A little boy is abandoned by his mother who thinks he is holding her back from the good life but finds a true home with the orphanage’s janitor.
Looking back, Peter divided his life into the Mother and post-Mother years. The Mother years were hectic, frightening, living in different houses. With different ‘uncles’, different corners into which to cower.
The houses and the uncles may have differed but Mother was always the same. Always irritated with him, even though she turned her sunny smile on every stranger, always harsh even though she had the sweetest voice — and yet Peter cried when she abandoned him.
Peter still doesn’t remember some things very well, after all, he was just five, but he remembers the visit from a tall dark woman to the latest ‘uncle’s’ luxury penthouse in Miami, Florida.
The woman spoke to Mother at length, asked if Peter was being home-schooled, and if so, had Mother registered him as such. Mother smiled her best smile and spoke to the woman with her sweetest honey voice and the woman went away.
The next day, Mother dragged Peter out of bed early, threw a few of his things into an old backpack, and told him to hurry up and brush his teeth and dress. Twenty minutes later Peter was strapped into the back of Mother’s convertible.
As she drove, Mother talked to Peter. “You stupid little git, once again you screw up my life! Juan told me he can’t afford to have Social Services knocking on his door, so we have to go!”
“Go where Mother?” asked Peter. “Where are we going?”
“You can go to Hell!” Mother exclaimed, “Me? I’m going to Las Vegas!”
Two days later, Mother stopped in front of a tall building and dragged Peter out. She talked at length to a sour-faced woman in an office, and though Peter couldn’t understand most of what was said, he saw that the woman looked shocked.
Mother turned to Peter. “Well, this is it, kid, you’re on your own.”
“Mother?” Peter whispered, frightened. “Mother, what is happening?”
“I’m leaving, and you’re going to stay here and maybe someone will adopt you — I’ve signed the papers.” Mother said.
“Please, Mother!” Peter was frantic with fear. “Please Mother don’t leave me!” He threw himself at Mother and wrapped his thin little arms around her legs.
With a hard push, Mother shoved him away. “You ungrateful brat. I could have just dumped you at a truck stop! I did my best for you, now I’m going to do the best for myself!”
Mother walked out and Peter sobbed, screamed her name, tried to follow her out. But the sour-faced woman held him back, and her arms were surprisingly gentle.
After a while, the imprisoning arms became a comforting embrace and Peter fell asleep. When he woke up he was in a room with two beds and another boy. “Hey,” the boy said, “I’m Fatso.”
Peter saw that Fatso was well named. Even though he was Peter’s height he must have weighed double. “Hey,” said Peter. “What happens now?”
The other boy shrugged.”If you’re cute and lucky, someone may adopt you. Otherwise, you’re here until you age out.”
Peter quickly fell into the rhythms of the institution. It wasn’t so bad. There was always food at the same time, there were classes at a school nearby, and even though some of the kids were nasty, they discovered Peter wasn’t fun to bully.
When someone picked on him, Peter just did what he did when Mother went on the rampage: he curled up into a ball and shut the world out. After this happened a few times, the sour-faced woman got a Doctor to talk to Peter a few times.
A loving heart can heal the deepest wounds.
Peter hated the Doctor. He had too many teeth and a funny smell, and he insisted that Peter play with his lame toys. Peter just sat there and shut out the doctor. He shut everyone out until he met Nadine.
Nadine was the janitor and she was tall and strong-looking, with chocolate-brown hair with a white streak, like lightning. The white streak started at the edge of a scar on Nadine’s forehead.
“Where did you get that?” Peter asked. Nadine was the first adult Peter had spoken to since coming to the shelter.
“Something hit my head,” Nadine said cheerfully, “And scrambled my brain so my hair started growing white.”
“Oh!” Peter said. “But can you think straight? You know… Are you stupid?”
Nadine laughed. “No honey, I’m not stupid. And neither are you! You’re a smart boy. Why don’t you talk to the teachers and the doctor? They’re trying to help you!”
Peter sighed. “If I like them, they will send me away. That’s what people do. Like Mother and the uncles.” Nadine was shocked. She made a point of talking to Peter every day and spoke to the sour-faced woman about him.
A year after Peter had been left at the shelter, Nadine qualified as a foster parent and took Peter home with her. At first, Peter thought it was just another temporary move, and he refused to unpack his suitcase.
Nadine didn’t push him, she just let him do whatever made him comfortable. Little by little, Peter realized that Nadine wasn’t going to go away, ever. This was his home. One day Nadine found the empty suitcase in the hall.
“I don’t think I’m going to need it,” Peter said, and he didn’t. Peter called Nadine, Mom, never ever Mother, and he loved her with all his heart. Peter grew into a strong, kind, loving man.
He went to college, got a good job and he met a girl he wanted to marry, but Mom was the center of his life. One day, Peter received a phone call from a local hospital saying that an indigent woman had listed him as next of kin.
Peter drove to the hospital and looked at the woman on the bed. Could this be his beautiful golden Mother? Then she opened her eyes and he knew it was her. “Peter…” She croaked, “Baby boy!”
She tried to smile that glorious smile of hers but her teeth were mostly gone. “Peter, I’m so sick, and they want to kick me out, they don’t know how sick I am…”
Peter ignored her. He asked the doctor: “Is she sick?”
The doctor said: “She had pneumonia, but she’d now cured. She suffers from malnutrition and withdrawal from whatever she was consuming. If she cleans up and eats right, she should live to a ripe old age.”
“Come, Mother,” Peter told her coldly, “Get your things. We’re going.” He led the woman who had given birth to him to his car and helped her inside. He got into the car and pulled off.
“Where are you taking me?” Mother asked suspiciously. “Are you dumping me at some homeless shelter?”
“No, Mother, I would never do that,” Peter said. “I’m not like you. You see my real mom raised me to be a good man and a good man would take you home and take care of you.”
And that is what Peter did. He nursed the woman he called Mother back to health, and when a few months later she disappeared and took a few of his valuables with her he wasn’t surprised. That was her nature.
What mattered was that Peter’d done his Mom proud, and became the man she had always known he would be.
What can we learn from this story?
There is no darkness so great we can’t find the light. Peter lived in darkness and fear until Nadine showed him that she loved and cared for him.
A loving heart can heal the deepest wounds. Nadine’s love and devotion to Peter taught him how to love and be loved and be a happy man.
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