It is late Saturday afternoon as I write this, and Randall is still out there on the front porch. Right now, his face has some curiosity in it, as he riffles through the handful of baseball cards my son gave him before going off to soccer practice, or idly turns the pages of the book my daughter gave him to read, before leaving with her mother to purchase a violin string. But most of the time, as he sits out there on the steps, his face is empty and stricken, as he stares out at the street and waits for the time when it will be okay for him to go home. He's been out there like that since 8:30 this morning. And when he turns to look at you head on -- as when you call his name to hand him a hot dog or ask him if he'd like to watch sports on TV, there's terror in those young brown eyes that consists of this: he's afraid you're going to tell him to go away.
Randall is eight years old, and his legal address is at his parents' big house a few blocks away, which means mainly that he sleeps there, or gets grub there, or will be buried from there if the bike he rides, perilously weaving through Lee Highway traffic, is smashed by a truck. But the rest of the time -- most of it, anyway -- he's here at my place; not only on these weekends but after school during the week, too, from the time the bus lets him off, until several hours later, when his father and mother can be presumed to be home from work -- unless, of course, as frequently happens, they've gone out shopping. And in that case, Randall, who has been provided with a silver chain to hang things around his neck with, and a key, will let himself in and wait.
I don't know whether he's one of the 10 or 12 kids over in the neighborhood who were sodomized by a big 16-year-old, since moved, who also had both parents working. After school, he would lure the 6-to-10-year-olds into his house and through terror and beguilement entertain himself with what interested him more than baseball cards. And was able to get by with this because all his victims were key kids like Randall; affluent strandees, whose parents lived in $200,000 houses; families in which the mother was working, not for survival money, but for that fourth color TV, and that Betamax, and that third car and that job satisfaction. In fact, Randall's mother, who's a prominent lecturer on mental health and the family, explained all that to me once -- how important it is to "do one's own thing." After all, she said, if the mother herself isn't happy and "fulfilled," it's unlikely the child will be.
Possibly both those parents are happy and fulfilled. The father is a highly paid professional and plays a lot of golf and is one of the key personnel at his place of work. And the mother flies all over the country lecturing on mental health. And they are friendly and likable when they tell you about the promotions and awards they've received or the good things they've managed to buy. However, I can't help thinking that much of their felicity is being achieved at our expense, and I do not know what to do about Randall who is getting on my nerves.
Worse, it's a no-win situation, because I feel ashamed when all this family is obliged to go away on some errand and leave him sitting alone out on the front steps there. But I feel jumpy at his being around all the time. He will press his face to the study window and smile and wave. And I will smile and wave back or else go outside and throw the football or discuss philosophical problems with him. But after all that, he'll still be there -- and I don't know what to do with him. Sure, there's a voice up in my head telling me sternly that he's not our responsibility. But there is another voice that just asks questions, and wants to know just who is going to look after him, if we don't.
Let me ask you confidentially -- what should I do? If I tell him to go home, he will just ride over to some other stranger's house and wait nervously there to be told to go home, too. In fact, half the people in Arlington County have told Randall to go home, and I am damned if I am going to be one of them. But calling in the social workers, who live by roughly the same ethic that Randall's mother does, would be absurd. And if anything, it's the mothers who don't work who are regarded as vaguely criminal by such authorities around here.
What I'll probably do, in the long run, is confront Randall's father, which will make me feel, momentarily, somewhat better, and bodes to leave him feeling a whole lot worse. But that will not help Randall because others have tried it. All that will happen is that Randall will be told by his parents to go play someplace else.
Why bother to even mention Randall? That's hard to say. He is not an important person. And that there are thousands like him in affluent neighborhoods all around the Beltway only underscores his insignificance. He suffers, and it is legal, and so what? "The destruction of the family" is only a cliche, and it's necessary to avoid those. d
Even so, Randall, with the wretched little baseball cards clutched in his hand that contain the only human faces he can depend on, and who is peering though the window at me as I write this, is real, and I worry about him. He loves to watch me work, and often asks what I do. To which I reply that it is mainly a matter of what not to do especially not to take moral stands or poses. We don't go in for that sort of stuff in our neighborhood because we are all lawyers, doctors and PhDs, and are just as smart as hell. We won't tolerate stuff like that. You can come home late at night and kick over the garbage cans, and you can even poison the neighbor's dog, and get by with it. But had better remember that all values are relative and had better keep your own face bland and smiling. For how else would anybody know you were fulfilled?