The boy keeps coming back to my mind these past few days. I want to do something, but I don’t know what.
My sister does what she can, when she can. He lives next door to her. His mom is dead and he lives with his half-sister. I guess she’s his legal guardian now. And his situation has been the same for at least the three years my sister has lived in her house. I’ve been aware of it. I think it just only really hit me when I was there to watch it happen.
My sister and I have started having movie nights. We pick out a chick-flick and put comfy clothes on and get together to watch. We were at her house on Thursday evening and the DVD hadn’t progressed past the previews when the doorbell rang. I assumed it was one of my nephews’ friends. And when my sister opened the door, I was only vaguely paying attention to her conversation with the visitor until I heard her ask him if he was hungry. He said he was.
As she came up the stairs from her entryway, I saw a tall young man of about 14 or 15 years coming up behind her. She introduced him to me and I recognized his name. I knew immediately that he was the boy from next door.
“How long have you been outside,” she asked him.
“Only about an hour,” he said.
“What happened this time,” my sister asked?
“She told me I had to get out because they were leaving,” he said.
“Did the rest of them have dinner?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “There wasn’t any when I came home and then she told me I had to go outside. I did my homework, but I was getting cold and they’re not back yet.”
It was long dark outside by this time. And it’s been warm-jacket weather for a couple of weeks, especially after the sun goes down. As I understand it, this is a regular occurrence. Before a year or so ago, the boy’s sister lived there too and my sister often opened her home and her kitchen to both of the kids. Their guardian would lock them out of the house for hours and leave them to fend for themselves, without food, or money, or anyone to look over them. The boy’s sister lives somewhere else now, but for some reason, he still lives with his guardian, her significant other and their young children.
My sister pulled her leftover homemade chicken pot pie out of the refrigerator and dished up a plate for the boy. After it had been reheated, he gladly accepted it and ate it all. When he was finished, he went down to the lower level of the house to hang out with my nephews for a while. Not long afterwards, he called up the stairs to my sister to thank her and to let her know he was leaving.
“Do you know if they’re back home so you can go inside again,” she asked?
“I think they probably are,” he said. He thanked her again and went out the door. He didn’t come back.
A year or so ago, during the winter months, another neighbor called Child Protective Services after noticing that the boy and his sister had been locked out of their home, multiple times, for hours at a time while their guardian was gone off to who-knows-where. The authorities said that as long as the temperature was above freezing, they couldn’t (or wouldn’t?) take any action.
I don’t know how the boy’s guardian continues to get away with locking the boy out of the house and leaving him for indefinite periods of time. Maybe he’s not in any real danger, but who locks their kid out of the house, without food, in the cold and makes him wait, not knowing for how long? They live in a nice middle-class neighborhood. Somehow that makes it seem worse.
The day after our movie night, I couldn’t stop thinking about the boy. It made me angry and sad that he is treated as an outcast by his own family. My sister does her best to do what she can for him, but it’s just not possible for her to be there for him at all times. I texted her on Friday and told her that I was so very bothered by the boy’s situation.
“Join the club,” was her reply. “I’m afraid to call Social Services in case the guardian finds out and then forbids him to come here, and then he is truly out in the cold.”
I asked if there was anything I could do for him.
“What would you do… honestly,” she asked?
I knew what she was getting at. There was nothing I could think to do for him without his guardian knowing, without her getting angry because someone else was butting in to her business.
It’s not right. And I wish I knew what to do.