THE BOY WHO NEVER SMILED
Eddie smiled today. First time since he has been here at the Children’s Village. He was kicking a soccer ball in the driveway and his kick landed the ball on top of a tree. He smiled broadly, almost laughed Halleluiah! The boy who never smiled made a break through. True it was a small victory but given what he has had to overcome, it was a big step foreword.
Eddie came to the Children’s Village in September along with his little brother. His Dad was in jail and his Mom, struggling with her own drug problems, could no longer take care of the two boys. At nine years old, Eddie had already witnessed his Dad beating up Mom and sometimes both boys. These early experiences of violence in the home had left Eddie bowed down by life. He had become old for his years. The anger he felt at being rejected by his parents occasionally exploded into acts of violence but mostly it stayed within. The sadness never left his face.
Growing up he was a daily witness to a domineering father physically and emotionally beating up on his mom. His mom, only a child herself when she gave birth to Eddie at 16 was no match for the drunken anger of his dad. Eddie learned early on that women are to be treated like dirt. Men are in charge and it’s okay for a guy to beat up his woman.
Given that kind of upbringing, it was no accident that, while Eddie got along fairly well with his male houseparent and with me, he was belligerent towards females on the staff. His language reflected his animosity. “Fuck you bitch.” “You’re nuthin but a fuckin whore.” When I heard this language coming from a quiet, nice looking, gentle appearing nine year old I was astonished. Chalk it up to my naivety. Could this be the same kid who was always polite, even deferential to me?
I was drawn to the quiet side of Eddie and tried to build on his intelligence and the tenderness I saw in him when he was with my Bassett hound, Penny. He was gentle, almost wistful with her. Animals, in Eddie’s case as with so many of our kids, were a point of contact, an entry into their souls.
I got to know Eddie pretty well taking him to soccer practices and games at the local YMCÅ. He loved the game and was good at it, too. He took his soccer seriously and played with intensity. I was there for most of his games because I felt that being good at something and being acknowledged for it was important. Years earlier I had made it a point to show up for my own kid’s Little League games. I wanted to do the same for Eddie. He responded, too. I really began to feel that we were beginning to be buds. Maybe I, as a male, could be a better role model for him than his violent Dad.
I didn’t kid myself that he was an easy boy to handle. Eddie had his violent moments. It seemed that every other day, our maintenance man was going over to his house to repair a broken door or kicked-in wallboard. But it wasn’t the outbursts of anger that worried me as much as the deep sadness that enveloped him. Even in the excitement of a soccer game, his face remained expressionless. It was as though he was afraid to take the risk of enjoying himself, lest it get taken away.
I recall taking him one night to one of his soccer practices at a school I hadn’t been before. Somehow I got lost and found myself circling around the neighborhood. It was frustrating not being able to find the blikety-blank place. Besides it was getting dark and cold, too. I looked at the slight boy on the seat next to me dressed only in his soccer shorts and t-shirt. “You okay, big boy?” “Yea, I’m okay Grandpa Hank.” “I should have brought along a jacket for you.” “Nah, it’s okay,” he answered politely. “Gees,” I thought to myself, “this kid is being very polite. If my grandpa had make me miss my soccer practice, I would have at least been impatient.” The scene was so typical of Eddie. He thought so little of himself that it didn’t occur to him to complain.
Eddie’s temper erupted once too often at the Children’s Village and we had to send him back to Valley of the Moon, the temporary holding place for kids while they are awaiting another placement. I strongly disagreed with the decision. I felt and still feel that the Children’s Village should keep every kid sent to us, unless of course they are an immediate danger to themselves or others.
I did try to keep contact with Eddie, made it a point to visit him there at Valley of the Moon once or twice. But the reality is I had 18 other needy kids waiting for me back at the Children’s Village. So I don’t know where he is now. I still have a picture of Eddie hanging on my living room wall. I try to recall that one moment long ago when Eddie laughed. Funny thing about life. The boy who never smiled ended up making me cry.
The Boy Who Never Smiled is an excerpt from an upcoming book by Hank Mattimore on his experience as a surrogate Grandpa at the Children's Village in Santa Rosa,CA.