By Kevin Kuzma, Online Editor
The boys are out early. By 7:15 on Saturday morning, they’ve rung my doorbell and have progressed to the play structure in my backyard and a few loose ropes the previous occupants have tied in the higher branches to act as swings. The youngest one, Matthew, shouts toward my window, which I’ve kept open throughout the late summer to let in the sounds from the trees and the early shaded breeze.
"Kevin!" he screams. "KE-VINNN."
I lie in bed, now more tired from the suggestion that I should get up. I think about his parents, quietly next door, in deep slumbers, and appreciative to see all that noise leave the house and take itself somewhere else, if only 50 feet away.
The older brother, Michael, doesn’t speak and I wouldn’t know he was there at all if not for glancing out the window and seeing him unknowingly tie the ropes into a noose shape. In the time it takes to ring a doorbell and run around to the backyard, the two boys have also somehow managed to drag a Fisher Price table out from underneath my deck and positioned it under the ropes so they can tie a stronger knot.
“GUYS!” I scream, and run through the kitchen and nearly put my hand through the screen door as I slide it open and bolt out onto the deck.
“HEY … you can hurt yourself doing that! That’s dangerous … DANGEROUS!”
They stare at me, shocked that my house suddenly went from nobody home to guy standing on the deck screaming at us. After a few seconds of silence, Matthew climbs down from the table.
“Hi, Kevin!” he says.
As often as they knock on my door or a near emergency happens, I can’t find it in myself to be upset at these kids or to talk to their parents. In the moments when they aren’t attempting something suicidal, they share much of their lives with me, the way children sometimes do.
One Sunday morning, after ringing my doorbell at 7:45, Matthew showed me his new shoes. They sported Thomas the Tank Engine, as do the shirts and shorts he wears most the time. His mother buys them from Wal-Mart, where she works nights – and where she met his father, who now works days. The boys, I deduce, are left unsupervised on weekends. Michael goes to school during the week so it’s only Matthew who’s left to play alone in his small yard. When he asks if he can play in mine, I almost have to say yes.
Wal-Mart is one of the larger employers in our small suburban town, just south of Kansas City. I knew when it was built that it would generate jobs and change the way people shopped, but I didn’t consider that there would be couples that meet there, marry, and depend on the store for their livelihood.
When you ask Matthew where his shoes come from or where his toys were bought, he says, “From work."
I bought a house next door to this family, and while I know my pockets aren’t lined with gold, I can afford the place where I live. Something tells me, though, that these boys’ family needs every penny to make it month to month. America is filled with families like this – with just as many who are behind financially.
In the six weeks I’ve been living in this neighborhood, I’ve seen the boys’ father three times. Their mother, only twice. I know they are content with the life they have. They probably feel like it’s as good as it might get for them.
There are no career colleges in our small town. The nearest is Brown Mackie College, about 10 minutes north on the interstate. I wonder if a college here could change the lives for the people the way Wal-Mart has. The people working nights as stockers, might work days as Dental Assistants. Or the servers at the one and only breakfast place, Waffle House, could skip the all-night shift and work more reasonable hours in an IT position in a corporate environment. Maybe a few more parents would have more time for each other and their families as a result.
The boys meet me on weekday mornings, too, when I’m driving away to work. “Let’s play when you get back tomorrow,” Matthew says, but he means tonight. I will probably forget about our promise to play until I pull back in my driveway nine hours from then. But I have no doubt he will be waiting on my stoop and looking forward to showing me his new shoes again.