I mean, I’m only fifteen and I certainly shouldn’t have boys spending the night in my bedroom. But if a person knows someone needs a place to stay, isn’t it that person’s responsibility as a human to help them?
Last night after my parents went to sleep, I snuck out the back door to take Atlas those blankets. I took a flashlight with me because it was dark. It was still snowing really hard, so by the time I made it to that house, I was freezing. I beat on the back door and as soon as he opened it, I pushed past him to get out of the cold.
Only . . . I didn’t get out of the cold. Somehow, it felt even colder inside that old house. I still had my flashlight on and I shined it around the living room and kitchen. There wasn’t anything in there, Ellen!
No couch, no chair, no mattress. I handed the blankets off to him and kept looking around me. There was a big hole in the roof over the kitchen and wind and snow were just pouring in. When I shined my light around the living room, I saw his stuff in one of the corners. His backpack, plus the backpack I’d given him. There was a little pile of other stuff I’d given him, like some of my dad’s clothes. And then there were two towels on the floor. One I guess he laid on and one he covered up with.
I put my hand over my mouth because I was so horrified. He’d been there living like that for weeks!
Atlas put his hand on my back and tried to walk me back out the door. “You shouldn’t be over here, Lily,” he said. “You could get in trouble.”
That’s when I grabbed his hand and said, “You shouldn’t be here, either.” I started to pull him out the front door with me, but he yanked his hand back. That’s when I said, “You can sleep on my floor tonight. I’ll keep my bedroom door locked. You can’t sleep here, Atlas. It’s too cold and you’ll get pneumonia and die.”
He looked like he didn’t know what to do. I’m sure the thought of being caught in my bedroom was just as scary as getting pneumonia and dying. He looked back at his spot in the living room and then he just nodded his head once and said, “Okay.”
So you tell me, Ellen. Was I wrong letting him sleep in my room
last night? It doesn’t feel wrong. It felt like the right thing to do. But I sure would get in a lot of trouble if we had been caught. He slept on the floor, so it’s not like it was anything more than me just giving him somewhere warm to sleep.
I did learn a little more about him last night. After I snuck him in the back door and to my room, I locked my door and made a pallet for him on the floor next to my bed. I set the alarm for 6 a.m. and told him he’d have to get up and leave before my parents woke up, since sometimes my mom wakes me up in the mornings.
I crawled in my bed and scooted over to the edge of it so I could look down at him while we talked for a little while. I asked him how long he thought he might stay there and he said he didn’t know. That’s when I asked him how he ended up there. My lamp was still on, and we were whispering, but he got real quiet when I said that. He just stared up at me with his hands behind his head for a moment. Then he said, “I don’t know my real dad. He never had anything to do with me. It’s always just been me and my mom, but she got remarried about five years ago to a guy who never really liked me much. We fought a lot. When I turned eighteen a few months ago, we got in a big fight and he kicked me out of the house.”
He took a deep breath like he didn’t want to tell me any more. But then he started talking again. “I’ve been staying with a friend of mine and his family since then, but his dad got a transfer to Colorado and they moved. They couldn’t take me with them, of course. His parents were just being nice by letting me stay with them and I knew that, so I told them I talked to my mom and that I was moving back home. The day they left, I didn’t have anywhere to go. So I went back home and told my mom I’d like to move back in until I graduated. She wouldn’t let me. Said it would upset my stepfather.”
He turned his head and looked at the wall. “So I just wandered around for a few days until I saw that house. Figured I would just stay there until something better came along or until I graduated. I’m signed up to go to the Marines come May, so I’m just trying to hang on until then.”
May is six months away, Ellen. Six.
I had tears in my eyes when he finished telling me all that. I asked him why he didn’t just ask someone if they could help him. He said he tried, but it’s harder for an adult than a kid, and he’s already eighteen. He said someone gave him a number for some shelters who might help him. There were three shelters in a twenty-mile radius of our town, but two of them were for battered women. The other one was a homeless shelter, but they only had a few beds and it was too far away for him to walk there if he wanted to go to school every day. Plus, you have to wait in a long line to try and get a bed. He said he tried it once, but he feels safer in that old house than he did at the shelter.
Like the naïve girl I am when it comes to situations like his, I said, “But aren’t there other options? Can’t you just tell the school counselor what your mom did?”
He shook his head and said he’s too old for foster care. He’s eighteen, so his mother can’t get in trouble for not allowing him to go back home. He said he called about getting food stamps last week, but he didn’t have a ride or money to get to his appointment. Not to mention he doesn’t have a car, so he can’t very well find a job. He said he’s been looking, though. After he leaves my house in the afternoons he goes and applies at places, but he doesn’t have an address or a phone number to put down on the applications so that makes it harder for him.