He sat on an apple box inside an old garage. Bare dirt served as the garage floor and litter; cans, newspapers, discarded shoes, cardboard boxes, covered most of the dirt. A hinge on one side of the garage door had broken loose causing it to hang lower at the bottom than on the other side, creating a triangular opening where the halves of the door separated. The opening allowed him to watch the house across the alley. He enjoyed the silence, taking in and savoring the musty odor of the old garage.
The House in the Alley
When the light was just right he would occasionally do his homework here in the garage. But more often he spent his time trying to figure things out, trying to understand why everything was so easy when he was away from the house and why, when inside of its four walls, each breath he took had to be accompanied by fear.
His life away from the garage and home was school, baseball fields and gymnasiums. His teachers knew his circumstances and praised him for the better than average work he did. His coaches saw him as an athlete with great potential but not as focused as he could be.
He was thirteen. His face was covered with freckles and he had a shock of copper colored hair. Almost everyone thought he was shy. And maybe the hint of shyness made him quieter than most, but what he really wanted, though he couldn’t have put it into words, was invisibility. He was withdrawn, reluctant to be present except in physical form. His reluctance had the opposite effect of what he wanted. Instead of pushing others away, his reticence made them reach out to him, especially adults.
And they did reach out to him. A friend invited him to his home and when evening approached the friend’s mother asked the boy to stay for dinner. He accepted the invitation with a smile and a barely audible, ‘Sure.’ Conversation was light at the table and the boy laughed at a few things that were said. When asked questions his answers were brief, usually just yes or no. He was asked back several times and became more comfortable with each visit.
A coach offered him a ride home after practice one evening. On the way he handed the boy a shoebox and said, “There’s a pair of spikes in there. You need more traction around first base; those tennis shoes you’ve been wearing don’t cut it. The spikes will work out better.”
The boy opened the box and smiled when he saw the shiny cleats and, surprisingly, trying the right shoe on, discovered that it fit his foot perfectly. He wondered how the coach had known the correct size.
“I’m painting a couple of rooms at the house this weekend,” his coach said. “You can pay for the spikes by giving me some help with the painting. Sound O.K.?’
The boy, smiling and still holding the shoes, said, “Thanks Coach.”
Emboldened by the obvious caring of his friend’s mother, his coaches and his teachers, the boy occasionally allowed a glimpse of what he would be like if he could put aside what they perceived to be his shyness. They saw a likable boy but one whose trust might never be totally earned.