“I was basically invisible,” he said. “People came into the group home, mostly couples looking to adopt, and they totally didn’t see me.
“I was like a puppy in the pound that you don’t notice.”
He had low vision. Although the U.S. government would’ve called him “legally blind.”
The kid was 9 years old. He could see, but not much. His peripheral vision was nearly non-existent. He had—to use an oversimplified cliché—tunnel vision.
“I could see a tiny bit,” he said. “The glaucoma left me with an itty-bitty circle in the center of my visual field.”
But nobody wanted to adopt a kid with glaucoma. It was too much work. He needed extra care. Extra attention. He could only read large print. He had special teachers at school. And someday, he would probably go totally blind.
The volunteers at the group home were nice to him. But they weren’t parents. Not even close.
Every evening, when group-home volunteers would leave for home to be with their real families, with their actual kids, he would be stuck there at the home. Alone.
He would lie in his bunk with the other parent-less kids. In relative darkness. Crying. The reality would sink in. He was an orphan with a capital O.
An orphan, you see, grows up without confidence. You and I take confidence for granted. When you have a measure of confidence, life is okay. The world is one big opportunity. You have options.
But when you have no confidence, the earth is dangerous and unforgiving. Life is a manure sandwich. Eat it or starve.
“I didn’t like my life,” he said. “I wasn’t even 10 years old and I hated being alive.”
It was the Christmas season. A long time ago. A young woman came into the group home. She was young. Brunette. She was dressed in a fast-food uniform. She was on break and she smelled like cigarettes.
The young woman had quite a story. She and her husband been told by doctors they couldn’t have children. Then her husband had died of pneumonia. She was a widow by age 23.
The one thing she wanted, even though she couldn’t afford it, was a child. It was a burning desire inside her. An illogical desire, yes. Such as the nonsensical desires many have to run marathons. Or to sing karaoke.
The young woman toured the group home. She found the 9-year-old kid sitting in the corner, listening to the radio. There was something about him. Something that drew her in.
“He’s legally blind,” the foster workers said. “And he’s a really good kid.”
The young woman sat beside the young man. She listened to the radio alongside him.
“Do you know who’s singing on the radio right now?” she asked.
He nodded. “The Rolling Stones,” he said.
“You like the Stones?”
He nodded. “Oh, I love the Stones.”
Turned out, the young woman knew all the words to “Jumping Jack Flash.” She proved it by singing along.
The kid was amazed at this. He had never met an adult who knew the words to any Stones songs.
The young woman asked if the kid would be interested in giving things a trial run at her house.
“Would you want to come live with me?” she asked.
“Can we sing Rolling Stones?”
You bet your ascot we can, she said.
The woman somehow drummed up the money to raise a kid. The young man moved in. He had his own room and everything. She gave him his first real Christmas he ever had. He received mostly clothes and candy. They ate ham.
He was a good kid. He eventually lost his vision completely, but he never felt isolated because of this. Not in her house. His mother worked triple-time to afford the best tutors, and the best care.
He got through elementary school with all A’s. He licked high school with A’s and B’s. He aced college and got his degree in English. And then, because he is a glutton for misery, he went back and got his MBA.
“I credit it all to my mom,” he said. “She’s the reason for every good thing in my life.”
And last year, at her funeral, he said as much.
“I grew up invisible,” he wrote in his eulogy. “My mom was the first person who really saw me. I only wish I could’ve seen her.”
“Anyway,” he said in an email to me, “I thought that would be a good Christmas story for you.”
You thought right, Bernard.