I am walking a hungry boy home from dinner when we see his mom on the porch across the street. She doesn’t have custody and he’s seen her very sporadically over the last year. His face lights up like he’s ten years younger and he waves his hand over his head while he yells “Mom!” in a voice with too much hope. All we hear in response is her yell at the man next to her, who has clearly just scolded her for not replying. She’s telling the man that he can’t make her do anything and to mind his own business.
The house is only a block from where he lives and we have to pass by it. We pause at the porch to say hi, and there are small-talk greetings all around. I tell them he had a great day at school today, and the neighbor is trying hard to be friendly with me. The disinterest from mom is palpable and we head on.
A young man with tattoos is walking on the sidewalk towards us. The boy tells me maybe I should turn around, because there are gangs here. I ask if he has a problem with any of them, and he guarantees he doesn’t. I note that in that case I should be fine too, and we keep walking. I say good evening as we pass the man, and he is kind back. We are three blocks from school.
There is no one home at grandma’s house, and a neighbor I know is concerned that no one has been home in awhile. She calls grandma for me as he goes in the unlocked door. The two women get into a fight on the phone, and he walks out as the neighbor is berating grandma. “If you don’t want this boy then why did you take him? You can’t just dump him on the rest of us to deal with. He isn’t this community’s problem. You better figure something out. He can’t keep staying over here.” I wish he hadn’t heard so clearly that nobody wants him. He starts dribbling his basketball and disappears between the houses across the street.
The neighbor and I make some phone calls, and I leave with reason to believe that he will be okay for the night. I stop by mom on the porch again, but she is not concerned about the whereabouts of her son’s guardian. I know the reporting hotline number by heart. I play out a little fantasy in my head where I adopt the child and home is always a place where someone loves him. I do not bring him with me because I am aware of the legal and professional issues.
I do not know what it’s like to be abandoned at home by my guardian while my mother sits on a nearby porch and doesn’t come for me. That was not part of my middle school experience.