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I couldn’t just leave him there

July 9, 2014

I had just come around the curve of the road when I saw him.  Walking right up the center of my lane, determinedly making his way… somewhere.  I swerved around him, and looked back at him in my rear view mirror.  Younger than I’d thought, and being rapidly bypassed by two more cars.  “Someone’s going to hit him,” I thought.

I pulled in to the next business complex, and worked my way back through the parking lots that ran parallel to the one way street I had been driving on.  I spotted him still plugging along, head down, with another car swerving around him.  I pulled into a nearby parking space, turned off my engine, and hopped out.

Up close, I could see that he was even younger than my backwards glance had been able to see.  Not a college student, a high school student.  A high school student with the soft, rounded features of a special needs kid.  A kid wearing a hearing aide.

I called out to him, and he stopped after the second time, coming out of the middle of the lane of traffic and standing next to the curb.  “Do you need help?” I asked.  He looked up at me, on the grassy slope next to the busy road and said “My mom is gone.”

My heart stopped for a moment.  “Do you need me to take you somewhere?  The police station, maybe?”

“I need to go to school,” he said, holding up the card on a lanyard around his neck.  I looked at it.  The school was on the other side of town.  This kid was trying to walk across town, through the morning traffic, to a school that was over an hour away on foot.

“Would you like me to take you to school?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, and I offered him my hand to help him up the short slope to my car.

My car was still packed from the convention.  I threw everything in the passenger seat into the back, without regard to what it was or where it might land.  I didn’t want him to have second thoughts and decide to keep walking.  I helped him into the car, and set off for the high school.

“Do you normally walk to school?”

“No.”

“Your mom takes you?”

“Yes.”

“And your mom wasn’t there this morning?”

“No.”

His voice was strained with… sadness?  Fear?  I couldn’t tell.  We didn’t talk any more on the drive over.  I was trying to remain outwardly calm while cascading through a dozen unanswerable questions.  Should I take him to the police station anyways?  How would he handle that?  Would the school be more familiar?  Would it be better to drop him off, or take him inside myself?  Should I take him directly to the main office, or allow him to go to his class?  Would the police need to be called?  Should I call work?  Did I want to explain the situation to my office while he was in the car with me?  Would it make a bad impression on him to use my phone while driving?  What had happened to his mom?

What had happened to his mom?

What had happened to his mom?

I thought it would probably be easiest on him to bring him somewhere familiar, so the school it was.  I took out my phone at a handy stop light and sent Moose a text to call my office.  He asked me to go inside once we were at the school, which answered that question easily enough.  And once I had parked and taken his hand again, I told him I needed him to show me to the main office.  I figured it would be easier to give him a goal he could help me with, rather than letting him head off on his own.

Outside of the school, a bus driver questioned me about him.  I can’t remember much about what she asked.  I got the impression that she had been worried he hadn’t been out at his bus stop, and seemed confused about why he had been on that particular road and why a perfect stranger would be bringing him to school.

Inside, he led me straight to the main office.  The lady at the desk was relieved to see him, his teachers were called to come talk to him, his mother was called, and a police officer quickly joined us.  The mom had gone to the bathroom, she said, and the boy had simply walked out of the house.  They had been about to put out an Amber alert, she said.  The pledge of allegiance began to echo over the loudspeaker.  I put my left hand over my heart, because my right was still clasped in his and I didn’t want to let him go.

Everything after that is a bit of a blur.  I had made it this far being calm, composed, and capable.  Now I was simply ready to go somewhere and cry.  I gave my driver’s license and phone numbers to the officer.  The ladies who gathered around him like protective mothers all thanked me for picking him up and bringing him in.  One of them said “Not many people would have.”  I don’t remember much about how I responded, other than “I couldn’t just leave him there.”

It wasn’t true, of course.  I could have.  I could have kept driving, gone on my merry way to work, never having stopped to find that the stranger walking down the middle of the lane was barely a teenager with the mind of a child half his age.  I could have let him keep walking, crossing every major street in town on the way.  I could have clicked a link tomorrow and read about the poor kid who had been struck on his way to school and wondered.

Except…  I couldn’t have.  Even when I thought he was some random college student dragging in to his morning classes, I couldn’t have left him there.  I couldn’t have left someone to walk down the middle of a lane, head down and seemingly oblivious to the traffic around him.  And when saw his face for the first time, I had a dozen questions, but only one fact that mattered.  I couldn’t just leave him there.

I am not sure how long he had been walking when I picked him up.  The officer who followed up with me said that he appeared to have been walking along the bus route.  Combine that with the confusion about him being on that particular street, and I’m afraid he may have walking for a while before I spotted him.  I doubt I will ever know the answer to that.  Not that it particularly matters, other than how lucky he had been to get as far as he did.

I wrote most of this the day after it happened, over a year ago.  But I didn’t publish it until now because I was uncomfortable with the praise I’d received.  I knew deep down that if I hadn’t looked into my rear view mirror and seen the two other cars also swerving around a young boy, I wouldn’t have stopped.  But I’m glad I did.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Karen Mangum permalink
    July 16, 2014 10:51 am

    Thank you for posting this event. It made/makes me weep – I’m still tearing up – with the hope that people truly do care for strangers in our mad world. I want to believe I would have done the same, and stopped, and picked up the boy. It’s a ‘good’ cry.

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