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 were 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, including hustling johns and working 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 get him away from the big-city streets and try to break him free of those chains to his past. I agreed.
Nick was around 23 at the time; a tall, handsome and underneath all the “I don't need anyone” armor he forged to protect himself from the world was a small, lost child 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 carried it 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. It was winter, and when wreath-making season—which offered a rare surge of job opportunities, albeit brief, he got a job with one of the companies that made boughs and garlands and wreaths. He spent his paychecks on pot, but managed to save enough to buy a battered, tiny trailer which he planned to put on my friend's property and live in, though it had neither plumbing nor electricity. He didn't mind. He was used to it.
He got fired from the wreath-makers for talking back to the owner, and with his final paycheck he and a couple of his new friends pooled their resources to buy pot for resale. He was, of course, caught, and given the choice of jail or returning to Milwaukee, thus saving the local police the expense of incarcerating him.
He chose to return 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 did what little I could, but it was far too little and far too late.
I wrote a poem about him, called “The Broken Child,” which I'd be happy to repost as a blog should anyone be interested.
So why have I told you about Nick? Simply because those of us blessed with all the things of which Nick was deprived too often simply do not comprehend just how fortunate we are. We tend to be so consumed with our own petty problems that we cannot appreciate what we have, let alone understand the problems of others.
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.
Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1).