lion cubPosted: May 24, 2012
By the time we met him he was already lost. Just seven years old, but the size of five, his brilliantly blond mop of hair stuck out in all directions topping an impish smile and crooked teeth. Little Ricky spoke in a soft high voice that made him hard to understand. That summer he exploded into our lives, three rugby players renting next door.
He magically seemed to appear when we were out, Marty, tall and broad shouldered, Angie and I both hard and fit from our summer of rugby. They were loud and boisterous, I was the quiet bookish one. We tousled Ricky’s hair and rough housed with him and let him tackle us when we played around with the football in the back yard, and of course while we sat chatting over a beer in the evenings he would sit quietly chowing down on chips or whatever we had in the fridge.
Abandoned more than once by his mother for drugs, Ricky drew the short straw in life. In and out of dozens of foster homes and institutions by the age of five, it seemed Ricky finally won the lottery landing with wealthy Howard B. next to us. Large and overweight Howard presented like the most jovial of men, but we learned that summer and fall that his heart was small and hard and his soul cruel. By the end of the summer Howard was determined to break the boy and turn him into something he could never be.
We watched and heard the screaming of a man and woman, and the crying of the boy in the house next to us. Outnumbered and destined to lose, Ricky fought back, once pouring 42 boxes of expensive dye down the toilet, watching each diffuse as he flushed them down. We secretly cheered him on. And if he quietly left the house to come over and visit, we made certain he got back unnoticed. By fall he was gone, rejected once again and returned to the bowels of the system.
I somehow managed to find him there thanks to some caring social workers, and even more surprising was able to visit him every other week. I would come down, and sign him out and we would go off to some little excursion before I would return him to the state.
That winter someone assigned him a large brown hooded coat, 2 sizes too big that hung over him like a dress. He and I would stroll through the zoo holding hands when he wasn’t darting off from point to point. I don’t recall the reason, perhaps it was the mud or a hundred other things but he started acting up. I quickly reached out and grabbed him by coat at the base of his neck and lifted him up. Suspended in the air eyes wide open, not scared, just befuddled, the coat rode up and his arms splayed out leaving him hanging just like a lion cub being lifted by his mother.
Could he listen and obey me I asked calmly. If so I would lower him, otherwise I would carry him out just like that. You choose Ricky. He was light as a feather. I could have held him that way for a long time and I could see him thinking and he nodded at me, the little impish smile back. Good, I said, Where to? The aquarium he hollered and off we ran.
Ricky bounced around through a few more foster homes, and then they shipped him to one downstate and determined it would be better if all past ties were severed and the little lion cub passed out of my life.