He was two when his mother gave him up. He has one faint memory of her.
In the memory, she’s 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.
She gave him to his aunt—who had even more addiction problems than his mother. It was a bad idea. He was five when his aunt gave him to the foster system.
Group homes are not places you want to find yourself. Three square meals and a bed. It’s no day at the Ramada.
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 stare out his hospital window and wonder if anyone even cared that he was sick.
Someone cared. A woman with gray hair and kind eyes. She was a night-shift nurse.
“What’cha staring at?” she asked him once.
“I dunno,” he said. “Stars, I guess.”
She talked. He listened. She told stories. All kinds. A good story can do a lot for a lonely kid.
She told a story about her grandmother, who was raised in orphanages during the Great Depression.
The boy was all ears.
She told him how her granny wore plain clothes and ate institutional food. How love ran thin. And how one day, she got married.
The kid’s face perked up.
“My granny wasn’t lonely forever,” the nurse said. “When she met my grandfather, she inherited a big family. She was so happy.”
When Granny passed, she’d become the happiest orphan in ten states. She had a big family. Fourteen grandkids.
“That’s a lot of grandkids,” the boy said.
“One day,” the nurse said. “You’ll have a big family.”
The thought made him smile.
But life isn’t a perfect bedtime story. It’s imperfect and unfair. The boy developed asthma after his chest infection, and a handful of other problems.
And people don’t adopt sickly kids. One day, those kids grow up to be twenty-year-olds without anyone to wish them happy birthday.
But he was a good twenty-year-old. Smart. Independent. A community college student, with a cracker-jack IQ. He burned through classes like a man with his hair on fire. Straight A’s.
Then he met her. She was tall, loud spoken, and funny. He was drawn to her. She was out of his league, but it didn’t matter because she liked him.
She invited him to a restaurant. Just the two of them. He was so nervous that he spent money he didn’t have on new clothes.
He showed up forty minutes early. He sat at an empty table, waiting. He stood when he saw her. He pulled her chair out for her—he’d seen it on TV once.
That was quite a night. His first date, first kiss, first time feeling important, all wrapped into one evening.
They married. He inherited her big family. They have good jobs. Kids. They had their first grandson last May. It’s not a perfect life, but by God, it’s beautiful.
“I’ll always remember that nurse,” he says. “You know, she gave me hope. She knew what she was doing.
“And I realize now, that all people need is a little hope. They just need to know that things will be okay, even when they’re not.”
Hope. We could sure use a little of that in this bloody world we live in.
Anyway, now you know why he’s a nurse.