For the last two and a half years, I’ve gotten daily visits from Ponytail and Little Biker Boy, two neighbor kids. They’ve played with traintracks on my living floor, built castles out of lego blocks, and colored at my kitchen table. They haven’t been easy kids to deal with; they are children who have already been damaged by the difficult lives they lead. My house has been their safe place, even when I’m not home. In the winter, I’ve left plastic toboggans on the front hill for them to play with, and in the summer, I’ve left toys on the front porch.
They are affectionate kids. When I come home from work, they are often on my front porch and they jump up and down with excitement when they see me pull in. Every time I go out of town, they greet my return as if it’s the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to them.
Last month Little Biker Boy told me that they’d been evicted. I kept asking his mother what their plans were, but she kept telling me conflicting stories. She made it clear she wasn’t cooperating with the social worker assigned to the kids; her attitude toward all caseworkers is very antagonistic. I think the caseworker wanted her to move into the city, where she could walk or take the bus, since she doesn’t have a car.
As usual, I got the most reliable information from Biker Boy. Despite his mother’s warnings about keeping the family secrets, he has always told me the truth. Unlike his mother and sister, he doesn’t seem to know how to lie.
Ponytail and her three-year-old brother disappeared about a week ago. Biker Boy says they have gone to live with her father. (He’s the man who attacked the family in a drunken rage one night a couple of years ago. Little Biker Boy drove to my house on his bike, barefoot and in boxer shorts, and I called 911. The cops had to taser him before taking him away in handcuffs.) He lives, apparently, several towns over. I have no way of getting in touch with Ponytail.
In the meantime, a man in a white truck has been moving furniture from the trailer. Biker Boy told me that the man is his mother’s latest boyfriend, and that “he’s mean.” I walked over to the trailer so I could meet the man myself, and he was full of talk about how Little Biker Boy “needed his ass kicked.” He seemed to fit the same mold as the last bunch of abusive, alcoholic boyfriends.
Biker Boy and his mother are moving in with this new boyfriend.
Little Biker Boy kept telling me that it’s his fault that they were evicted. His mother has apparently been telling him that.
“It’s not your fault,” I kept saying, over and over again. “You’re a nine-year-old. You’re a kid. None of this is your fault.”
Little Biker Boy got in my car with me, and we went to find the place where he’ll be living. It’s near the high school that With-a-Why goes to. Unfortunately, the road is busy, so I’m not so sure that it’ll be very safe for him to ride his bike. But he knows my phone number, so I’m hoping that he’ll call and I’ll be able to pick him up sometimes and bring him to my house. I’m relying on the fact that his mother is always want to shunt him off, and will be happy to take advantage of a free babysitter.
I pointed out a farm that’s within walking distance of the house. “See that place? Remember the silos. I know the people who live there. If you needed to run somewhere and get help, that would be a good place to go to.”
Yesterday afternoon, my husband and I took Little Biker Boy out to a movie. He was excited about getting nachos and candy and a slushie. He laughed during the funny parts of the movie, and kept turning to me and saying, “Are you having fun? Isn’t this fun?”
Back at my house, he and I sat on the carpeted stairs, where we have had many talks. (It’s where I always send him to calm down.)
“Are you going to cry?” he asked.
“I’ve cried every night,” I told him. “Every night this week.”
“Yes, for you.”
He looked surprised. He leaned back and rubbed his head against me, and I rubbed his back. He said that when he’s old enough, he’ll get a car and come visit me.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what a nice young man you’re going to be,” I told him.
“But I might turn out bad,” he said.
“No, you won’t,” I told him. “You’re like my kids. Like Boy in Black. Like Shaggy Hair Boy. Like With-a-Why. You’re going to be compassionate and gentle and nice.”
And then I had to say goodbye, had to drive him through the dark night to the house where he lives now. I don’t know what happens next.