He was two years old when his mother gave him away. He has one faint memory of her. In the memory, she is sitting in the backseat, holding him. He remembers radio music. Sunlight. That’s all.
It’s a short recollection, but it’s all he has.
His addict mother underhanded him to his aunt like he was an unwanted Labrador. His aunt had worse addiction problems than his mother, the situation didn’t work out. He was five when his aunt gave him to the foster system.
Group homes are not places you want to find yourself as a kid. Three squares and a bed. It’s no day at the Best Western. In orphanages love is hard to come by. Hope can seem like a myth.
When he was thirteen he came down with pneumonia. It landed him in the hospital for a week. He didn’t care if he survived.
At night, he’d often stare out his hospital window and wonder if anyone even cared whether he lived.
“I was alone, man,” he told me. “I was a kid who was totally alone. Lotta people don’t know how that feels. I hope they never do.”
One night a woman with gray hair and kind eyes visited the boy’s room. She was a night-shift nurse. She saw him looking at the Milky Way through the window.
“Whatcha staring at?” she asked.
“I dunno. Stars, I guess.”
Their relationship was as easy as throwing a rock. She talked. He listened. She told stories that left him engrossed. A good story can do a lot for a lonely kid.
The woman told a particularly moving story the kid would never forget. It was a tale about her grandmother, who had been raised in orphanages during the Great Depression. This story hit the boy where he lived. His ears grew ten sizes while she talked.
She told him how her granny wore ratty clothes and ate institutional food, and about how love ran thin. Then she told him how it all changed for young Granny.
“Changed?” said the boy.
“Oh, yes, Granny wasn’t alone forever. Nobody is. One day, she got married. And so will you someday.
The kid’s face perked up. “Married,” he said in a whisper. “And she wasn’t sad no more?”
“Well,” the nurse said, fuzzing his hair. “Now how could she be when she met my loud-talking grandfather and inherited his big, Italian family? Granny was so happy.”
“I wish I could find a family.”
She smiled. “You will. Don’t you doubt it for a moment, young man. When my granny passed, she was the happiest woman in ten states. She had a huge family. Fourteen grandkids.
“That’s a lot of grandkids.”
“One day, you might have even more.”
“You really think so?”
She kissed his forehead. “Go to sleep.”
He never forgot that night in the hospital.
But it’s important to note that life isn’t always a perfect, succinct little bedtime story. It’s imperfect and unfair. The boy developed asthma after his chest infection, and a handful of other serious health problems.
And what’s worse, people weren’t exactly falling all over themselves to adopt a sickly kid.
Eventually he grew up to be twenty-year-old. Although he was still lonely, he was doing big things with his life.
He was smart. Independent. A community college student, with a crack IQ. He burned through his classes like a man with his hair on fire. Straight A’s all the way.
Then, just as an older nurse once predicted, he met a young lovely.
She was tall, loudspoken, sharp as a needle, and funny. He was drawn to her. She was out of his league, but it didn’t matter.
They went out to a restaurant. Just the two of them. He showed up forty minutes early. He sat at an empty table, waiting for her. He stood when he saw her and felt himself fall off a proverbial cliff.
He pulled her chair out for her—he’d seen it on TV once. And he knew his life would never be the same.
It quite a night, filled with lots of firsts for the young man. His first date, his first kiss, his first time feeling important, and it was all wrapped into one sacred evening.
They married. And like the RN once foresaw, years earlier, he inherited the young woman’s big, loud, imposing Irish family.
Don’t get me wrong. His is not a perfect life. But it’s beautiful. And it’s not lonely.
“I’ll always remember that sweet nurse,” he says to me. He is a middle-aged man now.
“That lady gave me hope that night when I was a kid. She knew what she was doing too. Because all anyone needs is a little hope. Just a little. They just need to know that things will be okay.”
Hope. We could surely use a little of that in this tired world we live in.
Anyway, now you know why the boy grew up to become a registered nurse.