I met a boy in the supermarket parking lot. I saw him loading groceries into a rusty car. His young mother sat up front with a baby.
He was a serious kid. Thirteen maybe. His daddy had just died. Brain tumor. It screwed him up.
I helped him load a large bag of dog food. When we finished, he shook my hand like a thirty-year-old.
And for a second, I was thirteen.
In my memory, I’m standing in the gravel parking lot of a rural supermarket. I can hear my kid sister screaming in the truck. Mama soft-talking her.
Behind me: Mister Stew, stepping out of his vehicle. Nosy. He’s just learned the news about Daddy. I can see it on his face.
I remember that only a few days earlier, I’d overheard a conversation between two adults—at church. They’d talked about me.
“You hear about his daddy?” one man had remarked.
“No,” said the other. “What happened?”
“Kilt his self.”
“Oh my God, that kid’s gonna be screwed up.”
It occurred to me then, that this was my new lot in life. And I would learn this fully when I showed up for ball practice. When all the boys scooted toward the other end of the dugout, avoiding eye-contact.
That day, on the walk home, I tossed my glove into a ditch and never went back.
Even my sleep was cursed. I’d lay awake, unable to shut my eyes for more than a minute. One night, I wandered into our pasture to watch stars. The next morning, Mama found me asleep near the goat pen.
Money got tight. Childhood ended. I learned to do laundry, change lightbulbs, fix sinks. I took thankless jobs. Mama and I pooled our paychecks together for rent. We wore second-hand clothes.
That all seems like a hundred years ago now.
Anyway kid, I don’t know what you’re feeling. It wouldn’t matter if I did. I’m not going to lie, you’re going to have your own share of private hell to endure. But either way, I’m asking you to buck up.
Because one day—and you’re just going to have to trust me on this—you’re going to be a new man. It’ll be like God replaced your head with a factory-new model. You’ll taste food again, and grass won’t look so brown.
And whenever you waltz through a parking lot and see the forlorn face of some poor boy, it’ll be your duty to offer him a hand. You won’t even have to say a single word.
Just let him know you care.
Because that’s what screwed-up people do.