very poor family life, he lives with his mom and step-dad, his step-dad is a child molester (still haven't figured out why he's allowed to be around Amos and his siblings), they never have any money and he usually smells like stale smoke and dirty feet, oh and to top it off, he still stutters. Jonah has always invited Amos to his birthday parties and included him in recess games of basketball much to the horror of many of their classmates. I'm not saying this to make my son sound like a hero, but because of J's stubbornness that no matter what Amos was going to be treated like everyone else most of the boys at school include him and look past his dirty clothes, his stuttering, and his shoes that are 2 sizes too big.

Now, flash forward to this summer, J and Amos haven't seen each other much. Amos wasn't allowed to play baseball this summer because his parents couldn't afford it, but Amos hung out at the ball field a lot and watched the boys play. We've been receiving phone calls that are hang ups on the answering machine. I didn't recognize the name or number of the person that was calling, so I figured that it was a wrong number. Then the other day there was a message, it was Amos, mumbling something in his broken speech pattern that we couldn't really understand. What we thought he said was, "Could you drop J off at my house next Friday?"

I immediately told J that under no circumstances would he be going to Amos' house and he got really upset with me. He told me it wasn't fair I punished Amos because he was poor and so I had a talk with him about how it had nothing to do with how much money he did or didn't have, and then went on to explain what a child molester is and that I would not knowingly send him into a situation where he'd be in the claws of one. He understood and called Amos back to instead invite him over to our house, but had to leave a message. (This phone and answering machine was actually their neighbor's because Amos' family doesn't have a phone.)

A few hours passed and the phone rang. I answered and it was a man's voice mumbling something about money. I couldn't understand him and asked him to repeat himself two or three times. I quickly realized it was Amos' step-father and he was calling to ask me for, "Five or ten bucks to buy some medicine for Amos by Friday."

This certainly wasn't what I was expecting and all at once I had feelings of sadness and anger. I was sad that this poor kid has to grow up in a family like this and angry, oh so angry, that he has to be the one to suffer while his mom and dad are chain smokers and that's where their money goes. They don't care if the child is clean, if he's well supplied for school, if he does his homework. They don't care that he wants desperately to be involved in extra-curricular activities, but can't because they won't pay for it. I'm all for helping, and we've helped Amos in a lot of different ways, but I could not in god conscience hand over money to this creep on the phone who would most likely not spend it on medication anyway.

After hanging up the phone, J asked me what happened, and he could tell by the look on my face that I was upset. I told him and he started crying--not little silent tears, but big, body shaking sobs. He listened to the message on our answering machine again and through his tears said, "He wasn't asking for me to come over! He was asking for money! Why would they make him do that?"

For the next 45 minutes we sat at the kitchen table, he was crying as I tried to answer questions for which I had no answers. His friendship with Amos has been his first up close exposure to poverty, child abuse, and the overwhelming reality that life isn't fair. His view of his narrow 11 year old world has been broadened significantly which can be a good thing, but in the process he's had his heart broken and his eyes opened and I know that he'll never be the same.

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