On Fourth of July, I was walking the dog down a nearby street when this boy came out just past where someone had chalked “party” on the pavement with an arrow. There was no party now, just this kid about 10 years old with nothing to do. I had seen him before, remembered an awkward conversation about his missing model plane. He’s a loner, geeky with thick black glasses, possibly autistic. He has two sisters who are busy with their own lives, but I’m pretty sure he’s the only boy on the block.
Without asking, he joined us for our walk down the paved street on our way to the wilderness trail beyond. His speech was slow, coming in spurts, worked around his crooked front teeth. “Going for a walk, huh?”
He dodged nervously as Annie darted over to sniff him. “She’s big.”
“She is. But she won’t hurt you.”
“Is she gonna have puppies?”
I stared at him. What? “No. She’s been spayed. She had an operation. And she’s too old now anyway.” Suddenly the whole idea of taking away a dog’s ability to reproduce seemed ludicrous. Why would we do that? But he didn’t ask. He just said, “Oh.”
Annie paused to sniff a grass area where all the neighborhood dogs stopped to relieve themselves. The boy paused, too, then went on with us. It was nice having him along. I had been feeling especially lonely, this being another holiday I was spending by myself, my family too far away and my friends too busy with their kids and grandkids.
“Is it just you and her?” the boy asked.
I swallowed. How did he know? “Yes.”
“Oh.” No judgments. No “where is your husband?” or “why don’t you have kids?” He’s alone, I’m alone, just fact. He reached out shyly to pet Annie’s thick yellow fur.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
We walked on, Annie stopping between houses to pee.
“I know where there’s a trail.”
“Oh. I do, too.”
“I’ll run up ahead and show you.” He took off, streaking toward the end of the street to where the wild berries and Scotch broom have grown so thick you have to look hard to find the path.
“Is this your trail?”
“Yes. That’s it.”
He hesitated. “I’m not allowed to go past the end of the street.”
And with that we said goodbye. I heard Gavin’s shoes slapping the pavement as he ran home while Annie and I went on along the trail marked with the footprints of deer, dogs and tennis shoes, feeling much less lonely.
My dear childless friends, there are children who would love to hang out with you if you let them. Don’t give up.
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