About a decade and a half ago, one of my coworkers, Don, asked me if I would be willing to rent a room to his 17-year-old son, Lee. He wanted to continue attending my neighborhood high school with his friends, and my coworker was moving to the neighboring county. I said yes, albeit reluctantly.
I don’t “do” kids. I have no children of my own, by choice. I didn’t even hang out with kids that much when I was one myself.
But this young man seemed nice enough. I was assured that he was pretty self-sufficient. He’d buy and prepare his own food, Don said. He was very quiet, and seemed a little sad.
I felt sorry for Lee. Don said that his mother had died when he was very young. He and his brother had been raised by a single parent who worked the graveyard shift for as long as I had known him, so I can’t imagine their lives were particularly conventional.
Little did I know.
Lee would often sleep with his bedroom door open. I’d see him hugging a teddy bear as I walked past at night on my way to work. I thought that was rather unusual for a boy his age, but to each his own.
My next intel about Lee was that his father treated him horribly. I could hear the man scream at him over the phone from the other side of the house. His other son could do no wrong.
I came to realize that Lee was gay, and I already knew that his father was a homophobe, so I thought that explained it all. It made me feel even more sorry for Lee, because it must be awful to be rejected by the only parent you have.
Then one night I had to rush Lee to the hospital with extreme stomach pains. It turned out that he had been existing for years on a basic diet of chocolate donuts and coca cola, and that hadn’t done his intestines much good. This broke my heart.
My heartbreak turned to fury, though, when I discovered that his father had let Lee’s health insurance lapse. Rather than thanking me for bringing his son to the hospital, Don was outraged, because now he’d be stuck with a medical bill. He viewed his son as a massive inconvenience.
Don was so angry that he decided to yank his son out of my house. Before he left, I learned many truths about Lee.
First of all, his mother wasn’t dead, as far as he knew. She had abandoned him and his brother at a rest stop when they were very little. The police had given them each a teddy bear, and he had kept his ever since.
It was doubtful that Don was even his father. Apparently his wife had been rather promiscuous. (I had thought he and his brother didn’t look very much alike.) Don had had to drive several hundred miles to pick the boys up, and he had resented Lee, in particular, from that day to this.
After Don entered my house in a rage and grabbed all his stuff and yanked a protesting, pleading Lee out the door, I never saw them again. Don quit working with me, pulled Lee out of school, and left no valid forwarding address.
I often wonder how Lee turned out. I tried looking for him on Facebook, but his name is way too common. I will forever wonder if I could have done more for that lonely, neglected 17-year-old boy who only had a stuffed animal for comfort for most of his life. It’s one of my biggest regrets.
I’m glad that at least once in his life, a kind stranger had the decency to give him a teddy bear to hug. I hope he was able to rise above his circumstances. He deserved much more from his childhood than he got.
I also hope that karma has rolled over his father like a crosstown bus.