Family

I Saw A Naked Child On The Street And Knew I Had To Act

Photo: Sabphoto / Shutterstock
lost boy

We had spent the night, the four of us, huddled in the downstairs bathroom playing Apples to Apples and ignoring the sound of tree branches battering our exterior walls.

It was a weird storm with hurricane-force winds coming up from the southwest. The local weather team said it was unprecedented for December.

When the worst had passed, we went to bed, only to awaken at midnight to the sound of sirens and the return of the roaring wind. These are the nights that lead to bleary-eyed mornings prone to mistakes and accidents.

The news team on the television announced that the storm had left debris and power outages in its wake. We tried to continue life as normal. My wife left for work, and I bundled up my youngest daughter for school.

Arriving at the drop-off point, a school employee told me that they had no power and that I could either take my daughter back home or wait in the parking lot for a text message which indicated she could come into the building.

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I took her home.

“I guess it’s going to be a crazy day,” I thought. Rubbing my eyes, I went to my home office, sat at my computer, and looked out the window.

I froze.

I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking at.

Sometimes, you see things you don’t expect to see and it takes your mind a moment to process the image.

My house sits at a busy intersection. Cars fly by at all hours of the day and night. That was normal.

The thing that caught my attention was the half-naked child standing on the corner tentatively stepping forward as if he were testing the temperature of a pool of water.

He seemed to recognize for the moment that he shouldn’t wander into traffic. That could change any instant.

Cars flew by.

The child hesitated.

It was twenty-five degrees and windy.

I wonder how much time passed between the moment I first saw the child and the moment I started running to the door. In my mind, it seems like it was a long time. However, your perception slows in moments like that. It could have been only seconds. Maybe it was only one second.

Awareness came in flashes. I saw he wasn’t wearing pants. Next, I recognized he was barefoot. What was going on?

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“That’s not right,” I remember thinking.

I cast around for somebody to tell. “Do something!” Well, there wasn’t anybody, so I had to go.

A car had pulled up by the time I arrived. I was still processing everything at a rapid pace. Adrenaline surged through me. What was this? Panic? Terror?

Who was this person in the car? Was it a predator trying to lure the vulnerable child into danger?

As I got closer I recognized that the driver was a woman. Gender didn’t indicate that she was an ally. At that point, I wasn’t prepared to trust anybody.

“That’s not good,” she said in reference to the situation. She was as confused as me.

Another flash of recognition alerted me to the fact that I knew the child. It was the neighbor’s boy, Eden. He was maybe four or five. I waved the driver away and called out, “Are you okay, Eden?”

That seemed to be enough for the lady in the car. She drove away, although maybe she shouldn’t have. Maybe the right thing for her to do would have been to stay and question me about what was going on.

“Eden, are you okay?”

Eden was crying. He held a tablet in one hand. It was still dark enough that the tablet glowed ominously.

Eden was shifting from foot to foot. He must have been half-frozen. There was ice on the sidewalk. Cold stone on bare feet is painful.

My first impulse was to reach out and pick him up, but I stopped myself.

A man can’t pick up a naked child he finds on the street. You’ll get arrested for that. You can’t touch him. It’s called a compromising situation. I thought about my own kids. I had a responsibility to them too.

I’ve wrestled with this impulse on more than one occasion. A year ago, I saw a young girl, about my daughter’s age, walking home in a blizzard. Every part of me, every decent impulse I possess, wanted to stop and offer her a ride. I even fluttered the brake until I realized that if I stopped, I could be taken for a predator.

That’s what creeps do. Creeps offer unsolicited rides to young girls.

I drove around the corner and watched to make sure the girl got home okay. Even that was taking a risk. Even that could have been construed as stalking or… something. She made it home and I drove away not certain if I did the right thing. I’m still not certain. What should I have done?

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“I want my mom,” Eden said.

I really wanted to pick him up and run him home, but I stopped myself again. His home was only half a block away.

“Come on Eden, come with me!” I said.

Eden followed, he picked up his feet quickly because of the cold pavement.

“Come on Eden, we have to go home, come on.”

We were at his front door a moment later.

I knocked.

Nothing.

I grabbed my phone to call the mother. I looked at Eden. Eden must have been freezing. I tried the door. It was open.

“Go on Eden, go inside!”

Eden went inside. He looked back at me questioningly.

“I’ll call your mother! Don’t worry. She’ll be right back. Get warm.”

I closed the doors to keep the dogs from escaping and dialed the number. There was no answer. I dialed the father. Fortunately, he picked up.

“I found Eden on the corner of the street,” I said.

“You found our dogs outside the house?” he asked, not understanding.

“No, I found Eden, Eden… where’s your wife?”

Just then his wife pulled up. She’d just returned from dropping off Eden’s sister at school. It had taken longer than normal because the power was out. She’d waited in the parking lot for the text.

The storm had caused this.

I explained what had happened and Eden’s mother’s eyes widened in terror. Then I called Eden’s father again to explain everything was okay.

Eden must have just woken up and panicked when he saw his mother wasn’t home and found his way outside.

This kind of thing happens more often than you might think. In fact, this is the second time I’ve found a shivering child out in the cold.

There had been another adult in the house, the mother’s brother was staying there.

It just doesn’t take long with kids. They’re fast. They’re decisive. They find an open door, and the next thing you know they’re out wandering in the street.

We’re all tired this morning because of the storm. Nobody slept. The power lines are down. There is debris everywhere.

There are two waves to every disaster. There’s the disaster itself, and then there’s the second wave that results from the exhaustion that comes with the disaster.

We have to be mindful of these things.

We have to take care of each other.

We have to act.

Walter Rhein is a writer with Perseid Press, Burning Bulb Publishing, and Harren Press. 

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This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.