1. A little root beer will take that out
2. What would the real Tom do?
3. Took the wrong turn
Things were never easy at St. Barnabas Academy for Boys. In all my sixteen years there I don’t recall a single instance of warmth or compassion from the unsmiling black-and-white clad sisters who directed our days.
I wasn’t mistreated, don’t get me wrong. I suppose the worst punishment I ever got was not much more than a ruler-smack on the knuckles and an ignominious banishment to the cellar to think about my sins. What I thought about, mostly, were my parents and why they’d chosen from my birth to put me in the care of others.
The St. Barnabas Academy was probably much like any other orphans’ home of its time. Thank goodness, they’d stopped calling these places “asylums” since th word came to have a meaning beyond its roots in shelter and solace. I found both of those things in that dark place, but it wasn’t enough. Without love, it was never enough. I left when I was sixteen, just, and after that day never went back.
I’ve come a long way since then. The first year or so was hard and I took a few wrong turns. But after a short lifetime of finding no praise for whatever skills I developed, I learned to depend on myself for the encouragement I needed. I also found a friend.
Casey Leonard was a product of the system, too. His mom left him at a hospital near the center of Riverton, then calmly walked outside and put herself squarely in the path of an oncoming bus. Casey couldn’t remember her.
By the time I met him, he’d been on his own for several years. The orphanage where he’d ended up had closed when Casey was eighteen and already wondering where he’d be going next.
“Sure, it’s hard,” he told me when I looked to him for some sympathy. “But nobody has it easier, only different.”
He worked at a department store loading and unloading trucks, which he actually enjoyed. “I feel like I’m doing something useful, even if I ain’t all that smart,” he said, and offered to talk to his boss about getting me a job there, too. I wasn’t sure that’s what I needed, but I needed Casey in my life and I figured he’d be pleased to do this for me. I could always move on later.
I wasn’t any genius, myself, but I had common sense, which was more important. It didn’t take long for me to suggest that the two of us share an apartment. I found one on 72nd Street