The June sun warmed my shoulders as I powered through the last leg of my 3-mile walk. Kenny Loggins’ “I’m Alright” filled my headphones as I mentally reworked an article due by the end of the day.
A school bus stopped across the street. It pulled away to reveal one small boy standing by the curb. I smiled as I walked by. I saw his lips move and pulled the headphones from my ears. “Hey,” he said. “I don’t know where my house is!”
I scanned the street. No adult sat waiting for him in a nearby car. No parent hustled down the road. He looked impossibly small and very alone.
Crossing the street, I asked, “What’s your name, sweetie?”
“I’m Ricky,” he replied. He looked behind him. “But this isn’t my house.”
Ricky didn’t know his address or his phone number. The sun was hot and his lip trembled. I held out my hand, “Well, Ricky, I’m Cindy, and my house is just down the street. I guess we’d better go there and call a policeman to help us find your house.”
He nodded, grabbed my hand and we set off. “Hey, I think that’s my mom’s blue car!” he shouted, after we’d walked about a block. But the car was empty.
Still, Ricky was encouraged. “I think my house is around here, somewhere.”
I pointed out my home. “I live here. Should we go inside and call a policeman?”
But he shook his head, tugged my hand, and we kept walking. “There it is!” he shouted. “That’s my house!”
He ran through the yard and up to the door and let himself in. A face peered out of the window and I waved.
Relieved, I hustled home, my thoughts on the looming deadline. But I couldn’t seem to settle into work mode. I kept thinking about how trustingly Ricky took my hand. What if someone else had seen him first? Someone whose intentions were to harm not help?
My friends tease that I’m a boy magnet, and it’s true: Ricky is the second lost boy I’ve encountered. But lost boys aren’t the only ones whose stories have become part of my own.
Many years ago on another summer day, I heard a wild howling coming from near our front yard. My three oldest sons were at their grandparents’ for the day and I was home alone with the baby. I couldn’t imagine who was making such a racket.
From the window I saw a husky boy of about 10, sitting in front of our mailbox, crying loudly. His bike flung nearby, told the story.
Grabbing our ever-present box of SpongeBob bandages, I hustled out the door. The boy was yelling so loudly, I could scarcely get his attention. “Hey, hey, it’s going to be OK,” I said. “What’s your name?”
He unclenched his eyes and hiccupped. “Marcus,” he said. And the sobs started again at a lower decibel. He said he lived down the street but he didn’t think he could walk that far. I helped him up and led him to our front steps. His injuries were hardly life-threatening – just a severely skinned knee and elbow. I doctored him up and he limped off down the street.
The next day he returned. And the next day, and the next day. Marcus and his younger brother became fast friends with my sons.
Then there was a boy and his sister from up the hill. They would wander down to our front yard when my boys ran through the sprinklers, so of course we invited them to join us. It turned out they were left in the care of an older brother while their parents worked.
One day, I called the boys in to dry off and get ready to go to the library. Story time was a part of our weekly summer routine. The sister and brother looked so sad as the boys hustled off, so I told them if they got permission from their mom they could join us next week.
And they did. All that summer they piled into the minivan and gobbled up books like candy. They joined us for picnic lunches and trips to a neighborhood pool.
When school started we saw less of them, and when my kids outgrew sprinkler-running and story time, we lost touch with them altogether.
Through the years, other neighborhood kids would come and go through our lives and through our home.
Apparently, our home is memorable because not long ago, someone knocked on our door at 9:30 p.m. It was a friend of our second son. He was back in town, hoping to meet up with Alex. The young man didn’t look good. He told my husband a wild story about working in the oil fields of North Dakota and earning a lot of money, but he didn’t have any on him. And his phone was broken. Could he use ours?
Derek handed him a phone, and while he called around asking for a ride, my husband got out the duct tape and secured the guy’s wobbly bike seat. After obtaining Alex’s number, he headed off into the night.
We haven’t seen or heard from him since.
A few weeks after our first encounter, I saw him riding his bike with a group of kids. Scooting up to me, he slammed on his brakes. “Hey!” he said. “I know you! You’re the lady who helped me find my house!”