Nick never knew his father, though his drug-addict mother named her son after him. His name was Nicholas, and the fact that she deliberately misspelled her son’s name as “Nickless” was only the first indication of his fate.
While still very young, he was taken from his mother and placed in the Foster Care system, where he was passed from foster home to foster home like a bowl of potato salad at a picnic. His last ten years in the system was spent with a former marine drill sergeant who continually sexually abused him.
Whether he aged out of the system or ran away is not clear, but he wound up basically on the streets. No real education, no idea of how to behave in the society to which most of us belong and take totally for granted, he drifted. His few friends tended to be other lost souls like himself who simply existed in any way they could.
He was, not surprisingly, frequently in trouble with the law.
I was living in northern Wisconsin when I met Nick through a friend from Milwaukee, who had picked Nick up one evening while hitchhiking. Nick was living with a fellow lost soul he referred to as his “brother,” and the “brother”’s girlfriend. They spent their time smoking pot and dreaming the dreams of the lost.
He did whatever it took to survive, and worked at menial jobs wherever and whenever he could, but never for very long at any one place. And of course when each job ended, it was never his responsibility. Responsibility was not a word in Nick’s vocabulary.
My friend took Nick under his wing and asked if Nick might stay with me for a while, to try to break him free of those chains to his past, and I agreed.
Nick was around 23 at the time; a tall, handsome and basically good young man who, like an abused animal, trusted no one, and his entire life experience had proven him correct. But of all the things that had been denied him, from the day he was born, the greatest by far was the feeling of being loved for anything but his body. He revealed himself only through his drawings, which he kept in a tattered notebook. He carried a sheathed knife in his belt and it was with him everywhere. When I arranged for him to apply for a job at a local supermarket, he wore the knife. He did not get the job.
Even in a small area like the one in which I lived, he managed to find others like those he had left behind in Milwaukee and soon got into the pot habit—it was, after all, a form of escape from a world he simply could not relate to and did not understand.
On the verge of being arrested yet again, Nick returned to Milwaukee…where he subsequently was jailed yet again. With absolutely no other realistic options, and without far more help than is available, Nick defines the term “lost soul.” He is so deep into the dark forest that I fear he will never find his way out.
When I think of Nick, and of what he could have been had someone…anyone…taken the time to care for him, to love him as any child should be loved…my heart truly aches
I wrote a poem about Nick, called “The Broken Child.” If you might be interested in seeing it, just drop me a note.
So why have I told you about Nick? Simply because those of us blessed with all the things of which Nick was deprived simply do not comprehend just how fortunate we are. We too often are so consumed with our own petty problems that we cannot appreciate what we have.
Nick is the candle I hold up in the darkness of my own self-absorption. I hope he can somehow, someday, find his own light.
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