“My son is dying,” says the mother. “Can I get you anything to drink?”
What a heckuva conversation opener.
I am standing in an average residential home. In the entryway. Visiting a little boy.
The woman’s son is on hospice care, lying on a bed in the den. There isn’t much they can do for him, the nurse says. “We’re just making sure he’s as comfortable as possible.”
There is a TV going in the den. It’s playing some children’s show I’ve never heard of. He’s lying there. Weak.
He’s 13. He likes guitar. Sports. He loves Elvis. There is an Elvis song blasting on his iPhone.
“How’d you get into Elvis?” I ask.
He shrugs. “I just like him.”
I am sitting by his bed now. His mother gives me a sweet tea and a moment alone with him.
I am crying now.
The Elvis song is “Trouble.” Classic blues “stop-time” tune. From the movie “King Creole.” I know stuff about Elvis because my old man was an Elvis freak.
The kid wants to talk about Elvis. So we do. We talk long and hard. I can see his parents watching from the other room. I feel a little weird being here. I don’t want to say the wrong thing.
I am here because the kid read one of my books and actually liked it. His mother contacted a friend of a friend who knows my wife. And well, here I am.
Pretty soon, he’s done talking. Now we’re just watching television. The TV is blasting some stupid car commercial, an advertisement trying to sell something. And suddenly this commercial strikes me as so insanely shallow. There are little kids lying in hospice beds. And some coporation is on TV trying to sell $180,000 luxury vehicles.
He was a foster kid. He was a “crack baby,” that’s what many called him, his mother tells me. Becuase of this, he’s had health problems all his life. His adoptive parents got him from the foster system. His immune system was weak. His body was brittle.
I see evidence in his living room of a life well-lived. I see boyish items strewn everywhere. Video games, baseball accessories, cleats, aluminum bats, boy toys. I see Auburn University football paraphernalia—but hey, nobody’s perfect.
He was found in a supermarket parking lot, shortly after his birth. Lying in a baby carrier. Abandoned. He was crying loudly when a passerby noticed him.
He was adopted by an older couple who I’ll call Judy and Tom. The couple brought him home as a baby even though they were in their mid-50s.
They gave the boy the life they wished they could have given to their own child—a daughter who died when she was an infant.
Judy and Tom were great parents. They kept their new son involved in extra-curricular activities. He played travel baseball. His new parents have done everything to keep him somewhat healthy. They gave him whatever he wanted.
“I’m going to miss my parents the most,” says the boy. “I love the way my mom makes me laugh. She’s so funny.”
Elvis keeps singing in the background. And I am crying so hard that my ears are now clogged.
The boy doesn’t notice, but I am a complete wreck.
Becuase when I look at him and I don’t see him. I see the genetics of his birth parents. His mother. His father. Two young lovers who went off the rails and fell into bad company. This boy is paying the price for it. In a way, this makes me angry. In another way it makes me mourn.
“I hope my birth parents know I love them,” the boys says, randomly. “Even though they didn’t love me, I still love them.”
“They know,” says his mother, finally.
After our visit is over, we get our photograph made together. The boy says, “Do you think you’ll write something about me?”
“Of course I will,” I say.
He smiles. “What will it be about?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” I say. “It will probably be about how beautiful you are. And about how much you like Elvis, and baseball.”
Another smile. “Will you post it before I die?”
I most definitely will.