On my way to work, I'm early and decide to hit the bathroom and grab something to drink. This doesn't happen all that often but when public transportation actually runs on time; I end up with time to kill. So, strawberry banana smoothie in hand; I head up to the mezzanine to get away from the crowd and begin to check my email. Soon afterward, a voice says; "Excuse me, mister." I look up, my heart sank in my chest at what I saw. In front of me was a kid, probably somewhere between 16 or 18. His clothes dirty and torn. His dark brown hair was a bit dirty looking and it was clear it hadn't seen a brush, much less a cleaning in at least a couple of days. The worst of it was the visible scratches and bruises on his face and arms. A little shaken, I clear my throat and respond with "Sup?"; which was all I could think of at the moment.
The kid proceeds to explain to me that he's been in the station all night for two nights trying to build up enough money to get a ticket to his aunt's house as his parents had thrown him out. The trip would cost just about $10, of which people gave him change totaling just over $8, which was stolen one of the two times he got jumped over the course of the past two days. At this point, he was hungry, tired and as was common, most people wouldn't even make eye contact with him because of his appearance.
Now, it's not uncommon for people to hustle change in these stations. For drugs or alcohol and various other abuses of people's overall generosity. Now, I'm not in anyway a person who you would claim is good at getting a read on other people but, he was clear-eyed, tired and beaten but not haggard. Not the typical street junkie. I heard his story, watched as his eyes filled with tears at the brief mention of his parents. I saw genuine pain. So, I tilted my head and asked why they told him to leave. He looked frightened and half whispered, "They found out I that I'm gay," and then real tears began to flow, being wiped away quickly as he tried to maintain his composure.
I shook my head in disgust and made a decision. If there is any truth to this kid's story, he needs help. "I'll tell you what," I began, "I can't afford to get you to your aunt's house but," I continued as I pulled out my wallet, "I forgot to have breakfast and was thinking about eating something. Take this, downstairs to McDonald's and grab me a cheeseburger. Get yourself a meal, one that will fill you. I wish I could do more."
He looked at me with surprise in his expression as I handed him a $20. After looking between the bill and me a couple of times, he nodded his head., He then wiped his eyes once more, and with a weak "Okay, thanks mister;" turned for the stairs. Looking at the holes in his shirt, I remembered that I had put on a tee-shirt under my dress shirt the day before and took it off because it was hot out. I stuffed it in my bag and realized that I forgot to take it out when I was on the bus. Knowing it had to look better than what he had on now.
"He's not gonna come back, you know." A woman at the next table said with a sneer and an expression that obviously showed that she thought I was an idiot.
I just smiled at her, shrugged my shoulders and proceeded to fold up the shirt that I was lucky enough to have not unpacked. "I bet he will," I replied with an exaggerated smile. About 15 minutes later, I was beginning to wonder if the woman was right, which if there was any chance that the kid was lying to me would be a reason to do as everyone else usually does and not make eye contact with anyone, ever. I wait an additional 5 minutes before I decided that maybe the woman might have actually been right after all and, a little disappointed; began to open my bag to stuff the shirt back in. Just as I unzipped my bag, I looked up and smiled at what I saw. Walking up the stairs came the kid with a bag and a soda in his hands.
"Sorry it took so long," he said as he promptly put the change on the table in front of me with my cheeseburger, "the line was really long," He said as he sat at the other corner of the square table I was sitting at. "I got a quarter pounder meal, I hope that isn't too much."
"Not at all," I replied with a smile aimed more at the judgmental woman than him. With a sneer, she began to pack up her food and move to a table further away. "I'm surprised you didn't get a double."
I sat and sipped at my smoothie as I watched him tear into his meal. We made small talk as he finished off his sandwich and began to attack his fries, not slowing down. Knowing this kid went without for a couple of days, I slid the cheeseburger toward him as well. Without words, he looked at me questioningly and I answered with a laugh. "Just eat it. You definitely need it more than I do." Finally, he slowed his feeding frenzy and smiled. I waited until he had nothing but his soda left before putting the tee-shirt on the table. "This is clean and whole. Why don't you hit the bathroom and get cleaned up a bit? If we can get you looking better maybe we can find a way to get you on a train."
"You don't have to do that." He said as he began to brush off his shirt in a poor attempt to make it look better.
"I know I don't. You don't have to accept either but for your sake, I hope you do." I say taking a sip from my almost empty cup. "Just do it." I laugh.
With a smile, the kid picks up the shirt and unfolds it, laughing at the print which was a distressed retro looking picture of an old Nintendo game cartridge with the text ‘'Blow Me’' on its front. "This is cool, I can't take this."
"I can replace the shirt so, yes you can." I laugh.
He looks at it again and smiles, then with a nod he heads to the bathroom. It was then that I decided what I was going to do. I pull out my notebook and write down my name, phone number and address and tear the page out. I fold it up and put it on the table next to the change that was left from the meal. $10.76, enough to get him safely to his aunts. I take out the bag that contained the sandwich and juice I intended to have for lunch and put it on the table as well.
Out of the bathroom came a much cleaner looking kid, the bruises and scratches not looking as angry without the dirt adding to it, he sat down and even had a smile, which made me feel so much better. "That's more like it," I say before he placed his old shirt on the table. "This is what you are going to do. This is a snack I want you to stuff in your bag. It's just a sandwich and bottled juice." I smile as he opened his mouth most likely to protest, so I laughed and cut him off, "This is my name, address, and phone number," I slide him the folded piece of paper, "Put it and the change from lunch in your pocket."
"Wait, I don't…" he began to complain.
"In your pocket", I said with a laugh. "We are going to go down to the booth to buy your ticket and then I need to go to work." As I watched the tears well up in his eyes I continued. "If for any reason you aren't able to get on a train today, call me and I will arrange for my roommate to come get you, you will not spend another night in a dark, dangerous station. He'll be able to spot you thanks to that shirt." I laugh.
He wiped his eyes in a poor attempt to hide his tears and with a hoarse sounding "Thank you." He stuffed the money and paper in his pocket and off we went to make sure he had his ticket in hand. I led him to the track and showed him the best place to wait.
"Don't forget, you have a lunch in your bag and my number if anything goes wrong," I said patting him on the shoulder. "Have a safe trip," I say and then simply turned to leave.
"You don't even know my name!" The kid shouted, giving me a laugh.
"Okay, what's your name then?" I say now walking backward through the station.
"Trevor." He said as I gave him a thumbs up.
"Stay safe Trevor," I say and turn without missing a step and exit the building.
Three months went by and I had nearly forgotten about that day when an envelope addressed to me showed up in the mail. When I opened it, I pulled out a single sheet of paper. On it was written:
Excuse me, Mister,
I was hoping to write to you sooner but there have been some problems. As it turned out, my little brother got mad at my parents for what they did to me. He told me that they were saying some pretty bad things about me and he got mad and said "I'm gay too. What are you gonna do? Throw me out like you threw him out?" Long story short, I had saved up $20 to mail back to you but instead, paid to get my little brother on a train so he could come here. I didn't have a real chance to say thank you and now I need to say it twice. Once for him. He's here and safe and as it turns out, he isn't gay but said that he couldn't listen to their comments about me anymore so, he doesn't care what they think. He's only 14 so, my aunt helped me get legal custody of him and Child Protective Services are investigating them now. Shawn (My little brother) got here with a black eye and a cut on the right side of his face that my Father gave him. I called the police and that's what started all the legal stuff.
I sent you a picture of Me with Shawn and Alex (My Boyfriend) in the front yard of my aunt's house. Alex is the main reason I wanted to write to you today. He is so grateful to you for helping me out when no one else would. Because you helped me, I could help Shawn and Alex and I can now ask one more favor of you. We want Shawn and you to stand with us next month when we get married. Please say yes, it would mean a lot to all of us. Maybe by then, I'll be able to give you back that $20. Who knows?
Inside the envelope was a picture of Trevor, in my old T-shirt, his little brother who stood about shoulder high to him on his left, waving. On his right, a very happy looking young man who had his left arm draped across Trevor's shoulder, his hand resting on Shawn's head. In the bottom in a different handwriting from the rest of the letter was written: "He never takes that shirt off. Thanks for sending it and him home to me. Alex"
Of course I said yes, wouldn't you?