Seventeen years, three hundred and sixty-four days seems like a lifetime to a young man. Josh had just returned home from church on a Sunday night. He was excited because tomorrow was his eighteenth birthday. Finally! One of the most exciting days in your life: The day that you are legally recognized as an adult. Exhausted from a long day lifeguarding in the hot sun at the community pool, he had missed church in the morning, and his mom and dad insisted that he attend the evening service. He didn’t feel like dealing with all the crap anymore. He just wanted to go to bed and wake up tomorrow. He kicked off his shoes and lay down on top of his bed still fully dressed in his brown suit. Within minutes, he was out cold.
Josh was a young man, who by age ten, had experienced more than his share of adversity. He was only three when without any warning he was ripped from the only loving environment that he had ever known and thrown into a foster home. He was too young to understand why, but later would learn that his birth mother had a drug and alcohol addiction and couldn’t maintain a steady job. Poof! In the blink of an eye, everything that meant anything to him was gone. At seven, his foster mother passed away, and once again, he found himself floating. An upscale family in a small North Wilmington neighborhood adopted him and his two brothers shortly after. You would think that Josh’s life would have had a positive turn by now; but that is far from the case.
Dusk is an awkward time in the city. Wealthy executives scramble for their cars tucked neatly away in the parking garages after long days in their offices. Small businesses close their doors and slam down the safety gates. Vendors fold in the hot dog carts and haul them away to the suburbs to work soccer games. The only life you find uptown in the city after dark is for symphony lovers or upper-class theatergoers. Downtown, however is another world. Cop cars fly by with sirens blaring; ambulances rush gunshot victims to local hospitals. Streets teem with gang members looking to start a brawl, and the homeless meander the streets looking for a warm corner to make a bed for the night.
The local police usually do a decent job of keeping the homeless out of the uptown locale, but on this brisk autumn evening a young man in a tattered brown suit had seemingly slipped through the cracks. There he sat, slumped in a ball against the Grand Opera House back door. He appeared lost both in body and soul. He wasn’t much older than I was and my curiosity was driving me insane. I sat through the first act of Les Miserablestotally unable to concentrate on the performance. All I could think about was the young man. At intermission, I told my mom that I was going to the restroom, and instead, I slipped out the front door and headed around to the back of the building.
“Hi,” I spoke cautiously to him, not really knowing what to expect.
“Oh, hi,” he answered.
“Are you waiting for someone?”
“No, I am just hanging here for awhile. How about you?”
“Actually, I was inside watching a show with my family, but I saw you here on our way in, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you. You look so lost and alone…”
“Yeah, well, I sort of am. My adopted parents gave me this for my eighteenth birthday.”
I didn’t understand at all what he was saying. Gave him what? I was unsure how to respond. I didn’t want to appear stupid, or too nosy, but I couldn’t help myself. I felt an unexplainable connection to him. I needed to reach out.
“Gave you what exactly?”
“Well, this brown backpack and my independence. They cut me loose!”
I still didn’t quite understand what he was trying to say. I knew my mom would be wondering why I was in the bathroom so long, and would be worried when I didn’t return to my seat before the second act started, but something wasn’t right. I felt this uncontrollable urge to set things right, somehow. I leaned up against the building and slid my backside down the wall to the ground.
“What do you mean?”
“It is very simple, actually,” he responded in an empty tone.
“August third, my eighteenth birthday, my mom and dad walked into my bedroom and woke me up, handed me this backpack and escorted me to the door. I have been wandering aimlessly since.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. What kind of parent would turn their back on a son? What did he possibly do that could warrant such a drastic expulsion? I had so many questions, so little time.
“Wait here,” I said as I clambered to my feet and raced back into the theater.
I had to find Mom. I felt the overwhelming need to help this stranger. We had to do something. We had plenty of room in our house since my sister left for college a couple of months ago. I had it all planned out; I just needed mom to say yes.
“Where were you? You missed the entire second half of the show. I was really worried about you.”
“Mom, I met the homeless teen outside, and he needs a place to stay and I want to take him home with us…”
Josh sat quietly against the cold brick building. The wind began to rip through the dark sidewalk and a chill that had become commonplace to him dug its way into his very core. He wondered if the boy would return. He shut his eyes and memories of his adolescent years played like a TV marathon. He remembered the Christmas that he got no presents, not even one cause he was bad, and he sat and watched his princess sister open gift after gift. He felt the twang in his stomach similar to the many times that his mom sentenced him to a week in his room with no dinner, just because. He relived the embarrassment at his high school graduation when his parents announced to his graduating class at the after party that his diploma was fake, a blank piece of paper, because he had failed senior English. The principal had promised to replace that paper with a diploma when he completed the summer school requirement, but let him walk the stage at graduation with his peers because he didn’t want to take that honor away from him. No problem, mom did it anyway. He remembered all of it. All he ever truly wanted was to feel wanted, loved and have a value as a human being. Josh peered up the ally one last time to see if he could catch a glimpse of the kind little boy and then drifted off to sleep.
“Good morning, Josh. Happy eighteenth Birthday.”
Josh opened his eyes and groggily sat up in bed. He was still dressed in the brown suit that he had worn to church the night before. At the foot of his bed stood his adopted parents holding a brown leather book bag…