I sat beside him on the grass. His name was Richard. A small boy, blond, light-eyed, slight, vulnerable... lost and unhappy. He wore cut-off blue jeans and a torn, frayed cowboy shirt. He wore no shoes. He was eleven. "Why don't you go home?" I asked. "It's getting late." He stared at the grass. "I'm sure your parents miss you. He glanced up, raising his left hand for me to see. His entire body and arms were thin like sticks. Across his left forearm between his wrist and elbow was a deep red gash. "My mom did that," he said, without emotion. "My mom did that," he repeated, as if I didn't believe him. "Why?" I asked "I don't know," Richard said. "She just doesn't like me." I asked how it happened "She got mad 'cus my room was messy. She started. screaming at me and - whipping me like crazy. She s always screaming - about something." "That's how your arm got hurt?" He dropped. his arm, and looked down. He didn't like talking about his mother. I asked him again to tell me. "Mom held my arm against the door frame and slammed the door shut." Richard stood. up. He was about four feet tall. Facing me, he carefully removed his shirt, then turned around to show me his back. There were bruises on his body and on his left shoulder was an ugly burn larger than a man's hand... just beginning to heal. Richard pulled his shirt back on, wincing. "It don't hurt much," he said. I wanted. to know how he got such a wound. He said he had a fight with his mother when she was cooking dinner He didn't know what started it, it was one of those things that happened all the time for no good reason. She'd gone into a rage, grabbed him, lifted him up and shoved his bare back against the hot oven. "She don't want me anymore," he said ruefully. "Where will you go if you can't go home anymore?" I asked him. He sat down again in the grass but didn't answer for a while. He was thinking hard. At 11 that's the kind of question that scares a kid. "I'll run away," he said. "I'll run away for good." "And then what?" I wanted to know. "I'll just run away."
Huddled in the doorway near Woolworth's was a slight, hungry girl of 12... "Wendy's got no place to live," said Daniel, 15, "and she's scared of everybody. She had an abortion two weeks back." He paused, then added quietly, "She's not going to make it when the cold weather comes. Late that night Rader and Daniel went to a bus depot where Daniel got a small bag of clothes out of the 25-cent locker. Rader rented him a room at his hotel, as he had no other place to go. "What's gonna happen to me?" he asked. "I can't get a job, there aren't any for runaway kids. How am I going to finish school without money and no place to live? The 'tricks' already want boys younger than me. You tell me what to do." When Rader didn't reply, Daniel mumbled something under his breath. He asked what he said. "I said, nobody gives a damn about us kids."
Winkie Pratney, 2/21/2007