Last week, a "for rent" sign popped up on the lawn of the house next door.
This didn't really surprise me, but it disappointed me. The family that had been living there was not friendly: they had moved into the house, it seemed, on the strength of one month's rent plus one month's deposit, and left as soon as that was used up. That possibility was something I just didn't take into consideration, though, and I tried to be friendly to them. Waved, said "hello," and so on. I didn't get much response. But after a bit, the one boy who lived there responded to me. He told me his given name, which I forget, and some other name, which I also forget, but he told me that everyone called him "Pank." When I mispronounced it "Pink," he corrected me. It was "Pank."
There started a two-week friendship that had potential to be much more. He was a good kid. Talked about his little brother (three or so years younger) a lot, talked about the things happening with his mom and her boyfriend, talked about his grandma, but mostly he talked about the things he found fun. For instance, his bicycle--a small child's plastic toy. He asked me if I could fix its broken wheel, and I did. Same for his little brother's bike. He asked me what I was doing in the yard, and I told him in ways he could understand. We marveled together at the carpenter bees swarming around my redbud tree. He asked me how to move the sticks in the yard. He showed me how fast he could navigate his bike around them. And as he warmed up, he began to show the pure joy of having someone older to talk to, of having an uncle who would listen to him. He wanted to borrow the wagon (previously used by my nephew and niece, Jeffy and Rachel) sitting in my yard, and I gave him the plastic dinosaur toys inside. This thrilled him, and for the next few days he was going up and down th sidewalk in the wagon, playing with his little friend DJ, taking his brother for rides.
Then, one morning, the wagon was sitting in the front yard abandoned, a skateboard (whose?) in it. The house next door was quiet. As I went outside for the mail, I looked anxiously over. I listened for the sound of young voices. I waited for running feet on the sidewalk. Then, the sign appeared. "For Rent," followed by a phone number. They had gone.
Ahead, it seems, of any obligations, of any entanglements that might involve getting credit reports attached to their names. They lived in one house as long as they could and moved on. No wonder they had no intention of knowing their neighbors. But there was a good boy there, and his nickname was "Pank." He had a good heart, he was fun, and he was eager to meet people friendly to him. For a very short time, I was there as I was for my sisters' children, an uncle who saw a child with needs and stepped in to fill a gap. I hope he remembers me when he grows up. Failing that, I hope that the kindness I showed him gives him a little softness, a little compassion, in the edge his life will have. I hope that couple of weeks made a difference.
Me, I'm sad. So much potential, gone like a flame in the wind. But I hope that for a breath of his life, I made a difference. Sometimes, I think that's all we've got.