On Saturday, I was walking up Park Avenue on my way to buy groceries, when I came upon a boy, no more than thirteen, weeping on the corner of 83rd Street. Naturally I had to stop, something I do faithfully regardless who it is that’s crying. Many times it’s a ruse to get you to fork over some cash, but I knew this wasn’t going to be the case. He looked too snappy in his chinos and Pima cotton button-down, an opened navy parka with his school insignia gracing the front.
“Hey kid, what’s the matter?” I asked, meandering over to him.
“Nothin,” he said, tears streaming down his coco-colored face. He was a beautiful boy with at least one parent African American, the other luminously light-skinned.
Kids always say, nothin or no, or don’t want any. I’ve learned you need to be gently insistent helping them along.
A mother I know once told me, you never ask a kid if he’s hungry since they’ll usually say no. You just plunk the plate down and they’ll automatically eat.
I smiled and said, “It sure doesn’t look like nothin to me, and I should know since I cry on the hour.”
This got his attention. “Why would you do that?”
“Because I’m a little too sensitive for my own good. Tell me, did someone hurt you in some way?” He crossed his arms protectively before shrugging no.
I should have left, but just couldn’t without knowing he was really okay. I was a battered kid in chronic denial too. I’m not saying this was the case with him, but that wounded part of me wanted to make sure he didn’t need help of any kind.
“If you don’t mind me asking, are you waiting for somebody?”
“My dad…and he’s pretty late.”
“Did you call him?” The tears started all over again.
“I don’t have a phone.” When you think even dogs carry phones nowadays, this seemed extremely odd.
“You could use mine,” I said, hauling out my BlackBerry.
After studying me for a minute he mumbled, “Okay, thanks.”
“Tell me the number and I’ll dial,” I said, before handing him the phone.
“Dad, it’s me Jacob…where are you?…alright…I will. A lady let me borrow hers.” I motioned for him to give me the phone.
“Hi, this is Susannah Bianchi, and I’m here with your son who’s worried about you…are you okay?… This was strategy…making it about him and not the boy. Apparently he was stuck in heavy traffic due to an accident on the FDR Drive.
Listen…would it be okay if I went with your son to the coffee shop on 83rd and Lex to wait for you there? Then no one needs to worry.”
He thanked me, agreeing it was a great idea, so me and Jake, as he informed me he likes being called, strolled one avenue over for hot chocolate.
Compassion can certainly be time consuming, I thought, as we waited for the light to change.
It seemed the reason he was even there on a Saturday was because he was serving detention after getting in some sort of trouble at his school. I wanted to pry but didn’t, at least not much.
“Is that why you don’t have a phone?”
“Yeah,” he said somberly. Taking a kid’s cell these days is like cutting off his arm.
We sat and slurped, getting refills on the house and once again I felt the pang of never being a mom.
When his dad, the light-skinned parent, showed up throwing his arms around his son, all fear of neglect and abuse took immediate flight.
I guess tough love was in order here, something I’m not sure I’d be very good at.
“Thanks so much for stepping in,” he said, taking money from his wallet.
“No, it was my pleasure. Jake’s a wonderful boy.”
When I went to pay John, the owner, he said, “It’s on me.”
See, John doesn’t have kids either…sigh